Etihad Airways to the UAE: Exploring Dubai

The more I travel, the more I realize how tough it is to compare cities and have “favorites.” Yes, there are some cities I absolutely love — London, Hong Kong, Berchtesgaden, Germany, and Queenstown, New Zealand, for example. But how on earth can you compare cities like Ho Chi Minh City and Dubai?

Dubai is fascinating on so many levels. In high school I remember learning about how the diversity in the US can be described as a salad bowl as opposed to the previous analogy of a melting pot. Whoever thought so obviously hasn’t been to Dubai, which is the ultimate salad bowl.

Best I could tell, Dubai doesn’t really have a culture, given that a majority of the people you interact with are there on a five (or so) year work permit, largely from Pakistan, Kenya, Thailand, etc.

That’s also part of what was fascinating, though. It’s the first time I can remember that I got into a cab outside of the US or Germany and wasn’t asked “where are you from?” but rather asked “are you from Dubai?” I could easily be as much of a local as any of them. So in a way that was kind of cool, since wherever I went it wasn’t assumed that I was a tourist.

Equally fascinating was how hard those on work permits in Dubai work. It gives me a completely new perspective on how lucky I am. Most cab drivers I spoke to split their cabs with one other person, so worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week. One guy I drove with hadn’t taken a day off in three years. Amazing.

Anyway, unfortunately I had the nastiest cold during this trip that I’ve had all year, which made it rather unpleasant, though I still did my best to see as much as possible.

The first day I went to the Dubai Mall, which is the world’s largest mall. It can’t really be described as a mall, since it has so much more than shops, including an aquarium, ice skating, etc. It also had more western restaurant chains than I knew existed. I’ll be honest, the mall wasn’t actually quite as “glitzy” as I expected. Don’t get me wrong, it was very nice, though I kind of expected everything to be obnoxiously gold plated, which wasn’t the case.

Dubai Mall

Dubai Mall

Dubai Mall

Dubai Mall fountain

Dubai Mall aquarium

Dubai Mall aquarium

Dubai Mall ice skating

One of the more local parts of the mall was The Gold Souk, which seemed to sell enough jewelry to finance the United States’ debt.

The Gold Souk

Outside of the mall was a promenade with views of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. The building looks unreal, straight out of a Harry Potter movie if you ask me (full disclosure: I’ve never seen a Harry Potter movie. I tried watching the first one twice, but fell asleep half way through both times. Did I just lose one of you as a reader with that statement (aka half of my readership)?

Outside promenade

Burj Khalifa

Outside promenade

I then visited the “real” Gold Souk, which seems to be one of the more authentic parts of Dubai. I wasn’t in the market for any jewelry so just made a quick pass through, though it still felt a bit like a market in Beijing — “wait, friend, I have good deal for you, my friend. Special price on watch just for you.” One of things I loved is that many stores were promoting “authentic imitation” watches.

Gold Souk

Efficient transportation

Gold Souk

I also had afternoon tea at the Burj Al Arab, which I wrote about here and highly recommend. While it’s over $100USD per person, I actually thought it was an amazing value and am happy not to have missed it. I highly recommend making reservations in advance (unlike me), so you can get a table at the Skyview Bar instead of just the lobby lounge — though both were great experiences.

Bridge to the Burj Al Arab

View from the Burj Al Arab

Another regret I have about my visit is not booking tickets for the observation tower of the Burj Khalifa earlier. They were all sold out, with the exception of the $100USD+ tickets, which I’m not willing to pay for a visit to an observation deck. So be sure to take care of that before your trip, if you’re interested.

On the whole Dubai was fascinating. I can’t say whether I liked it or not, because it’s a city unlike anywhere else I’ve ever been. It’s definitely a must see.

Filed Under: Travel
  1. Not playing on any plane yet, but you should check out Mission: Impossible 4 at your closest IMAX, amazing views of and from the Burj Khalifa. Brilliant stuntwork!

  2. I visited Dubai in Feb 2011. I had booked the brunch at the Burj Arab prior to the flight over. It was an amazing experience which my 2 nine year old nieces enjoyed also. Regarding Khalifa’s observation deck – you can pre-purchase tickets for the next day if you don’t get to buy them before your flight. Happy travels.

  3. Dubai sucks! Just say it, you will feel better! In 2006 we booked a week at burj dubai and bolted for India after 3 days. 6 stars my a**! Maybe to the african or indian that does all the work in the city. The city has no soul but plenty of imported workers. All that glitters is not gold folks!

  4. I was in Dubai this past summer for a 1-day stopover and it was just about all I could take. Time goes by incredibly slow and I felt like I saw everything I needed to see and I was done. I can’t imagine spending 6 days like Mike had intended to do. The weather is pretty much unbearable during the summer, and the opulent display of wealth was a huge turn off.

    None of it is built to last. In 10 years all of it will look tacky (if it doesn’t already) and outdated. The Emirati’s have a low opinion of the foreigners working there and it shows by the way they’re treated. What I liked about it though is that its an Islamic country, but they’re tolerant of different lifestyles. I saw women in full-on burqa’s and a girl at the mall wearing the shortest dress I’ve ever seen, parading before a group of Emirati men in 5-inch stilletos. They didn’t give either a second glance. Overall, my 10 days in Afghanistan were much more enjoyable. The remote areas of Istalif and Solang are partly in ruins, but remain timelessly beautiful. Something that can’t be said of Dubai.

  5. Ben– one of the great places to eat is Buqtair restaurant near Jumeriah Beach…did you get a chance to hit that spot?

  6. Ben, thanks for your Dubai report/tips. We plan on buying (30-60 days out) tickets for BAA Observation deck (100 AED) for our upcoming Dubai stay.

  7. Ben,
    The views are amazing, like postcards. I am trying to book award from US to India w/stopover at Dubai. It will be a once in a lifetime experience.
    I may try their Desert Safari with Camels/Tent etc.

  8. Terrific report !

    Just one minor correction, the picture shown is the Dubai Mall Waterfall, not to be confused with the fountain.

    The Duabi Mall Fountain usually refers to the outside fountain where they have the light and music show, which attracts a lot of visitors, particularly in the evening.

  9. ColonelretWes — You don’t have to buy that far out if you don’t want to…even a few days and you should be fine. The trick is simply to book online. Buying online is the trick…otherwise regardless of “SOLD OUT” status and you have to pay the walk up tourist price of $109.

    luvflying11 — You get what you pay for on the Desert Safari. Definitely a tourist trap kind of activity…some people like it, some think it is a waste. Arabian Adventures is usually regarded as the best bang for buck.

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