With accolades like having the tallest building in the world, the biggest mall in the world, Dubai has come a long way from being a desert. Despite what it has grown into in such a short time, each time popular travel sites like Condé Nast Traveler posts on FB about Dubai, you’ll see plenty of comments along the line of “Why would someone travel to Dubai, when you can travel to so many other beautiful destinations around the world?”, or “They jail women for being raped, don’t go and boost the economy of a city like this!” and so on.
To be honest, I haven’t quite worked out exactly whether I like or dislike Dubai as a destination, though it’s probably towards the I-Don’t-Exactly-Fancy-Dubai-But-It-Was-An-Interesting-City side. As a city, Dubai’s vibe isn’t my cup of tea. Dubai is glitzy when night falls, lights twinkling from buildings and billboards. In the daytime, the city somehow feels quite sterile — skyscrapers, a dusty fog in the air; you get the drift. The question is,
Is Dubai worth travelling to?
A few things to know before you decide about Dubai
1. The weather can be terribly hot
Rain is rare. In fact, I felt weird hearing the rain hit my windows when I returned to Singapore, not kidding! In Dubai, the weather can get really
warm hot. “There are 2 seasons: Hell and Spring“, so describes this Quora user (Khaled Ali) about Dubai’s weather (source). That ‘Hell’ lasts 9 months, while cooler weather for the remaining three. Be prepared for the heat if you’re not visiting during ‘Spring’.
2. Dubai is not a cheap city to visit
Dubai is not cheap but, not everything is expensive. It depends on your planning and experiences you want.
For example, to go up the Burj Khalifa (that pointy building in photo above), currently the world’s tallest building, if you choose none-prime hours + not Immediate Entry (you really don’t need it) + access to the 125th floor, it will cost AED 125 (S$48 / USD$34) per adult, as compared to prime hours + Immediate Entry + access to 148th floor, which will set you back by AED 500 (S$192 / USD$136). However, if you wanna take a professional picture up there where they’ll super-impose you to look like you’re climbing up Burj Khalifa, that one photo souvenir will cost a whopping AED 290 (S$112 / USD$79).
Some experiences are free, such as visiting Jumeirah Beach, or being at The Palm island, or going to the souks. Other places like Dubai Museum and Dubai Miracle Garden (read my blog entry here!) are considered cheap or reasonable. For more unique experiences like skydiving above Palm Islands (AED 1999), high tea at Burj Al Arab hotel (from AED 400), or taking a helicopter ride (from AED 795 to AED 12,850 (S$4,950 / USD$3,500)) to tour Dubai, they will definitely cost a lot more.
Transport by Dubai’s metro is cheap. Taxis are everywhere. I have no transport experiences to share though because we drove our own car around.
Food is not very cheap. I ate an equal amount of fast food and at food courts.
3. It’s not a very walkable city
The metro system was built to connect areas. Other than that, I don’t feel you can walk from hotel to places, unless you’re staying right beside Dubai Mall and that’s all you wanna go. To get between tourist spots, you need to take the train or a cab.
4. Laws in Dubai are very strict
Despite how westernized Dubai looks, it retains conservative laws. Sharia law applies in UAE. In Dubai, as ladies, you’re advised to keep your shoulders, arms (wear sleeved tops) and knees covered, even if you’re going to Dubai Mall or any other mall. Of course, there are tourists that write about how they didn’t get into trouble despite not following the dress code. However, the fact is you’ll see Emirati ladies covered from head to toe, leaving just their eyes, hands and feet exposed. No one’s expecting you as a tourist to cover up all the way, but as a form of respect to others’ cultures in others’ cities, you can do better in not making anyone feel uncomfortable by not wearing a skimpy outfit, don’t you agree?
Also, Dubai has very strict rules and regulations about consuming alcohol, drink-driving, drug-related offences, harassment, public displays of affection, sexual relationships before marriage, offensive behavior (don’t even think of pointing your middle finger at someone), homosexuality and more. Read up before going!
If you take necessary precautions and not behave like a self-entitled, rude tourist, chances are, you’ll be fine (unless you’re really, really unlucky).
The Appealing Side of Dubai
Dubai is opulent and dramatic. Everything you see was created by humans.
You may call the city artificial and fake, but let’s not forget all the work that went into building each skyscraper. It was all built with blood and labour. Dubai, contrary to belief, is not staying the rich city due to oil. The bulk of Dubai’s current wealth comes from tourism, an end-result to a well strategized infrastructure that boosted its economy.
Dubai’s Architectural Feats
– Burj Khalifa –
Currently the world’s tallest building and the most distinguished icon of Dubai, Burj Khalifa stands at 828m high. From above, even skyscrapers look short! Look at how minuscule those cars on the roads look!
– Impressive-looking Buildings –
Have you seen buildings that twirl like this?
– Islands in the shape of a palm tree –
There’s actually more than one palm-shaped island in Dubai, but the famous one has to be The Palm, where the grand Atlantis Hotel is at. We drove to The Palm, and honestly, you wouldn’t know you’re on a palm-shaped island, though it was still awesome tracking the location on my offline map app! This huge island meant there are plenty of beaches!
Skydiving above Palm Islands? No problem. Enjoying a helicopter ride and seeing Burj Al Arab hotel from above? Skiing inside an indoor ski park (at Mall of the Emirates)? or ice-skating rink (Dubai Mall) inside malls? Dive with sharks inside the huge aquarium at Dubai Mall? Plunge down that crazy ride at a water park (Aqua Venture) you saw on Facebook? Conquer obstacle courses and ramp at the largest inflatable water park that you saw on a FB video too? How about calling for an UberChopper (Uber but the vehicle is a helicopter, omg)? Dubai promises lots of fun for everyone.
Interesting Attractions in Dubai
Dubai Miracle Garden is a huge garden of impressive installations (blogpost here!). Dubai Fountains (right outside Dubai Mall) delivers spectacular fountain shows every evening.
The Way Dubai Managed to Retain Its Old Charm
Dubai developed into a very modern city in a very short amount of time. At Old Dubai, you can still experience the older, more heritage side of Dubai, with its bustling souks, and even take the traditional-looking boat (called an abra) to cross the creek. Dubai Museum is housed inside Al Fahidi Fort, the oldest existing building in Dubai. This part of Dubai managed to retain its old world charm, which is kinda lovely (though for the sake of tourism, if you could see how many tourists were queueing to take the abra).
The Less Appealing Side of Dubai
The city does not seem real
With mega-everything, and being originally a desert, Dubai somehow just doesn’t seem to be a real place. You get this impression that everything is an illusion and the bubble will burst right under your feet and you’ll wake up with a jolt.
Fast cars, heavy road traffic, crowded malls
Cars whiz by on plenty of road lanes on highways. Drivers don’t always care that they’re obstructing your way or if you’re beeping your honk relentlessly. If I may thus say, drivers in Dubai display an air of nonchalance for others around, especially if your car is the bigger one.
I was at Dubai Mall one evening and sheesh, for a moment, I wondered if I was in Singapore. The mall was crowded, there was noise everywhere. People were walking fast (to perhaps to the fountains).
Hierarchy and classes
I felt just that bit of confusion in Dubai such that, different races display a sense of superiority over others. True there are plenty of expats in Dubai, but here’s the catch, they were hired by Emiratis to come work in Dubai 😉 I’m sorry if I can’t explain this better, but it’s like a funny game of Guess Who’s Richer? The answer is not the expats. Have you ever heard of anyone who has 18 domestic helpers in one house? Well I have! (By an Emirati in Abu Dhabi though, a few hours by car from Dubai.)
It feels soulless, somehow
You’ll see people everywhere, tall buildings, you sense a rush in the air like people are rushing to see this, cover that, but in essence, rushing to nowhere. The irony is that things in Dubai are impressive – the biggest or most expensive of everything. For myself, the more someone tries to impress, the more turned off I become. I get that same feeling about Dubai. Its wealth and opulence just don’t appeal to me.
Abu Dhabi, on the other hand, was wayyy quieter compared to Dubai, but I actually felt a sense of peace and connection upon returning back to Abu Dhabi after Dubai.
So, was Dubai worth visiting?
As a traveller that craves to visit different places and experience different cultures, the answer for me is yes. But I need to proclaim that I was in Dubai for about 2.5 days, as part of the itinerary for being in UAE. If you ask me, Dubai will not be my top choice if I needed to get away from Singapore for about a week. As a travel blogger though, Dubai gave me plenty of content to write about, for that, I appreciated having visited Dubai. Dubai sure was interesting to experience from the perspective of an outsider!
More importantly, there are the positive and negative sides to every city, it’s a matter of what you agree and accept. Wherever we may visit, go with an open mind.
Have you been to Dubai? Do you like it?
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Visited: Nov 2016
Information sources: Dubai history (from here), Dubai laws tourists should know about (from here)
Photo credits: Cayan Tower is by Guilhem Vellut, obtained via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license, further editted by me. All other photos were taken by me.
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