Dubai City Tour with Viator

As tempting as it was, we couldn’t just lounge by the beach/pool all day. Being the geeky travelers that we are, we didn’t want to come home and say that all we saw was the mall. There has to be more to Dubai than just skyscrapers, right? I was imagining an older, more traditional side, complete with fragrant spice souks and music magically playing in the background. Cue images of SATC2, with the foursome’s adventures in Abu Dhabi.

Yes, I’m romantic/idealistic like that.

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We booked a half-day city sightseeing tour with Viator. The first part of the tour wasn’t particularly exciting, just photo-taking from a distance. Unfortunately we couldn’t enter the famous Jumeirah Mosque, and could only admire its beauty from afar.

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More “photo-taking opportunities”. Well, we did get to take in some beautiful scenery.

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One of the highlights was the Dubai Museum. We were only given 30 minutes to tour the place, which wasn’t enough for us museum junkies! (You won’t believe just how much time we spent in museums while in Europe. I think 80% of our travel photos are of museum artefacts.) Thankfully, most of the displays were in the (air-conditioned) basement level.

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The other highlight was taking the abra, or water taxi. It was an adventure in itself, because you won’t see this anywhere else, especially Singapore. Come on, a boat with no railings or safety anything? Yet, the absence of these things don’t equate to people jumping or falling over. It simply works because of one basic rule: sit, don’t stand. Seems universal, but sadly it isn’t.

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Stunning views of the Dubai Creek.

Now, the absolute worst part of the tour: visiting the souks of old Dubai. I was looking forward to this the most, hoping to purchase some handicrafts and maybe little bags of spices. Remember the images of SATC2? Oh, I was wrong.

First of all, there weren’t any handicrafts (mirrored boxes and things like that). But while I was okay with not buying anything, the shopkeepers weren’t. They were so over the top, “aggressive” doesn’t even cut it. I suppose they just wanted to make sales, but I wasn’t comfortable with their brand of friendliness.

“Hello madam how are you madam where are you from madam? China Japan Korea madam? Why you look so angry madam?”

Meanwhile, Edwin was held hostage in one of the shops.

I used to think shopping in Shenzhen was bad. Now I know better.

Folks, don’t EVER enter a shop unless you are making a purchase. You don’t have the option of “just browsing”, and once you ask how much something is, you’re not leaving until you buy it. A couple of blouses caught my eye, and the shopkeeper quoted 750 dirhams for two, which he kept insisting was the “friend price”, and that the clothes were of “very good quality”. They weren’t. 750 dirhams is around S$260. That’s daylight robbery, “friend”.

I must have been incredibly naive, or maybe because of my usual proximity to mainland China, I thought that the blouses would cost around S$15 each. Seriously, the quality was average at most. The fabric wasn’t great, and the stitching was all awry. There was no way, in any lifetime/alternate universe, that I was going to pay S$260 for these clothes. And I wasn’t about to bargain hard for something I didn’t even like that much. So we decided to leave…

…Only to see the narrow doorway being blocked by the other shopkeeper. They weren’t going to let us go.

They were still sort-of friendly, saying, “What price you want?” The most I was prepared to pay was 120 dirhams, or around S$42. And then they were like, “How about 600 dirhams, okay?” Nope, not okay.

I wrestled with a few shop displays, found an alternate doorway and left, thinking that Edwin was right behind me, but one of the guys had grabbed him by the arm and said that he had to buy something. I didn’t want to go back in, and so I was pacing up and down the row of shops like a madwoman with angry eyes.

Then the other shopkeepers started coming up to me with that “madam madam” chant. Nooooooooooooo…

Finally, Edwin emerged from the shop… with a bag. After the longest time, they finally settled for 120 dirhams.

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Later, the tour guide brought us to the gold souk. This time, we didn’t enter a single shop.

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We had 30 minutes, and there were only so many pictures one could take before they all started to look the same. We started to explore the side streets outside the souk, but there wasn’t anything interesting aside from Baskin Robbins. Anyway, as we walked further out, I came to the realisation that there weren’t any women in this part of town. Just lots and lots of men. And they were looking at me. With that look.

I felt so sickened and we quickly returned to the gold souk, where there were at least female tourists, and interestingly, Mandarin-speaking dudes telling us about their “special gold shop”.

To be honest, I was relieved when the tour was over. Overall, it was a disappointment. The tour guide was nice and provided some interesting tidbits during the bus ride, but for the most part, it wasn’t worth the price we paid. If you want to experience the local culture, there are probably better marketplaces. And you could just go to Dubai Museum by yourself, and travel around by taxi, which isn’t too expensive.

The end of the tour coincided with the start of a sandstorm, and the ride back to the hotel was quite exciting!

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See how everything’s a bit fuzzy? It’s sand. It’s everywhere!

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And in the midst of a sandstorm, the Arabian moon shines through, heralding another Arabian night.

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