Trip to Dubai, United Arab Emirates -
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
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.
Planning the trip
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
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.
The trip begins – flight from Stavanger to Dubai
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
When 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?
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.
How to get around Dubai
Good morning Dubai
Driving 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 traditional 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 :-)
After 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 the 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?
One 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. I 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
In 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
Tasting the Arabic cuisine
After 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. I 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.
After 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
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
It 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.
Burj Al Arab – the seven star hotel
In 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 ;-). The 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
Walking around town
As 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.
One 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
When 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
First 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.
Should 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.
As 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.
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Feel free to check out the next section of this trip report: Interactive Dubai Google map.