You may be asking, what exactly is a souk? Well, the answer is that a souk is the name for a bazaar, stall or marketplace, primarily found in the middle east. In Dubai you can find souks nearly everywhere. It reminds me of a giant flea market with really interesting items and people.
There are certain parts of Dubai that have souks for textiles, perfumes, spices, or even electronics. According to Wikipedia, ” Evidence for the existence of souqs dates to the 6th century BCE. Initially souqs were located outside city walls, but as cities became more populated, souqs were moved to the city centre and became covered walkways.”
When you are planning a trip to Dubai you certainly want to visit the various souks that the city has to offer. It’s a form of shopping that isn’t much different than shopping at a small boutique, or a flea market here in the US, except for the haggling and bargaining.
Now, I know what you are thinking. A lot of people don’t like to bargain or haggle over items and prices. Here in the US, that’s viewed as tacky or distasteful. The price of the item is as marked. Sometimes items are on sale, sometimes items are the full price.
In Dubai, haggling is an accepted and encouraged form of doing business. Now, you can’t go to restaurants and haggle over the price of your meal, or try to wheel and deal with your hotel bill, but it is a traditional practice in the souks.
The best time to shop the souks is the first thing in the morning. Our guide told me that it is thought to be bad luck for the shop if the souk cannot make a deal on the first potential sale of the day. I experienced this one day while shopping, the shopkeeper was desperate to sell me a belt! After you get used to haggling, it’s sort of fun! You get the hang of it. In fact, while I was haggling for a purse, another shopper asked me if I would help him negotiate for a watch. I guess he noticed I was an experienced shopper!
In Dubai, there are a variety of souks to choose from. There’s the gold souk (which is unbelievable!), the Khan Murjan souk (it sells mainly arts, crafts and textiles), the spice souk, the Meena Bazaar (sells men’s and women’s clothing), and the perfume souk.
The first souk that I visited was the gold souk. It is unbelievable the amount of gold that you see. Dubai is known for its gold jewelry. You see, most Dubai gold is 18, 21, 22 or 24 carats, not the usual 14 carat like we see here in the US. The government of Dubai tries to be very transparent in the selling of their gold and has many rules and regulations. The difference in the gold is, according to Dubai Online:
• 24k- is pure gold
• 22k- alloy with 22 parts of pure gold and 2 parts of other metals
• 21k- alloy with 21 parts of pure gold and 3 parts of other metals
• 18k- alloy with 18 parts of pure gold and 6 parts of other metals
So, you get the drift, most of Dubai gold is really high quality. The price for gold is set internationally, so you can haggle on the sticker price in the souks, but they don’t have control over the commodity base price. The jewelry pieces that I saw were true works of art. The craftmanship of the pieces of jewelry was amazing. The higher the gold content, the softer the metal so it makes it easier to produce such intricate styles of jewelry.
A lot of the jewelry is designed in Pakistan, and they are known for their craftmanship. Our guide told us that Indian brides often come to Dubai and purchase their jewelry not only for the bride and groom, but also their wedding party.
There is gold everywhere you can see. There are elaborate pieces of jewelry in the window and on display in the store. You can actually pick up the jewelry and look at it in the store. In the US there would be guards posted everywhere, but not in Dubai. Dubai is a very safe place both to visit and to do business.
The Meena Bazaar was the next stop on our shopping excursion. This souk, as I stated above, is the textile souk. They have men’s and women’s clothing, as well as fabric that’s for purchase. You really have to see the fabrics to believe it. The richness in the fabric in both the color and the workmanship is something to experience. Vibrant colors of pink, yellow, orange, blue and gold are everywhere you look. The beading on the garments was really elaborate.
In Dubai, there is a tremendous Indian population. The Meena Bazaar is comprised of many Indian goods. From traditional Indian jewelry to textiles and furniture, the Indian influence is in many, if not most of the souks. There are two Hindu temples located in the area that are lovely.
The next stop is the spice souk. All I can say is WOW! There were large barrels of saffron, frankincense, cinnamon, turmeric, chili, curry, cloves, and the list goes on and on! The spice souk sells these spices and herbs in bulk. The colors and the smells of the market were truly amazing. It is definitely something to see. Saffron is so expensive here in the US, and in Dubai, there are barrels and barrels of it everywhere!
Photos by Expedia.com
Right around the corner is the perfume souk. There’s not really any signs that direct you to these souks, you just run into the different sections. You could walk around for hours looking at all the different merchandise. Trust me I did!
Frankincense is probably the most popular item in the perfume souk. There’s also a huge variety of incense available. Incense in sticks, powder, crystals, as well as numerous other forms are available. You can purchase perfume oils, lovely atomizers and bottles at the souk. You can experiment and combine different oils to create your own fragrance. The possibilities are endless!
The last stop on our souk shopping tour was the Khan Murjan. We stopped in before we went to high tea at the Burj Al Arab hotel. We were a little early so we stopped in the souk to do a last bit of shopping. The Khan Murjan souk has a variety of souks that carry arts and craft items. From lovely woven carpets and rugs, to mosaic furniture and jewelry, there was so much to see! Each section of the souk was inspired by Egyptian, Moroccan, Syrian and Turkish architecture. It’s so beautiful.
We found some lovely pillowcases with that looked very Turkish with sequins and beading. We got some really nice items to bring back to remind us of the trip.
Photo by Dubai-online.com
Dubai certainly has many things to do and see when you visit. Visiting the souks is a great way to learn the culture and to meet friendly people. But be sure to practice your haggling before you go! xoxo