While the image most travelers have of Dubai is of shiny new skyscrapers piercing the desert air (a fair impression to be sure), you can still find places in the city which date to the time before the construction boom that transformed the region. Most of these sites of older Dubai are in the Deira and Bur Dubai neighborhoods which straddle Dubai Creek, the region of the city first settled in the 19th century. A variety of markets can be found here the most famous of which is the gold market (aka souk).
You’ll be welcomed by it’s wood lattice arcade proudly proclaiming, “Dubai: City of Gold”! While it is not enclosed or air-conditioned, the market’s roof provides welcome shade and a relatively cool place to escape the hot Dubai sun.
The souk comprises several hundred small shops selling Arab and western style gold and jewelry, much of it inlaid with diamonds, pearls and semi-precious stones. It’s estimated that 10 tons of gold are for sale in the souk at any given time. Gold is available in 18K, 22K and 24 karat purity and is sold by weight, using the international market price, with a market-up for workmanship. It is that latter price that is negotiable, especially if the piece has inlaid stones. I didn’t care to buy any gold during this trip so I didn’t negotiate, but a general rule is offer half of what is asked, and settle for about 2/3s of 3/4s of asking price. Cash price tends to be lower than credit card prices. Always be ready to walk away from a transaction if you aren’t completely satisfied with the price. An anxious seller often will settle for what you offer if he sees he’s about to lose your business.
Gold has been an important business in Dubai for almost a century, partially because gold is a traditional component of a bride’s dowery. Dubai still is one of the largest gold markets in the world providing approximately 25% of global trade. Quality is government regulated and given the harsh punishments for breaking the law, chances are the transaction will be honest.
All types of gold products are available, and you’ll also find silver and platinum being sold. A few of the stores will politely invite you in, but pressure to purchase is quite low, especially in comparison to other markets in the city.
A stop worth looking for is Kanz jewelery at the north end of the souk. It is home of the world’s largest gold ring (Guinness book of World Records recognized), the Najmat Talba (Star of Taiba) which is pictured above. It is made of 21K gold and weighs 64 kg. It’s hard to appreciate the size of the ring, but it might be appropriate scaled for the Abe Lincoln statue in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.
Besides the opportunity to window shop or buy some jewelry, the souk has lots of benches and as it is shady and cooler, is a great place to rest and people watch. The variety of humanity passing by is amazing, from groups of Japanese tourists following their guide with the raised umbrella, to Muslim women in their burkas, to scantily clad Westerners (frowned upon in Dubai, but tolerated). I was surprised by how many women in colorful African dress walked the market. The most annoying feature of the souk are the organized groups of touts who will again and again try to sell you their “Copy Rolex” “Copy bag”. A little interesting watching them work, but after a hundred times of telling them “no”, the experience grows old. And if you were curious, no, I didn’t bring a fake Rolex or Armani bag back with me.
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