Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Beautiful Dubai

About Dubai:
Dubai is one of the finest places that we have ever been. Being such a touristy place, we could not have imagined it to be so neat and clean. Dubai has the two extremes: beaches and deserts. Talking about extremes, the temperature goes up to 130 F in summers. We went there in mid-January, when it was winters in Dubai. But as per us, it was spring-like weather. Sleeveless during day time and a light cover during night was good enough. Even though it is a different country, but being so close to India (3.5 hours flight time), hindi seemed to be the second language there. It definitely felt like home. Even though it is a religious city, it is very modern too. Talking to the local people, there are no crimes in Dubai since punishment is pretty severe. We could not see any cops in Dubai in our 4-day stay. Of course, oil/gas is half the price and people pay no taxes, which means no sales tax, no income tax, no property tax etc. Driving is right-side, like the US. Alcohol is not sold in stores. You can only buy alcohol at airport or have it in the bars which makes it quite expensive. Unlike other countries, non-citizens cannot apply for Dubai's citizenship.
It is common to tip taxi drivers by rounding up to the nearest AED 5 while for other services such as having your petrol pumped, bags brought to your room or car valet parked, it is usual to tip between AED 2 and AED 20. Dubai is indeed a very prosperous city!

About our trip:
Some pictures of Dubai: TheBeautifulDubai

The entire Dubai trip went very smoothly for us. We booked our tickets through Emirates which made the visa process very easy. Emirates have an impressive online visa service and you get the visa in 2-3 days through email. If you do not book your flight through Emirates, then the other way to get the visa is by requesting the hotel where you have reservations. They do it easily too. Since we are Indian citizens, residing in the US, we had to apply for the visa prior to entry. For US, UK citizens and some others, visa can be attained on entry.

Day 1: We reached Dubai on Jan 11, 2012 from India on Emirates flight. The service of Emirates is worth appreciating which includes good food, good staff and better leg space than other planes. After a 3.5 hours flight, we arrived in Dubai around 1:30pm local time. Immigration took around 1.5 hours. Many people are not aware since there are no signs but the lines for women for immigration are separate than men. Immigration includes eye-scan which is quick and easy, once you get there. The immigration lines for visa and eye scan do not apply to those individuals who hold a passport that grants visa on arrival (UK, US, Australia and most of Europe etc.) We took a taxi from airport to our hotel: Four Points by Sheraton on Sheikh Zayed Road which we had booked through hotels.com. The taxi took around AED 40. At the hotel, we were upgraded to a business suite and we had a fantastic stay. I would give 5/5 to the hotel. It had a bar at the 43rd floor with awesome views. The pool and spa on the top floor was a great advantage. Staff was very kind and helpful. Lot of variety in breakfast was totally worth it. We loved the food. Free wi-fi in the common areas was another plus. TIP: Staying in any hotel on Sheikh Zayed Road is recommended since there are metro stations nearby and taxis are very easily available.
After freshening up, we took a taxi to the Textile Souk Area (near to Bank of Baroda 2 building). We walked through the textile area, and had an early dinner at the much-recommended, creek-side restaurant: Bayt-Al-Wakeel, which is near to the textile souk entrance. We loved the excellent views of the creek from the restaurant and spent some quality time watching the tall lighted towers around. The air was filled with light breeze and the melodious voice of the “Namaaz” (Prayers) being read in the nearby mosques at their scheduled time made it even better. The food was decent and we would definitely go there, only for the views. After food, we walked along-side the creek and kept walking until we reached the Heritage Village. Heritage Village had a great display of the local culture (food and bazaar) and various events being held. Exhausted from walking until 11:30pm, we decided to walk back to the textile souk area to take a taxi back to the hotel, capturing the view of the Grand Mosque on the way back .

Day 2: The day began with the grand breakfast at the hotel and then a taxi to Jumeirah Mosque. We had to reach there by 9:45am to take a tour by Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, SMCCU . They take you inside the mosque and talk about Dubai and Islamic culture - very informative and highly recommended. The fee for the tour is minimal and reservation is not required. Decent clothing is recommended for the mosque. They give the ladies a scarf to cover heads, arms and chest.
After the 75 minutes tour, we went to Jumeirah public beach which was at a walking distance across the mosque. It is easy to reach destinations in Dubai by following directions given by people around. Even during that winter time, the sun felt very hot.
After spending some time at the beach, we took a taxi to the Mono-rail station. The mono-rail 5-min ride ticket is AED 15 one way per person. I think it was a good ride and we enjoyed the views of Dubai. The mono-rail goes through the Palm Islands. So, you do not really see the Palm but you do get to see some great views of the the Atlantis resort. We got off at the beautiful Atlantis. People without reservation at the hotel or water park can visit the resort’s mall which has Starbucks, several places to eat and some expensive stores. We spent around 2 hours there before proceeding to our next destination: the magnificent Burj-Al-Arab.
Prior reservation is required to be made for entry to Burj-Al-Arab. We had booked the afternoon tea at SkyView bar at the top floor at 4pm. TIP: Reach there early and give your name at the desk on the second floor for entry to the bar. They call out names for going in the elevator to the bar, according to your arrival time. For better seating and views, it is recommended to check-in early and then see the hotel around. We were the lucky ones and got great daytime, sunset and night views. They give you a royal treatment, starting with a glass of champagne cocktail (only one is covered in their regular charges. So, be careful!), fruit cream plus other appetizers. Then comes the unlimited choice of delicious appetizers and unlimited choice of evening tea. We were at the hotel until 6:30pm and it was good enough time to spend there. The classy evening tea was totally worth the money.
Next we proceeded to Mall Madinat Souk. There is a free buggy ride available from the hotel for the souk. You just need to tip the driver. Madinat Souk is built by the creek and has fantastic night views. It has some good shopping stores too, mostly local and excellent places to eat as well. You can do a 25-minute moonlit abra ride there for around AED 50 per person, which we missed doing.
Our next destination was Mall of Emirates. We took a taxi to the mall. It was a short 5-min ride. Nice huge mall with mostly US and UK stores, nothing special about it except the huge Ski area (Ski Dubai) which looked good for kids.
Next we took metro to Ibn-Batuta mall. The mall is known for its architecture. The metro station is just inside the Mall of Emirates. And the station near to Ibn-Batuta mall is at a walking distance. Ibn-Batuta mall has different courts/shopping areas representing around seven different countries including, India, China, Egypt and Paris. It is a bit far from the main city, but not to be missed. Then we took the metro back to our hotel. Tip: If you know that you are going to travel a lot by metro in one day, then it is better to buy the day pass for AED 16.

Day 3: Our third day was a Friday. Most of the things including the Metro are closed that day until 3-4pm since it is the Big Prayer day. Friday and Saturday in Dubai are like Saturday and Sunday in most of the other countries. We had late breakfast and then proceeded to the Dubai Mall. It is one of the few things open on Friday afternoons. It was a short taxi ride for us since our hotel was very near to it. We decided to shop in the mall that afternoon and get back to it again the next day for the top of Burj Khaleefa, Aquarium and the Musical fountains. These have their entry through Dubai Mall. The Mall was huge with most of the US and UK stores there. The prices were little less than US but more than India. The Dubai Shopping Festival was going on at that time with some good discounts. This festival is held for one month in the beginning of every year. After having a light lunch there, we proceeded back to the hotel for our Desert Safari tour.
We had heard several scary things about the Desert Safari tour companies. Arabian Adventures and Lama tours are some of the recommended expensive ones. Our hotel booked us with their agent: Universal Desert Safari tours and I must say that they were quite good. It can be really dangerous in the deserts, but the 23-year old driver, Ahmad knew his job very well. Ahmad picked us up from the hotel in his Toyota Land Cruiser. We had a Romanian family with us in the SUV. The guy was a fun non-stop talker and his wife could hardly speak English. Their two kids were nice and quiet. Ahmad drove us to the desert area which was around 20-kms drive. It was a scary roller-coaster ride in the desert on the sand dunes – up and down the dunes. After a 25-30 minute adventure ride, we reached the desert camp organized by the tour agents. We reached early enough to do various activities like camel-ride, dress up in Arabic costume and get pictures, hold the bird and get free henna on one hand, before other people arrived through their desert safari agents and the lines got worse. The toilets in the camp were clean. Unlimited non-alcoholic drinks were included in the tour along with some snacks. Sunset views in the desert were gorgeous. Next, there were performances on the stage around which we sat in Arabic style seating. The performances included belly-dancing by women, and unbelievably excellent Arabic dancing by men. The dinner buffet had many options and was good food. With all the dust in our sandals and clothes, we were ready to be dropped at our hotel around 9pm. TIP: Wear light and loose clothes and take flip-flops with you.
Back at the hotel, we went to the hotel’s 43rd floor lounge for drinks, enjoying the gorgeous views from the open-roof top bar. The light breeze and lovely blue lightings made the night even more beautiful.

Day 4: Last day in Dubai and we had booked a Bastakiya (Old Dubai area) tour from SMCCU but it got cancelled. So, we decided to do it ourselves. Our first destination was the SMCCU center and then we walked around the Bastakiya area which had several museums, art galleries, and offices open for visit. Some maps to help: Tour 1, Tour 2, Tour 3. The Bastakiya art café is a recommended place to eat there. It took us around 2 hours in that area including taking pictures of the beautiful Grand Mosque (which we had seen during night time on our first day visit to the Textile souk area).
We walked to the nearby Dubai museum after that. It was a well built museum, good to see how Dubai was really transformed into what it is now. We captured the pictures of Al-Fahidi fort on the way towards the creek.
Next we walked towards the creek for an abra towards Gold Souk which is on the other side of the Textile Souk. The 5-min Abra ride for AED 1 was fun. We walked thought the Spice Souk to reach the Gold Souk. Haggling for the “make” in Gold Souk is common. There was too much gold everywhere with same rates as in other countries but much more variety.
After Gold Souk, we took the abra back to Textile Souk Abra station, took a taxi from there for Al-Karama market to buy some cheap knick-knacks. After spending around 1:30 hours there including lunch at some local restaurant, we proceeded to the Dubai Mall for our 5pm reservation for the Top of Burj Khaleefa, the tallest building in the world. It was a 20-min taxi ride and 15-min walking inside the huge Dubai Mall for the entrance to the top of Burj Khaleefa. TIP: Book the Burj Khaleefa from their website (https://tickets.atthetop.ae/eticketing/homepage.aspx) for a slot when you can capture both daylight and sunset views. The reservation opens 30 days in advance and such evening slots fill up very quickly. At the top of the Burj (124th floor), it felt like we were at the top of the world! Even though the Burj has 40 more floors above this one, 124th is the one which has the Observatory deck. We very much enjoyed the views and spent around 1.30 hours there before proceeding towards the Dubai Musical fountains for the 7pm show. The entry for the fountains is again from the mall itself. TIP: The lines for the elevator to go down the Burj can get pretty long. So, make sure, you are ahead of the time for other planned activities. The 5-10mins Musical fountains at 7pm were a fantastic show. After 7pm, the shows happen after every 30mins. The night view of the Burj from the fountains area is more than beautiful. That beautiful night could have only been captured through the eyes.
After seeing two musical shows, we proceeded to the Dubai Aquarium which also includes the underwater zoo. The entry is again from inside the mall. It indeed is a huge aquarium! After having dinner in the mall and shopping around a bit (since the malls are open until 2am on Fridays and Saturdays and until 12 midnight other days), we took a taxi back to the hotel.
We had our 16-hour non-stop Emirates flight back home early next day. Unexpectedly, the 16 hours went by pretty quickly. Perhaps, it depends on the person you are traveling with!

Some pictures of Dubai: TheBeautifulDubai

3 comments:

  1. Wow, such a great way to retain the wonderful memories! And also an awesome way to help others who might be planning for a trip to Dubai. Great job with the detailed info sweetie!

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  2. thanks for a great trip report! we are from San Francisco and are planning a few days in Dubai in December.

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  3. Thank you so much for share the great information..!!
    Arun Panchariya

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