Trip to Dubai, United Arab Emirates - March 2002

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This page contains both a travelogue and photos taken on our trip to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. Please move the mouse cursor over each individual photo to get some more info about the photo. If you would like to see a larger version of the photo, click on it.

Our vacation started on March 13th and ended on March 24th 2002. The travellers this time were as usual my love Nikki and myself Gard Karlsen. We flew from Stavanger (Norway) via Amsterdam to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. We stayed at the Arif Castle Hotel in Bur Dubai.

Monument at Schiphol airport in AmsterdamWe always take a lot of time deciding when to go and where to go on vacation. I first read about Dubai in a local newspaper in the 90's and this was the first time I realised that it would be a fun destination. Well, I had really never thought of it as a travel destination before at all. The article described a town of many contrasts, a town being under a great development, a town filled with shopping possibilities and cheap gold.

So when we found an offer on the website we decided to visit Dubai. The rumour is that it is best to visit Dubai in the spring and fall. In the summer it can get VERY hot (up to 50 degrees Celsius). Going there in March was great for us because at that time it is still pretty cold in Norway.

The journey begins
The fantastic Burj Al Arab (The Arabian Tower)
As I have already mentioned, our trip started on March 13th. We flew Braathens/KLM from Stavanger (Norway) via Amsterdam to Dubai. The 5000 km trip from Amsterdam to Dubai takes about 6 ˝ hours. Before we left we bought a travel guide in order to have some sort of idea what to expect. We bought the Dubai Explorer from but I’m not sure it that was such a good idea. When we got to Dubai we found out that there was a newer version of the book available and we could have bought it there for the same price. The book itself is OK but it seems to be laid out for people that are moving to Dubai. So it is not your traditional travel guide. But we did find useful information in the book. We arrived at the airport in Dubai at about midnight. The airport itself is modern and new and the only thing that revealed that we were in an Arabic country was the clothing of the personnel working there. Most of the females had vales covering their hair and quite a lot of men were walking around with the traditional long white robe with a matching white (or red/white) headpiece.

I had not applied for a visa before going there and that was not a problem at all. Nikki on the other hand had gone through some trouble to apply for a visa and she even had to pay a few hundred Norwegian kroner for that. But according to the person that checked us in at Sola airport here in Stavanger that wouldn’t have been necessary.

The airport itself was buzzing with life even if it was late and once we got out of the doors of the airport we were met by lots of people with posters for the different hotels and they were all trying to find the people that they were meant to pick up. We had not arranged for a pick up but we found a guy with the Arif Castle hotel on a poster and we asked him if we could catch a ride back to the hotel. And that was not a problem at all. When we got to the hotel they had all our details from our booking at and soon we could jump into bed.

The Arif Castle hotel
Our hotel: The Arif Castle
The Arif Castle (now called Highland Hotel Dubai) is a 3 star hotel located in Bur Dubai. There is a description of the hotel on the following page but I’m not sure if I agree with all the stuff that is said about the hotel. The staff was polite and helpful, the breakfast was good and the location was OK. The hotel swimming poolWe don’t really require much from a hotel during a vacation because most days we are only back at the hotel to sleep at night.  According to the website there is a gym at the hotel and it looks pretty big in the picture. But don’t be fooled: it is a tiny gym and it only looks big because there are lots of mirrors on the walls. There is also a nightclub in the hotel but we didn’t hear much from that since we were lucky enough to have a room on the 7th floor. Nikki was not very amused when she saw a couple of cockroaches in the hotel by the way - never a pleasant experience to see these insects. The hotel was located in a street filled with computer stores by the way and it didn’t take long before we found an internet café. The prices were very reasonable – only 5 Dhs for half an hour.

We were a bit surprised when getting a ride from the airport to the hotel. The town seems pretty “small” and the ride only took like 10-15 minutes. But that was only because there was no traffic on the streets of course. We woke up the first morning to a bit of traffic noise from the street outside the hotel. In the breakfast buffet I found egg, sausages and I was thinking that it would be great with bacon. But there were no bacon of course since pork products are not very often eaten in this part of the world. This was only the first of many incidents to remind us that we were in an Islamic country.

Exploring Dubai
Equipped with good walking shoes and a pretty bad map from The Dubai Explorer, we started the first day by walking in Bur Dubai. I think it is great just to walk around in a new country and look at the people, the buildings and the way of life.

But it was not that easy to get a lot of information about the way of life because we don’t know anyone in Dubai. On some of my other journey’s I have been lucky enough to know locals that could give me information about the local way of life, what one can eat of local dishes, how different events are celebrated and so on. In Dubai it was hard to get in touch with people to get that information. First of all: not everyone spoke great English and that limits the conversation. Dubai museum in the backgroundSecond: I am a bit intimidated when I see women with their faces more or less totally covered. I was not sure if I was even allowed to talk to them. So most of the people that we did speak to were only “guests” working in Dubai. Some of them did not speak very highly of the local people. As I understand it the locals are favoritized when it comes to health care, education and so on. One of the first things that we found on our walk this first day was the Dubai Museum. The museum is located inside an old fort and gives information about Dubai history/development and much more. The museum is not very big but it is worth a visit. It only costs 5 Dhs to enter.

One of the many mosques in DubaiYou are never really far from a mosque when walking around in Dubai and it is quite fascinating when the “singing” starts being broadcasted from every minaret. According to our guide on the desert trip they all say the same words but it sounded very different depending on which mosque it came from. According to our guide it is better to pray in a mosque but the praying can basically done wherever you are and there are certain time frames for the different prayers. The first has to be carried out before 5.30 am before the sun rise. The Jumeirah mosque with Emirates towers in the backgroundWe soon found out that the rhythm of life is quite different in this part of the world compared to what we are used to in Norway. Around here we work from 8 am to 4 pm and then you go home. In Dubai the workday has been adapted to the weather amongst other things. Many places were open in the morning and then they closed for about 4 hours in the middle of the day and then they reopened in the afternoon and stayed open quite long. In the period when places were closed we could see people relaxing in the shadow of a trees or on shaded benches.

Enjoying an Arabian CokeAll the local shops seemed to be open when we came home from walking around in the city all day. We shopped at a local grocery store for the essentials like water and my daily fix of Coca Cola J. I noticed that some Arab men use an unusual way of greeting - i think that the greeting is referred to as a “nose kiss”. Around here men don’t really have that much physical contact apart from the occasional hugging so it was strange to see this form of greeting. There were other things that surprised me too. We saw several men hand in hand and that is something that you don’t see around here J.

When I read the newspaper article that first made me interested in Dubai, it said something about Dubai being a town full of contrasts. And yes, it is quite a contrast to see a man in his traditional white outfit getting into a Ferrari. Or walking next to a woman all dressed in black and where you can’t even see her face and then all of a sudden the cell phone rings and she pulls up a Nokia 8310.

A reminder on the street that smoking killsSmokers seem to have found their place in Dubai. In Norway there are lots of rules on where you can smoke and not and most people follow these rules. As a non-smoker I don’t really think much about it because most places where I go I don’t have to deal with it. But it was a bit different in Dubai. First of all smoking was allowed in public places like the mall. In some areas there were signs saying something like “We thank you for not smoking”. But these signs just seemed like requests not actual rules that had to be followed. One day at a mall I was in the toilet washing my hands. And in the mirror I could see cigarett smoke coming up from one of the cubicals. And when his cell phone rang at the same time the situation got even funnier J.

Talking about toilets: most of the time we found standard toilets but there were also some squatting toilets around. The toilets in the malls were pretty clean but on various other locations the situation was often a lot different. Most of the times we found that the toilet floors were very wet. I understand that the floors were pretty wet due to the hose located next to the toilets. This is used instead of toilet paper.

Standing in a line can be a challenge in Dubai. Most of the time when we got in line (e.g. to get a on the bus) we always seemed to end up getting last.

A view of the river from Bur DubaiI said earlier on that life was adapted to the weather. Most of the time during our stay we had pretty good weather with blue skies and warm weather (like 30 degrees Celsius). The water was great!!On one day the weather forecast said chance of rain towards the evening. Evening came and it started dripping a little bit and all of a sudden in became very windy and there were thunder and lightning and it started raining a LOT. We were out walking at this time and there was not much we could do apart getting cover and wait for it to pass. The sun is pretty strong at this latitude at least for me with a pale skin after a long winter. So sunscreen was needed to avoid getting burned.

Dubai has a lot of Indian guest workers so this is a great place if you like Indian food. We tried out a place called Kwality Restaurant and we can really recommend it. It is located near the Arif Castle hotel in Bur Dubai by the way and the food was great and the service excellent. Apart from this we ate shwarmas of course. Shwarmas are more or less what we call Kebab here at home. A piece of chicken or lamb meat is fried and it is served in pita bread with some vegetables. We also went to an Italian restaurant called La Moda on the Inter-continental hotel and they served some pretty good risotto. Apart from this you will find food courts in the shopping malls serving all the stuff that you can get anywhere in the world: KFC, Burger King, McDonald but there are also places that sell more local food.

When we first got to Dubai we walked quite a lot because the town itself is not all that big. Remember that there is a pedestrian tunnel under the river that goes from the Gold Souk bus station to the area around heritage village.

We also discovered that taxi is quite cheap compared to what I’m used to here in Norway. In our guide it said that we had to make sure that we got into a meter taxi and that taxi drivers don’t always know how to get to certain locations. But we never had any problems with that. All the taxis had meters that started on 3 Dhs and they always got us to our destinations. The taxi drivers do drive pretty aggressively but that seems to be the style in general in Dubai.

After a couple of days we also discovered that the bus could take us to most places and it was very cheap. One-way tickets were 1,00/1,50 Dhs (0,3/0,45 €). The main bus-stations that we used were Al Ghubaiba (Bur Dubai) and Gold Souk bus station on the Deira side. Get a bus route and figure it out. It must be mentioned that the bus drivers also seem to have the same aggressive driving style that the other drivers have and the bus trips were not always comfortable. But hang on and you’ll be fine. There is also an area in the front of the bus that is reserved for women.

Remember that the traffic can be pretty bad at times and it will often take quite a while to get to the destinations. Sometimes it was in fact a lot faster to walk compared to sitting and waiting on the bus.

Crossing the river was fast and cheapWe also tried out the Abra of course. These are small boats that cross the river from Bur Dubai to the Deira side, and back, A race between the boats on the riverand it only costs 0,5 Dhs one-way. It only takes a few minutes to cross the river. We were also offered to rent a boat for half an hour or more to take trips up and down the river but we didn’t do this. But it is not like you have to go to them to get this offer. Even when we were walking along the river we were “yelled” at from boats that were sailing past J.

Things to see and things to do

The Gold Souk
One of the many stores selling gold
I was pretty amazed when I walked through the Gold Souk. There are so many shops selling gold and the rings, necklaces and bracelets shine from the reflection of the light in the display windows. There are of course no prices on the different items so you have to ask to get a price estimate. The price is based on the weight of the item and also the complexity of the work. And the price is just a starting point because if you bargain the price will go down. The prices seem to be pretty good at least compared to what I’m used to here. And most of the items in Dubai are in 18 carat gold that means that it is better quality than in Norway (where most items are in 14 carat gold). Shop after shop with pure gold The shop Hemendra Jewellers where we bought some of our gold had friendly salesmen but this was not the case for all the shops. Some of the shops we were in were not really interested in our demands they just wanted to sell something to us. I had a picture of a necklace that I was buying for a friend of some of the shops presented totally different necklaces and said “same, same”.

Nikki is taking a dipThere seems to be many nice beaches along the coast and we went to one of the nearest beaches called the Jumeira Beach Corniche. The beach was really nice and the water was clear. Quite amazing considering that the dry docks of Dubai are not that far away. The water was not as warm as The beach was pretty emptyI had expected but I guess we have to take into consideration that it is spring.  I would guess that the water temperature was a bit above 20 degrees. If you want to go further out of town it is possible to visit the Jumeira beach park. But remember that they have “Women only” days in this park so check before you go. And if you go even further you will reach the area where Jumeirah Beach hotel and Burj Al Arab is located.

I even got Nikki into the water

Burj Al Arab (The Arabian Tower)
The fantastic Burj Al Arab (The Arabian Tower)This hotel was the first (and only?) seven star hotel in the world and I have to admit that it an amazing building. They also say that it is the tallest hotel in the world with its 321 meters. The fantastic Burj Al Arab (The Arabian Tower) at night Built on an artificial island you can access the hotel by a bridge out to the hotel (or by landing with a helicopter on top of the hotel of course J). It is possible to get a short tour of the hotel and you have to “pay” 100 Dhs (about 30€) for this. I put pay in quotation marks because you get a voucher that you can use inside the hotel. We went up to the hotel bar on the 27th floor where we enjoyed some expensive drinks (45/55 Dhs) while looking over Dubai. Note that everything that is golden in the hotel is actually covered with real gold. According to a Norwegian TV program the hotel has to be fully booked for 400 years just to break even!

The fantastic Burj Al Arab (The Arabian Tower) The rooms in Burj Al Arab was pretty nice :-) The rooms in Burj Al Arab was pretty nice :-)
The rooms in Burj Al Arab was pretty nice :-) In the lobby of Burj Al Arab  


Wild Wadi water park
Nikki is ready to go on the slide at Wild WadiThis water park is located next to Burj Al Arab and the Jumeirah Beach hotel. It has some pretty good rides, a wave pool and artificial surf waves. We had a pretty good time in this park for a whole day. It costs 95 Dhs (about 28€) to get in and lockers cost another 5 Dhs. They have an excellent system when it comes to lockers and buying food inside the park but I will not get into details. I thought it was a pretty fun park and the best thing: there were not that many people in the park and this meant that we didn’t have to wait much to get onto the different rides. They also have the cleanest locker rooms that I have ever seen in a park like this J. You can read more about the park on the following link:

It was nice to float around the park It was nice to float around the park Jumeirah Beach hotel seen from Wild Wadi
View of Wild Wadi and Jumeirah Beach hotel The surfing was not easy...but lots of fun :-) The surfing was not easy...but lots of fun :-)
Nikki in front of the playground at Wild Wadi View of Wild Wadi

Desert trips
Walking in the desert
There are many tour operators that offer trips out to the desert. We hooked up with a company called Lama Tours and we were picked up from the hotel one day to go on a trip. The car that we drove in was a Toyota Landcruiser (these cars seems to be very popular for this purpose) and we were 7 in the car including the driver. First we drove out of Dubai to find some big sand dunes. The driver then reduced the air pressure in the tires and we drove of. It was a fun ride but very, very bumpy. One group tried sand boardingIn fact we saw a person in another car that got really sick and that had to throw up after a while.  We stopped in between and we saw another tour group trying out sand skiing. It is quite amazing to look towards the horizon and see sand dune after sand dune. In this landscape that I’m not used to I find it really difficult to tell the distance to or height of the next sand dune. Let’s just hope that I never get lost in the desert.

I think the shoes give me away hereWhen the sun set we stopped to look at that and we later drove to a camp. There was quite a lot of activities there and the good spirits got even higher when people discovered that they sold alcohol there. First of all we were allowed to go for a short camel ride. In the camp itself it was possible to get a henna tattoo, dress up in traditional outfits, smoke a shisha pipe and watch some belly dancing (and even participate). In the end we got a meal from the barbeque.

The driver is getting the car ready Short stop in the desert It was strange to experience a desert landscape
First time on camel Nikki is trying the pipe The bellydancer show in the evening

Heritage and Diving village
The SeaScope "submarine"This place is located at the mouth of the river on the Bur Dubai side. We walked past this place several times because it was on our way over to the pedestrian tunnel. During the day the place seems totally empty but at night it was filled with people. There were shows with traditional dances and some days people were making traditional food that could be bought. And there were guests from other Arab countries showing their Bedouin culture as well. It seemed to be a place where lots of locals went because we didn’t really see that many tourists there. This place also has a “submarine” called the Seascope that you can go out with to check out the marine life. It costs about 50 Dhs pr. person for a 45-minute trip. The day when we went it was a bit windy and I think that this stirred up the water because the visibility was not great.

Various sports activities
We enjoy playing minigolf when we travel and also in Dubai we managed to find a course. It was not great but it was enough for us. It had a clever layout. A normal putting practice golf course had been laid out as a circle and outside of the minigolf course. The course can be found at the Hyatt hotel (not to far from the Gold Souk). At the same hotel they also have a small ice rink if you want to test your skating skills. We saw a few people that appeared to be on ice for the first time

I enjoy playing squash here in Norway. When I got to Dubai I came across a great offer when it comes to a Wilson racquet that I bought. This also allowed me to play a little bit in Dubai. The Hyatt hotel has two courts that hotel guests have access to. But for 50 Dhs it is possible to use the squash courts together with tennis, gym, sauna/spa and so on. The squash courts had concrete walls by the way and I’m not really a big fan of that.

Global Village
The city was decorated in connection with Dubai Shopping festival
I think this is a place that is only open during the Dubai Shopping Festival. A lot of different countries (mainly from the Middle East and Asia) have been given one tent each where products from the country can be sold. In addition to this there are food “court” where one can buy food from different countries. In a newspaper I saw that the number of visitors was quite high. I did not really think that it was such a great display because many of the different countries sold exactly the same stuff. Special buses were available to get out to the Global Village but it took quite some time especially during rush hour. We tried to go out there on a Friday night from the Al Ghubaiba and the lines got pretty long and people almost started fighting to get onto the bus. When we finally got out there one day and we found that it was a women’s only day so check this before you go.

Spice Souk
If you like to cook Indian food then you can find more or less all that you need here. I enjoyed walking in and out of the shops looking at all the stuff they had. We also bought some saffron of course but we only bought a little because I don’t know much about it and the prices varied a lot. They sold both Iranian and Spanish saffron and the Iranian was a lot more expensive because it was claimed that this was much better. And it certainly did smell a lot more potent than the Spanish saffron. But they also have lots of other spices of course. The people selling the stuff are a lot more “aggressive” when it comes to closing the deal compared to what I’m used to. And you have to bargain of course.

Outside Wafi City mall
When I first read about Dubai it said that the city was a like a Hong Kong of the Middle East. And yes, we did find out that they have quite a lot of malls and you can find really good buys. I found a Wilson 120g squash racket for 280 Dhs (about 90€) at Lamcy plaza and this is normally like 175€ here in Norway. The city was decorated in connection with Dubai Shopping festivalIn almost all of the malls the prices was reduced because of the Dubai Shopping festival. We went to Lamcy plaza, Wafi mall, Bur Juman Center, Deira City Center.  I think that the Deira City Center probably was the best one in terms of selection. Some of the places are more “up market” than others. One can normally tell this on the number of brand stores inside of the shopping mall and the number of nice cars on the parking lot outside the mall. Outside Wafi we came across a BMW Z8, BMW 840 and a Hummer. Now that is a car that is not seen very often.

Creekside Park
View of Dubai golf club
If you just want to relax and watch the world go by, then I can recommend Creekside Park. There is actually a 5 Dhs entrance fee to get into the park itself. The park is well kept, lots of benches and green grass and there are also places where you can barbecue. If you want some exercise it is possible to rent bikes inside the park and you can get bikes that are made for two or 4 people.

Nikki and I enjoy going to the movies and if we don’t have any plans one evening it is always nice to go to the movies. There are quite a lot of cinema houses in Dubai but some run movies that are only in Hindi. We went to the movies at the CineStar at the Deira City Center and the quality of this cinema was good. They had big screens and good sound.

Going back home
On the 24th of March we were all packed and ready to leave in the morning. The hotel staff had arranged for transportation to the airport for us. The airport is new and modern and the chack in was pretty efficient. We did walk around the shopping area of the airport and it seems like you can make good buys here as well. The prices on some items were more or less identical to prices that we had seen in town.

Emirates towers
On our last night we were crossing the river on an Abra. I sat there and looked at stars and moon above, the lights of the modern buildings and the old boat that I was sitting on. Travelling to Dubai was a dream come true for me and we had a great time there. The city is not very big and it still can’t offer all the sights Sunset over the docks in DubaiEuropean cities like London and Paris can offer so maybe it is not necessary to spend as many as 10 days here.  But it can certainly offer an environment that is quite different than what most Europeans are used to. It is not the place if you want to party hard. But if you want to combine a city trip with a beach trip and you would like it to be in a setting that you are not completely used to then this is a destination that is recommended.

Web sites for information
CNN - Dubai weather



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