A few weeks ago, I was afforded the incredible opportunity to partake in a work training programme that necessitated me to spend five days in Dubai. Despite it being a work trip, my innate adventurous spirit was adamant to make the very best of being in the land of the Arabs, which I believe I did. Because not everyone is enticed by the idea of planning a trip from scratch, if you’re heading to the UAE anytime soon, I have detailed my experience in the hope that it will serve as a starting point to someone’s itinerary.
First off, the things you should know:
- The flight to the UAE is 08:10 long from SA.
- Dubai is 2 hours ahead of SA time
- The currency used is United Arab Emirates Dirham (AED): 1 AED is R 3.49.
- Cabs & the metro are the preferred mode of transport. I used an Uber on my first night and soon learnt that Cabs are cheaper. The cost difference in one trip was 43.5 UAE via an Uber vs. 30.5 via Cab.
- Needless to mention, Dubai is hot and humid. The city boasts temperatures of 32 degrees in the evenings and 41 degrees in the afternoon. I was literally sweating just waiting for my Uber at midnight but my body seemed to adapt the next day. I suffered at the hands of the temperature extremes: it is extremely cold inside each building due to the air cons and completely scorching outside.
- 90% of the population is made up of expats. It is very rare to see Emirate people expect at the airport which seemed to have many locals.
- There are three parts of Dubai: Old Dubai, New Dubai and the desert. All the fantastic new architecture and the working hub is in new Dubai. I stayed at the Sheraton Grand Hotel on Sheikh Zayed Road, a very popular main road in new Dubai.
- It is very safe.
Met with a shocking humidity, a Duty Free with average discounts and a cold reception from immigration, I made it safe and sound into Dubai at 00:00 on Monday.
Day 1: Shopping and Desert.
Needless to say Dubai is one of, if not the, shopping capitals of the world. With its earned reputation of the lavish lifestyle, it boasts multiple shopping experiences, most of which come with a hefty price tag. Dubai Mall and Mall of the Emirates are the two biggest malls with markets such as Gold Souk, Karama and the Dragon City (a Chinese market) offering a more affordable shopping experience. I spent my morning at Gold Souk (the gold market) which is a huge arcade housing many shops that offer bags, clothes, weaves, souvenirs and like the name suggests, gold for dayyyys.
Did I mention that this is Real gold. It is one of the biggest gold trading markets in ASIA and I was flabbergasted at the magnificent displays of gold being sold in every other shop. I found myself questioning why on earth anyone in their right mind would buy a gold dress or a neckpiece that extravagant. Where would one wear such an ostentatious piece of jewellery? I also saw the biggest gold ring in the world. It holds the Guinness World Record and weighs 58.68KGs. Like, why?
I then realized that it wasn’t for people in my tax bracket and for that reason, I could never understand.
I had the luxury of a ‘shop guide’ in the form of a man from India who stuck to me like a magnet. Eager to help me navigate the market, he led me to all the shops that sold all the things I had requested to see. Naturally, at every shop we were met with persistent salesmen with which I had to fight and over-explain the reasons I was not able to buy what was being offered; bargaining was a real tool that is necessary here. My plan to get a fewer things than I ended up buying attests to the true power of the Asian Salesman. I managed to get a couple souvenirs, handbags and random hippie pants.
Earlier that morning, I made reservations for a Desert Safari tour http://www.desertsafaridubai.com/ which includes a myriad of experiences. The booking process was quite simple and the lead times so amazing that after some back and forth via email, my booking was confirmed. Five hours later, a tour guide came to pick me up at the hotel. It’s 135 UAE if you choose to share your experience with randoms and 1, 000 AED for a private experiences. Because I chose the first option, we had to rush off to another hotel from which an Indian family emerged and, off we went. The desert is about 45 minutes out of the city. It was incredible to see. Once we got there, we went into a supermarket where we were urged to stock up on some water and use the toilet. I took the liberty of stocking up on snacks (which I still haven’t eaten).
We then went off to what is called the Red Desert. As the name suggests the sand is a brownish red/ burgundy with no live animals. The first activity comprised of 20-30 minutes of Dune bashing which is basically a 4 x 4, whose wheels have been relieved of some air, being spun around and driven along the dunes on the desert. It was fun but scary at first. The driver provided us with some plastics in which to throw up. Heh? People actually throw up? Luckily there were no reported pukers in our ride.
This was followed by a photo opp and a drive to the white desert which housed some camels, quad biking facilities and a camp. The demarcated camp space housed dinner tables for the buffet, a shisha (hubbly bubbly) space, a bar, a stage for belly dancing, a henna hut and a ‘sand art exhibit’. I didn’t get a chance to quad bike as I was so exhausted but I did brave a camel ride. Yes, the 135 UAE was for this entire all-inclusive experience which lasted for 6 hours.
Day 2: Work, Burj Khalifa and Nike Run Club Dubai
My training started on Tuesday which meant I spent about nine hours in the confines of an office- so couldn’t explore much. Since our offices are in Burj downtown, an office district, we had the amazing Burj Khalifa as a background. A rare and beautiful site, Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world. To my knowledge, it is 148 floors high which one can buy a ticket to explore (I didn’t). Because everyone comes to Dubai to work, the work ethic is very high. It is evident in the service that you receive across the board. Everything works and, well.
Later I joined the Nike Run Club team in Zabeel Park for a speed run. Since I am a part of the NRC in Joburg, this was a must-do for me. There are two NRCs in the UAE, one in Dubai and the other in Abu Dhabi. I was met with a lot of hospitality and again, met people from all over the world who shared the same interests. Really fun team.
Day 3: Work and Aprons and Hammers
After work, the ladies on the programme and I headed to Aprons and Hammers.
It is a seafood restaurant on a boat on the Dubai Marina. I have never seen prawns so large in my life. As per the name, you are handed over an apron to wear and a hammer to use with the crabs. Such an incredible experience. Since Dubai doesn’t have alcohol, I had a taste of the local beer from Singapore
The Dubai skyline offers a beautiful view on this side of town. The architecture is incredible.
Day 4: Work and the Dhow Cruise
The Dhow cruise was another easy-to-book experience. Although a little bit more expensive, this luxury dining experience on board Bateux Dubai was another incredible way to explore Dubai. The experiences offers 5 course meal to be enjoyed as the boat sails past many am attraction on the creek.
Day 5: Karama Souk, Burj Al Arab, Jumeirah Beach
Day 5 was a short one considering my flight was in the afternoon. I was lucky enough to have my cab driver change into my tour guide for the morning; he was more than happy to lead me to my last minute must-sees. Karama is a market on the other side of town which holds many shops with handbags, clothes, sunglasses and souvenirs. Naturally, many great quality counterfeits are made available here.
Burj Al Arab
Burj Al Arab is famous for being the world’s only seven star hotel and also resembling a boat. There is a water park at the front of the hotel which I didn’t get the chance to experience. The view of Al Arab was on Jumeirah beach which, like the Creek and Marina, offers a still-water experience (vs. the waves in SA).
Dubai was truly an amazing experience. I always love to immerse myself in different cultures so it is a bit disappointing in its lack of true culture. Not a lot of natural elements as almost everything is man-made. The government is working hard to compensate for everything that the city doesn’t offer naturally through big development plans. And, after the five days, I realized that perhaps the culture of Dubai lies in how it offers a taste of the entire world and maybe , that is ok.