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 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)?
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.
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.