This was my first visit to Dubai and I didn’t know what to expect. Whatever I knew about the place came from news reports. As my wife and I were taking Emirates Airlines to Paris, this was a stopover for 4 days. Our trip was in August 2012 just before Singapore’s National Day holiday. I had heard much about Dubai, being the playground for the rich and famous with luxurious skyscrapers and manmade islands.
After landing at the airport and moving to claim our luggage, I can’t help but feel that everything here is built on a grand scale – the largest, the tallest, the biggest, ad infinitum.
We stayed at The Palace Hotel in Old Town. This 5 star hotel is located beside an artificial lake and next to the Dubai Mall and Burj Khalifa. The Palace Hotel really lives to its name, as the architecture and décor makes you really feel like you are in a palace.
We decided to take a walk to the nearby Dubai Mall. This shopping mall claims to be the world’s largest with more than 1,200 shops.
Well, so much for our hungry stomachs. Some restaurants were open for take away orders. So we had to take away the food to our hotel room to eat. You are not even allowed to eat in public or you could be arrested!
The mall only comes alive after fasting hours during Ramadan. And you can see the crowds gathering for Iftar (break fast).
Beside the Dubai Mall is the Dubai Fountain. This is a huge musical fountain that comes on only at night.
Of course no visit would be complete if we did not go up the tallest building in the world. The tickets are price at AED125 (SGD42) and I would advise you to buy online in advance. The tickets sell out very fast, and although you still can buy tickets at the counter, they are priced at AED400 (SGD136) for on the spot visitors. When you buy online, you have to specify the date and time of your planned visit. You won’t be allowed to come on a different day or time. I bought tickets with timings just before sunset so that we could have a good sunset view. The observation deck is on the 124th floor and you can go no higher. You can also stay as long as you wish once you are up there, and they allowed me to bring my camera tripod.
Of course Dubai is not just about architectural wonders. There are some extreme sports and one of those that you can try is dune bashing. This is essentially off road driving on sand dunes at high speeds.
After the dune bashing, we went to the desert camp for dinner. Usually, the dinner comes with belly dancing performances, but as it was Ramadan, there was no entertainment allowed.
Dubai is all about superlatives, so today we went to visit the Mall of the Emirates, another gigantic mall. But this mall has a ski slope inside it. Yes, a ski slope with real snow in the middle of the desert.
After that it was on to Burj Al Arab, the only 7 star hotel in the world.
After our expensive high tea, it was onwards to Atlantis. This resort is built on one of the fronds of the Palm Island. The Palm is an artificial island built in the shape of a palm tree.
As the weather was hot during our visit with daytime temperatures of 40°C or more, we didn’t venture much outdoors. The coolness of air conditioning in the malls was always welcomed. But we did go have a walk in the old part of Dubai town to look at the Creekside area.
From this short visit, I could only get a superficial glimpse of what Dubai is like. It was 4 years after the financial crisis and I could see that many of the construction projects were still stalled. What was obvious is that almost all of the jobs were done by foreigners (80% of Dubai’s population are foreigners). The only Emiratis I interacted with were the immigration officers at the airport. The rest of the people from the taxi drivers, to hotel staff, to restaurant servers, to shop assistants, and even the tour operators were foreigners from all over the world. I wondered if Singapore would ever become like that one day with the increasing influx of foreign workers. With that thought, we left Dubai to continue on our second part of the journey to Paris.
Travel Tips for Dubai
When to visit: Try not to go during Ramadan due to the restrictions on eating during fasting hours. Also, summer is unbearably hot and limits many outdoor activities. But these are also low seasons and you do get discounts on hotel stays.
Getting around: We took taxis for all our trips outside our hotel in part due to the hot weather. The taxis are convenient and prices are comparable to Singapore taxi fares.