Dubai Mall is one of the largest malls in the world, and has a huge aquarium with over 33,000 animals and a walk-through underwater tunnel. There’s also an ice rink, but the Mall of the Emirates just a couple of metro stops away has Ski Dubai, a kitchy but unique way to stay cool in the desert by way of a huge ski slope inside the mall. For non-skiers you can pay for a a snow pass and play in the snow, enjoy a hot cocoa in the cafe halfway up the slope, and you can even spend time with penguins (for an extra fee)!
Starbucks is pretty much the same everywhere, so I started out my day by enjoying a beverage while looking through the huge glass windows into Ski Dubai.
It was amusing to watch people experience snow that had never done so before, and some of them had looks of amazement on their faces. It must be a truly spectacular experience if you’ve lived in the desert all your life and suddenly be surrounded by millions of icy crystals and penguins.
There must have been thousands of shops in the mall, and though many are the same as what you’d find at any shopping mall in the United States some were a bit unique. One shop was filled with huge statues and home decor items that were larger than life. I couldn’t fathom how much it would cost to ship some of the huge items back home.
Another shop offered beautiful Abaya (a traditional dress) with glittery accents and fancy patterns.
After I’d had my fill of glitz and glamour, I hopped in a taxi (50 DHS, about 13 USD) headed for Bur Dubai. I could have done it for much cheaper via metro, and once at the creek I could have walked across via a pedestrian tunnel at the north end, but taking the boats is so much more fun. I went to the Abra station with dirham in hand. A single coin was all that was needed for me to hop onto one of the simple wooden dhow boats ready to float out across Dubai Creek.
There were no railings, and everyone just sort of shuffled single file on each side and then sat down once the boat was full. It rolled into action and skipped across the water as I watched the little waves lap at the sides.
I admit that I enjoyed the breezy trip across the creek so much I did it a couple more times to other stations.
Finally on the banks of the creek, at Abra dock lies Dubai’s Spice Souk, or spice market. The spice souk had shop after shop of colorful, plentiful spices. Over the years the number of shops seems to have dwindled some, but there are still plenty to choose from. There were also dried fruits and nuts but I was on a mission – to buy saffron.
Rather than using the ground saffron from my local supermarket, I much prefer the long threads of saffron I can find in other countries for lower prices. I passed mounds of perfumed cinnamon colored powders, sacks full of lemony-pine scented frankincense, bright, sweet-smelling orange spices, and heaps of almonds. Shopkeepers beckoned for me to enter their stores and eagerly waved at me to look at their offerings. I was glad I had eaten breakfast because the the heat did nothing to contain the combined scents, and they wrapped around me like a velvety cloak.
The shopkeepers love to do the dance of bargaining, so after zeroing in on the shop of my choice I played along. I offered about half of what the asking price was, he countered, and it went back and forth until both of us were pleased and the saffron was in hand. Wiping the sweat from my forehead I continued on to the Gold Souk, or gold market.
The tiny shops with their glass doors and shiny wares reflected in the strong sun, and judging by the crowd and the strains of animated discussions I could tell it wasn’t going to be a quick stop. I was shopping for a friend’s present and knew exactly what I wanted, which was a good thing because it could have otherwise become overwhelming. Each shop I went in had a dizzying array of dangly necklaces, chains, earrings and the like, and everything seemed to be 22 or 24 karat gold rather than 18. Many of the items were chunky and over-the-top while I was looking for something small and dainty, but with hundreds of shops there were plenty of choices.
When I pointed out something I wanted a price on, the shopkeeper whisked out a little handheld calculator and negotiated. There was a discount for buying more than one, discount for being the first person of the day to buy, discount for a big smile…basically whatever they felt like throwing in the formula multiplied by some secret numbers to arrive at a total. Then the bargaining began. I went from shop to shop and finally decided on the gold I’d seen in third shop I had been in, but after shuffling through the dusty labyrinth of shops it was no small feat to find my way back to where I had started! With tiny bag and handwritten receipt clutched in my hand, I made for the quieter aisles of the textile market just for a stroll. The breezy, larger alleyways were a relief after the hot, tight quarters of the gold and spice souks.
Next, I walked along the creek and after a while I came to an area with lots of activity. All sorts of items were being hoisted up onto boats from cars and appliances to bags of rice. It was also a communal area with people taking their breaks and enjoying meals on the boats. Picture taking of people without their permission is frowned upon so I took less photos than usual of the trip in general.
After ducking into a small shop to enjoy a meal the sun was setting so I took the dhow again back across the creek (possibly more than once). The boats seem to be leaving and coming every few minutes and I think they run until late at night but sunset was a beautiful time to take a ride. The boat bobbed in the gentle waves and as the night sky came out the buildings across from the water were lit up at night, throwing brightly colored reflections on the water. It was so pretty, but with the boat bouncing this way and that all of my photos got more of the motion than the lit backdrop.
I loved my day’s visit of Dubai, which was a mix of old and new. I could have easily spent more time in each place but didn’t feel hurried with my itinerary.
If you visit Dubai, here are a couple things to consider –
Women are expected to dress modestly, with shoulders and knees covered unless at the beach. Public scenes of kissy affection, rude language, and inappropriate gestures are not ok. Alcohol is not easily found everywhere, and hotel restaurants/bars are your best bet. Photos of locals without permission are not appreciated, so it can be a little tricky to get a shot sometimes.
Stay tuned for the last installation in this series – a desert safari!
Did I miss out on any must-do items in Dubai? Do you have a favorite activity when visiting?