A few weeks ago I got the opportunity to visit one of the most talked about and most happening countries of the moment – The United Arab Emirates, but in particular, the alluring Dubai. Obviously I was thrilled to get the opportunity to explore beyond the stunning Terminal Three building of Dubai International, where my wife and I have spent many a layover shopping, exploring, snoozing and all the other things you get up to whilst in transit.
Before we dig into the meat of this piece, I need to clarify that this trip was sponsored by Emirates Airlines – which is why we got to check out some behind the scenes action at the Emirates Flight Catering operation (yes, they make ALL the airplane food here) and also at the Emirates Aviation College, where they they train all the cabin crew on every Emirates flight. But that is for a different article. [UPDATE: here is the the piece focusing on our Emirates Experience]
Bateaux River Cruise:
If you’re in Dubai and want to experience dinner with a twist then I can definitely suggest going on one of their famous river cruise boats which ferries you up and down the Dubai Creek while you enjoy a world class dinner onboard a slow moving boat. Or, if you’re in the mood for something a little more vibrant, there are also party cruises available that are decorated in bright lights with a very lively atmosphere on board.
I must admit to feeling a slight stab of jealousy every time we passed the party boat as the atmosphere on our boat was more of a romantic experience and my wife was a 9 hour flight away… Not a bad thing though. We thoroughly enjoyed our evening on board the Bateaux River Cruise and I can, in total confidence, recommend the experience to couples looking for a romantic evening out.
Old Town New Town Dubai Tour:
In terms of population Dubai wouldn’t be considered a “big city” but in terms of sheer size, the average tourist is going to struggle to cover the distances between points of interest without going on a tour of some kind, or renting a car. Because we had just three days in the city we wanted to see as much as possible and so decided to join the “Old Town / New Town” Tour with Arabian Adventures.
Now if you read our blog often you’ll know that Laur and I generally dislike group tours and this is mostly because you’re on someone else’s schedule and are generally in vehicle with tiny windows and miss loads of photo opportunities you would have normally stopped for. However, we also realise that we are travel bloggers and tend to take more photo’s than the average person, so that last point might not be relevant to you. But we like the freedom of “self exploring” at this stage of our life. As it turned out we actually had decent sized windows and were in a very comfortable vehicle.
Our tour guide Mohammed showed us the wonder and sophisticated splendour of “New Dubai” in the early afternoon. Being born and bred in Dubai (yet not being a citizen- another story for another time) he was the perfect person to tell us how quickly things have been developing here.
We stopped off at the beautiful Dubai Marina, and watched adventure junkies skydiving between the skyscrapers, whilst others preferred a scenic lunch alongside the many yachts. We drove out to The Palm Island (which I must say is a much more impressive sight from the air,) stopped at Jumeirah Beach and took in the views of the famous Burj Al Arab hotel (also known as a 7 star hotel) before dipping our feet in the water. Or at least I did. And the water temperature was fantastic, not nearly as warm as I expected.
After that we headed to the Sheiks Palace where he leaves his personal police car parked out front for tourist to see. We checked out his peacocks and then headed to the “Old Dubai” (which didn’t take me long to decide was my favourite part.)
The contrast between old Dubai and new Dubai is truly night and day. I loved the historical value found here in amongst the souks and traders and mosques. We crossed a river on an old boat and that those few minutes on board was definitely one of my personal highlights. It was an absolute privilege to walk into old calligraphy and newer artist shops. To be honest I was far more impressed with the historical Dubai than the new glitz and glamour (which is truly impressive in its own right.)
For the first time, I actually felt comfortable and could actually afford to “shop in Dubai.” So that’s what I did. I bought some Ali Baba shoes for my son, a pestle and mortar for our home, a silver bracelet for my wife, a toy camel for my son and some other small trinkets. I even found some genuine Turkish delight.
I was in heaven.
Yes, the area was a bit touristy and one too many men offered me “watches, handbags, and t-shirts” for my liking but I truly enjoyed the experience and can definitely recommend it. I would’ve relished a few more hours in old Dubai. Perhaps next time!
The Burj Khalifa and The Dubai Mall:
These two go hand in had as the Burj Khalifa, or, the biggest building IN THE WORLD, shoots straight of from the Dubai Mall, one of the biggest malls IN THE WORLD. Actually “Biggest IN THE WORLD” is an apt way to describe Dubai because everything they do there seems to have to be bigger or better or more expensive than anywhere else.
So we headed out to the Burj Khalifa and obviously this was a huge highlight for me because it’s not often you get to say that you were in the biggest, tallest anything on the planet, and that’s exactly what this building is. So as you can imagine I was in my element as our elevator raced up to the 456 metre mark on level 125 at an unbelievable rate of ten metres per second. We were literally flying up to the top!
There are actually two observation decks. Level 125 and Level 148 (555 metres), the latter being the highest observation deck, “IN THE WORLD,” but costing AED 350 as opposed to AED 125.
The very tip of the Burj Khalifa extends a record 828 metres into the sky so on level 125 we were just a little over halfway up but I still felt like I was on top of the world. Thankfully we had wonderful weather that day and the excellent visibility provided spectacular scenes of Dubai beneath us. Rumour has it that on the clearest of days you can actually see Iraq from the observation deck.
After spending as much time as possible at the top and just soaking up the experience, I descended back down into the Dubai Mall. A shopping centre so vast that if you had to visit every shop, it would apparently take you two days to cover. Armed with this knowledge I did the only thing I know how to do in a mall. I headed for the closest coffee shop, ordered a latte and connected to the wifi.
I wasn’t even going to attempt to try and cover an area as big as the mall. After Skyping Laur and my Caleb back home, I finished up my coffee and casually walked around my section of the mall until I found myself in another mall. Yes.
A MALL WITHIN A MALL.
Only in Dubai. But the surprises weren’t over yet, around a few more corners I found an aquarium. AN AQUARIUM. With Manta rays and everything. People were diving in an aquarium inside a mall. My little section of the mall.
That gives you a glimpse into the size of the Dubai Mall. Mall’s aren’t generally my thing but I would say that visiting the Dubai mall (after coming down from the Burj Khalifa) shouldn’t be overlooked.
The Desert Tour:
I’ve saved the best for last – The Dubai desert safari tour. It’s actual name according to the website is The Sundowner Dune Dinner Safari Tour and I’ve got to tell you – it’s an absolute must-do. You may not have an entire evening in Dubai so please check out the website for other desert tours in the daytime but get to the desert, you must.
Going to the Middle East and not feeling the desert sand between your toes would be regrettable. It’s like going to Paris and not seeing the Eiffel Tower or going to South Africa and not having a braai. Driving in amongst the vast expanse of open sand, apart from simply being exhilarating, is soul satisfying. We started off the desert tour by watching a falcon show in a small oasis, after that we were treated to an off roading adventure like none other, driving up and down those dunes was truly incredible! and gets the adrenaline flowing.
We stopped a few times for photographs, and to appease the stomachs of those who didn’t appreciates the dune driving as much, and then we stopped for the sunset. I’ve watched the sun set from many places around the world but watching it slowly sink behind the dunes was experience like none other. It was truly an unforgettable moment.
Next we drove to a bedouin camp and enjoyed a buffet style dinner under the tent with live belly dancing. After chatting and laughing the evening away the shisha pipes came out and we enjoyed a fruity puff or two on the pipes as we watched the stars until it was time to return back to the hotels. That was our last evening in Dubai and the only thing that would’ve made it better, was if we were sleeping in the desert. Which I believe you can do.
Where to Stay: The Le Meridien Hotel
To be honest, you can stay wherever you like. If Dubai is in lack of anything, and I doubt they are, it is certainly not in the hotel industry. According to our tour guide Mohammed, there are more than seventy 5 star hotels in Dubai. More than 70!!! And those are just the 5 star hotels. For a city with less than three million people living there, you may think that it overkill but that’s tourism for you. Regardless, you have a lot to choose from. Why do I recommend the Le Meridien? The food and the service. But mostly the food.
We ate most of our meals at the hotel and the food was extremely impressive (flipping amazing). During my travels it’s always great to sample foods from different cultures, it’s one of the things I love most about travel, but sometimes you just want great quality food like we have at home in South Africa and they certainly have that. They also have exceptional service, which was wonderful to experience.
What I didn’t expect was the temperature. It was very mild and even crisp in the evenings. Apparently that’s because we there in “winter” (end of March) but I was pleasantly surprised and relieved not to have to carry a sweat towel or anything like that on me.
We were on a fairly tight itinerary so when I return I’ll definitely spend some time just hanging out, definitely more time in the desert and a whole lot more time exploring the old Dubai.
My next blog will be about the “Emirates Experience” which includes what it’s like to fly Business Class on Emirates and behind the scenes action from the Emirates Flight Catering and their Aviation college. Also, you may have noticed that I put way too many photos in this post and there are still so many I want to share! So i’ll be publishing a Photoblog too. Watch out for it!
Have you ever been to Dubai? If so, please add some awesome things to do in the comments so we can add them to our list when we return!