Thursday, March 15, 2012

Dubai for Architecture Buffs

Dubai isn't merely a stopover for flights en route to Europe. It really is a burgeoning city for expats and vacationers alike. There are only 2 direct flights to Dubai from Singapore; that being Singapore Airlines and Etihad Airways. Do consider wisely when you intend to visit though, as temperatures can soar as high as 50 degrees celsius in the summer. A good time to visit would be Dec-Mar when the highest day temp is 30 degrees celsius and the night goes to a low of 12. Situated near deserts, Dubai is sandy to say the least. However, Dubai houses some of the world's greatest architectural feats, so the heat and sand is a small sacrifice for architectural buffs like myself. 

Airport customs
You've heard all sorts of stories about customs not allowing visitors into Dubai and throwing them in jail without informing their consulates. My personal opinion is to tread gently in this Middle Eastern country. Clearing customs can take 10mins to an hour depending on your arrival time.

My "bad" experience with Customs here was on departure when I was asked to go to the Customs office to get another stamp on my passport. I was not given a reason as to why I had to do that but the Customs Officer assured me it was alright?! After which I tried to cross the transit area and got promptly yelled at by another Customs Officer. The bottom line; STAY CALM.

Hotels in Dubai are notoriously expensive and most hotels are situated along the main stretch of Sheikh Zayed Road. You have the world's only 7* hotel, the Burj Al-Arab, all you can name international brand hotels to the small, dinghy looking hotels along this busy road.

The public transportation situation in Dubai is pretty limited and cabs are your best way around. They can be hired anywhere off the road as long as their sign is lit. Most cabs here go by the meter (do not take the black cabs which are not legal cabs). Do note that all drivers here speak English and believe themselves to be Formula 1 drivers. They drive fast and usually know where you are going to but confirm your destination before they drive off. The metro line has limited stops and their bus routes are confusing. Cab rides are typically AED15-80.

Dubai offers a good mix of Middle Eastern, European, Mediterranean and American cuisine. Alcohol is not permitted outside of hotel bars and clubs. Drinking and smoking on the street is strictly prohibited (you will get thrown in jail). Food generally costs AED 10-50.

One has to be respectful in this Muslim state. Foreign women are modestly dressed in slacks and sleeved tops (sleeveless is OK) but seldom are hot pants worn outside of the hotel. Bikinis can only be found on private beaches of hotels but one can try wearing it on the public beaches (may get thrown in jail though, depending on the cops). Hotels and high end restaurants command smart casual attire.

Sightsee Old Dubai
Old Dubai as the name suggests houses some of Dubai's historic buildings and heritage centers. To better understand how people lived in the past and Middle Eastern architecture, a day trip to the old parts of the city should satisfy the culture buffs.
  • Al-Ahmadiya School & Heritage House (Open Sat-Thu 0800-1930 Fri 1430-1930) is situated near Al-Ras station  along Al Khor St. This house was built in 1890 and showcases how the men and women lived in the past. Entry is free and museum staff even brew tea for you in their sitting area.
  • Deira Old Gold Souk is a mere 10mins walk from the Al-Ahamadiya School. On exit, turn right from the Heritage House and walk straight. After crossing 2 streets, turn right into the street and the Deira Old Gold Souk is on the left of the street. Here, lines of shops sell gold in all variants.
  • Deira Old Spice & Herb Souk is 5mins walk from the Gold Souk. Here, you are inundated with the smells of various Middle Eastern spices like clovers, star anise and herbs like vanilla, saffron and viagra. Shopkeepers will hassle you to enter their shops but smile politely and they will even allow you to take photos of the herbs and spices (without buying anything). I really do recommend buying the teas here if you are a tea drinker. 
  • Dubai Creek Abra (boat ride) is situated just across from the Spice & Herb Souk. If time permits, take a leisurely ride along the Dubai Creek on-board these Abras. Tickets can be purchased from the agents along the creek. A round trip should take 15-30mins.
  • Bastakiya Bur Dubai (Open 1000-2200) is a maze of old houses that have now been converted into hostels, art galleries and restaurants. Bastakiya preserves the traditional village living of the past. Entry is free and is a 10mins cab ride from the Dubai Creek.
  • Jumeirah Mosque is the only mosque open to the public and receives non-Muslim visitors. The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding hosts visits of the Grand Jumeirah Mosque every Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 1000. You do not need a reservation to attend this visit, but you must arrive at the main entrance to the Jumeirah Mosque by approximately 0945. Each tour lasts approximately 75 minutes and costs AED10.

Al-Ahmadiya School & Heritage House

Gold, Spice and Herb Souk

Abra at the Deira Creek and Bastakiya houses

Sightsee New Dubai 
The buildings in Dubai seem to rise upwards and become more monolithic. Construction is happening everywhere as buildings seem to rise faster than the number of people occupying them.
  • Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world and is more popularly seen in Mission Impossible 4. Do buy timed tickets online on their website at least 2 weeks to a month prior to your visit so you will not be disappointed if unable to buy tickets at the door (high chance it's all sold out). Online booking costs AED100 and can be exchanged for the actual ticket at the Burj Khalifa entrance (LG of Dubai Mall). Tour takes about 30mins to an hour and offers a panoramic view of the Dubai sandscape.
  • The Palm Jumeirah is home to the Atlantis Hotel, Aquaventure and private homes. Do note that you have to bring your own towel to Aquaventure or rent a towel for AED200. The private Aquaventure beach is very well maintained and only accessible to hotel guests and Aquaventure patrons. If getting wet is not your idea of fun, take the return monorail ride (AED25) from the Atlantis Hotel to better view this man made wonder. Of course if time and money permits, do consider a helicopter ride for an aerial view of the Palm (can be found on Groupon).
  • Burj Al-Arab & Jumeirah Beach Hotel are adjacent hotels along Jumeirah Beach Park. Entry to Burj Al-Arab is permitted only if you are a hotel guest or are dining at any of their restaurants. However, a concierge at the door will be able to offer you a reservation at one of their restaurants should you not have a prior reservation (AED150 per pax for food and drinks at Majlis Al Bahar). The hotel interior is indeed fit for a King and its sandy beaches are just to die for.
  • Wild Wadi is situated next to the Burj Al-Arab and is another water theme park besides Aquaventure that helps to beat the heat in Dubai.
  • Dubailand (world's biggest theme park), The World and The Palm Deira are still under construction at the time of this post.

View from the Burj Khalifa

Burj Al-Arab

The Atlantis Hotel and Aquaventure

Private housing on The Palm Jumeirah

View from the monorail ride and the Burj Al-Arab in the distance

Jumeirah Beach Hotel and Jumeirah Beach

Honestly, I would only recommend 2 malls in Dubai. The Dubai Mall and The Mall of Emirates.
  • The Dubai Mall is the world's largest mall by far and you can spend an entire day here. It houses the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo and every brand imaginable. All your European high end brands and anything expensive can be found in this mall. Do check out the water fountain show below the Burj Khalifa. It rivals that of the Bellagio Fountain Show in Las Vegas.
  • The Mall of the Emirates is pretty similar to The Dubai Mall but is somewhat less intimidating. MOE houses Ski Dubai - the world's largest indoor ski.

Dubai Aquarium

Inside the Dubai Mall

Water Fountain at The Dubai Mall

Inside the Dubai Mall and Burj Khalifa from the Dubai Mall

My thoughts on this trip: I highly doubt I will give Dubai a repeat visit as this is still a pretty "defensive" country. Women are not exactly treated like gold here and foreigners are really just 2nd class to the Middle Easterners. I did however, fully enjoy the desert tour, sand-dunning and camel riding from the Groupon I bought.

Desert in the day and at dusk
Posted by fongie on 3/15/2012 10:12:00 PM in , , ,


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fongie said...

Thanks Jony.