But pounding the dusty pavements of Satwa, I dig out all manner of glorious tat. A pink, plastic mosque-shaped alarm clock that sounds the call to prayer is the highlight of my haul. You can also get clothes tailored here; my travel companion has her Topshop dress copied into three different colours for $60, including material.

Even a night out on the town gets me talking to folk from all over the world. Starting at the infamous Tuesday night pub quiz in Fibber Magee’s in Sheikh Zayed Road, I find where the Irish, Aussies, Kiwis and Brits come for a taste of home. As well as battling it out over rounds including Plasticine-modelling, I get four free white spirits on entry by virtue of being a woman – now that’s a result.

It seems Tuesday is ‘ladies’ night’ in Dubai, because I’m then dragged off to Boudoir – a posy club in the Dubai Marine Resort & Spa – under the promise of free-flowing bubbly. Draped in velvet and dripping with shimmering chandeliers, any other night in this elite spot would do your purse some serious damage.

But, tonight, champagne is on the house for the girls, and I dance the night away with Emirates airline staff from every corner of the globe. I get chatting to air stewards Billy, who is Lebanese, and Fadi, a Palestinian. Billy assures me that Dubai is “the best place on Earth”. If Fadi wasn’t so busy cutting some rug, I’m sure he’d agree. As fun as I’m finding all this mega-cheap eating and drinking, I realise there’s one element of Dubai’s cultural fusion I haven’t explored: the locals (just 17 per cent of Dubai’s population are UAE nationals). This is easily solved with a visit to the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, located in a traditional house by the Creek. The centre’s mantra is ‘open doors, open minds’, reflecting its aim to remove the mysteries surrounding Middle Eastern culture and Islam. I book in for the cultural breakfast – held every Monday and Wednesday – during which you can ask your Emirati host anything you like about the culture, while feasting on a spread of traditional fare. Alongside the learning, it’s a unique opportunity to sample the local cuisine as there are no restaurants serving it in Dubai (one restaurant, Local House in Bastakiya, claims to do so, but I’m unconvinced by the menu’s inclusion of camel burgers and camel curry).

About 15 of us collect in the centre’s shady courtyard, kept cool by its distinctive wind towers – or ancient air-conditioning. Our female host answers questions about Islamic dress and women’s rights, frankly and good-humouredly. When quizzed about the fact that she has to obtain permission from her husband to leave the emirate, she says: “You wouldn’t go off somewhere without leaving your husband a note to say where you’re going – it’s the same.”

Having filled up on luqeymat – sweet doughnut-like balls dipped in date syrup – I walk off breakfast by the Creek, which glitters unabashedly in the afternoon sun. You can pay about $60 for a dinner cruise down the Creek, but I elect to spend 25 cents on an abra ride to the other side. Stepping into these little motor-powered boats is always an adventure, as they speed erratically among much larger dhows (wooden Arab sailing vessels). Squashed between men dressed in the Shalwar Qameez, I can hardly believe I am in the decadent desert city right now.

This feeling is only enhanced by a walk along the wharfage once I reach the other side. Here, hot, sweaty sailors load their dhows with goods ranging from food to refrigerators. Tonight, they’ll begin the journey all the way to India. It all seems impossibly exotic, despite the glass-fronted Rolex towers glinting at me nearby.

A dearth of culture is not something the Dubai-bashers have got right. But there is one thing that vistors have nailed – gaining the infamous ‘Dubai stone’. I might have saved a pile of cash doing Dubai on a budget, but considering all the amazing food I’ve been scoffing, it’s all going towards a gym membership when I get home.