Dubai loves superlatives…
Well, where else in the world can you find the world’s tallest building, the most expensive hotel and the world’s biggest shopping mall, all in one place?
Dubai is one of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates (UAE). It was founded as a small, isolated fishing village (I know… it is quite difficult to believe). Nowadays, the continually evolving desert oasis has emerged from the Arabian sands to become a glamorous Middle Eastern mecca known for its unique mega projects and for breaking world records.
There are two sounds you will hear when visiting Dubai: the call to prayer coming from the city’s mosques and the 24-hour drilling and grinding of construction.
Dubai is indeed a big construction site with countless cranes punctuating the urban landscape. But Dubai is also the city of the super rich and the super poor. You’ll probably witness the numerous workers being collected from the construction sites to be dropped in labor camps outside of the city.
What to do in Dubai?
Atlantis & Aquaventure
You’ll have plenty of options for hotels in Dubai. Our choice was the flashy Atlantis Palm, located at the end of the man-made Palm Jumeirah. It’s is an ocean-themed destination resort that hosts one of the largest open-air aquarium in the world (more than 65,000 different species).
There is a lot to do there, but the biggest attraction is by far Aquaventure. You can ride rapids and slide down the Ziggurat, a 28 meters-high water slide that brings you through a shark-infested lagoon. Intense!
From poolside snacks to fine dining, the Atlantis counts 17 restaurants, bars and lounges. Celebrity chefs include the world renowned Nobu. We actually tried this one. We enjoyed lots of small dishes…but the bill was quite impressive too!
A good way to escape the bling bling of the mega shopping malls and sparkling hotels is to visit the souks. The souks are traditional Arabic markets where locals seek bargains.
We mainly walked through the Gold Souk selling everything from ingots to jewelry. It is a must see, whether or not you’re planning to buy.
Other souks of interest include the colourful Spice Souk, the Perfume Souk, and Textile Souk.
From our own experience, be advised that it can quickly get really warm…to be honest, we gave up after 45 minutes under a whopping 40C°.
Dubai Creek is the main commercial hub of the region. Soak in the atmosphere of what was once a main port for trading to and from India, Africa and the Middle East. Catch a water taxi (called abra) to criss-cross the water from Bur Dubai on the left bank to Deira on the right.
Travel back in time in Bastakia, Dubai’s historic heart.
See traditional wind-towered (a primitive air conditioning system), mud-walled houses, open courtyards, narrow passageways brighten up by vibrant bougainvillea… You’ll be amazed how different Dubai used to be.
Ballooning over the Desert
Experience the spectacular sunrise from the air as you gently hove above the desert in a hot air balloon.
With only the occasional blast of the gas burner to disturb the peace, the feeling of flying smoothly through the open sky is purely magical.
The balloon landing can be a little rough though…Just follow your pilot’s instructions and you should be just fine.
The famous sail-shaped Burj Al-Arab hotel is Dubai’s signature landmark.
The only way it can be visited is if you have reservation for a room (or should we say suite), or one of its cafes or restaurants located inside.
For a free picture-perfect view, visit the Souk Madinat Jumeirah and sip a drink on one of its numerous terraces.
Of course, a trip to Dubai would not be complete without experiencing the shopping malls.
It is so important that we have decided to allocate a full article to these impressive malls.
To be continued…