Thursday, May 5, 2011

Dubai's Gold Souk

Late last Friday afternoon, we decided to head out to Dubai to see the Gold Souk area. I've been to Dubai a handful of times now, but have seen almost nothing of the city as each trip has been business related so I either went with Brian on his errands or hung out for the day at the Dubai Mall. This was an opportunity to see something else so I was excited. We left around 3:30pm for the 90 minute drive - the souks are typically open from about 10am - 1pm and then open again at 5pm and stay open until about 11pm or later.

The Souk area is the older part of Dubai and has a lot more character and interest than the sparkly new malls. We found our way to the Creek and found a place to park on the street, which was pretty lucky. Now our only challenge was being able to find the car again when we were ready to head home! We took note of our location and then headed towards the creek so we could take a Dhow boat over to the other side where the main gold souk is located. Along the way, we stumbled across the Dubai museum, but it wasn't open so I only caught a photo of the fishing boat outside.

There are souks lining both sides of the creek so we ended up meandering through one set to get to the boat dock. I was surprised to find most of the shops closed (and by now it was at least 5:30pm). Not sure if the hours are different on Fridays or if only certain shops are open on Fridays. In any case, the souk area itself was beautiful and there were a few stores open. A spice shop, which smelled wonderful - I'd still like to figure out what all those spices are used for sometime. We also passed a man selling fresh squeezed orange juice - just a small stall in the middle of one of the hallways where most of the surrounding stores were closed. A few tourist trinket shops and some interesting flower shops that reminded me of the lei shops in Hawaii. They had these wonderful smelling flowers that were almost like perfume and threaded into necklaces like Hawaiian leis. We saw a few Indian women wearing them in their hair. This area of the market had a very distinctive Indian feel.

You can see the orange juice stand on the left of the 2nd photo.

At the dock we found tons of dhow boats that act as taxis from one side of the creek to the other. It's a noisy smelly place and we both agreed that no amount of money would get us to swim in this creek! We hopped on board, paid our dirham each (27 cents) for the trip over and I got out my camera. (And yes, I look like a tourist everywhere I go around here with my camera, but I need to capture this stuff while it still seems novel and new. I just know my Dad is smiling from ear to ear as he reads this!! :)

This is what the dhows look like. Very simple, just a wooden bench to sit on and they pile in a lot of people, but you're not crammed in as there are so many boats, we didn't have to wait more than 1-2 minutes. They are motor powered, loud and stinky!

You can get a sense of the number of boats on the water here - it's as crazy as the roads!

I thought this photo was interesting as you see the city skyline in the background and the different types of boats on the water. We think that big, modern looking vessel is also some kind of public transport, but don't know for sure. It had RTA on the side, which is the Road Transit Authority.

The trip was maybe 5-10 minutes and pretty uneventful. We hopped off and made our way across the street to find the Gold Souk. Since we didn't know exactly where it was and Brian refuses to consult a map, we wandered around a little bit and eventually found our way to it. On the way, we passed what we refer to as the 'Wal-Mart' souk because it has everything that has ever been made of plastic or polyester in it!

And then we found the Gold souk and the number of tourists increased significantly. This area of Dubai is well known and a huge tourist spot. Gold of every kind can be found here and Dubai is known for it's quality (all of it 20 carats or more) and it's prices. And this is another place where you're expected to haggle. Each piece is first weighed and then multiplied by the price of gold at that time. That part of the price in non-negotiable, but then on top of the price per gram, the jeweler adds on the costs of creating the piece - that's what you can bargain. How much, I don't really know as we weren't in the market for any gold this trip, but I'm sure I'll find out before we leave UAE! ;) I can't even begin to describe the bling of this place, so I'll just let a few photos do the job for me.

As we were walking around and ogling all the jewelry, we had numerous young men ask if we were interested in "watches, handbags, sunglasses - very good copies". One man proudly showed us his fake Rolex and said Brian could get one too for "a very good price". After about the 10th such approach, I relented and decided I wanted to check out the underworld of fake luxury goods. The guy took us down one of the souk alleys and handed us over to another gentleman (apparently the first guy is just for fishing in the tourists). The second guy then took us to a building with a small elevator and said his shop was on the 3rd floor. There he said, he had handbags, watches, sunglasses and wallets all very good copies and at a good price. There was nothing sinister or scary about it, so we went up. We ended up in a two room apartment of sorts, very small, with all kind of purses lining the walls. Prada, Gucci, LV, you name it, and all fakes. Since I'm not a connoisseur of fine luxury goods, I couldn't tell them apart, but I'm guessing anyone who shops for these types of products or owns one could see the difference. We looked around a bit and saw a few of the watches, which is where I could see the quality wasn't that good. I expect the 'gold' on those watches wears off pretty quickly. So, we said thanks and headed back down to the souk. I think if I really want a Gucci, I'll save my pennies and spring for the real thing. ;)

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