We always knew that Dubai was extreme, but WOW, it’s even crazier than we imagined.
We were sitting absolutely silent in the super sterile metro on the way from the airport just staring at the skyscrapers. During rush hour, specific female-only zones become active, which Andri didn’t notice at first and was politely asked to return to the mens area. The metro glided smoothly above the city, in between the giant towers, giving you this futuristic feeling.
Dubai is way more Western than we had expected. Before arriving in Dubai people had been warning us that women would need to wear proper clothing, covering their hair, elbows and knees, as in many other muslim countries. However we soon realised that summer dresses and shorts were mostly accepted. You will still see many women wearing the traditional muslim clothing, abaya, covering most of their body, and the local mens (called the Emirati) wearing long sleeved ropes and keffiyeh (headwear). We also did not feel heavy eye staring for being foreigners in western clothes as most of the population consists of expats (almost 80%), mostly from India but also from Europe and the other Arab countries.
The first 3 nights we stayed in the famous Cayan Twisting Tower in the Dubai Marina. It’s one of the highest building in that area and turns 90°degrees from bottom to top, making it a hell for construction engineers. The apartment was located on 47th floor, where we enjoyed sitting on the balcony with a view over this huge man-made marina and the surrounding towers.
The swimming pool, Cayan Tower
View from the balcony area
The Twisted Tower
View from Cayan Twisted Tower Dubai Marina
It’s quite shocking to realise that most of Dubai was mainly a desert a few decades ago. We were both really curious about this unique city. Originally, the oil triggered the growth and development of modern Dubai, but today Dubai’s wealth does not come from the oil but mainly tourism, real estate and business. It’s obvious that Dubai is a business hub of the Persian Gulf region. The economy is one of the most stable in the middle east, so you will see a lot of well known international companies having a branch in the city (Mastercard, Sony….). Many business expats like moving to Dubai, for the obvious reason that they will not pay any tax here. So the value of life gets better. The local Emiratis seem to enjoy their Western life style and the Sheikh’s take good care of them. They are usually treated as the “elite” and receive very different treatment than the expats.
The local Emiratis in Dubai Mall
You will find everything in Dubai and then I mean EVERYTHING! If you think that visiting this city will be an exotic destination and give you an image of the Arabic culture, then you’re not right!…Here you will find Cheesecake factory, Fridays, Victoria’s Secret, Magnolia Bakery (the famous bakery in New York) and almost everything you can imagine. Dubai alone has more than 70 shopping centers, including the world’s largest shopping center, Dubai Mall, where you can learn to dive with sharks in one of the largest fish tanks in the world. Following Americas lead, Dubai certainly believes bigger is better.
Everywhere in Dubai you will see new constructions projects. Currently they are building a new palm island, a rotating tower that will spin 360 degrees, and the biggest Ferris wheel in the world.
However it isn’t possible to ignore the dark side of Dubai’s immense growth the last decades. The construction workers (mostly Indians and Pakistanis) get little recognition for their work and often live under substandard conditions our host told us. They often live 8-10 together in one room in “labor camps” and many of them are trapped in a cycle of poverty and debt. This has led to Dubai being criticised for human rights violations. If you want learn more on this matter, we recommend the documentary, Slaves of Dubai. Recently there has been more awareness on the issue and some labour laws have been implemented for their protection. In Dubai you also won’t see homeless people, if you don’t have a job you are literally deported out of the country.
Our hosts gave us few tips about what to do in Dubai which we tried out….
Things To Do In Dubai
Check out Dubai Marina
It’s quite interesting to go and check out this huge man-made marina. We enjoyed sitting on Costa Café an looking at the extreme skyscrapers. There is plenty to do in the surrounding areas of the marina, including the Marina Walk, a beachfront paved walkway with many nice restaurants.
Visit Burj Alarab – The only 7 star hotel in the world
The best view over Burj Alarab is actually visiting a hotel area in front of the 7 star hotel (Called Madinat Jumeirah). There you will find a nice river, a lot of bars and a market. So it’s great to sit down with a beer an enjoy the view from there.
Visit Jumeirah Beach
The beach area is Jumeirah Beach (The one close to Dubai Marina), which offers great scenic views of the Arabian Gulf. The whole beach has free wifi and many nice shops and cafe’s. About lunch time, or maybe even brunch, you’re going to get hungry after a few hours of walking so check out popular restaurants like Coco’s, Shake Shack and Ruby Tuesdays.
Visit Hilton Skybar
This bar is one of Dubai’s best kept secrets. Enjoy the 35th floor view, siting out on the balcony with a nice view over The Palm island. It’s best to settle in just before sunset and enjoy happy hour drink (They have happy hour between 16:00 – 18:00). It is really spectacular and something you will remember.
The world’s largest shopping centre. Inside the mall you can learn to dive with sharks in one of the largest fish tanks in the world. If you are not interested in diving at least check out this huge fish tank, with all it’s nice sea-life.
The Fountain Show
The Dubai Fountain performs daily…and yes, you guessed right. It’s the largest fountain show in the world. It starts 18.00 in the evening and performs every 30 minutes.
Old Deira or Bur Dubai (the “old” town)
There you will find a whole different side of Dubai. It’s best visited in the evening after 17.00. There you will find old markets (“souk”), spice shops and a gold market, home to shops with nice displays of gold jewellery in their windows. In this area you need to be prepared to bargain.
Visit The Palm, a man made island
There is a metro that will drive you to the end of the palm. It’s really nice view over the city from there and also you can take a look at the famous hotel The Atlantis.
Enter the tallest building in the world
The famous Burj Khalifa is 830m tall and is currently the tallest building in the world.
It costs 13.000 kr (100$) to visit the building and then you can enter the 123th floor. We recommend booking online in advance because then you will pay around 1/3 of the full price. The best time to visit is at sunset, then you’ll see the building light up and also the fountain and music show take place.
Transportation in Dubai
It’s great to travel around with the metro in Dubai. It’s quite cheap and really easy to figure out the routes. The metro only has one main line that lies through the whole city, since the city is mainly build by the coastal line. It’s cheaper to buy a silver card and then fill the card with credit. Each trip will cost much less. The metro runs everyday from 6.50 – 11.00 in the night. However on fridays (their main praying day) it starts running at 14.00.
Taxis in Dubai are really cheap. We spent 20 minutes in Taxi and we payed 1.000 kr (9$). They all run by the meter, so no need to hassle.
Where to stay?
Check out our blog on why you should try Couchsurfing in Dubai!
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