My flight from Mauritius to India had a layover in Dubai, so I decided to extend my layover from a few hours to four days. Dubai (the city) is the capital of Dubai (the emirate) – one of seven emirates (sort of like states) that make up the United Arab Emirates. Dubai is not the largest, nor the most populous, nor the richest of the emirates (that honour goes to Abu Dhabi), but it certainly is the most cosmopolitan of the cities/emirates. Dubai is a wonderland for travellers: fancy hotels, fancy restaurants, fancy shopping, gorgeous beaches, and tons of sights and activities – all at price which I really couldn’t afford. Given the intense heat (it was hovering around 40 degrees C for my stay), the city is super air conditioned – so much that it was actually freezing, especially when walking inside drenched in sweat after even just a short walk outside. There were some marvels to be seen: reclaimed land in the shape of giant palm trees (and even the world!), driverless metro trains (I got to sit in the front and look out the window at where we were going… little things like this excite the kid in me), and of course the world’s tallest building. And then there were some not-so-marvels – just remnants of the old Dubai in the historic quarters and markets.
A few highlights of my time in Dubai:
The Dubai Mall is FUCKING AMAZING. It was beyond my wildest dreams. Growing up in the suburbs of Miami, I was all about mall culture (because there is nothing else to do in the suburbs of Miami), but that all but died when I moved to Australia. It was reignited here. The Dubai Mall is massive. MASSIVE. It’s the biggest mall in the world (well, technically there’s a larger one in China, but as with so many things in China, it’s pretty much completely empty). It has over 1,200 stores. I walked around for over an hour and finally made it back to my starting point. Then I realized that I had three more levels to explore. I spent about eight hours in total at the Dubai Mall.
The Dubai Mall has everything: every American restaurant you can imagine (I got an Auntie Anne’s pretzel and a Magnolia Bakery cupcake!), every American shop you can imagine, and then all of the Asian and European ones too (I had my first experience at a Waitrose!) There’s an Olympic-sized ice skating rink. There are three Starbucks. There are dinosaur fossils and a waterfall. There’s a huge aquarium, an A380 flight simulator, and a rather disappointing fountain and light show outside. Sure, the nearby Mall of the Emirates was the original big mall in Dubai, and sure it has a winter wonderland complete with a ridiculous ski slope, but Dubai Mall still wins on every metric. I was in awe. The Dubai Mall also has the entrance to the…
The tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa has two observation decks. The first, for the poor people, spans levels 124 and 125 and is 456 metres above the ground. This is nowhere near the top of the building despite the observation deck being called “At the Top”. Then, a building in China opened a higher observation deck so the Burj opened another one on level 148 and charges what amounts to about two years of wages to go up there for a half-hour (but it includes all-you-can-eat dates and all-you-can-drink coffee for the half-hour you’re allowed up there so start guzzling!) I opted not to splurge as the cheap ticket was already over $50 and it would have cost at least six times that to get higher up. The views were, as expected, fantastic. The Burj charges a lot more for entrance at sunset time, so I opted to buy the last cheap ticket around 4pm. I stayed up there for several hours to get daytime pictures, sunset pictures, and night pictures. There’s no seating up there (so that people won’t do what I did), so it was quite uncomfortable after a while, but it was worth it anyway.
The old section of Dubai was quite a treat – a bit of respite from the glitz and glam of the rest of the tourist areas. I walked around the gold and spice souqs (markets), walked through the Bastakia Quarter (an old, well-preserved heritage area), and took a little boat ride across the Dubai Creek. Unfortunately, my visit to Dubai coincided with Eid (which is sort of like the Islamic version of Christmas but obviously not like Christmas at all) so a lot of things were closed – including most of the museums. The exception was the super excellent Dubai Museum. The museum went through the history of Dubai and also included displays on Emirati culture, archeology, and more. The information panels were full of interesting information but were still quite concise. I give this museum an A+. After my successful museum visit, I opted for a middle-eastern lunch of falafel and pita and hummus and happiness.
Accommodation is super expensive in Dubai. The city seems to have only one hostel and it was $80 per night (WTF?). Hotels were obviously worse. So I logged onto Airbnb and found a room to rent. At just under $70 per night (AUD), this turned out to be one of the cheapest options on Airbnb in Dubai and my most expensive accommodation of the entire trip to date. The room was in the apartment of a man named Vinod. Vinod and his wife are originally from India (nearly everyone in Dubai is an expat of some sort and India seems to be the biggest place of origin – nearly half the population is from South Asia). Their son has gone off to university in Canada, so to keep occupied, they rent out his bedroom to tourists. They were super chatty and super accommodating. They took me on a driving tour, made me some breakfast in the morning, took me out to dinner at a Lebanese restaurant, and introduced me to a delicious Indian ice cream-like dessert called kulfi malai. I even watched a ridiculous Bollywood film with Vinod’s wife. Their apartment was in a real neighbourhood far from the tourist zones (but near a metro stop!) so this was a great way to have a different, more authentic, and more affordable Dubai experience!
Most mosques around the world are not open to non-Muslims, but the Jumeirah Mosque is one of the few exceptions to the rule. It is here that the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding hosts the mosque visit including a talk entitled “Open doors. Open minds.” which introduces visitors to Emirati culture and religion. As most of the normal staff were on holiday for Eid, one of the higher-ups (I think he was some sort of director) hosted the talk on the morning I attended. It started off great – learning all about Emirati culture. After a while, however, it started turning into a propaganda machine aimed at convincing westerners to come to Dubai because it has many western values and it’s a great place (to spend your money – hence the name “do buy”). We were told how Emiratis have no problem with Jews. We were told how Emiratis have no problem with gays. We were told how Emirati women are free to wear whatever they want. We were told how immigrant workers have a great life in Dubai. But Israelis are banned, being gay is illegal and comes with harsh punishments, I’m pretty sure women don’t exactly choose what they wear, and there has been a lot of press about the poor treatment of many immigrant labourers (though not as bad as in Qatar or Bahrain). It was at that point that a little voice in my head started screaming “BULLSHIT!” over and over and I sort of zoned out. The next thing I know is the sheikh dude is bragging about his Ferrari or Lamborghini or whatever mid-life crisis car he drives.
I also checked out Jumeirah Beach – but I didn’t stay for long because it was hot and sunny, and by hot and sunny, I mean comparable to being on the sun. The Lost Chambers aquarium at the Atlantis resort on the man-made Palm Jumeirah was cool but ridiculously overpriced. I like the cheap one in Cape Town a whole lot better. I got some Mexican food, which like many things in Dubai was overpriced (and not that good). To make up for it, I tried a latte and ice cream made with camel milk! It was interesting (but again, wayyy overpriced!)
Finally, I got woken up at 4:30 every morning by the fucking call to prayer. I hate to be insensitive about other religions, but it was seriously loud, seriously early, and seriously ridiculous. I could hear it through my ear plugs. Pray all you want as many times per day as you want, but maybe start at 9am? Ugh.
After Dubai, it was time to go somewhere a lot more affordable. But first, let me take a selfie.
To see more photos of my time in Dubai, follow this link: