Dubai: Gold, Falcons and Traditions

Impressive architecture goes with vast wealth in the Marina District
Impressive architecture goes with vast wealth in the Marina District. Tab Hauser photos.

Modern Day Dubai is a Host of Superlatives

By Tab Hauser

Visitors learn tradition at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding
Visitors learn tradition at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding

I have always been curious about Dubai so when a free stopover was available on an Emirates flight to the Maldives we jumped on it.

During our three days here we visited some of Dubai’s “world’s record” places, dune bashed in the desert, walked a couple of neighborhoods, ate some good food and learned a bit about its culture.

Local Culture in the Old Section

A good place to understand Dubai is at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understandingwww.cultures.ae ).

We opted for the morning walking tour and traditional brunch starting from their restored wind tower house in the historic neighborhood of Al Fahidi.

Bedouin falconer in the historic district of Al Fahidi
Bedouin falconer in the historic district of Al Fahidi.

The center’s motto is “Open Doors, Open Minds where no questions are too sensitive”.

While sitting on Bedouin pillows our guide explained Dubai culture, the traditional dress that many wear, coffee, and hospitality. She then took various questions on Arab life.

Our guide walked us through the old narrow streets explaining the architecture as well as showed us a Bedouin tent set with a falconer before visiting the Masjid Mosque.

At the mosque, while sitting on the large carpets, religion and prayer were discussed.

The tour ended at a small dagger museum followed by brunch at the center with generous servings of the region’s food.  Camel bags were given out for leftovers!

Gold and Spices Across the Creek

Spices laid out at a stall in the Deira Spice Souq
Spices laid out at a stall in the Deira Spice Souq

From the cultural center walk along the Dubai Creek keeping it to your right and continuing through the tourist souq where cashmere scarves, hookah pipes, and belly dancing attire can all be haggled over.

When you reach the Al Ghubaiba Marine Station step aboard an old wooden abra ($.27) for the scenic five-minute cruise to the Deira Old Souq Station.

The Spice Souq here has stalls with various spices and incense displayed in colorful mounds.

At one stall a hawker invited us to taste his dried fruit that we purchased.

Do bargain and watch the upsell as they tend to always put more in the bag.

Dubai: Gold, Falcons and Traditions 1
Locals and tourists at a souq

The Deira Gold Souk nearby is a must-see with 380 stores specializing in 22-carat gold. The first store showcases the world’s largest gold ring weighing 141 pounds worth $3 million.

Amongst the unusual pieces seen in the shops included a decorated gold dress with matching veil selling for $850,000.

22 carat hand gold bags and other large pieces displayed
22-carat hand gold bags and other large pieces displayed

Another sold a gold mesh little “nightie” at $40,000. One store had chained gold ladies handbags. We noticed a few stores filled with Indian tourists elbowing each other for a deal, while others were vacant.

To view everyday life in this area, walk to the Perfume Souq and then take any small street zigging and zagging back to the abra boat dock to cross back over the creek. This area has working people with their stores and the cafes they frequent.

Desert Play

Visiting the Arabian Desert should be high on your list. Ocean Air Travels (www.oceanairtravels.com ) runs an “Evening Red Dunes Desert Safari with BBQ” outside of Dubai.

Our afternoon pick up had a first stop 45 minutes outside the city to rent ATV’s for 20 minutes in what looked like a fenced-in sandbox worth passing on.

For those that want to experience real quad driving in the desert, book a separate excursion.

A young Dubai woman wipes out on a sand board
A young Dubai woman wipes out on a sandboard

At this stop, our driver aired down the tires of our comfortable Land Cruiser to get more tread on the sand. He then drove into the open desert for some fun dune riding to a place for photos and sandboarding.

From here it was a wild convoy ride called “desert bashing” over, around and down the dunes for 15 minutes until we reached their camp. For 45-second video thrill ride from the back seat click here. 

Arriving at the camp there was plenty of time to take a short camel ride, try shisha, hold and learn about falcons, put on traditional dress and get henna tattoos before a traditional BBQ was served.  Arriving at the camp there was plenty of time to take a short camel ride, try shisha, hold and learn about falcons, put on traditional dress and get henna tattoos before a traditional BBQ was served.

After dinner, there was fire dancing, a regional man’s swirling” dance followed by a gorgeous belly dancer. The night ended with the lights turned off to view the desert stars.

Dubai’s World’s Records  

Dubai: Gold, Falcons and Traditions 2
“Dune Bashing” in the Arabian Desert before getting to camp

Dubai holds 220 world’s records (a record in itself) ranging from the fastest police cars, (though we never saw a cop) the largest indoor snow skiing, and the highest prayer room at 160 floors up to name a few. We managed to take in a few world record places.

 

A beautiful dancer ended the Arabian desert evening
A beautiful dancer ended the Arabian desert evening

After dinner, there was fire dancing, a regional man’s swirling” dance followed by a gorgeous belly dancer. The night ended with the lights turned off to view the desert stars.

Dubai’s World’s Records  

Dubai holds 220 world’s records (a record in itself) ranging from the fastest police cars, (though we never saw a cop) the largest indoor snow skiing, and the highest prayer room at 160 floors up to name a few. We managed to take in a few world record places.

The Frame

The Frame (www.dubaiframe.ae) was a good “second tiered” attraction we visited that was near our hotel.

It is considered the world’s largest frame made from aluminum, concrete and gold-colored stainless steel measuring 492 by 305 feet.

]It is said to “frame” the old city on one side and the modern city on the other side.  An exhibit to the up elevators is about old Dubai.

On top of the frame is a corridor to the down elevators with large viewing windows and a glass floor. When done, stroll the attached park for everyday people watching.

Getting High

At 160 stories the Burj Khalifa overlooks the Dubai Mall
At 160 stories the Burj Khalifa overlooks the Dubai Mall
The Frame
The Frame

The Burj Khalifa (www.burjkhalifa.ae/) is the tallest building topping out at 160 floors. Visitors can choose three different ticket levels. Visiting the 125th floor costs about $50. Higher up at 148 floors is the Burj Khalifa Sky level for $145. For $168 you are lifted to the world’s highest lounge at 154 floor where at night there is a DJ and cocktails.

Each level has an outdoor patio. We enjoyed the Sky Level by sitting at the window while being served complimentary tea, dates and Arabic pastries. For a 40 second look down from the 148-floors click here

Dubai Mall

A Dubai family enjoys the day out and the view in the Burj Khalifa
A Dubai family enjoys the day out and the view in the Burj Khalifa

Connected to the Burj Khalifa is the Dubai Mall, considered the world’s largest at 12 million square feet. It includes the world’s largest candy store, 120 restaurants and cafes, an aquarium and other entertainment venues.

While at the mall dine at the Lebanese restaurant Bebabel while watching the

world’s largest fountain show from your table. Seeing the water shoot up 50 stories to music and lights is impressive.

Palm Island

Palm Jumeirah is the world’s largest manmade island shaped like the top of a palm tree with10,000 people living on it.

The best way to visit is via the island’s 3.4-mile monorail. During the ride, you will see narrow fingers that protrude from the center main road where homes are built.

The Dubai Mall's fountain show goes off every 30 minutes at night
The Dubai Mall’s fountain show goes off every 30 minutes at night

‘From the air, these fingers look like palm leaves. There also two dozen hotels here. The monorail ends at the Atlantis Hotel but unless you are guest or visiting the waterpark, there is not much to do except admire the views and take a nice walk along the Persian Gulf.

Marina District

Close to Palm Jumeirah is the Marina District and the JBR beach walk. Have a taxi drop you off at the “Marina Walk” and start strolling with the water to your right. There is a one hour boat tour option here if the weather is too hot. Take in the modern architecture and feel the enormous wealth of this neighborhood. The walk is surrounded by restaurants.

Cross over at the third bridge until you reach Al Mamsha Street which is called the JBR walk. This street is an outdoor solution to indoor malls with plenty of stores, restaurants and beach bars to keep you happy. Look for the glitzy cars and dress to impress people on Friday nights.  We recommend splurging on one of the best Middle Eastern buffets at the Ritz for $80.

Dubai Tips

Allow two and a half days to see the sites above. Many people take a day to visit Abu Dhabi.

We picked the Fairmont Dubai (www.fairmont.com/dubai/) because its location was close to the historic area, Dubai Mall and steps from the automated elevated train. The concierge staff jump through hoops to make sure you are taken care of. Fairmont also has a hotel on Palm Jumeirah for those that want beach time.

Getting Around:

Taxis are reasonable and the best way to go point to point. The transit system is fast and fun if you are near it.

Enjoying a craft cocktail seven miles up on Emirates Sky Bar and Lounge
Enjoying a craft cocktail seven miles up on Emirates Sky Bar and Lounge

Dress: 

For women, knee-length skirts or shorts for the day. Men’s shorts should be knee-length also. Shirts or tops should cover shoulders. Bathing suits, even bikinis are for the beach or pool only.

Flight:

Emirates (www.emirates.com) has many flights into Dubai that connect the world. Their A380 double-decker is spacious. Their business class level has lie-flat seats with a full bar and lounge in the back to stretch out.

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