With only one day to experience Dubai, I knew this was going to be a “greatest hits” kind of tour. Last night’s surprise architectural extravaganza had offered a preview of what this United Arab Emirates city is all about – biggest, newest, tallest and dressed up in its sparkly best. Attractions are spread out across the city, requiring transportation and often a willingness to accept a photo stop rather than an in-depth visit.
But I also knew there was another side to this land along the Persian Gulf. Dubai’s history dates far beyond the past decades of accelerated growth. The city has an old section that I was hoping to explore, and I was especially curious to see how an eighteenth century fishing village grew into all this.
We met our Tours By Locals guide Maricar outside the cruise ship terminal, with our bags in tow for safe keeping in her car until the end of the day. Originally from the Philippines, Maricar had been living in Dubai for a number of years. Most people in Dubai’s hospitality and tourism industry, she explained, were originally from other parts of the world.
We headed out along the coast through the Jumeirah District, a lovely seaside residential area. Maricar stopped for a photo at the Jumeirah Mosque before continuing on to the Souk Madinat Jumeirah and the sail-shaped Burj Al Arab, Dubai’s iconic “seven star” hotel.
The Dubai Marina
We continued on the coastal route for about fifteen minutes to a two-mile stretch of Persian Gulf shoreline called the Dubai Marina. Nicknamed “Little Manhattan,” the area features an expansive walkway along the waterfront and high-rise residential skyscrapers, including “the tallest block in the world.”
Next we were off to the Mall of the Emirates for a look at the indoor ski park called Ski Dubai. I found the Mall of the Emirates to be more a bit more understated – if that’s an appropriate word to use when describing something in Dubai! – than the Dubai Mall.
Our last stop was a world away from the dazzling Dubai that had first made our acquaintance. This was the old part of town, down by the saltwater creek, back when fishing was the industry of the day. The Dubai Creek divides the city into two sections and once served as a port for small sailing vessels and a growing pearling business. The Bur Dubai side of the creek, settled by Persian merchants in the late 19th century, is home to the Bastakiya Quarter. The Deira side is filled with a variety of souqs, from gold to spices to textiles.
We began our tour on the Bur Dubai side, stopping for lunch at Bayt Al Wakeel, a creekside restaurant housed in a shipping office from the 1930s. From there we boarded a water taxi called an abra for the short trip across the creek to Deira.
About That Sunset
It was late afternoon when Maricar dropped us off at our hotel. With an early flight to Cairo the next morning, we opted for some time to reorganize our gear and have a light dinner in our room.
But first, we poured two glasses of wine and toasted Dubai from our balcony, overlooking a marina along Dubai Creek. The grand Dubai skyline beckoned in the distance. Emirates Towers, Burj Khalifa and the Dubai Frame were now instantly recognizable as evening began to settle over the city.
The sky took on an orange glow, and a big yellow ball of a sun appeared, surrounded by a crimson aura. But this setting sun didn’t just drop off beyond the horizon. It positioned itself in perfect symmetry between two Dubai skyscrapers, as if it were putting on a grand end-of-the-day performance. It looked like it belonged to this city, an architectural part of skyline’s design. And it even lingered for a while, allowing me enough time to grab my camera.
Now isn’t that just like Dubai?