05/02/2012 07:08 am ET Updated Jul 02, 2012

A Different Side Of Dubai (PHOTOS)

We decided to begin our Dubai explorations with a visit to the oldest part of the city. Driving in our little rented car from our gorgeous hotel, The Pullman, which sits in the jaw-dropping Mall of the Emirates, we braved busy highways as we set off on foot.

We arrived at the shores of the Dubai Creek, which separates Deira from Bur Dubai, the old town. To get from one side to the other, we hopped on a wooden boat known as an abra for the low low price of 1 dirham (about $0.27). What followed was a breezy, leisurely, and visually stimulating ride.

Feeling relaxed and refreshed after our boat ride, we landed at Bur Dubai ready to delve into the souks. I, for one, love souks and markets in general: the smells, the colours, and the interactions with the vendors allow me to embed myself in local culture. While I often do not buy anything, I love to haggle, peruse, and bargain. As Liebling broke out the maps and plotted out our route, I wandered and stumbled upon these furry critters.

Route sorted, we briefly made our way through the fragrant spice souk. I was shocked by the cleanliness, relative unclutter, and order of the stalls selling condiments and seasonings.

We made our way through an area selling housewares and brick-a-brack as we searched for the souk selling jewelry. Again, I was surprised by the cleanliness and order that reigned in this marketplace, which was unlike other markets I have been to around the world. The Chicastenango market in Guatemala and the Grand Bazaar in Turkey were both frenetic.

We at last found ourselves at what we had been anxiously anticipating, the gold souk. I didn't dare check the prices: Ostentatious displays of wealth are beyond my reach. But, it was only after a fair bit of gawking that we exited the souk and strolled along the streets of the historic center of this ever-changing city.

After a bit more exploring, we rediscovered the port, where we were met by a variety of men loading and unloading large wooden crates of goods presumably shipped from lands far away. We eyed them with empathetic fatigue -- they grunted under the weight of the boxes and sighed from exertion. As we eyed them, two gentlemen taking a rest from their work beckoned to us, a wordless request for us to take their picture.

Back onto the boat we went, retracing our journey. Once back on the Deira side, we sauntered down the boardwalk in the weakening daylight and took in the beauty of the boats to-ing and fro-ing across the creek.

This was not the Dubai I expected. This was the Dubai I savored.

Old Dubai