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*The writer paid their own way for the entire trip. Check out my shop, for stunning photographs, ready to print and frame.
After years of travel, I’ve amassed a plethora of friends spread out across the globe which has meant I’ve often fantasised about what ‘a perfect world’ would look like. If money was no object I’d have an island, and bring the best parts of every place I’ve ever been to there (including all my friends), so it would be like a round the world trip, in a single town.
Welcome to Dubai.
As a stopover point between Australia and Europe, Dubai makes perfect sense. It’s roughly a 13 hour flight away from east coast Australian cities which means you get the longest flight done first. You arrive in the morning so there’s a better chance of getting a proper nights sleep, rather than having to change planes at 2am as you would in Singapore or Bangkok.
But beyond a convenient flight time, Dubai has sprung up, into a global hub of convenience. Most traveler’s spend at most a day exploring Dubai, preferring to push-on, into Europe (this was the case when I was a travel agent) but knowing how much there was to see, I opted for a week and even that was rushing it.
I’ve shopped in markets in Hanoi, Department stores in New York, and Mega-malls in Korea but none compare to the shopping in Dubai. It’s literally the best shopping, the world over, in one place. Galleries Lafayette from Paris, Marks and Spencer from England, Macy’s from New York, H&M from the UK, plus every other well known brand (Levi’s, Nike, Adidas etc) in one single shopping centre, that is Dubai Mall.
When I was in Dubai, I was travelling on New Zealand Dollars which has crap exchange rates, yet even I found the shopping cheap, and couldn’t help but stock up on stylish jackets and shirts at bargain prices (Merino sweater for NZD12=USD8).
Then there’s the old markets, full of gold, spices, souvenirs. Not to mention the entertainment. Skiing? Diving? Ice-Skating? No problem, it’s all offered in shopping centres in Dubai.
I dived with hundreds of sharks in the Dubai Mall Aquarium and looked out to see people shopping at gap. With perfect water temperatures, crystal clear visibility and knowing that you’re guaranteed to see sharks, turtles and rays it’s the perfect dive scenario.
Whether you’re a fan of architecture of not, you can’t help but marvel at the incredible projects that have been constructed during Dubai’s development. The Burj Al Arab is a beautiful building but it’s fairly simple (I say that lightly, I know it took a lot of engineering knowledge to create) when compared to the Burj Khalifa — the tallest building in the world at 828 metres. It’s so high that from the observation floor, you can see the curvature of the earth (if the haze allows it).
Constructed islands like The Palms, The World and yet to be constructed, The Universe have changed the face of the earth, requiring maps to be redrawn. No other building or construction project has ever done that.
From the twisted building, to the Atlantis hotel, Dubai’s architecture is a snapshot of what can be completed with no red tape beaurocracy, money issues and cheap imported labour, anything can be created.
It may seem over the top, but in it’s own way, it’s also beautiful. It’s proof that if the world wanted to, we could have a global hyperloop transport system and provide cheap efficient housing for all, because we can build anything we truly want.
Water theme parks
I was bitterly disappointed when years after visiting Dubai, Sydney got it’s own water theme park, which had stairs (which also meant queuing).
The water theme park adjacent to the Atlantis hotel has a series of canals, rivers and escalators (not sure what else you’d call them) so you never have to leave the water to move from one water attraction to the next.
At the top of the escalator (more like the travel thing on a beginners ski run) a staff member will push you towards the waterslide of your choice. The only one you have to get out of your tube for is the high drop one.
The slides cross over with the aquarium so you’ll be going along a slide, then passing through the aquarium with sharks and rays swimming around you.
There’s also jets of water that shoot out of the pavement to cool it down. The wild Wadi Water park, has jets powerful enough to push you up the waterslide so it’s more of a roller coaster ride going up and down and around. The experience ruined water slides the world over for me because having to climb up stairs every time then queue just seems so archaic.
Offering ‘local experiences’ catered to tourists
I know genuine experiences are better than crafted experiences, but an experience is better than no experience at all. I’m also a fan of a well crafted tourist ventures. Dubai offers multiple options including a desert safari, a river cruise and an oasis experience. There’s also a great museum in Abu Dhabi (easy day trip) that recreates models of Bedouin life.
I booked the desert safari which included a 4WD trip through sand-dunes which finished with a buffet dinner, and hookah under the stars out in the desert, meant to resemble the nomadic Bedouin life that existed for hundreds of years before Dubai city grew out of the sands.
Timing was spot on, food was decent. Yes it was perfectly cliche, yes it was fake but it gave a glimpse of a world, I’d never have been able to experience, easily otherwise.
As it was late in the day, we stopped to take a photo of the sunset. Everyone got out of the four-wheel drives and I was trying to get a photo without people, so I wandered a few steps off to the side. I then stumbled over a couple of dunes, and noticed a lizard I’d previously only seen on a Bear Grylls documentary, that dived and ‘swam’ under the sand. I watched it for a bit, trying to get a photo and then sat down to get a sense of what it would be like to be alone in the desert.Create your ultimate travel playlist, free for three months with access to millions of tracks with Apple Music. Free for three months, cancel anytime. Trial it now.
It was only then I noticed I could no longer hear people chatting. I stood up and realised I was alone. So ran back along the dunes till I could see the cars, and there was about 40 four wheel drives, everyone had gotten back in the cars, but they did a headcount and realised one person was missing, me. So no one could leave till I was found, so there was drivers going off in four directions calling out, “hello, are you out there”.
I then had to do the walk of shame as every person looked at me walking back to the car. Our next stop was dinner so everyone was hot and tired and hungry by that stage.
I also had sand in my shoes and socks for the next three weeks. Something they wont mention on the brochure, but it was a great experience and gave me a new appreciation of deserts.
The biggest, the highest, the longest; Dubai seems to own them all. If you’re a fan of selfies at the ‘biggest’ of something, then Dubai should be number #1 on your list. All officiated by the Guinness World Records. Dubai has so many records, and is continually breaking new ones that Guinness World Records opened up an office in Dubai, presumably to save on travel costs. Records include:
-Tallest chocolate Sculpture (replica of the Burl Khalifa)
-World’s largest OLED screen which also sits above the worlds largest aquarium viewing area
-World’s tallest hotel
-Largest flower arrangement
The Tallest Building—The Burj Khalifa breaks multiple records including highest man-made structure on earth, fastest lift, highest observation tower and more.
If you’re going to take a random dried fruit and virtually worship it, then Dubai wins the prize. The small black dried fruit that is a date, is treated like expensive jewellery. Glass cabinets, wrapped in gold ribbon, prices akin to luxury jewellery.
Sure dates are nice but when Aldi sells a 500g packet for $1.49 you have to wonder what’s going into a date to make it cost $150 for a single one. Curiosity almost got the better of me, but it seemed like you needed a degree to know which date was the best one to buy. Apparently no two dates are alike. If anyone can enlighten me about dates, I’d love to interview you on my podcast, please contact me.
Double the bigness, just a day trip away
If Dubai wasn’t big and boisterous enough for you, Abu Dhabi is an easy bus trip away and again features unique architecture (a circular building), huge malls, a Ferrari theme park and local versions of famous art museums like the Louvre and the Guggenheim.
It seems the UAE it also out to nab the Guinness Record for the most things to do in a stopover to Europe.
If only there was some kind of passport checklist you could get stamped which then earned you a tee-shirt at the end thus earning a Guinness Record for the most Guinness Record places visited in a single country!
- Dubai: Gilded Cage (The Story of Dubai)
- Burqalicious: The Dubai Diaries-True stories of sun, sand, sex and secrecy
I flew Emirates, I stayed at the Majestic Hotel in Dubai which was roughly $80/night and featured multiple bars, restaurants and a pool onsite. Room was small but featured everything I needed. I was walking distance from a subway station, (although after day 1 of catching subway, I then resorted to taxis which were still relatively cheap because it was July and it was 47 degrees Celsius everyday).
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