When I think of Dubai, I think of a city with rich cultural heritage. I think that draws me more to the city than anything else!
Way back then, there’s nothing but flat land sand in Dubai. Okay, maybe some oasis in the outskirts. Before clusters were built, there were settlements built my nomads. It’s not up until more than a century ago that it turned into small fishing village. The Dubai creek gradually turned into a trading port somewhere in the 1890s. Dubai didn’t have a lot of natural resources — its main exports were pearls (major supplier until Japan destroyed Dubai’s market when it cultivated pearls), shells, dried fish and later, gold. From trade, they got access to rice, spices, sugar and cotton. Since people from different parts the world come to the city by land and water, Dubai easily became the melting pot of different cultures.
Over the last decades Dubai went through some ups and downs. Faroush, the tour guide told me that 50 years ago, Emiratis were still traveling with camels, but so much has changed since then — the discovery of oil in the United Arab Emirates some decades ago changed everything.
However, despite all the big and shiny things that Dubai has now, I can still see its history and cultural aspects still strongly ingrained within the city and the Emiratis.
So. Here’s where Dubai Tourism brought us for a feel of the old Dubai:
There are many mosques in Dubai, but Tourism Dubai made it a point to get us here. The most photographed mosque in Dubai, probs because it’s so charming.
Read more about the Jumeirah Mosque.
The market is located close to the Dubai creek, where rows of shops sell different kinds of spices, herbs and tea from different parts of the world. The souk smells amazing! Here we can buy things for dirt cheap — plus, it’s okay to bargain! Most of the traders are Iranians who would take the time to explain the different types of things they’re selling, their use and benefits as well as their grades. If I have the chance to visit the souk again, I will totally borong!
Also located near the Dubai creek, the gold market is where we can find hundreds of shops selling gold jewelries in different shapes and sizes. I also saw a see-through costume made of dainty gold pieces, hung on a mannequin. Makes you wonder what that’s for.
The shops are run by Indian traders. They’ve been there forever, I was told, as they’re the descendants of the gold traders during Dubai’s golden trading days. The thing I found strange here is that it’s full of men — the traders are men and the shoppers are mostly men. We’re told that the women rather stay at indoors in the summer.
Ooh and FYI, the gold traders don’t set the price of the gold. In the market there are digital information boards telling everyone what’s the gold rate for the day and the traders stick to that. They only charge for the craftsmanship. Bargaining is okay, too. Just make sure purchases are made at stores, where it’s legit instead of the streets.
Read more about the Gold Souk.
Since we were at the market, it made sense to visit the Dubai Creek, the creek that fostered the growth of Dubai’s trade and introduced it to the world. We got on an Abra (the traditional boat) with some 10 people and rode along the creek to reach another port just for the sake of experience. The view throughout the journey was enchanting and it’s something I’d do again.
Read more about the Dubai Creek.
After that, we visited the Dubai Museum. The museum is the Al-Fahidi fort, reconstructed, the oldest building in Dubai formerly functioning as a town hall. It where the ruler stayed, where meetings were held and where prisoners were captured. Past the entrance is a large courtyard displaying many things from the old Dubai e.g. abra and cannonballs as well as recreated old homes.
The best part of the museum, though, is the galleries underground. There were really informative exhibits, artefacts and models that could help visitors gain insight to the old Dubai. It’s where I learned about it origin, the lifestyle of the people of back then and how Dubai transformed into the city that it is today.
Sure, everyone can enjoy the glitz and glamor of Dubai today, but I strongly think that if we know its beginnings, we could appreciate it even more.
Read more about the Dubai Museum.
The Cultural Center
So to close our cultural tour, we spent the evening at the Sheikh Mohammad Center for Cultural Understanding. Located at a reconstructed old house, it’s where guests can dine and learn more about their traditions and lifestyle from the host. The setting made me feel like I’m visiting someone’s house instead of visiting a cultural centre and I loved the intimate approach!
Our Emirati host introduced herself and welcomed us. We were then served their traditional coffee and tidbits, before moving on to the meals. The meals were plenty — they’ve got different kind of meats and vegetables with rice. There’ll be something you’ll like in case you’re picky like me. Also, there’ll most likely be leftovers so you can tapau before you leave.
So anyway. The highlight of my cultural trip is really this. The whole time we were there, the host was giving us guidance on why the Emiratis approach things the way they do (like how they entertain guests and serve them food) and gave us clarity on the things we were curious about or don’t understand. Really, you can ask anything! It’s an open discussion. That evening, we discussed subjects like religious beliefs, marriage, polygamy and women’s rights. Burrrning questions for the mat saleh 😆
I thought the 24-year-old Emirati woman who conducted the discussion on the Emirati culture did so well in providing clarity to the guests.
Read more about Sheikh Mohammad Center for Cultural Understanding.
The experiences were sponsored by Tourism Dubai. All opinions expressed are my own.