Trip to Dubai, United Arab Emirates - May 2009
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Camel racing, Burj Al Arab, The palm projects, indoor skiing in the desert, the tallest building in the world, Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, a gold souq beyond your wildest dreams, modern day slavery?, some of the biggest malls in the world – this is a trip report from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

A short summary
Gard and Nikki and Burj Al Arab at night, seen from Madinat JumeirahThis trip report will focus on the trip that my wife, Nikki, and I took to Dubai in United Arab Emirates in the period from May 20th - 25th 2009. I also visited Dubai for a day in April and I will also refer to that trip in parts of the trip report. In Dubai we checked out sights such as Ski Dubai, Dubai museum, Atlantis hotel in Palm Jumeirah, the huge malls; Friday brunch etc. The trip report is split into section and this first page will focus on the stay in Dubai and our sightseeing there. On the next pages you will find information about the hotel we used (Dusit Thani Dubai), an interactive Google map of Dubai and more photos from our stay in the city.

Please get in touch if you have any questions or comments. All pictures are taken by Nikki and Gard with our Canon EOS 450D, Canon IXUS and Olympus mju 750.

Prelude
First time on camel - from our visit to Dubai in 2002Nikki and I have been on vacation to Dubai before – we went there in 2002 (see the previous trip report here) and back then it was not a really touristy destination yet and we couldn’t even find a proper guidebook. As you probably know, Dubai has grown really fast over the last years and we have wanted to re-visit it to check out how it has turned out. When Lufthansa had a great offer we decided to go for it and check it out again.

Map of Dubai and the United Arab Emirates

Map of Dubai and UAE. Map provided by www.worldatlas.com.

Planning the trip
As the world has been in economic problems, the various airlines has struggled to survive and that has led to some great offers. We got our tickets from Stavanger in Norway to Dubai (and back of course) for 2800 Norwegian Kroner (about 450 USD) per person :-) As we had been there before we felt that we did have a grasp on the city layout. And as I went there on a short day trip in April, I was also a bit updated on the development of the city. I did buy a guidebook in advance and we went for the Dubai and Abu Dhabi DK Eyewitness Top 10 Travel Guide.

Note: Check in advance if you need a visa for Dubai or not. Norwegians do not need a visa at the moment.

Dusit Thani in DubaiWe do like to get good hotel deals when we travel but when we started searching for a hotel in Dubai it seemed like the prices were quite high (Dubai normally appears on top 10 lists of most expensive hotel cities in the world). In the end we found the best deal on the Norwegian online travel agency Reisefeber.no where we got Dusit Thani Dubai for just 782 Norwegian kroner (130 USD) per night. Not too bad for a 5 star hotel! In addition to this I also got in touch with the hotel to check if it was possible to upgrade to Club level and that was 55 USD and we accepted this deal. So all in all 185 USD for a 5 star hotel at Club level - here is our review of the Dusit Thani in Dubai.
Nikki did need a visa to Dubai and your hotel will help you with this. But our hotel was not being that helpful to start with in our case but I guess they must do it if they want paying customers in the end.

Note: In Dubai and the United Arab Emirates the currency is known as Dirham. Right now 100 Dirhams (AED) equals about 27 USD.

The trip begins – flight from Stavanger to Dubai
Our Lufthansa Boeing 747 to DubaiOur Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt was bright and early in the morning of May 20th 2009. So already at 05.30 AM we were at the airport in Stavanger as our flight was at 06.35 AM. The trip didn’t really start good as there was total chaos at Stavanger airport due to baggage belts that were acting up. But we did make our flight and 2 hours later we landed in Frankfurt in Germany. As we had a few hours in Frankfurt we decided to take the train into downtown Frankfurt to walk around there instead of waiting around at the airport. The train into Frankfurt only takes 15-20 minutes so it is a great option compared to waiting around. But I think I will have to write more about Frankfurt in a separate trip report :-) If you want to read more about our Lufthansa flights you can check out this blog http://gardkarlsen.com/blog/?p=204 .

At about 3 PM we were ready to move on and we got into our Lufthansa Boeing 747 bound for Dubai. The flight was only about 6 hours and Lufthansa is not really a bad company to fly with. But unfortunately the old 747 did not have personal TV screens so we were stuck with watching Mall Cop (and German bundesliga soccer updates) on the small TV screens hanging in the ceiling.

Arriving in Dubai
Marhaba service when arriving in DubaiWe landed at the huge and modern Dubai airport at about 11 PM and as we got of the plane we were met by a lady holding poster with Nikki’s name on it. Before the trip I had ordered a “meet and greet” service as Nikki needed to go through a different process than me as she is still travelling on her South African passport. This service is known as Marhaba. The lady took us through immigration and customs and we didn’t even have to walk as we were driven around in a small airport buggy – how cool is that? The lady even walked us all the way out to the taxi area. We took a taxi to our hotel and it took about 20 minutes as there were hardly any traffic at that hour and we paid 40 Dirhams (about 11 USD) for the trip – and it was with a female taxi driver! I don’t think I have experienced that before in Dubai. After I came home I saw a TV show about these taxis with female drivers - also known as “pink taxis”. Due to the religion women are not supposed to be alone with a man and hence taking a taxi can be a problem for a female if there is a male driver. And as more and more of the women are working there seems to be a market for taxis with female driver.

Bed at hotel room at Dusit Thani in DubaiWhen we arrived at the hotel, the check in was pretty fast and we were assigned to room 2912 on the 29th floor. When we got to our room it turned out that our 55 US dollar upgrade had resulted in a Dusit Grand room which meant that we got a large corner room with a separate living room and a with a room size of about 60 square meters (about 645 square feet!) – not bad at all for a hotel room:-). You can read our review of Dusit Thani Dubai here The room was about 185 USD per night including taxes, internet, breakfast and lounge access.

Where to stay in Dubai?
The first time we went to Dubai we stayed in the city center (in Bur Dubai) and we were quite happy with that as we explored the city on foot and used the bus to get around. After our previous trip it seems like Dubai has stretched out towards the beaches around Jumeirah via the large Sheikh Zayed road. We didn’t really want to stay at the beaches so for us it seemed like a good choice to stay sort of in between – so we ended up on Dusit Thani which is located on Sheikh Zayed road right next to Burj Dubai (Burj Khalifa) and Dubai Mall. There are quite a few hotels in this area and it does not take that long to get into town or two the Jumeirah beach area...depending on the traffic of course.

I also stayed at Traders hotel in Dubai for a night in April (see my review here) and it seemed like a convenient hotel if you are just in transit. But it did not seem like a great option if you are going to Dubai on vacation.

Note: Unlike what most people think, Dubai does not have a lot of oil. Most of the oil seems to be located in Abu Dhabi and UAE has one of the largest oil reserves in the world. Like Norway, most of the production it exported.

How to get around Dubai
Metro and road construction in DubaiWhen we went to Dubai in 2002 we actually used the bus quite a lot to get around as it was cheap, as we were staying close to Al Ghubaiba Bus Station and as it was a nice way to see locals going about their business. Since then Dubai has expanded quite a lot and traffic congestion seems to be a problem these days – so much that they have actually built a metro system in record speed. A typical taxi in DubaiThe metro is due to be partially opened as we speak and will give some relief to the congested roads. But I suspect that car or taxi will still be the main transportation. Dubai has become like some of the major American cities were you basically have to have a car or take taxi to get around which is quite annoying. You can read more about the Dubai metro on this page. The taxi drivers didn’t drive that crazy but some were a bit heavy on the accelerator. One driver kept on driving until his car computer started beeping and then he would slow down again. I wonder if this was installed by the owner to prevent the driver from going too fast ;-) Car hire in Dubai is also a good option and cars can be collected direct from the airport or they are often available at larger hotels.

Good morning Dubai
View of Sheikh Zayed Road in DubaiAs we arrived at night at the hotel we didn’t really get a proper look at the city. But when I woke up the next morning and went to the bathroom I got a spectacular view of all the skyscrapers lining Sheikh Zayed road including the “old” Emirates Towers which have been there for quite some time now (in a Dubai setting I guess they can even be called ancient). It is hard to imagine that only a few years back there were no skyscrapers along this road at all. After a quick breakfast at the hotel we were ready to start exploring the city so we grabbed a taxi and went into the city centre.

Note: Nicer hotels offer a hotel taxi that also run by the meter but there are more expensive then regular taxis. So if you want to save some money, ask for a regular public taxi.

Entrance to Dubai museumDriving along Sheikh Zayed road and coming into town is quite a contrast. We started our sightseeing at Dubai museum located in the Al Fahidi Fort dated back to 1787 which is prehistoric in Dubai. In the museum there are exhibitions to give the visitor some insight to the culture in the region ranging from Boat on display outside Dubai museumtraditional way of living, costumes, boats, about pearl diving, about religion etc. The displays are quite modern and is absolute worth the 3 Dirham (80 US cent) that the entrance ticket cost you. As we were walking into the museum an American lady talked to one of the museum employees and she was like "Is this it? Don't you have more to show for?". She was obviously not very impressed with the museum but I guess it is hard to please everyone :-)

Wind tower in Dubai, the traditional form for air-con in the areaAfter the visit to the museum we decided to walk over to the Bastakiya quarter and even if it was still quite early, it was already piping hot in the sun. We walked along the creek and it was surprising to see how few other people that was out and about. The Bastakiya area was also more or less deserted but it was still interesting to walk around An abra transporting passengers across Dubai creekthe neighbourhood to see the traditional architecture including the traditional wind towers that acted like an air con back in the days. The creek itself was bustling with life - lots of boats in various sizes and shapes were busy travelling up, down and across the creek. Crossing the creek is quite easy – just go to one of the abra stations and get on one of the boats. Abra is a traditional boat that is used for transporting people across the creek and it only cost 1 Dirham. We did not pay attention to which boat we got on so we did end up at the wrong station on the other side but that is part of the fun isn’t it?

Note: You can actually walk across the river. At the very north end of the creek there is a pedestrian tunnel which can be used.

Lots of gold for sale at Dubai gold soukOne area that you must visit when you come to Dubai is of course the gold souk – the gold market. When I read about this in a Norwegian newspaper many, many years ago it was the one thing that sparked my interest for visiting Dubai to start with - and when I came to Dubai the first time I was amazed by the size of the gold souk and the selection that the stores had to offer. Lots of gold for sale at Dubai gold soukI think there are around 300 stores in the gold souk today and in each window there are lots and lots and lots of gold on display. We did buy some gold the last time we were there as I got a necklace for a friend and a bracelet for myself. The prices in the gold souk are determined by the weight of the work you are buying, how intricate the work it and of course there is some bargaining involved as well :-) You can also find “gold souks” at the more modern shopping malls but they seem to be a mere copy of the original area. If you are into cooking there is also a great spice souk in the same area where you can get lots of different spices (e.g. saffron in various quality).

The malls of Dubai
The Dubai MallDubai has taken the malls to a new level it seems like. Most of the malls are in complexes including lots of restaurants, hotels, entertainment etc. The latest and biggest of them all is The Dubai mall which opened in 2009. They claim that this is the biggest mall in the world as it includes about 1200 stores. It is located right next to the fashionable The Address hotel, the Burj Dubai (Burj Khalifa, the worlds tallest building) Aquarium at the Dubai Malland they have also made a lake outside with a fountain show larger than that of Bellagio in Las Vegas. But inside the mall the most impressive thing is the aquarium that seems to be a centre piece. The humongous window facing the mall is just breathtaking and you can see divers in the tank with lots of fish in various shapes and sizes and if you pay 25 AED you can also walk through the tunnel cutting through the aquarium :-). Walking around in the malls also gives you a chance to study people. In the malls you find tourists, the expats but also the locals. Most of the local women wear the Abaya – the traditional Islamic dress.

Note: Dubai has about 1.5 million inhabitants. Only about 15% of these are locals – that means that there are about 85% foreign workers in Dubai.

View from the top of The Address hotelIn order to get an overview during the day I made my way into The Address hotel and went into one of the elevators and pushed the button to get to the top – I did get to Neos on the 63rd floor and there were no one else there (not even staff) and I got an amazing view of both the Dubai mall, the lake, the Burj Dubai and the surrounding area behind The Address. At the moment it is just a dry desert area but the plans are there to expand the creek and roads and it seems like they have gotten started on the work already. In the distance it was also possible to see the Atlantis hotel on the very tip of the Palm and the islands of the world but I’ll get back to this.

Trying to get a beer in Dubai
The religion in Dubai (and the UAE) is Islam and getting alcohol here is not always that easy. Hotels are allowed to serve alcohol so when I went there in April I went into The Address hotel to ask if I could get a beer at the hotel bar. When I asked the bartender if I could get the beer he replied “Perrier?”. It was not that easy to understand what he was saying so I tried to repeat that I wanted a beer and he once again replied that of course it was possible to get a Perrier. So after a bit of this “lost in translation” game I was informed that I could only have a cold beer in the pool bar out in the blazing sun. This is just a little reminder that it is not that easy to just grab a beer or drink in Dubai and note that the prices can be quite steep.

Tasting the Arabic cuisine
Hummus at restaurant Al Nafoorah in DubaiIt is always nice to try some local specialities and on the first night we decided to go for Al Nafoorah located at the Emirates towers as the place had been recommended by someone that we know in Dubai. It only took a few minutes to get there from our hotel and we chose to have a table outside as the temperature had dropped to a comfortable and pleasant level – Chicken liver at restaurant Al Nafoorah in Dubaiit was very nice to sit under the palm trees and in the “shadow” of the Emirates towers. I think the restaurant is Lebanese so it is not really local food but I guess you can call in regional food. We have had this type of food before (last time actually in Vietnam) and I have to say that it is pretty tasty food. At Al Nafoorah we had food like hummus, chicken liver, mixed grill etc and it was an excellent meal. In the end it was 460 Dirham (about 125 USD) for the two of us including a bottle of wine that was 170 Dirham (about 45 USD).

Note: You can also get cheap food in Dubai. If you go for fast food a whopper menu at Burger King is about 20 Dirham (5 USD).

Mojito at Vu bar at Emirates towers in DubaiAfter the dinner we decided to check out the Vu's bar at 51st floor of the Emirates tower. The music was pumping when we got out of the elevator but we did get a table and it seemed like it was a happening place. The price level of drinks is quite high (and when a Norwegian says this you should really stop and listen). I had a mojito that was very good but it was about 27 USD and a Kir Royal was about 140 Dirham (about 40 USD). Nikki has an interesting experience in the toilet at Vu's bar that shows some of the problems that Dubai is facing. Nikki overheard a woman that was talking on her cell phone and the lady was obviously a working girl (if you know what I mean) and she was trying to convince her customer that she was worth the price. It is a bit weird that in a Muslim country with strict rules about a lot of things, prostitution seems to be pretty common. When we went to Dubai in 2002 we stayed at a hotel in Bur Dubai and at night there was a nightclub in the hotel and it seemed like there were lots of prostitutes there. So are we seeing some double standards from the government in UAE? Is prostitution common?

Friday brunch in Dubai

It seems like Friday brunch is a popular event in Dubai and many of the hotels offers this. We started out by checking the price of the Friday brunch at the Fairmont hotel but it was 550 Dirham per person (150 USD) and it sounded a bit expensive. Instead we went for the Friday brunch at Fazari at The Address hotel where it was 390 Dirham per person (105 USD) including a buffet of food and wine. So after a quick swim in the pool on the top of the hotel to work up some appetite, we slipped into some smart casual clothes and headed over to The Address hotel for the brunch. Sushi at Fazaris during Friday brunchI was very, very impressed when we walked in and started exploring all the food they had on offer. They had an excellent selection of seafood including prawns, sashimi, oysters, crabs etc. There were sections for Arabic food, Indian food, Mediterranean food, Italian sausages, an impressive cheese table, a large dessert table etc. Not only did they have a buffet but it was also possible to get some food made at the various counters. I guess the photos and the video will give you an idea of what to expect. So we spent about 2 hours at the brunch and we tasted a lot of the food and walked out absolutely full.

Note: We dressed up in smart casual but it did not seem like there was much of a dress code.

Italian ham and sausages at Fazaris during Friday brunchAfter the brunch we just walked a bit around in Dubai mall, took some photos of the amazing Burj Dubai - note that it is so tall that it is hard to get all of it in one photo with a compact camera when standing at the Dubai mall. We also checked out the fountain show at night and it was entertaining to see the combination of the fountains and music. I have heard people talking about this but I have to say that I was quite disappointed as the show was so short! Or maybe the show varies from day to day? I think it would probably be nice to see it from some of the terraces and rooms at the Address hotel.

Palm Jumeirah and Atlantis hotel
The aquarium at the Atlantis hotelTalking about hotels: when I went to Dubai in April we took a short trip to the Atlantis hotel located on the tip of the Palm Jumeirah. If you don’t know what the Palm Jumeirah is you should take a moment to read about it on Wikipedia :-) They basically made an artificial island that looks like a giant palm tree and on it they have built lots of houses, hotels etc. It sounds enticing of course as each house (more or less) has beach access etc. But there has also been lots of controversy connected to the project. What kind of environmental impact will this have? Will the water circulate or will it be stagnant?

There have also been some rumors that the island is sinking, that the hotels are not constructed in a proper way etc. Recently there was also news about the whole project having billions of dollars in debt. I don’t know if all the rumors above are true but it was fun to take the taxi all the way out to The Atlantis hotel and take a look at it. It seems like they are a bit obsessed with aquariums so you’ll also find a big aquarium in the hotel and it was pretty well made as they had tried to create an illusion of the lost city of Atlantis in the aquarium. But I think the most impressive part was the whale shark that was swimming around inside the aquarium. There is also a waterpark at the Atlantis called Aquaventure but we did not have the time to check it out. You can read more about Atlantis on their homepage. The last time we went to Dubai we did check out the Wild Wadi waterpark and you can read about it in my previous Dubai trip report.

Time to go skiing
Ski Dubai seen from the roof of Mall of the EmiratesOne of the craziest attractions in Dubai must be the Ski Dubai. So what do you do in a country where it is always hot and you find out you want to go skiing? You build a HUGE indoor skiing arena of course and that is what Ski Dubai is all about. On a Saturday morning we took the taxi from our hotel to Mall of the Emirates (for about 30 Dirham, 8 USD) and made our way to Ski Dubai located inside the mall. The ski slope is cleverly integrated with the mall so that you can look into the ski area from the mall and restaurants - and it is quite an impressive sight.

Note: The only thing you have to remember to bring is a warm hat and gloves. You can also buy cheap stuff in the Ski Dubai store. A hat was 10 Dirham.

Ski Dubai entranceIt is also pretty surreal to see a 400 meter ski slope with a ski lift, “real” snow etc – it is pretty insane actually to have a huge place like this with -2 degrees when the summer temperatures outside reaches up to 50 degrees Celsius (120 degrees Fahrenheit). We went to the ticket area and as a Norwegian, I’m born with skis on so I didn’t need any instructions haha. I had to pay 190 Dirham (about 50 USD) for a 2 hour session and it included access to the chair lift, clothing, skis, shoes and poles - all that you need really apart from the hat and gloves..

Nikki is not that used to skiing so she went for the ski school where she got lessons in how to do snowboarding. She was hoping to get a hot Italian ski instructor but I think she ended up with a guy from Bali!! – and even if she did get a hot ski instructor I don’t think she would have noticed because she was pretty focused on keeping the balance :-). I went straight for the ski lift and took that to the top and there are a few routes coming down – taking into account that this is indoor, the conditions were pretty good. It didn’t take me more than a minute to slide down but as there was no line in the ski lift it was not a problem – it was just a matter of taking it to the top again. It was great fun at Ski Dubai and I can recommend it if you want to cool down a bit.

Note: Check in advance when they have ski school as they have classes for snowboard and downhill skiing at different times. Remember to get there 30 minutes in advance to put on the equipment.

Burj Al Arab – the seven star hotel
The beautiful Burj Al ArabWhen the Burj Al Arab (meaning the Arabian tower) opened in the end of the 90’s they proclaimed it to be the world’s tallest hotel and the only 7 star hotel in the world. Together with the stunning beauty of the building and various PR stunts (like Andre Agassi playing tennis on the helicopter pad) it has become an icon that for many represents Dubai. Burj Al Arab at nightThe rumor has it that it was so expensive to build that even if they are fully booked for the next 400 years they will still not make money. This is indeed the hotel for the wealthy as there are no standard rooms...only 2 floor suites. We did go for a tour when we went there in 2002 and it was great fun to see a room and have a drink at the restaurant/bar located in the “wing” about 200 meter above ground level. We did stop by the area this time as well but not that you can’t just walk into the reception here – you will get stopped at the check point on the Gard and Nikki at Burj Al Arabmain land (the Burj Al Arab is on an artificial island) and you will need to have a booking to proceed. These days the hotel is so famous that they can basically charge whatever they want as they know people want to see it. We wanted to just take a drink in the wing but even in the afternoon it was fully booked. But we were offered to have afternoon coffee and tea in one of the other restaurants and that was 300 Dirhams (80 USD) per person – and the lady that we talked to at the checkpoint added that for that price there was a free flow of coffee and tea. Well, I‘m not sure I’m ready to pay 80 USD for a free flow of coffee :-).

Note that there is a dress code if you want to get into the Burj Al Arab. Book in advance if you want to have a drink or two at the Al Muntaha restaurant in the wing.

Nikki is ready to go on the slide at Wild WadiIn the same area you will also find the Jumeirah Beach hotel and the Wild Wadi waterpark. We went to Wild Wadi the last time we were there and it was great fun. They have some good slides, some artificial surf waves etc. This time we just took a walk on the beach east of Burj Al Arab and Jumeirah Beach hotel and the two hotels are of course separated from the rest of the beach with a big fan to avoid the riff-raff getting into the hotel area ;-). Burj Al Arab at night seen from Madinat JumeirahThe beach is not bad not far away there is a construction area on the beach as they have started preparing to build another resort. In the same area there is also something called Madinat Jumeirah. Here you can find a couple of hotels, artificial canals, 44 restaurants, a souk etc. It is a nice place to have dinner as you can sit along the canals and have a great view to the Burj Al Arab. I fear that some tourists get stuck here as it contains everything in one place instead of going into town to e.g. check out the real souks – but I hope that I’m wrong.

Walking down memory lane – dinner at Kwality
Gard and Nikki at Kwality restaurant in DubaiWe do like our Indian food and when we went to Dubai in 2002 we had a great meal at a place called Kwality near our hotel in Bur Dubai. When we went there in May we decided to check out if it was still around and I guess I was a bit surprised that it was still there. We went there one evening and had tikka, different lamb dishes, naan bread, roti etc. Once again it was a great meal and it is highly recommended. We paid 120 Dirham (about 30 USD) for the both of us. Please check out the Dubai Google map to find the location of the restaurant.

Walking around town
An old dhow on Dubai creekIf you want to see a bit more of the “real” Dubai (if there is such a thing) you have to walk around a bit in Deira and Bur Dubai. One day Nikki wanted to do some shopping and while she stopped by the Deira City Centre mall, I took a walk along the Dubai creek. Dhows on the creek in DubaiTo start with there was not that much to look at as I was just walking along the main road with lots of traffic.But after a while I came to the area where all the dhows are docked. The ships (dhows) seem to be used as a method of transportation of goods and they were unloading everything from bags of rice to tires and fridges. Modern skyscrapers along the creek in DubaiIt also seems like the boats are the home for many of the crew members as there were clothing hanging to dry, people eating dinner on deck etc. People I met along was very friendly and smiled at me as I was taking photos but then again I rarly have a problem walking around as a male. But I have heard that some females have found it a bit uncomfortable to walk around on their own in Dubai as they get lots of attraction. I walked until I came to the pedestrian tunnel that runs under the creek (at the very northern tip of the creek). This tunnel does not seem to be used by that many tourists but it is a good way to get across if you don’t want to walk over to one of the Abra stations.

Sunset in DubaiAs I came to the other side of the creek the sun was setting and it was beautiful as it was a clear day - we also experienced a beautiful sunset the last time in Dubai so maybe it is quite a common sight. After walking around 7 km (about 4.5 miles) I was both soaked in sweat (as it had been pretty warm) and of course pretty tired. It was great to just get in a taxi and head back to the hotel for an ice cold beer in the club lounge at the Dusit Thani. Please check out the Dubai Google map to see the location of the Deira City Centre and the pedestrian tunnel to get an impression of where I walked.

Note: Our most expensive taxi trip was from Mall of the Emirates to Deira City centre and that was 50 Dirhams (about 14 USD).

Caprese salad at the restaurant Toscana at Madinat JumeirahOne the last night we decided to have dinner at the Italian Toscana at Madinat Jumeirah . I started out with a caprese salad which was good but the portion was actually too generous. My main meal was lasagna that was pretty good while Nikki went for the Bolognese. All in all the meal was 400 Dirham (about 110 USD) which included two glasses of wine (costing about 50 Dirham per glass) In the same area you can also dine at The Meat Co. I guess there is a link to South Africa as they also have the Meat Co in Johannesburg and they even had boerewors on the menu (the traditional South African sausage that often end up on the barbeque).

Burj Dubai (Burj Khalifa)
View to Burj Dubai from hotel room at Dusit Thani in DubaiRumor has it that Burj Dubai (now know as Burj Khalifa) will open in December 2009. This is already the world’s tallest structure and it is an impressive piece of work. I first saw it when coming out of Dubai mall and it is just amazing to see it up close and personal. I think it is officially 828 meters (about 2,700 ft) and it completely dwarfs the surrounding buildings. When it opens I think there will be a viewing platform on 124th floor and I assume that the view will be pretty spectacular from there based on the photos that I have seen already from the building process.

First time on camel - from our visit to Dubai in 2002When we went to Dubai the last time we took an organized desert safari which was completely touristy but also lots of fun. Back then started by driving into the sand dunes in a Toyota Landcruiser before we drove to a camp in the desert where we got food, watched some belly dancing, rode a camel etc. I guess you can say that it covered more or less everything hehe. Even if it was tactlessly touristy it was still lots of fun.

Time to go home
Our hotel taxi that took us to the airportOn Monday May 25th it was time to go back home. We got up early in the morning and transfer to the airport was included in our hotel deal. I was a bit surprised when I realized that we were getting transported to the airport in a large BMW 7 series. Once again the trip to the airport didn’t take long as there were not that much traffic out yet and we got to the airport as the sun was rising. The airport can offer a lot of shopping (if you are not fed up with that after your stay in Dubai ;-). Our Lufthansa flight to Munich was at 7.45 AM and after 6 ½ hours we were in Germany and after a short stop there and in Frankfurt we came home to Stavanger in the afternoon. If you want to read more about the flight experience you can check out this article on my travel blog: http://gardkarlsen.com/blog/?p=204

Conclusion
Dhows on the creek in Dubai delivering goodsWhen we went to Dubai the last time I had a pretty good time. Not only was it exciting to see a new town and a new country but it was also exciting meeting a new culture. In addition to this the price level was not too bad and we came home with quite a lot of stuff as we found good offers on various items (we were there during the shopping festival). But Dubai has changed dramatically over the few years since then – or maybe I have changed? After the trip this time I can’t help ask myself: why is Dubai a popular tourist destination these days? And what kind of tourist are they really aiming for?

Fashion show at the Dubai MallFirst of all it is not a great destination weather wise at least not if you are planning to go there in the summer as it can get too hot (check www.weatherbase.com for weather stats and you will see what I mean). What about the shopping? Sure, there are some of the largest and most amazing malls in Dubai including entertainment, restaurants, cinemas etc. But at the moment it didn’t really seem like there were any bargains for us as most of the brand names were basically the same price as back home. But I guess there are still various items that are still a good bargains in Dubai...like gold.

Should you go to Dubai for a culinary adventure? There are lots of restaurants but most of the top end restaurants are located at hotels as only hotels are allowed to serve alcohol. And the price level was quite high and the prices of cocktails were ridiculous even seen from a Norwegian perspective.

View to Burj Al Arab and Jumeirah Beach hotelShould you go there for the beaches? We did go swimming there during our last visit and the beaches are quite nice but there has been a few cases were pollution and sewage has been dumped into the sea causing a few tourists to get sick. I have not read much about this lately but at the time it did not seem like the authorities were very interested in handling this in a proper way. So the question is if this dumping of sewage is still going on or if it has been sorted out permanently. Remember that this is also a Islamic country so being topless is out of the question. We also found out that some sections of the beach is reserved for women only on certain days when we were there the last time.

Should you go to Dubai to experience a new culture? Yeah, I guess you can get a certain impression of the Arabian culture but keep in mind that about 80% of people in Dubai are foreign workers brought in from various parts of the world.

And I guess this brings me to the main point. When I went there in May I posted a photo of Burj Dubai on Facebook as it is an amazing structure and an engineering achievement. One of my acquaintances on Facebook commented “Built by slaves”. I started looking into this and it seems like Dubai is exploiting the work force in the construction industry to a point where you can call it modern slavery. There is a very long (but worth the time) article about this in The Independent , there are reports from Human Rights Watch and there are various news reports that you can see on http://gardkarlsen.com/blog/?p=76 . Basically workers are imported from poor countries and upon arrival in Dubai they don’t get the payment that they were offered, their passports are taken away etc. I’m not sure how this can be solved but it is important to know about it and hopefully it can bring focus on this topic. It seems like they have similar problems with exploitation of maids in e.g. Saudi Arabia. Or maybe this is not something that is unique for Dubai. I would love to hear from locals in the Emirates, expats and foreign workers to hear your views when it comes to this. Feel free to discuss this on my blog.

Some signs are both in English and ArabicAs I have mentioned many times already: I’m impressed by all the engineering achievements that Dubai can show for these days but at what cost are they built? Maybe Dubai and UAE has to start thinking more about the foreign work force that are being exploited and the environmental impact that some of these projects have. I wanted to go back to Dubai to see how it had changed since we were there the last time and I’m not sure that I liked what I saw. At the moment I don’t have any desire to visit Dubai any time soon. There are many, many other destinations that are better than Dubai in my opinion if you are looking for a great cultural experience, great food, possibility to meet the people etc.

But if you have the money then Dubai is quite the playground. And it you just keep on focusing on your glass of champagne or turn away to watch the beautiful sunsets you might be able to avoid seeing all the buses of workers being taken back to their work camps after slaving at the construction sites for a full day in the blazing sun.

Was this trip report useful? Please give me feedback if you have comments or questions or I have made factual mistakes, I can be reached on gardkarlsen@hotmail.com . Below are some more tips that you might find useful.

Some “useful” tips
So what do you need to bring to Dubai? And how do you plan a trip? Here are some useful tips:

  • Wondering about the weather in Dubai? Check out weatherbase.com to get some weather stats so you know what to expect. It can get VERY hot there in the middle of summer
  •  Keep in mind that this is a Muslim country and if you are there during Ramadan it could influence your stay. During Ramadan you should not eat, drink or smoke in public! See this article for more information.
  • As it is hot and the sun is strong you should take some precautions if you are there during the summer months – bring water (or buy it) when you are walking around and remember sun screen to avoid getting fried.
  • A good guidebook: yes, you can find a lot of useful info on the internet. But get a good guidebook with a comprehensive street map. Which one to buy is up to you :-) We bought the Eyewitness Travel top 10 for Dubai and Abu Dhabi and it was not that great.
  • Which forums to ask questions: Try TripAdvisor, Fodor’s, and Frommer’s
  • Are you bringing a laptop? We did and it was great to use this to check out attractions and opening times, maps, restaurant information etc.
  • Do you wonder how far it is from one place to another in Dubai? Why not use Google Earth/Google Maps to measure? I find this to be a great tool.
  • Here is a interactive Google map where I have highlighted some of the places that we went to
  • Remember to dress “properly”.

Feel free to check out the next section of this trip report: Interactive Dubai Google map.

 

 

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