AFTER TWO STOPOVERS in Dubai airport over two separate trips to Europe, I made a pact to someday visit this Emirati city for real.
And so I did.
Nazurah and I flew in to UAE this past December which also coincided with the week of her 25th birthday. Seated on the shores of the Arabian Gulf, this beautiful city is filled with a dazzling array of expensive hotels and tall skyscrapers. Flanked also by endless desert land on one end and manmade offshore island The Palm on the other.
What’s a girl to do? Here’s what:
1. Desert Safari with Arabian Adventures
We have heard how a desert safari is not to be missed when in the Middle East. Though the tour we booked was not exclusive and had a larger group than expected, we enjoyed the 4WD dunes bashing with me screaming in the backseat each time the Toyota cruiser landed hard.
The ticketing price also included a Falcon show. This winged little fellow is some of the fastest on the planet and the trainer showed us how the falcon goes about its hunting ritual.
The night ended with spectacular views of the sunset and we headed for the desert camp afterwards. It was lovely having dinner conversations with other travellers from around the world. Dinner was a hearty serving of kebabs and meat, and I was intrigued by the ongoing bellydancing at centre stage.
2. Dubai Miracle Garden
Dubai Miracle Garden was a pretty sight. The creative display of flowers (and even fruits) are used to adorn structures like houses, and flowers planted in bicycle pots and old used cars.
But the variety of flowers were lacking. Best to get there in the morning as the sun gets hot and crowds start filling in at 11am.
3. Ride a hot-air balloon with Balloon Adventures Emirates
Another to-do checked off my bucket list… riding a hot-air balloon! We had to be ready by 5.30am for this just so we could catch the sunset in time when on flight. There were approximately 25 pax of us in a single balloon – the largest in the world I was told. But still there were ample space inside.
Screenshot from video, courtesy of Balloon Adventures Emirates
We flew to a maximum altitude of 4,305 feet that day. It was a little cloudy but boy, the views from above the clouds were spectacular! I absolutely loved how we got to cruise near the grounds which offered views of gazelles and camels across the desert. I learnt that the captain does not have the liberty to steer the balloon left/right, as directions are completely wind-dependent. The only way that is within control is ascending/descending based on how much hot air is delivered.
We landed at a speed of 11km/h on the grounds of a Bedouin village. There were a few bumps before the balloon came to a complete stop. Unfortunately though, the balloon didn’t topple backwards or else that would probably have been twice the fun! Overall, a thrilling experience indeed!
4. Afternoon Tea atop Skyview Bar @ Burj Al-Arab
View of downtown Dubai and Burj Khalifa in the distance
Jumeirah Beach Hotel
Splurge, splurge, splurge on afternoon tea atop the 27th floor Skyview Bar at Burj Al-Arab. It was the only way we could catch a glimpse of the glitzy 7-star hotel. They offered a 6-course of delightful teacakes and pastries with a fairly good selection of tea, impeccable service. From where we were seated, we could see downtown Dubai and the Burj Khalifa reflecting the sun as it went from light to dusk.
5. Visit the tallest skyscraper in the world – Burj Khalifa
Things just looked far tinier when I was up there at the 124th floor observation deck. The second photo shows how huge Dubai Fountain really is. Standing at over 800m high, Burj Khalifa is the tallest skyscraper in the world and took a period of 6 years for construction to complete.
As I read the informative panels the attraction had to offer, I learnt that the skyscraper is actually Y-shaped – constructed to support the sheer massiveness of a building so high. It is quite amazing to think about the architectural ingenuity that goes into the design and construction of the skyscraper in the middle of the desert heat. I also found it fascinating that workers take 3-4 months to complete cleaning the exterior windows of the entire building. Currently, Burj Khalifa is a mixed-use development offering residential, hotel and business services.
6. Shark Walker experience @ Dubai Aquarium
The Dubai aquarium is a lovely glass feature in the middle of the Dubai mall, and it always inspires a wow! looking at the variety of fishes. Nazurah and I signed up for the Shark Walker experience – it was nice getting upclose to the underwater fishes but disappointing that there was only a single shark that came by. I had expected more. Once in awhile, we would get a lone puffer fish drifting into the cage and we could clearly see them upclose. No need for prior diving experience as we were on the SeaTREK helmet.
The ticketing price also includes entry to the Dubai Aquarium. Not a large space but I enjoyed the crocodile exhibit that is newly-installed on its upper floors. A good afternoon spent.
7. Shop, shop, shop
My new abaya from the souk and our hunt for halal TOMS shoes
The Majlis Cafe @ Dubai Mall
Starbucks @ Ibn Battuta Mall
Armani Cafe @ Mall of The Emirates
Dubai offers some of the best shopping experience, with its traditional souks in old Deira and their modern-version of souk areas in malls. I supposed the weather in summer can be so hot outside, locals find haven escaping into the air-conditioned malls. I have never seen intricately-designed malls such as that of Dubai’s – particularly Ibn Battuta Mall. Felt like I was walking in a history museum instead of a shopping mall.
I was disappointed that we didn’t get a chance to visit Al-Fahidi and Dubai Creek to catch the abras. But I supposed there is always opportunity in the future.
All in all, a small taste of glitzy Dubai for these two girls.
My recommendations for attractions and accommodation choices:
Novotel Suites Dubai Mall of The Emirates http://www.novotel.com/gb/hotel-6670-novotel-suites-dubai-mall-of-the-emirates/index.shtml
2A Street, Al Barsha Road, Al Barsha 1, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Visited December 2015, stayed in a twin Suite for AED439/night
My stay experience exceeded expectations. Staff were very friendly and helpful, rooms were clean and had a neat feature of curtain separation between the TV lounge area and beds – that way I was able to watch TV without disturbing my friend who slept in earlier. The rooftop swimming pool amenity was lovely and I liked the interior decor of the bar/restaurant. The hotel is conveniently located near the Mall of The Emirates and its metro, a good equidistant between downtown Dubai and Jumeirah. -My TripAdvisor review (NaniSG)
Balloon Adventures Emirates http://www.ballooning.ae
Visited December 2015, for AED995/pax
A van picked us up and dropped us off at our hotel, we had to be up at 5.30am to catch the sunrise in time. It was a little cloudy when we were in the balloon but the views from above the clouds were spectacular. There were approximately 25 pax of us in a single balloon, still there were ample space inside. Captain Michael was also very friendly and interactive.
I absolutely loved how we got to cruise near the grounds – offered views of gazelles and camels across the desert. Overall, a thrilling experience! -My TripAdvisor review (NaniSG)
Afternoon Tea @ Skyview Bar, Burl Al Arab http://www.jumeirah.com/en/hotels-resorts/dubai/burj-al-arab/offers/burj-al-arab-afternoon-tea/
Visited December 2015, for AED620/pax
Visited for afternoon tea with a friend, the only way we could catch a glimpse of Burj Al-Arab. Impeccable service right from when we were ushered into the elevator right through sitting and tea. They offered a 6-course of delightful teacakes and pastries – fairly good selection of tea. Very filling indeed and I thoroughly enjoyed the city views watching the sunset. We could see downtown Dubai and the Burj Khalifa from where we were seated. -My TripAdvisor review (NaniSG)
Majlis Cafe @ Dubai Mall http://www.themajlisdubai.com
Visited December 2015
Majlis cafe is located in the middle of the beautiful Souk wing of Dubai Mall, and a lovely place to have a break after the busy shopping. I had the camel-latte and the delicious date cake served with soft-serve camel ice-cream. Absolutely loved it! -My TripAdvisor review (NaniSG)