Dubai 2012

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.

I have never seen an airport with a baggage claim hall so big that it requires you to go through several travellators to get to your baggage claim belt.
I have never seen an airport with a baggage claim hall so big that it requires you to go through several travellators to get to your baggage claim belt.

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.

The driveway leading to  The Palace Hotel with Burj Khalifa in the back.
The driveway leading to The Palace Hotel with Burj Khalifa in the back.
We took a walk in the hotel compound. This is the swimming pool area. As it was summer, the temperature was unbearably hot and nobody wanted to bake in the sun.
We took a walk in the hotel compound. This is the swimming pool area. As it was summer, the temperature was unbearably hot and nobody wanted to bake in the sun.

 

A view of Burj Khalifa. The Palace Hotel is on the left and the Souk (bazaar) is on the right.
A view of Burj Khalifa. The Palace Hotel is on the left and the Souk (bazaar) is on the right.
At night, the hotel looks magical with its façade lighted up.
At night, the hotel looks magical with its façade lighted up.

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.

One of the entrances to the Dubai Mall.
One of the entrances to the Dubai Mall.
As it was Ramadan during the time of our visit, there were very few visitors in the day time.
As it was Ramadan during the time of our visit, there were very few visitors in the day time.
The mall is really huge and we got lost trying to find our way around. There are different décor themes in the many areas of the mall. Here is an Arabian theme.
The mall is really huge and we got lost trying to find our way around. There are different décor themes in the many areas of the mall. Here is an Arabian theme.
Another area of the mall with a waterfall.
Another area of the mall with a waterfall.
Close up of the sculptures on the waterfall.
Close up of the sculptures on the waterfall.
All restaurants are closed for Ramadan. They only open after fasting hours.
All restaurants are closed for Ramadan. They only open after fasting hours.
A hungry Singaporean is an angry Singaporean.
A hungry Singaporean is an angry Singaporean.

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).

The luxury shopping area of the mall. You can see only the Emirati eating here.
The luxury shopping area of the mall. You can see only the Emirati eating here.
There is even a huge aquarium inside the mall. It was the world's largest until Marine SEA in Singapore came along.
There is even a huge aquarium inside the mall. It was the world’s largest until Marine SEA in Singapore came along.
You can walk through the underwater tunnel that runs through the aquarium.
You can walk through the underwater tunnel that runs through the aquarium.
The aquarium rises to the third floor of the mall. Here you can see the depth of the aquarium.
The aquarium rises to the third floor of the mall. Here you can see the depth of the aquarium.

Beside the Dubai Mall is the Dubai Fountain. This is a huge musical fountain that comes on only at night.

The Dubai Fountain at sunset.
The Dubai Fountain at sunset.
The sonic booms when the water jets fire is quite amazing.
The sonic booms when the water jets fire is quite amazing.
Burj Khalifa, currently still the tallest building in the world. 828m high with 160 floors.
Burj Khalifa, currently still the tallest building in the world. 828m high with 160 floors.

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.

While you are waiting to go up the Burj Khalifa, you can buy gold at this vending machine.
While you are waiting to go up the Burj Khalifa, you can buy gold at this vending machine.
A bird's eye view of downtown Dubai.
A bird’s eye view of downtown Dubai.
Looking down at our hotel and the Dubai Fountain.
Looking down at our hotel and the Dubai Fountain.
The hot weather gave us a very hazy sunset. You can vaguely see the outlines of The World islands just below the setting sun.
The hot weather gave us a very hazy sunset. You can vaguely see the outlines of The World islands just below the setting sun.
After the sun sets, the lights come on.
After the sun sets, the lights come on.
The green lighted building is only a small part of Dubai Mall.
The green lighted building is only a small part of Dubai Mall.

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.

As we drove out of Dubai into the desert, we could see the sand storm covering up the road with sand.
As we drove out of Dubai into the desert, we could see the sand storm covering up the road with sand.
What a big roll cage you have there, just in case we over turn on the dunes.
What a big roll cage you have there, just in case we over turn on the dunes.
The tyres have to be deflated to get better grip on the sand. This land cruiser had its front tyre dislodged from the rim due to the low pressure. They are trying to fix it back.
The tyres have to be deflated to get better grip on the sand. This land cruiser had its front tyre dislodged from the rim due to the low pressure. They are trying to fix it back.
Another one got stuck on the top of the dune. They had to tow him out of the sand.
Another one got stuck on the top of the dune. They had to tow him out of the sand.
After about an hour of bone jarring dune bashing, we stopped to rest and look at the desert scenery.
After about an hour of bone jarring dune bashing, we stopped to rest and look at the desert scenery.
You can dune bash with this ATV if you are up for it.
You can dune bash with this ATV if you are up for it.

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.

The rudimentary camp site.
The rudimentary camp site.
We met this couple from Kyrgyzstan. I think this country is worthy of a future travel blog.
We met this couple from Kyrgyzstan. I think this country is worthy of a future travel blog.
We wanted to experience camping in the desert for the night. It was a bad idea as the weather was hot and humid at night during summer.
We wanted to experience camping in the desert for the night. It was a bad idea as the weather was hot and humid at night during summer.
Dawn over the camp site and the desert. We couldn't wait to return to our hotel to wash away the sand and sweat.
Dawn over the camp site and the desert. We couldn’t wait to return to our hotel to wash away the sand and sweat.

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.

A ski slope in the desert. They even have ski lifts.
A ski slope in the desert. They even have ski lifts.

After that it was on to Burj Al Arab, the only 7 star hotel in the world.

Gold is the prominent color here. You cannot get enough of gold.
Gold is the prominent color here. You cannot get enough of gold.

 

There were many Chinese tourists staying here. I guess Chinese love gold too.
There were many Chinese tourists staying here. I guess Chinese love gold too.
The expensive high tea that everyone tries, including us.
The expensive high tea that everyone tries, including us.
But you do get fabulous views of the Arabian coastline.
But you do get fabulous views of the Arabian coastline.

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.

Atlantis Hotel and water theme park. We took the monorail from the mainland.
Atlantis Hotel and water theme park. We took the monorail from the mainland.
A creepy entrance into the Lost Chambers of Atlantis. This so reminds me of the Aliens movies.
A creepy entrance into the Lost Chambers of Atlantis. This so reminds me of the Aliens movies.
It's another aquarium theme park.
It’s another aquarium theme park.
With colorful exhibits of marine creatures.
With colorful exhibits of marine creatures.
Of course there is the huge aquarium.
Of course there is the huge aquarium.

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.

The Dubai Museum. It's a great place to learn about the history of Dubai and how it has developed into what it is today.
The Dubai Museum. It’s a great place to learn about the history of Dubai and how it has developed into what it is today.
The old buildings and alleys beside the Dubai Museum.
The old buildings and alleys beside the Dubai Museum.
It was quite deserted, due to Ramadan and also the heat of late afternoon.
It was quite deserted, due to Ramadan and also the heat of late afternoon.

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.

 

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