It’s been years since I last visited Dubai, and so much have changed over the years. However, one thing that hasn’t is that everything outdoors is still dusty no matter how many green trees they have taken great pains to grow and build irrigation for. Since we travelled late in the year, though, the weather was cooler and much like the Philippines’, except it’s not humid. So even if we walked around a lot, we didn’t sweat as much as we would have back home. And so dusting sand off our clothes at the end of the day is a small price to pay for being able to walk around feeling (and smelling!) fresh.
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We took the direct 8.5-hour flight to Dubai via Emirates Airlines because they offer to process visas if you purchased your tickets through them. It was a breeze to apply for visas online as long as you have accommodations already booked. Two days was all it took for us to receive our visas via email and in a matter of weeks, we were off. We arrived in Dubai at past 2 in the afternoon, and because I love taking trains in other countries (not in PH, though!), I thought it was a great way to start our adventure. After having some USD exchanged for Dirhams (AED), the local currency (around Php 12 for AED 1), outside the airport, we paid 11AED each for the one-way Metro Gold ticket. We got off at the station near our hotel. We would have walked the few blocks down, but since we had huge luggage in tow, we decided to take a taxi which set us back 10AED (it was really 7AED on the meter, but they won’t give you change for that small amount).
We stayed at the famous and affordable 3Star hotel – Citymax – at Kuwait Street in Bur Dubai. Once settled, we looked for a place to eat outside.
Since we were on our own then, we had zero knowledge about where to find good restaurants. Hence, we walked aimlessly until we reached a nearby local mall and settled for – you guessed it – KFC. Yes, we travelled to the UAE for KFC.
Atlantis – Palm Jumeirah
My sister, who lives in Dubai, was free the next day, so she graciously drove us around the usual tourist spots. Our first trip was around the Palm Jumeirah, which instantly brought me back to 5 years ago when everything was just reclaimed land and not a building nor tree in sight. Now all you can see are posh hotels, expensive residential villas, and of course, the Atlantis hotel that stands majestically at the “trunk” of the palm.
The Palm Jumeirah is reclaimed land that they formed into a palm, so it has a trunk and branches just like that of a palm tree. It is one of the two (formerly three but the third one was redesigned) “palm” islands – the Palm Jumeirah and Palm Jebel Ali (not yet completed).
They are also building another group of islands, One World, where you can buy your own island. However, I am told that only a few of these islands are still up for sale and that the only way you can get to one is by air. I’d love to buy myself one and never leave. Now, where can I get a Gazillion dollars?
We headed back from the island toward the beach area in Umm Suqeim, where they complete a public beach with a view of the Burj Al Arab hotel. It was late afternoon and saved for the truck partially obscuring the hotel; the view was fantastic. The weather was excellent too.
Our next stop was Souk (Arabic for “market”) Madinat – my favourite place in the city. It was actually an upscale mall. You enter the halls, and it’s as if you are magically transported back to ancient Persia (well, at least that’s how I’d imagined it would be!).
My sister treated us to yummy Japanese food outdoors. The server there knew her personally and congratulated her for her son’s recent award (Beaming Mum as I am a proud Tita!).
We spent the following days with my other sister and her boyfriend, who flew in from Qatar to meet us. First on our list was Dubai Mall next to Burj Khalifa (“Burj” is Arabic for tower), currently the tallest building in the World.
The Burj Khalifa was initially named Burj Dubai. Still, the city fell into an economic slump a few years ago and couldn’t afford to finish the construction. The President of Abu Dhabi, the wealthiest emirate, Sheikh Khalifa, stepped in and saved the day, requesting that the building be named after him. (Trivia: Abu Dhabi has 94% of all the oil in UAE while Dubai has 4% and fast depleting, prompting them to boost tourism to save their economy.)
Behind the mall where you see the tower is a vast fountain. Every 30 minutes for about 4 hours every night, tourists are treated to a show of lights here. Needless to say, the place is always suddenly packed just before 6 pm every day. The water danced to the Aria, and it is beautiful.
And then of course, what’s a trip to Dubai Mall without looking at the largest indoor aquarium in the World?
We capped the night with a dhow (traditional boat) cruise along the creek. We had a great view of the Dubai Marina skyline.
The food wasn’t great, but there was a fantastic performance of the Egyptian folk dance tanoura. The dancer expertly twirls around in a heavy skirt and does some complicated juggling of multiple round discs simultaneously. The husband even tried twirling, but it didn’t last 30 seconds before he got dizzy.
Ibn Battuta Mall
Our next trip was to Ibn Battuta Mall – named after the great Moroccan explorer Ibn Battuta who chronicled his travels around Asia and the Middle East. A diorama of his travels is featured within the mall, along with cultural artifacts and trivia. The mall is divided into different sections, showcasing each country that Battuta has visited. This is one of my favourite malls in Dubai.