My very talented older brother is in his final months of living in Dubai before swapping continents and starting all over again in Asia. I thought this would be the perfect time for him to write a kind of farewell letter to Dubai and his expat life. I love to get a local's take on a location, and although I've been to visit twice I wouldn't be able to as intricately detail this perplexing, demonstrative wonder state as someone who has a true lived perspective. He's certainly learned a thing or two in his four years in the desert. The following post is full of his knowledgeable insights and tips on the fascinating land of Dubai.
The Dubai Mall is the largest mall in the world, and it is the access point to the world’s tallest building. You can get there by taking the Dubai metro line, which just so happens to be the longest driverless metro in the world. If you want a rest after shopping, you could stay at the world’s tallest hotel, or the world’s only 7 star hotel, the iconic ‘Burj Al Arab’. And at the end of your stay you could fly home on Emirates airline, as they have the world’s largest fleet of the new and massive A380 aircraft. My sister once coined the phrase “Dubai is a city of superlatives.”
Dubai certainly is a city of superlatives, but it has a lot more to offer than just the tallest, biggest, longest and glitziest record breaking attractions. It got to be a city of superlatives due to the United Arab Emirates oil wealth. Dubai is one of the 7 emirates or states that make up the UAE; a country that has only existed for 42 years. In the last 20 years Dubai experienced phenomenal growth and continues to grow.
As someone who has lived here for four years, I would say Dubai is a very tourist friendly and a very liberal Middle Eastern city, especially compared to other countries in the region. However, one should be aware of the cultural differences and laws of the land before coming here. If in doubt common sense always prevails. I mention this because most people know the story of the British couple who were caught and jailed for having sex on a Dubai beach. The last time I checked, having sex in public in western countries is illegal too. Yet people like to jump on the bandwagon saying Dubai has oppressive laws.
If you were to come to Dubai you would need at least a week to see and do all it has to offer. Starting with a Dubai hop on hop off bus tour is a good option. For a reasonable price you can see the sights of the city from a double decker bus. These popular tours are found in cities the world over. One thing that becomes clear from the Dubai version is that there are a lot of malls in Dubai. It seems as though every second stop of the tour is a mall. Take a tip from me, save yourself some time and only get off and go to the best malls, as they all get to be much of a muchness in the end. The Dubai Mall as mentioned earlier is a must. So is The Mall of the Emirates, which boasts an indoor ski slope and is one of the most profitable malls in the world. Once you have got your fill of shopping though, the next best thing is to get a feel for the land, the region and the culture.
Going on a desert safari allows you to see the desert and its multi-coloured sands. A desert safari is done in a 4-wheel drive, which will take you on a rough and wild ride through the dunes, and you can even sand board them! Following this you can ride a camel, have Arabic cuisine for dinner, wear traditional dress and watch a belly dancer. If you haven’t had enough Arabian culture then visit the souks by Dubai Creek and ride an abra (traditional boat). On the creek you can take in the sights of the old part of the city. While on this side of town, go check out Bastikiya for more historical sites or Karama for fake designer bags and clothes.
If you want to see a modern more artificial take on Arabian culture and architecture visit the Madinat. The Madinat is another must see. It is a huge 5 star resort featuring a great range of restaurants, bars and expensive souvenir shops. The property also has a canal system (think Venice) which is serviced by mini abras that connect parts of the property. It is a great place for taking amazing photos of the nearby Burj Al Arab. The Burj Al Arab is Dubai’s Eiffel tower. Some say it has futuristic architectural design on the outside and gaudy design on the inside. I say go check it out for yourself. I recommend going there for high tea, which is reasonably priced considering the location and quality of the food.
Nearby you will find the Jumeriah Beach Hotel and its own water park – Wild Wadi. This is a great water park if you are young at heart or coming with kids to Dubai. Its main competitor and equally exciting water park is Aquaventure at Atlantis – Atlantis is the hotel on the man-made island known as ‘The Palm.’ A visit here should also be on your itinerary. Not only is the palm a fascinating place to see but Atlantis itself features some superb high end restaurants and upscale nightclubs. A favourite buffet among expats is ‘Saffron’ which has some exquisite tasting cuisines and wide ranging selection of foods.
Getting out of Dubai is also worthwhile. If you have time, do a day trip to Al Ain and see the mountain Jebel Hafeet, drive to the top and from there you can see some impressive views of the oasis town of Al Ain. A day trip to the Hatta pools or to Mussandam for diving are also good options for outdoorsy type folks. For most though, a trip to Abu Dhabi which is an hour and a half drive from Dubai will also be something to consider. The main attraction here would be the grand mosque, which is the eight largest mosque in the world and a truly beautiful building – inside and out. Also in Abu Dhabi, the world records continue, as it is home to Ferrari World with the world’s fastest roller coaster. It is worth a ride if you are into adrenaline rushes, but apart from that the rest of the park is quite tame. For a real adrenalin rush head back to Dubai for Sky dive Dubai. The views of free falling over the The Palm island are unlike any other you will see.
All of what I mentioned should take a week, but spend some time soaking up the sun and luxury lifestyle Dubai is famous for too. In conclusion, come here expecting the biggest, tallest, fastest but be surprised by how much more there is to see and do.