Situated in a small country on the coast of the Arabian Peninsula lies Dubai – a sprawling oasis amidst the heat of the desert sun. Dubai has boomed from a small town in the 1990s to one of the biggest tourist destinations of the decade. After visiting there this past weekend, I can completely understand why.
To tell you the truth, I almost wept tears of joy when I stepped off of the plane on a Friday morning and it was already over 80 degrees. After living in Germany for the past 6 months, I had left a snowy mess for a desert oasis. My mom was flying to Dubai from California to meet me on her vacation. So here I was, a single woman flying into the heart of the Middle East and stuck waiting at an airport for two hours for my mom to arrive. And some people say vacations aren’t adventurous. If you want to hear about the things to do and to not do in Dubai, check out my other article about my Dubai trip here!
I flew from Frankfurt to Dubai on Emirates. It was my first time flying with them but had only heard wonderful reviews of the airline. Although I was cheap and flew in economy, I was very pleased with everything about the flight. There was lots of in-flight entertainment and the meal left me very full.
As I walked into the Dubai airport, my first impression was Las Vegas-meets-Donald Trump. Extravagant, lavish, and very over the top. I loved it immediately.
Out of respect to the Muslim culture, my mom and I both made the decision to wear a headscarf out in public while in Dubai. Although there are plenty of women who do not cover their shoulders and head, we felt more comfortable by showing their culture respect. It was just a personal decision on our part. Which is why when my mom told me to look for her as someone in all black, it wasn’t helpful at all because lots of women were dressed in all black. Nevertheless, I found her soon after her flight landed and we went to our hotel.
The hotel that we stayed in, the Carlton Palace was a five-star hotel located on the outskirts of Dubai. It was absolutely beautiful and so luxurious for a fairly cheap price. Maybe I have just slept in too many night trains but this hotel was a phenomenal change from my usual sleeping places.
My mom and I quickly freshened up and went to the Metro where we purchased our Metro cards and put 24 Dirhams worth on them. From there, we hopped on the meticulously clean Metro and headed toward the Burj Khalifa. On the Metro, there were two cabins of the train that were designated for only women and children to sit in. The concept was definitely foreign to Western culture but my mom and I happily sat in those cabins because they were not as crowded and we could usually get a seat. Although it was very hazy that day, the Burj Khalifa was still visible and we watched with anticipation as it crept closer and closer.
The closest Metro stop to the tower is the Burj Khalifa/Dubai Mall. From there, you walk along an air-conditioned “gerbil tube” walkway to the mall. That is the beauty of Dubai – its residents know that it can be hot so they just air-condition everything. It’s a win-win! After a bit of walking, we were in the mall! I was stunned at how beautiful it was inside. There were floors after floors of designer stores, tons of shops, and even an aquarium! We enjoyed people watching as we ate lunch. Many of the men wore their long white robes and head wraps and had such an elegant air about them. It is the equivalent to them wearing suits and to me felt magical. They were also probably really comfortable and cool.
Since it was so hazy out, my mom and I decided not to go to the top of the Burj Khalifa. Besides, she had already gone a few months ago. So we took a picture from the outside and hopped back on the metro. This time, we stopped at Mall of the Emirates. Yes, there are two incredibly massive malls in Dubai that are both very popular. I did not realize this and you can imagine my surprise when my mom took me to another mall! This one was even more grandiose than the Dubai Mall. One of its main attractions is Ski Dubai, a fully functioning ski resort in the middle of the Arabian Desert!
One of my mom’s main goals on this trip was to visit the souks since she had been unable to during her last trip here. So after we had finished gaping at the massive mall, we headed to the old city in search of the souks. While trying to find the souks, we discovered a beautiful grassy area that was a popular area among locals, as well as many beautiful mosques. We were even able to hear the call to prayer! At the textile souk, my mom and I found beautiful cashmere scarves that we wanted. Since bargaining is free game, we decided to try our luck at it. Initially, the salesman wanted 70 Dirham for one scarf. We thought that was way too much so we offered him 25 Dirhams for two scarves. Through a very tedious haggling session, we were able to purchase the scarves for 15 Dirham each! My mom and I were so excited with our purchases.
We wandered around a bit more and accidentally ended up in an area that was men-only. We turned back quickly and soon made our way to the river. There were dozens of water taxis that would take you across the river to the gold and spice souks for only one Dirham. As we stood there and watched them ride the current, the boats were spinning out of control and hitting the docks and other boats. So of course we decided it looked like a fun Disneyland ride and got on one. Our boat only ran into one other boat and we didn’t fall into the Creek so I considered it a win. Although there were more tourists on this side of the Creek there were also more women wearing burqas and headscarves so my mom and I were able to blend in.
Possibly too well. The storekeepers kept speaking to us in Arabic trying to entice us to look at their merchandise. We had absolutely no idea what they were saying so we kept on walking and admiring the goods. I absolutely loved the smell of the spice souk. There were bags and bags of every spice imaginable. The kid in me came out and I just wanted to run my hands through the bags so badly. But I refrained from doing so and headed to the gold souk instead.
The gold souk was chock-full of tourists and tour groups holding up obnoxious signs and yelling loudly to its members. My mom and I maneuvered around them and marveled at all of the gold. I had no idea that all of these things could be made out of gold! It was almost like King Midas had come along and touched everything. After a while my mom and I noticed that the women were starting to disappear as the sun set. We thought it might be wise to head back to our hotel, which we did. All in all, that day we walked for over 14 miles! No wonder we were so exhausted!
The next day we slept in until almost 10 because we were so exhausted. Our hotel had a tour desk and we booked a desert safari excursion for that evening through Adventure Leisure Tours. I wanted to visit the Jumeriah mosque because non-Muslims could enter. On our way, we stopped at a store close to our hotel that had everything inside for fewer than 10 Dirhams. We had gone inside the night before and discovered that it was about the size of Wal-Mart on two floors and was busier than Grand Central Station. I had purchased a light headscarf with jewels on it so my mom purchased a similar one before we headed out for the day.
Unfortunately, the Internet is not always reliable and we took the Metro about 12 miles further than we should have. On our way back we realized that there would be no time to do everything I wanted to so we decided to grab breakfast/lunch at the Dubai Mall before we went on the desert safari. I jokingly suggested that we should get Outback Steakhouse when lo-and-behold, we stumbled across one! That is one of our favorite restaurants so we sat down and had ourselves a deliciously rare steak. I think we confused our waiter because we were from America and were dressed like Muslims. He seemed to think we were fun though, which is always a good thing. We had to eat our meal more quickly than I would have liked but it still tasted delicious. It would take us too long to get back to the Metro stop so we took a taxi back to our hotel. In the end, it worked out well because I was able to get pictures of the Burj Khalifa in its entirety during the daytime. We barely pulled into the hotel before our desert safari arrived and we piled in.
Our driver was named Ahkmed and was pretty funny. He asked if we were Muslim and when we told him that we weren’t he was very appreciative that we were being respectful of his religion. For the rest of the tour, he treated us a bit better than the other couple and I would like to thing that it was because we were dressed properly. Regardless, we were in for a fun night.
The first stop on our safari was to an oasis. Out in the middle of the desert there were trees and a whole little pit stop for people driving along the road. My mom and I both rented quads and drove around the desert like hellions for 30 minutes. There were no safety regulations except for a helmet and I’m pretty sure I saw five-year-olds out on the quads. Despite the desert heat it was an absolute blast and I’m pretty sure I’m still shaking sand out of my shoes.
Once our time riding the quads was up, Mom and I tried to take our picture with the camel that was there. Unfortunately, so was everybody else so we had to just smile and hope we got a good picture. Just little travel things. Ahkmed drove us around the dunes in our SUV while we waited for the other caravan to catch up to us before we headed to the dinner campground. Toyota must have had a great sale on white SUVs because there were nearly 30 of them being driven by various tour companies across the Arabian Desert. It was hilarious to see. After 30 minutes of driving that would also not be allowed in America, we headed off to the campsite.
The sun was setting into the desert dunes as we pulled up to the campsite where we would have dinner. We rode camels, smoked hookah, got henna tattoos, watched belly dancers, and ate delicious food. The party lasted well into the night until we all piled in the Toyota and drove back to our hotel.
We had an hour to make it to the Burj Khalifa to watch the final show of the evening. I have a bit of an obsession with water shows and couldn’t go to Dubai without witnessing the largest water fountains. My mom and I grabbed a taxi and followed the crowds to the stunning beauty of the water show.
I’ve been to the Las Vegas water shows at the Bellagio and they have a special place in my heart. It seems as though years ago the water shows lasted for a long amount of time and I was anticipating a certain something from the Burj Khalifa’s water show. As I stood shoulder-to-shoulder with throngs of people, I realized that the magic of the water show didn’t lie in the patterns of the water or in the music. Granted they were beautiful but they couldn’t hold a candle to the atmosphere that was present. The Burj Khalifa was lit up with sparkling lights and boats cruised along the water providing front-row seats to their passengers. People from around the world stood in peace and harmony to marvel at the beauty that Dubai has to offer.
That’s why if you ever need me, I’ll be busy daydreaming about Dubai.