An Amazing Race in Old Dubai

Exploring Old Dubai

‘Wow’ is the only word that can describe the whirlwind of sensory overload that was our first day in Dubai. After a long 15 hour flight I was grateful to check into the Shangri-La Hotel in Dubai and sneak in a tiny nap before the group set off on our big adventure in Old Dubai.

Outside the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding

Outside the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding

Our first stop was lunch at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding a non-profit organisation established to increase awareness and understanding between the various cultures that live in Dubai.

Lunch at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding Dubai

Lunch at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding

Our host was the very charismatic Sheikh Nasif Kayed, who is really passionate about demystifying common misconceptions about Arabic and Emirati cultures. The centre operates under the motto “Open Doors. Open Minds” and Sheikh Nasif encouraged us to ask him anything we wanted; nothing was off limits. We spoke about politics, religion, life in Dubai and human rights, as well as questions like why do Emirati women choose to wear an Abaya (black robe) and what do they wear under those things?
Deb from got to try wearing an Abaya and give us her thoughts about how she felt.

After a delicious Emirati lunch it was time to get racing!

Rather than a regular walking tour where we all follow a leader, our tour guide Xavier organised a novel way to explore the area with a fun twist. We were separated into teams and given an iPad loaded with an Amazing Race style scavenger hunt.
I love The Amazing Race TV show so I was super excited to get started.

Our iPad helped us navigate and gave us questions and clues that we had to solve to get directions to the next destination. It was a clever way to get us totally lost exploring and learning at the same time with information and trivia about each location.

Bastakiya area in Old Dubai

Bastakiya area in Old Dubai

Handcrafts in Bastakiya area in Old Dubai
Our first area to explore was Bastakiya, which is like a rabbit warren of lanes and houses with beautiful art and architectural details around every corner. The Bastakiya area also houses Dubai Museum, which was originally a fort built to protect Dubai’s only fresh water supply in the 1700’s.

Amazing race team

Our Amazing race team – Left to right: Rachel, Cintia (me), Mel

The clues led us to Dubai Creek, where one of the challenges was to take an Abra (small traditional boat) across the water for the bargain basement price of 1 Dirham (about 30 cents). Our team hopped on board with the locals (took a selfie without dropping the camera into the water) and enjoyed the ride as the sun reflected off the water.

Dubai creek and Abra ride

Crossing the Dubai Creek on an Abra

On the other side we found ourselves at the souks. I really wish we had more time to spend there (I’m going to try to sneak off later in the week for another look) because it was a feast for the senses!

Textile Souk Dubai

So many colourful fabrics, homewares, spices and dazzling gold! Mel bought some items and we did some token haggling, which is all part of the souk experience.

Spice Souk Dubai

Spice Souk Dubai. The blue mineral on the bottom right is indigo.

And finally after solving 17 clues and crisscrossing the heart of Old Dubai we reached our final stop. The last team to arrive, missing one team member, and sadly not in the running for one million dollars, we will not become reality TV stars in a hurry, but we had a real mini adventure.

sunset in Old Dubai

The sun sets over Old Dubai

As the sun was setting the bus collected us to ferry us back to the hotel and get ready for our next amazing adventure.

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