Dubai’s Souks

Posted in Travel on February 3rd, 2002 by Scotttraveler

It seemed that everyone I talked to raved on and on about the Souks – shopping areas in Dubai that specialize in a certain type of product.  There is a Fabric Souk, a spice Souk and also the “world-famous” Gold Souk.  I found that the Souks were located on either side of the Dubai Creek very close to the Dubai Museum – a close and convenient walk.  I started in the Fabric Souk (above) and saw rows upon rows of stores that specialize in selling (every kind of imaginable) fabric.  It reminded me of the Middle East version’s of the Los Angeles garment district.  There were some articles of finished clothing for sale but most of what was sold was raw fabric wrapped on long cardboard tubes.

While shopping I saw people from every country in the region and just after shooting the photo above I took a moment to chat with these men.  They didn’t speak much English but I learned that they are from Pakistan and work here in Dubai.  I saw vendors from all over the world selling their wares in their retail shops & also making wholesale trades to local and international buyers.  Some buysers were shopping for fabric to make 100 suits and some buyers wanted only enough fabric to make just one.  Clearly the trend in the fabric was Middle Eastern; I didn’t see a lot of wool, most of the material was cotton & had patterns and colors you would find wearing a dish dash or shamiz.

On the other side of the Dubai Creek is the Spice Souk and I can honestly say, never in my life have I seen a greater variety of spices than in this district.  There were spices I’d never heard of!  Much of the spice trade was geared towards wholesale vendors (below) but you could purchase enough for a family (second photo below).

As we walked through this district we could smell curries, cinnamon, paprika, pepper and all sorts of spices.  After a while though, it was a bit of sensory overload similar to walking into the fragrance area in a department store – with so many fragrances being sprayed it is hard to tell them apart.

After about an hour of walking we finally came to the world-famous Gold Souk.  Every window for more than a hundred meters was full of 22, 23 & 24 karat gold bracelets, necklaces, rings and all sorts of jewelry.  Many of the shops even carried precious gems and one could buy a diamond ring or earrings here in addition to the hundreds of kilos of gold we saw just in the window displays.

Checking the prices we found that the difference in the spot price for gold wasn’t much less than the cost (in weight) for many of these beautifully crafted pieces.  It is said that – for crafted gold jewelry – you cannot buy gold cheaper anywhere in the world than in Dubai.  There was 14k gold and even some 10k but most of the gold was 22-24k & had a deep yellow color that you might see in a King Tut tomb in a National Geographic magazine.

I noticed a Saudi couple shopping for gold as they walked down the rows of stores selling jewelry and precious metals.  There seemed to be many buyers from Europe as well as the Gulf countries (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman).  I didn’t see many Iranians, maybe they aren’t into wearing gold?  The security seemed minimal especially considering that hundreds of thousands of dollars in gold lay just behind a layer of thin glass.  I haven’t heard of much crime in Dubai (or anywhere else in the Middle East) and you have to wonder how stern the laws are against stealing.  We all know the stories of people losing hands in Saudi, I wonder what is the punishment for a window smash and grab for a handful of gold?

We shopped and talked with some of the vendors and learned that different nationalities like different karat weights.  The Chinese wear 24k, the Indians 22 or 23k and the Americans and Europeans 14 & 10k.  14k is much harder than 22-24k gold and lasts longer but I certainly appreciate the deep yellow color of the 24k gold.  It was almost like being in a museum as window after window was just loaded with gold and further back inside the stores it was wall to wall gold.  It was like being inside of a treasure ship.  Even though I wasn’t buying any jewelry, I really enjoyed walking around just looking at all of this treasure, it was beautiful and magnificent to see up close.  Should I ever want to buy some gold jewelry I’d try to hold off until my next visit to Dubai.

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