Old Deira, on the north side of the creek, is home to Dubai’s chaotic suqs. It’s best visited in the evening from 5 p.m. on, when it’s at its most atmospheric, but if you must visit in the morning, start around 10 a.m., as most shops close by 1 p.m. to avoid the afternoon heat. “Carry a bottle of water at all times, and don’t be shy to hail a taxi, no matter how far you’re going, especially in summer—nobody walks in 113°F (45°C) heat.”—Claire Turrell, editor, VIVA magazine.
Start the walk at Deira Old Suq abra station and cross the road to the Spice Suq, an assault on all senses. Outside the spice shops stand sacks overflowing with frankincense, sumac, zaatar, cinnamon, cloves, and other aromatic spices, while inside shelves are lined with everything from henna shampoo to tiny boxes of saffron—excellent value in Dubai. Buy some frankincense, an incense burner, and coals.
At the suq’s exit on Al Abra Street, hang a right. Walk to the end of the street, turn left into Al Ras Street, continue until Al Hadd Street, and then go right. The fascinating wholesale shops here trade foodstuffs with Iran via the dhows down on the creek.
Head right into Al Ahmadiya Street and continue until you reach Heritage House (1890), a splendid example of a pearl merchant’s residence. Inside, kitsch mannequins in traditional dress reveal how they lived at the time. This house belonged to Sheikh Ahmed bin Dalmouk, who, along with his son, built adjoining Al Ahmadiya School, one of Dubai’s oldest schools, responsible for educating some of the city’s most prominent citizens. At the school’s entrance admire the exquisite decorative gypsum panels. Inside, fascinating black-and-white photos illustrate the school’s history.
Walk along Al Ahmadiya Street, turning right into Old Baladiya Street, a lane of wholesalers mainly trading in traditional sandals, and gutra and agal, the headdress worn by Emirati men. Further down the street a wooden latticed arch marks the entrance to Dubai’s gold suq, home to myriad shops with dazzling displays of gold jewelry in their windows. Be prepared to bargain.
On the side streets are small cafeterias, tiny tailoring shops, neon-lit barbers, and souvenir shops selling belly dance costumes. Walk to the end of the wooden arcades then continue along Sikkat al Khail Street to the perfume suq. This is where Emirati women and gulf tourists bargain for spicy Arabian attars (perfume oils) and elaborate perfume bottles. In the surrounding back streets, the narrow alleyways of Deira covered suq are lined with stores selling traditional kandouras (long robes), textiles, shisha pipes, souvenirs, and not coincidentally, lots of cheap luggage.
Walk to the corner of Sikkat al Khail Street and Al Soor Street where you can revive with a fresh mango juice and delicious shawarma at Ashwaq Cafeteria.
Overview and HistoryDubai is one of the seven Arab Emirates and has the highest population in the UAE. Unfortunately for western historians, the pre-Islamic culture used an oral tradition for recordkeeping of its stories and legends, so there isn't much to go on from library sources.But the area around Dubai has been occupied for thousands of years, with many trading centers between the east and west. The earliest mention of Dubai recorded in writing dates to 1095, and it was known as a source of rich pearls to merchants of Venice.Dubai was dependent of Abu Dhabi during the 19th century; it became a protectorate of the UK as of 1892, and engaged in border disputes with Abu Dhabi after WWII. As of 1971 Dubai became part of the United Arab Emirates.From here onwards let the theme of this essay be,"Dubai goes BIG!"There's booming construction going on in Dubai right now, as in, almost 25% of its economy is based on building!Dubai has the capital and initiative to set up some really exciting projects, like Dubai Internet City. It's a free trade zone in a technology park created to attract large companies by offering special tax breaks within its economic zone. So far players like Microsoft, HP, Nokia, IBM and Oracle have moved in with their regional offices... not bad. DIC is now a strategic hub connecting two billion people across the Middle East, Africa and India.Spin around in the Heritage Village area and check out all the construction cranes on the horizon.Getting ThereThe Dubai International Airport has one of the best duty-free shopping malls in the world, which is an attraction all by itself.The airport offers a wide range of world-class services. Transportation service will be car rental or taxi, with buses to appease the traffic problem.TransportationDubai has an extensive taxi system made up of both private and government-operated cabs. The city was planned to hold 600,000 people and it population is now 1.5 million -- you figure out what that means in terms of traffic...Currently there's a $4 billion construction project underway to build a Metro system, expected to be complete in 2012.If you want to have some real fun, take an abras to find the world's most amazing spice market here, at Spice Souk Abra Station. Abras are little wooden boats you take to cross the Dubai canal. It costs about 27cent USD for the trip, you get them at Abra station and ride them between the gold/spice market on one side and the textile market on the other.This is a great way to see old Dubai too, by traveling the Dubai creek. Also, don't forget that the National Bank building reflects the surface of the water and looks like a giant TV.People and CultureChoosing the right season to visit Dubai is of critical importance. Temperatures range from 10C in winter to 48C in the summer. Tourist season starts in October and gets cranking in November.The local currency is the dirham. Carry small change with you for taxi drivers and things, otherwise you will end up giving a bigger tip than you meant to.They drive on the right in Dubai and there is a car accident, on average, every three minutes. Be advised and keep your eyes peeled.Dubai has a zero tolerance drug policy. ZERO. Don't mess around.Things to do, RecommendationsDubai is as ancient as it is modern. See the Chamber of Commerce and Bastakiya for just two of the myriad examples. Bastakiya is a completely-restored neighborhood from an old merchants' settlement. A really popular historic destination to visit is one of the of three watchtowers guarding the city of Burj-Nahar in Deira.Dubai is the upscale shopping capital of the world, but its charming old markets (souks) are where it all comes from. If you're not from around here, get ready to learn about bargaining...Here's the old market called Souk Bur Dubai, take a look at your shopping schedule and dive in!Al-Sabkha is one of the smaller communities in Dubai but it's got tons of markets to poke through.Clubbing: Dubai has strict liquor laws (and pork laws) so most of the nightclubs are located inside hotels, where they already have some sort of liquor license. Check out Zinc, Planetarium, Kandy Club, and Peppermint to get your dose of bass.Well, you can't exactly climb up this one, but here's the clock tower.Just wait until the Burj Dubai is finished, then you'll REALLY have something to get a view from! The Burj Dubai will be the world's tallest structure when it's done. Office space is set for about $4,000 per square foot, ready to go in September 2009. Cheap! It's part of a development that when finished will host thirty thousand homes, nine hotels, seven acres of parkland, and the Dubai Mall -- slated to be the largest mall in the world.Dubai is going big! Get there and have a look for yourself.Text by Steve Smith.