Dubai Diary

Dubai's shopping secrets: Labyrinth of dazzling gold jewelry and 'genuine fakes' make haggling a sport

Dubai's shopping secrets: Labyrinth of gold makes haggling a sport

News, Shelby, Dubai gold market, January 2015
The Gold Souk in Dubai boasts as many as 300 shops selling at remarkable prices. Photo by Shelby Hodge
News, Shelby, Dubai gold market, January 2015
Profusions of gold ornamentation in Dubai's Gold Souk are available in 18, 22 and 24 karat. Photo by Shelby Hodge
News, Shelby, Dubai gold market, February 2015
The Dubai Gold Souk is worth the visit even for those not interested in buying. Photo by Shelby Hodge
News, Shelby, Dubai gold market, January 2015
The designs are endless and prices are based on karat weight plus workmanship. Bargaining is required. Photo by Shelby Hodge
News, Shelby, Dubai gold market, January 2015
Shoppers come from around the world for the low prices on gold jewelry. Photo by Shelby Hodge
News, Shelby, Dubai gold market, January 2015
The Gold Souk area offers clothing and novelties in addition to the jewelry. Photo by Shelby Hodge
News, Shelby, Dubai gol market, February 2015
Name brand stores vie with small independent shops in the gold market. Photo by Shelby Hodge
News, Shelby, Dubai gold market, January 2015
The rabbit warren of shops in the Gold Souk neighborhood include clothing stores. Photo by Shelby Hodge
News, Shelby, Dubai creek crossing, January 2015
Abra are the small ferries that carry visitors back and forth across the Dubai Creek which links the old world markets. Photo by Shelby Hodge
News, Shelby, Dubai spice market, January 2015
The spice market offers a colorful and redolent experience. Photo by Shelby Hodge
News, Shelby, Dubai spice market, January 2015
Spices come from around the world. Here saffron is a bargain. Photo by Shelby Hodge
News, Shelby, Dubai textile market, January 2015
Salt and pepper shakers make a nod to the Emirati culture. Photo by Shelby Hodge
News, Shelby, Dubai textile market, January 2015
Souvenirs abound in the spice market. Photo by Shelby Hodge
News, Shelby, Dubai textile market, January 2015
The imposing structure signals entry to the Dubai Textile Souk. Photo by Shelby Hodge
News, Shelby, Dubai textile market, January 2015
Proprietors of the textile market come primarily from India and Pakistan. Photo by Shelby Hodge
News, Shelby, Dubai textile market, January 2015
Foreign shoppers find a plethora of items to take home. Photo by Shelby Hodge
News, Shelby, Dubai textile market, January 2015
Ghutras, hijabs, abayas and kaftans abound in the textile market. Photo by Shelby Hodge
News, Shelby, Dubai textile market, January 2015
Hand painted bowls from India are a colorful enticement in the Dubai Textile Souk. Photo by Shelby Hodge
News, Shelby, Dubai textile market, January 2015
Decorative fabric items are popular tourist draws to the textile market. Photo by Shelby Hodge
News, Shelby, Dubai textile market, January 2015
Old world style architecture serves a modern purpose in the textile market. Photo by Shelby Hodge
News, Shelby, Dubai gold market, January 2015
News, Shelby, Dubai gold market, January 2015
News, Shelby, Dubai gold market, February 2015
News, Shelby, Dubai gold market, January 2015
News, Shelby, Dubai gold market, January 2015
News, Shelby, Dubai gold market, January 2015
News, Shelby, Dubai gol market, February 2015
News, Shelby, Dubai gold market, January 2015
News, Shelby, Dubai creek crossing, January 2015
News, Shelby, Dubai spice market, January 2015
News, Shelby, Dubai spice market, January 2015
News, Shelby, Dubai textile market, January 2015
News, Shelby, Dubai textile market, January 2015
News, Shelby, Dubai textile market, January 2015
News, Shelby, Dubai textile market, January 2015
News, Shelby, Dubai textile market, January 2015
News, Shelby, Dubai textile market, January 2015
News, Shelby, Dubai textile market, January 2015
News, Shelby, Dubai textile market, January 2015
News, Shelby, Dubai textile market, January 2015

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Dazzling hardly begins to describe the window displays that fill the Gold Souk with the most tempting arrays of every form of body ornamentation imaginable. Even with no intention of dropping a bundle in any of the 300 jewelry shops, you should not miss this immense cache of bullion.

While mega malls garner modern-day kudos, it is the old world shopping in Dubai that intrigues. Conveniently, the Gold Souk and the Spice Souk are virtually together and the Textile Souk is a jolly ride across Dubai Creek aboard an open-air, wooden abra, or small ferry.

We began our day in the Gold Souk posing for photos in front of the incredible displays of gold, an obvious reflection of the wealth of the oil rich region. It's hard to imagine how many millions of dollars worth of gold is harbored in the covered labyrinth of shops. One estimation is that on any given day, there are 10 tons of gold stored here.

Not looking for a 22-karat gold chest plate? Many of the shops offer beautiful diamond and precious stone pieces — rings, necklaces, earrings. Oh, to be an oil mogul.

 It's hard to imagine how many millions of dollars worth of gold is harbored in the covered labyrinth. One estimation is that on any given day, there are 10 tons of gold here. 

Our guide from Arabian Adventures informed us that the various pieces are priced by weight and by craftsmanship, with pieces made by machine costing less than those that are handmade. The cost of a piece by weight is not negotiable. However, the added cost of design is where the bargaining begins.

Those with a talent for haggling will love this experience. Those such as myself, reluctant to bicker over price and with a serious math deficiency, will not find it particularly enjoyable.

Nevertheless, the bargains are there as the Gold Souk is said to offer the best gold prices in the world.

And then there are the fakes, or the "genuine fakes" as a sign in one shop promised. Rolex, Bvlgari, Cartier watches and more looking ever so realistic and requiring ever so much bargaining. I am now the proud owner of a genuine fake gold Rolex and my husband is sporting a genuine fake Bvlgari. I would brag that I got them for a steal, but my haggling is so poor and my math so bad that I actually gave the guy $20 more than the agreed upon price.

Stop and smell the saffron
Only a few short blocks away, the rich aromas of curry, cinnamon and coriander fill the air of the ages old souk where spice trading dates back to the early days of Dubai. Those not loading up on affordable saffron were quick to pick up gift packages containing a variety of spices and perhaps dates or cashews.

 The various pieces are priced by weight and by craftsmanship, with pieces made by machine costing less than those that are handmade.  

In these ancient stalls, herbs, frankincense and perfume oils share shelf space with dried lemons, dried apricots, balls of indigo and sacks of turmeric. Novelties include salt and pepper shakers designed like a sheikh and sheikha, slippers, kaftans and pashmina shawls galore.

The colorful displays are a photographers's dream.

Ghutras, hijabs and more
Heading to the Textile Souk, we traveled by abra across Dubai Creek, which was once a narrow meandering thing but today is a major waterway that channels across Dubai, bisecting the Emirate. Major dredging and expansion operations were completed in 1964, opening Dubai to a growing international trade.

A good bit of that trade comes from India and Pakistan, countries which have filled the textile market with acres of fabrics and traditional Middle Eastern dress. Women's head coverings or hijabs, men's red and white checked head dressings or ghutras, thobes (the pristine white robes), abayas (women's robes that cover Western clothing), sandals and more are among the offerings.

Elaborately beaded and surprisingly affordable kaftans offer an appealing Western take on fashion.

One shop was particularly popular with our group for its array of handpainted pottery, beautifully embroidered shawls, linens and decorative pillows from India. Luckily, I had saved extra room in my luggage for purchases that included something of almost everything.

Next up in Shelby's Dubai Diary: Camel racing in Dubai is serious sport but for the outsider it can be a hilarious experience. (Shelby Hodge's trip was hosted by Emirates Airline.) To read the first part of this seven-day series, click here.