Hot as hell.
That’s how it felt once I stepped out of the airport with 2 boxes of duty-free beer and the bag that had been traveling with me for a few months already. My friend was there to pick me up and I was planning to stay at his place for most of my stay so I hadn’t really looked up anything as I usually do before hitting a destination for the first time. Therefore I had no idea of how public transportation worked, nor that I was interested at that point. It was 2 AM and I was just ready to hit the sack.
Of course 10 hours later the heat was way worse. And it wasn’t even Summer yet! That fact alone quickly made me realize that I would never be able to live in Dubai. So you won’t ever witness this city on my list of places I would move to in a heartbeat.
Luckily, 8 thrilling days and 3 months later the memories that arise are much nicer and richer than just the scalding weather forecast for late April in Dubai.
Skipping the hotter hours, and trying to put it into simple words, I had the time of my life there. Seriously fun times that took me into numerous and fairly diverse city explorations. Here’re my most cherished moments from that trip. The ones that I would repeat right now hands down. And the same ones I would recommend you had a look into if a Dubai experience and the United Arab Emirates are on your list.
- 1. Realizing that everything I had watched and read about Dubai was true.
- 2. Dubai is absolutely stunning at night
- 3. Alcohol is expensive – and forbidden in many places – and that against every preconception is a great thing!
- 4. Brunch in Dubai is taken seriously
- 5. There’s no better way to enjoy Dubai’s Marina than from a boat
- 6. The United Arab Emirates might be the most organized, clean, polite and safe country in the world.
- 7. A stone throw away from Dubai there’s a major jewel: Abu Dhabi
- 8. Getting up at 4 AM in Dubai could mean you got lucky!
- 9. Snapping long exposure shots in front of Dubai Metro is seriously amusing
- 10. There is a lot more than Dubai to UAE. Like, for instance, Fujairah
1. Realizing that everything I had watched and read about Dubai was true.
Dubai, like every big metropolis, has two faces. There’s the one that everyone knows about. People are pretty. Cars are huge. Buildings are massive. Malls are ubiquitous. Capitalism rules.
That immediately brings us to talk about the other side of the city. It is a metropolis under construction at one of the highest paces I ever witnessed. Traffic is intense. Everywhere you look, there are cranes and workers – sadly many times in dubious work conditions.
What’s it like to live in Dubai? It depends! As you can see, it can differ a lot.
2. Dubai is absolutely stunning at night
And one of your best bets to witness this is to head to a skyscraper’s top floor at sunset. I chose the colossal Burj Khalifa (829.8 m, the tallest building in the world these days!) to admire the skyline from its At The Top observation deck, snap tons of pictures with my beloved wide-angle lens before I crashed it in South Africa a couple of weeks later (oops!), become a privileged observer of the Mall of Dubai fountain show and rub shoulders with the busy crowd that had the same idea as I did.
After waiting for about half an hour and testing my patience skills, I finally took over a precious ‘first row kinda of’ spot. I left the premises feeling accomplished and with my SD card full.
As much as I love nature, buildings will never cease to amaze me. One of the reasons why I picked Architecture as my Major!
3. Alcohol is expensive – and forbidden in many places – and that against every preconception is a great thing!
– Could we have a look at the wine menu?
Alcohol can be bought and consumed in many places in Dubai – and expats with licenses can even drink in at home – since it is a myth that the city is a dry emirate, but in many others, this would be a highly inappropriate question indeed.
I spent 24 hours in Al Ghurair Rayhaan by Rotana, a five-star hotel next to the Souks and Dubai Creek where alcohol has no place. During a whole day, I didn’t feel like leaving the premises and so I got to experience many of its special features without a single drop of booze. Yay!
– An exclusive dinner at its Shayan restaurant, where I tried Persian cuisine’s meat kebabs and other small dishes for the first time in my life. Notable design with many private rooms to host small and big parties. Excellent service, food, and mocktails. I will be back!
– An outstanding full-body massage in Zen, the hotel’s phenomenal Spa, which made me forget the rest of the day on a whim.
– Breakfast and lunch in Liwan, an all-day dining restaurant with so many international food choices that you’d need a whole month to try them all.
– My out of this world premium suite with a king size bed, 2 bathrooms (the main one with a luxurious bathtub), a living room that could host a party of 30 and unbelievable dazzling views over Dubai’s Creek, the iconic skyscrapers, and Burj Khalifa.
Although it was really peaceful and quiet, I had so much trouble falling asleep because of the excitement, since I couldn’t stop going from one side to the other picturing Dubai at night while feeling like Scarlett in Lost in Translation peeking out of the oversized windows and watching planes taking off every 2 to 5 minutes right in front of my room (not hearing them at all!).
I mean, what would you do if you could enjoy this suite for a night?
4. Brunch in Dubai is taken seriously
Actually, the good life can be experienced in so many ways. Take, for instance, the Four Seasons Resort Dubai at Jumeirah Beach.
This hotel’s privileged location makes it for the perfect spot to evade the city madness and enter a peaceful oasis in the middle of the chaos. I visited it for a Japanese themed Dubai brunch in its Sea Fu restaurant and then toured around the facilities. That only made me want to go back madly. From its rooftop terrace overlooking both Dubai’s skyline and the lush gardens cramped with pools by the sea to its sumptuous indoors salons with live piano music and upscale Spa, it’s already on my list for my upcoming visits to the city.
5. There’s no better way to enjoy Dubai’s Marina than from a boat
Little I knew what I was getting into when I accepted an invitation to join a Dubai Marina’s Yellow Boats tour around the Marina, the Palm and the renowned Burj Al Arab building among other well-known Dubai landmarks.
What I thought it was going to be a tranquil jaunt in an inflatable boat turned out into a thrilling ride I wasn’t ready to take in just then.
Therefore, I’d recommend you leave all your valuables home and get ready to experience this hands-free. Since I had no idea, my laptop, DLSR, and lenses were with me all the time and I couldn’t stop thinking about how much harm the crazy speed could make them. Fortunately, I left the boat 2 hours later with all my gadgets unscathed.
Apart from that, being a spectator of how the city transitions from day to night from the sea was a worthwhile experience I wouldn’t mind to repeat anytime.
My experience in Dubai got only better from then on.
6. The United Arab Emirates might be the most organized, clean, polite and safe country in the world.
Conservative but showcasing state-of-the-art features, spotless and immaculate, where everything seems to work just fine and you never feel insecure, that is how the Emirates and especially Dubai have been conceived.
You can walk around with the most expensive gadgets anytime of the day or night and just forget that something could happen to you. Critical info for girls as well, since no one will touch you or try to harm you in any way. Punishments are just too strict!
And that is just awesome. Because thinking that if there’re no sketchy alleys, crime and weird things going on travel makes no sense, is for idiots.
7. A stone throw away from Dubai there’s a major jewel: Abu Dhabi
And its Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.
I won’t compare it to Agra’s Taj Mahal because the two are awe-inspiring paradigmatic buildings but to me, both of them are quintessential places you can’t afford to miss even when they are insanely crowded.
Again, lacking preparation I didn’t know that even fully covered I wouldn’t be able to enter it. Long trousers, a long blouse, and a proper scarf only took me to the changing room before entering the mosque grounds. From there on I had to dress in an abaya (traditional robe) and a shayla (headscarf) on top of all the clothes I was already using.
I won’t lie to you. It was hot and I barely could move while trying to keep everything in place and not show my hair as the shayla would keep falling down. It felt everything but comfy or appropriate in the beginning, but as I walked inside and saw every other girl in there dressed all in black as I was, I soon got used and forgot about this issue.
After that, I focused on taking pics and patiently waited till the sun went down to shoot the blue hour.
Wherever you go…
8. Getting up at 4 AM in Dubai could mean you got lucky!
Because if you didn’t get up that early for work, chances are you have something really exciting lined up. In my case, I was headed to the nearby sand dunes (one of the good things about Dubai is that the desert is very close) for a hot air balloon ride by Ballooning AE!
I have already talked about this experience in this other article of the most exciting flight experiences I had in my life. Head there for more info and pics like these:
9. Snapping long exposure shots in front of Dubai Metro is seriously amusing
And unusually cheap for what’s worth. It will only set you back a few dirhams, depending on how long your journey is. Something to take into account in Dubai, where there is no such thing as cheap anything.
Just run to the front of the driverless fully automated train and get ready to enjoy the ride!
10. There is a lot more than Dubai to UAE. Like, for instance, Fujairah
With 7 different Emirates, UAE is one of the most fun countries there are! If I was you I’d start preparing mini escapes using Dubai as your base. Fujairah is merely 90 minutes outside the city but the landscape makes it look like a completely different country altogether.
I was invited to spend one night in the Radisson Blu Fujairah, in Dibba, a 4-star hotel spread along 500 m of a private beach.
There you can practice all sorts of water sports such as diving, snorkeling, and wakeboarding, have a drink in the poolside bars where DJs are playing mainstream dance tunes all day long, chill and get treated in the on-site Spa O2, dine at Breeze restaurant and wake up to magnificent Arabian Sea views from your room’s terrace.
What’s not to love?
Disclaimer: I was invited to some of the Dubai experiences featured in this article, but the words are my own and weren’t influenced in any way by the different companies / DMO. Thanks for the following:
– At The Top Observation Deck at Burj Khalifa, as coordinated by Dubai Tourism.
– The Yellow Boats Sightseeing Tour in the Marina at sunset.
– 24 hours in Al Ghurair Rayhaan & Arjaan by Rotana, its restaurants, and Zen Spa.
– Brunch at The Four Seasons at Jumeirah beach.
– 24 hours at Radisson Blu Fujairah, its restaurants, and O2 Spa.
– Hot Air Balloon ride over Dubai’s desert at sunrise by Balloon Adventures Dubai.
Finally, thanks to Vijay aka FeelFreeorFly for inviting me over. I had a blast!
Still, I can think of many other cool things to learn in Dubai and stuff I’d love to experience in Dubai. Take, for instance, skydiving, an overnight stay at Dubai’s desert and properly exploring the Creek which – shame on me! – I hadn’t enough time for during this trip.
Expect me in Dubai again soon, because I am already planning my next visit!
Have you ever been to Dubai? Are the United Arab Emirates on your list of places you’d like to visit next?