Friday, January 9, 2015

Dubai 2015 - Old Is Gold

Hey guys! How did you guys celebrate your December holidays? I hope all is well. I am sure most of you had a great time for countdown; even if it's just tucking in bed while everyone is gazing at the sparkly fireworks display from all over the world. Even if you're just doing that, know that you are having a better countdown than some people out there.

Many of you would have known by now that I spent my remaining days of 2014 in the Middle East. By far, this is one of the most amazing trips in my life! I can't help it but to share so many pictures online and tell you how much you guys should really be there this year; or at least within the next five years with Dubai EXPO 2020 coming up!

My Dubai trip has been a dream trip because I have seen it many times through documentaries of its sheer scale projects; which is beyond imagination. To see it first hand is a dream come true. What makes it more fun is the company I was with, so grateful to have this vacation with one of my best; Amin! Needs no introduction; by now you should have known he's my good friend since I was 12.

The SATS Premier Lounge
The morning before our flight, we lounged at SATS Premier Lounge while waiting for our flight. It was a little bit different than what we had in mind. Our initial plan was to window shop in transit; turns out we spent the entire time indulging ourselves to the automated massage chair, unlimited drinks, they even have cup noodles which I took some to Dubai - because I know on certain days I would be so lazy to go down for breakfast! Cup noodles are not that easy to find in Middle East! Even took some cereal just to make myself feel like I'm eating healthily - but those cereals were untouched even when I was back!


Thanks a bunch to American Express and SATS Premier Lounge because I needed that quiet space to call the banks to deactivate some credit cards for overseas use. After all those fiasco about credit card fraud and stolen identity, I just needed to be sure! Also because Wi-Fi connection is fast, free and unlimited at Changi Airport, I needed to sit by a power socket to keep my Samsung fully charged while scrolling my messages without looking homeless and the lounge is the solution!

Best part, the lounge was not busy at all. Pretty much have the entire space to myself.


Flight Without Plight
I took Malaysia Airlines; booking was made way before all the aviation fiasco happened - so, no ethic issues really. It's business as usual although there may seem to be some cutbacks. Even so, they still stay true to their Malaysian Hospitality identity. The aircrew unquestionably have my standing ovation for rooting to the company despite ongoing turmoil; sometimes for business, times like this really shows who your true employees and patrons are.


The flight to Dubai was indeed a bliss, because the plane was only half full, most of us had the back seat to ourselves. I was initially really pissed because my window seat does not have a window. No way I am going to endure seven hours of flight without getting to look outside! It's a beautiful day out there! I asked for a change of seat; I had no idea the flight was only half full until I was told about it. 7-hour flight is very long if you do not know what to do; after much camwhore, enjoyed looking at the clouds, I had a nap and woken up by the glare. Watched some shows and then talked to the aircrew about many things under the sun - from fashion to career and many other things to get us through the quite-a-long flight. I find them real and genuine, not at all phoney. You would agree some things are not seen in the eyes, but felt at heart! They are so relatable!


Also humble despite being 20 or so years with the company.

The Touchdown and Weather Surprise
We arrived in the evening, and I have never felt so surprised by the weather. I may know a lot about the places I want to go and that there's very little rain in Middle East. I had no idea; not a single bit that it would be very cold! Fair enough, I got a heads up from some friends saying it's about 26 degrees celsius; and it feels like air-con. I didn't know that that air-con feel on a natural setting bites you to the core. I was really grateful to have a thick piece of sweater with me. During winter in December, there's not much need for air-con. The weather is cold even with the sun so bright. Stock up some Vaseline though; it gets really dry your skin starts to flake and your lips start to chip. Not sexy at all.

The Old Dubai and Souks
We spent first few days of our trip at the old part of Dubai; Deira. Personally when travelling, I like being immersed in the history and culture. So for the first few days, I was on a mission to feel the bedouin lifestyle. I am not all about the shopping and fancy things. I really appreciate the old part of Dubai where I get to see all the souks and learn everything in the Dubai Museum. The textile souk, the gold souk and the spice souk. It was all amazing because souk, which literally means bazaar, you get to bargain and haggle for the stuff that you want. The only thing you really can't bargain though, is gold. As in pure 999.9 gold - you can't bargain for that. Gold vending machines are everywhere in the mall by the way. At every standalone ATMs you will see one standing beside it telling you real-time market rate.

The Dubai Museum
You definitely need more than a day to explore the souks and everything in the old part of Dubai; but first things first. The Dubai Museum.


Dubai Museum is located right across the Grand Mosque along Al Fahidi St. From there, it is really convenient and if you walk down further you will see some souks before bumping into the Dubai creek. The Dubai Museum is a definitely must go to find out more about Dubai's growth; how most bedouins become "sheikhs" due to gold rush; and their vision as a bustling cosmopolitan. For just AED 3 (~$1), you will be immersed in all the information you need about Emirati culture, from traditional outfit, traditional entertainment, religion, and even archeology from pre-Islaminization.


Don't be deceived by the exterior of the museum though, for a humble facade and that price, you may think that you will only get what you see. Most parts of the museum is underground so, you need about 2-3 hours to assimilate with what the museum has got to offer. Even if you are in Dubai not for its culture, missing it would be a mistake unless you want to appear vacant talking to Emiratis - because Emiratis are actually very friendly. Contrary to popular belief about Arab snobs.


After much assimilation into the Dubai culture, we headed down to the Grand Mosque which is just a stone's throw away from the museum. It is not as big as I thought it would be, but it holds historical significance in old Dubai. Since it's along the way right before the souk, might as well pay a visit! The mosque is not open for non-Muslims. You are free to take photos at the minaret though.



As you walk down further you will come across the Bur Dubai souk, where textiles from all over the world are traded and sold there. There are so many to choose from, so you really need some time to shop around to get the best designs at the best price! If you are not satisfied with what you see, walk down further and ride on the abra (water taxi) for just AED 1 (~30 cents) to get across the creek. Riding the boat was one of my most thrilling yet dangerous rides! That was the least safe boat ride I have been on! No life jacket; nothing to hold on and you are just sitting on the edge of the boat. Don't worry though because the creek is sound, not choppy. There were so many people to help you out anyway!


If you're looking for a perfect timing to explore the souks, night time is the most ideal and the most happening. One night is not enough though; be warned for good bargains. There will be lights and lots of people thronging the walkways of the souk. Expect a little touting, but that's normal. The souks are usually surrounded by other street shops and gift shop can be found at almost every corner of the street. So you don't really have to worry about getting last minute souvenirs. The famous gold souk called the Deira Gold Souk is located not far from the abra dock and of all souks, this is the one souk I really love!

It has all the gold there; the souk is still safe for night shopping. I'd say it's an epitome of 21st Century bazaar because there were screens around the souk telling you real-time prices of gold; brought to you by Dubai's Department of Economic Development. With benches, comfortable enough to probably allow you to monitor the prices. They really bring bazaar shopping to a whole new sophisticated level!


Stylized as Dubai City of Gold, you will be spoilt for choice on the designs offered ranging from India and Iran to name a few. Personally, I would suggest going for the gold souk last though - just to spend your remaining cash on valuable stuff that can appreciate in value. Only cash accepted for gold bars just so you know!


Moving further along Deira St, you will come across to another souk called Naif Souk; it is popular for traditional women's cloak; abaya. Ranging from AED 80 to 200, you can get abaya of different designs, and there's definitely a correlation in price and quality. You wouldn't want to get an abaya too thick because traditionally it is not a one-piece wear. It's a cloak for cover up; so you might want to look for something thick enough that does not see through, yet cooling enough to get by the desert heat. Usually by looking at the abaya close up you can tell the difference in quality and price. So bargain accordingly!

Most of the good quality ones are displayed inside their shops.


They even have nice arabic incense if you're a fragrance junkie like me. I'm a fan of perfumes and incense so I got the entire set just at a fraction of what they initially offered. For such bargain, I still have a nice smelling home now. Very grateful! If you are keen in owning them, get the bukhoor; wood chips soaked in fragrance oil (oud oil) - because it smells more natural and less synthetic. If you're going for the resin type, it smells as good, but not so good after. Just don't smell the smoke directly! Traditionally, bukhoor are usually passed around during congregation as a gesture of hospitality.

We should probably start doing it in public transport, for the sake of people who fail in personal grooming. Haha!

If you are going to get them, don't forget to buy the traditional censer; traditionally known as the mabkhara. There are many designs to choose from and it adds on to the traditional touch in the art of burning bukhoor. I picked one that is very ornate to go with the smell! Burning them is an art. If you don't know how to burn it, it wouldn't smell as good. You can always ask them how to burn it; they are more than willing to share.

By then you'd think you've done enough shopping but hell no! You're not done until you have visited the spice souk. They have many range of spices. These spices do not necessarily come from Emirates per se, they are widely imported from all over the globe which makes it more interesting because here's where spices from all over the world congregate. It's like mecca for spices!


Ranging from chilli flakes to curry powders and even cloves, this is heaven for people who loves to cook. I'd probably stop my mum from going or maybe just leave her there and meet her somewhere when she's done if I were to bring her along. Downside though, you need to know what to lookout for and what do you intend to cook with it otherwise your purchase and trip would be sort of a waste. I myself didn't dare to buy them because you need someone who can appreciate these things. I was just there for the smell of saffron since they're displayed out in bulk. Don't have to worry about it getting polluted and all. The souks are well sheltered, there is minimal pollution. In fact, all the souks were so clean it almost looked commercialised; but it's not! Everything was simply neat.


Old Dubai may not be as fancy and glittery, but what I really like is its cleanliness and sterility that keeps those Louboutins shiny!

Stay
Hotels are plenty in old Dubai and they are not bad. Anywhere near the metro station is good. It gets you to most places around old Dubai in no time because of its speed and there was not much crowd. Just know that on Fridays, the metro only opens at 1pm in the afternoon because Dubai adopts Islamic law; their weekend starts on Friday. I knew that all along, just that I had no idea when they say weekend, they seriously meant it. More coming up.

I'm turning in now, good night!

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