[top photo: A shopowner of a souk selling colourful shoes.]
By Zubaidah Nazeer in Dubai
FROM the moment you land in swanky Dubai International Airport to the time you journey through Sheikh Zayed Road, flanked by skyscrapers and ultra-modern buildings, you wonder if there was any part of Dubai that remains authentic.
There is - Deira, tucked away from the city.
This part of Old Dubai is best explored if you stay in a hotel like the Hyatt Regency, which is a 10-minute walk to the souk, or traditional Arabian markets.
The hotel, along with UOB Travel and Dubai Department of Tourism and Emirates Airlines, sponsored this trip.
The contrast is summed up best by Lonely Planet Dubai: "While New Dubai seems like a blend between Singapore and Las Vegas, Deira seems more like a cross between Cairo and Karachi."
Deira is hardly populated by Emiratis but it is teeming with foreigners from the Arabic and eastern lands, mostly the Indians, Pakistanis, Egyptians, Lebanese and Filipinos.
Together, they bring you carpet souk, gold souk, spice souk, camel souk, fish souk, to name just a few.
I was charmed by the visual feast from colourful curled-toe "Aladdin" shoes to sheeshas and scarves, to glittering gold and silver ware.
Goods range from the fancy - intricate gold necklaces and miniature gold-plated version of the Burj Arab - to the traditional, such as Arabic perfume oil, spices, coffee powder and even dates, some of which come chocolate- covered.
Spare a day or two getting lost here.
This seems to be the only place in Dubai where you can bargain with the shop owners.
Deira harks back to Dubai's heritage of being an important trading port where mostly Indian traders met with their Arabic counterparts and exchanged goods.
Now, the area does roaring business serving as a re-exporting centre.
Proof of this, and a must-see, is the Dhow Wharfage, within walking distance.
You'll see all sorts of goods being loaded or unloaded onto the dhows, or the large, sturdy wooden vessels.
Further down, abras or water taxis chug away. The humble-looking wooden boat can cram in as many as 20 people.
Be sure to take one, only 1 dirham (40 S'pore cents) one-way.
An abra carries as many as 20 people, some of whom use this to commute daily across the Dubai Creek.
It is exhilarating to feel the breeze, a nice change from the almost-always air-conditioned comfort of transportation there.
For folks in the Deira area, this is their daily commute across the Dubai Creek.
Temperatures can hit over 40 deg C in the summer, when a night cruise may be more enjoyable.
We hopped onto the Bateaux Dubai, a pontoon-like vessel, for a 21/2-hour fine-dining dinner-cum-cruise.
As it glides elegantly along the 10-km long creek, you can chow down while gazing through glass windows to see the skyline.
No skyscrapers - I saw low-rise buildings, ranging from emporiums with flashy neon signs to a sprawling mansion belonging to the ruling Sheikh's sister, so said my tour guide.
Of course, no visit to an Arabian land is complete if you don't feel the desert sand between your toes.
Authorities have declared vast reserves of desert land for eco-tourism.
A three-hour drive out of the city confirms this.
Its breathtaking view was a postcard-picture moment.
I saw free-roaming camels, which are becoming a rare sight, belonging to the few camel farms owned by the bedouins.
No matter how tight your schedule in Dubai may be, set apart at least half a day for the desert safari and dune bashing.
Our 4WD driver expertly manoeuvred the soft terrain, dared the steep slopes and skilfully cornered acute bends.
Go on a desert safari where a 4WD takes you on a thrilling ride through the vast desert in Dubai, near the border of another emirate, Sharjah.
But some might find the experience treacherous - like my fellow traveller who nearly vomited from motion sickness.
Dinner in tent
After braving that wild ride, reward came in the form of a sumptuous Arabic-style dinner buffet set in a bedouin-like tent with a belly dance act.
Yet, even in Old Dubai, you do spot the modernities creeping in.
An unusual one is the air-conditioned bus-stops in Deira - cool relief for those seeking refuge from the sweltering heat.
Dubai is an emirate of the United Arab Emirates which is a melting pot of eastern and western nationalities, old buildings against new, the traditional trades versus the modern.
In Deira, I experienced the lifeblood of Dubai and felt its soul. It was what completed my trip.
To me, that's where the charm of Dubai lies.
This article was first published in The New Paper.