Traveling

{Dubai 2014} Exploring the city + Souks of Dubai

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I didn’t know what to feel when my father announced that the family was going on a trip to Dubai over the Christmas holidays. The truth is Dubai has never been anywhere near my travel radar, which is why I had no idea what to expect. So it’s a bit ironic (in a good way) that I come home declaring it as one of my favourite cities I’ve ever visited so far. And while that statement might come into question if I ever get to experience the Arabian summer, the Dubai during the cold season was certainly perfect!

DUBAI

I’ve been thinking long and hard on how I would go about writing my Dubai travel blog posts. It took me a couple of months as you can see. We dropped by A LOT of places— and by dropped by I mean we visited a lot of places but some only quite briefly— though it was enough for me to easily tell you which locations were my favourites. It didn’t seem like going strictly with a per day narration of our trip was going to work, so I’ll just try my best to create a sort of flow for this series of posts.

Just to give you a little idea of what to expect in this series, here’s a little travel video I put together of all the places we visited. I’ll add this as a footnote to every post I write about the trip from here on out. (And in case you’re wondering who the dude with the kooky antics is, that’s my cousin Eriko!)

Dubai is a beautiful city. At a glance, it’s quite easy to forget that this place is actually a desert that has been reclaimed and built over, with structures that are as grand and sprawling as any of the sheikh’s palaces. (And why not, since the sheikh does own a lot of the structures and hotels anyway.) The main city is extremely modern, but there are still areas where one can appreciate the “old Dubai”.

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Driving around feels a little like you’re driving in circles. Actually it reminds me a little of Singapore in that sense because it’s almost as if you take a few spins on different roads in the same area to get from one place to another. It’s really interesting to just watch the city pass by the car window as the place is a treasure trove for aspiring architects (like my brother!) because you can’t help but marvel at how unique the buildings here are.

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You might be curious at this point about the palaces, but we were only allowed to appreciate the sheikh’s palaces from afar. Here’s a family photo we took with the Za’abeel Palace in the background. This was more or less as close as we were allowed when we went there, but I am confident the inside is very lovely and extravagant.

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(The fact that they were all wearing sunglasses and I was not is entirely unintentional!)

A lot of people seem to have the misconception that when you visit Dubai, the gals have to be all covered up in head to toe black. But since Dubai is an open and global city, they have embraced the more modern way of living. Roughly speaking you can wear anything you want, but of course, there are still some places that will require you to dress appropriately, but I mean, isn’t it just normal to dress properly anyway?

Dubai has quite the diverse population, so it’s important to be respectful as well as conscious of how we behave while going around this lovely city. The law is quite strict so it’s quite safe here, so at least in that aspect you can breathe a little easier right?


MADINAT SOUK

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I found Dubai’s city planning rather meticulous. Most of the multinational companies are grouped together by field in a business district. And for the sake of uniformity, all of the houses and apartments are built using an Arabian-style of architecture, making the residential sector of the city look like a modern take on Aladdin’s hometown. A good illustration of this architecture for me is the Madinat Souk. On the outside it looks like a traditional Arabian desert home, but on the inside it’s actually air-conditioned and decorated very well! It’s a mix of old and new that works so beautifully!

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The Madinat Souk is actually an indoor marketplace that allows you to browse all the lovely little Arabian trinkets, jewelry, rugs and carpets, cups and saucers and such. 

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My favourite things to look at are the stained glass lamps and lights. They are simply some of the most stunning I’ve seen.

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This carpet store is literally just like a scene from Aladdin.

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The things being sold here are more on the pricey side since it’s really a tourist stop, but I can’t deny there are so many pretty things to see in here.


DEIRA SPICE SOUK

The markets are always a nice way to get a taste of the local flair, so visits to the famous old Dubai souks are a definite must. You take a little Abra boat ride across the Dubai Creek to get to the older part of the city called Deira. It does feel a little bit like stepping back in time to get a glimpse of what Dubai was like way before all the high-rises.

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The Spice Souk is not the grandest of markets but it is much more full of life than the Madinat Souk, in my opinion. Here is the place hagglers will really enjoy being in, first of all thanks to the sheer number of things in the souk, and the fairly game storeowners who will keep asking you to name your price. Yes, even for the gold and the diamonds!

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The souk is not crowded and is actually very organized, which I was thankful for, but what made my foodie heart really flutter is the insane variety of spices, dried fruits, teas, and nuts here. Possibly every spice or tea you could imagine! There are also a lot of dried flowers, which in hindsight I regret not carefully perusing!

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We managed to take home some saffron, dried figs, and a whole lot of nuts, but what I did forget to buy are the fresh vanilla beans and cinnamon sticks, plus the dried lavenders and roses I have always wanted to try in my baking. I know, I know. It was a very scatter-brained moment on my part. Sadly I foresee that it’ll be a long time before I can come here again.

Now that photo below actually has a funny story attached to it. Before I exited the Spice Souk, this guy chased after me, asking ‘Where are you from?’

‘The Philippines,’ I tell him.

‘Oh!’ He pauses to think for a moment, and with a twinkle in his eyes he says, ‘May boyfriend ka na ba?’

I was startled for a second, hearing such familiar words coming from a man whose face doesn’t quite match the language. Then I laugh at the joke and ask him to pose for a photo. He of course flashes an award-winning smile.

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The people in the market are generally quite friendly and accommodating, but of course when you’re in a market you should not forget to keep your wits about you in order to score some good deals!


DEIRA GOLD SOUK

Adjacent to the Spice Souk is a place that is literally a haven for jewelry lovers. I’m not into that very much, but you really won’t realize just how true the talk about this being a city of gold and riches is until you walk into the Gold Souk.

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The first thing that greets you is this display of the world’s largest… ring. I mean, it’s a ring if you’re a giant, but for regular people the size of this thing is more like a dress. It can cover up a person’s body, it’s so big! Called the Najmat Taiba (Star of Taiba) it is indeed shaped like a ring estimated to cost $3 Million! (FYI, it’s not for sale!)

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Just a bit of trivia, in case you’re curious:

  • The ring is 21-carat and weighs 64 kilograms. (We’re a few kilos apart in weight haha!)
  • It is studded with 5.1 kilograms of precious stones, including 615 Swarovski crystals.
  • It took 55 workers and 45 days to finish the ring.

Jewelry here is displayed like it’s normal wares and not composed of precious minerals. It’s crazy especially when you come from a country where jewelry stores would have state of the art security systems. Here the stores are regular glass-fronted ones, and all the gold simply hang from racks like regular fancy jewelry! (I guess it also goes to show that here in Dubai the law is truly respected.)

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I have never seen such an abundance of gold and diamonds in one place.

Unfortunately I can’t really relate any gold buying experience since I didn’t buy anything from the Gold Souk. However I’ve heard that when you step into the store, the sellers would actually ask you what price you want to buy the jewelry for, and you start bargaining from there. Some people have successfully bought their jewelry at unheard of low prices.


Extra tip!

Nestled somewhere between the Gold and Spice Souks is this little shop that makes sand art in a bottle. Apart from the fact that watching the process of making these is quite awesome (you can see it on the video I have above), this is probably one of the most representative souvenirs you can get from Dubai– a bottle of sand with the colourful images of this lovely desert city inside.

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Yep, I’m the girl who bought one of these but ended up empty-handed at the Gold Souk. 🙂

~~~
So how did you find this first post so far? I’ve still got a lot of lovely Dubai sights and experiences in store! The links below will begin working as the days go by so stay tuned for the rest of my posts in this series. I cannot wait to show you the desert!

Other posts in this series:

47 Comments on “{Dubai 2014} Exploring the city + Souks of Dubai

  1. Hi, I am planning to visit dubai this year. I’ve read a lot of blogs about the great destinations in Dubai. Indeed your article add something for me to do. Do you have any recommendation for a 3-day travel? By the way, I am a natural food enthusiast and would like to taste something new every time I travel. I also heard from my Lebanese friends that Filful Beirut is opening in Dubai. Have any idea?

    1. Hi there! My top two recommendations for must-do’s in Dubai is experiencing the Desert Safari, as well as the Yellow Boats if you aren’t afraid of being in a fast boat in the open water. πŸ™‚

      As for the food, unfortunately since I joined a packaged tour I didn’t get to explore any of the interesting restaurants apart from the ones I mentioned inside Burj Al Arab and Atlantis. πŸ™

  2. Hi! Can you share how you got your tourist visas processed, and from where? My family and I are planning a trip to Dubai early next year. πŸ™‚

    1. Hi Drea! Actually we left it to the travel agency. I think you should try contacting one to know the exact requirements. πŸ™‚

      1. Hi Clarisse! Can you share which agency you used? I’ve been checking out agencies but would like to check out one that’s already been tested. πŸ™‚

        1. Hi Drea! Just to warn you, I’ve been told the agency we went with charges quite high compared to others, but it’s called Goldmines Tours (362-9852). Try talking to Marilyn as she’s very helpful. Another option is the agency we used to go to called Uni-Orient (818-9585). Hope this helps!

  3. Truly inspiring article. I have visited Dubai once in my life with my boyfriend. It was really interesting to visit museums and we stayed at a fancy hotel. Also my boyfriend have found ferrari for rent in Dubai cargetsrent.com/en/p5_rates_rent/m9_ferrari We were driving around the city at night. It was so memorable

      1. Hi Clarisse, I am so keen to spend this year’s Christmas in Dubai after reading your post! May I know if you booked your tours through a local agent in Dubai? If yes, may I have the contact please?

        Fion

  4. Hi Clarisse, I and my friends are headed to go to Dubai this October and your blog is very helpful. Although not mentioned here, I just want to know if you are familiar whether E-Visa is accepted in Dubai? The company that will process our visa is based in Dubai, hence, they will just issue us an E-Visa, which according to them should not be a problem. Were you issued an E-Visa too? I just want to confirm so that I don’t have to pay for the courier fee is E-Visa is actually acceptable. Thank you!

    1. Hi! Sorry it took me a while to respond. I have forgotten what kind of visa we used so I had to ask around about this. My friend at a travel agency said that eVisa is okay. πŸ™‚

  5. Hi Clarisse, love your informative Dubai entry. The photos are awesome too. I am visiting my brother who lives in Dubai at the end of this month. Reading your blog, I just can’t wait to go.

  6. Hell Clarisse! I was wondering, did the Philippine immigration require an Affidavit of Support, aside from the Dubai visit visa? I’ve been reading online and a lot of them state it’s a requirement of Ph immigration and without it, you might get offloaded. Would appreciate if you could share what you know. I’m travelling solo to Dubai next year.

  7. Hi awesome blog, and the pictures are great too, and quite informative, detailed but not boring.
    Can you please advise me on how to book hotels, and what to look for,and which site and any hotel in particular you would recommend in Dubai?

  8. Very detailed information about Dubai. When in Dubai you must have a YOLO experience to make the most out of it. Dubai is one of the most advance, progressive and beautiful country in the world. One thing I am dying to do in Dubai is to skydive the 1300k feet ^_^

  9. Hi clarisse

    I’m planning my Dubai trip in a march
    Won 2 free tix to fly there but I don’t know where I should stay…
    May I know which hotel you stay ?

    Thanks!

    1. It really depends on your budget. The more expensive hotels like Atlantis offer some unique experiences, but yes it will cost a pretty penny. It depends how you take advantage of the amenities though.

  10. Hi Clarisse. When you stay at the Palm Atlantis , is it free to use the aquaventure waterpark? or we should pay difference entrance fee? thanks

    1. Hi Jenny! I do believe that access to Aquaventure is free if you are a guest staying in the hotel. At the entrance of the water park, they will ask for your room key, and once they’ve confirmed you as a hotel guest they give you a colour-coded wristband pass. πŸ™‚

  11. Very Nice Blog. Water Sports in Dubai is considered as one of the best categorized sports. Adequately, Dubai water sports attract enthusiastic individuals from all over the world to enjoy the amazing Jet skis and Fly boards across the Persian Gulf coast of the United Arab. Sun & Fun Water sports in Dubai” provides tremendous experience of the most amazing Jet skis, Fly boards and views in Dubai.

  12. The information on this page is very useful for the travellers. Dubai is one of the most visited city of Emirates. It’s the hub of entertainment from all segments. There are lots of activities you can do here. There are various amazing places to visit.

  13. Hi! It will help if your writing is based on primary or secondary research. Section – dress code. Portion – “…..covered from top to toe in black as a traditional Hindi woman….”. Coming from India – the land of ‘Hindi’ – there is no such traditional attire which covers us from top to toe. Sari is our traditional outfit and it surely does not match your description. Black is so not an Indian color!! A bit of google-ing will show you the Kaleidoscopic colors using in my country. FYI! – A proud Indian.

    1. Hi Anuradha, there’s no need to get upset as I meant no harm by what I said. I think maybe it’s easy to take that statement out of context, and it is no problem for me to make some edits. Thanks for pointing it out and for the information! And fyi also, I may not have been to India but I have Indian friends so I am not completely ignorant, plus I know that you celebrate a colourful Holi Festival every year. πŸ™‚

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