Date of stay: December 2011 – Feb 2012
Where you stayed: With Family
Tour or pre planned: Pre Planned
Walking through the Dubai airport I was fighting the urge to pull out my camera in customs to take photos of all of the guys working there, wearing their dish-dashes. My Aunty had been living in the UAE for the last few years, so while I was in transit to London, I thought I would spend a bit of time there with her and my cousin, making my trip to Dubai a bit longer than what most people get to experience.
I had arrived the week before Christmas (2011) and even though the UAE is a Muslim country and they don't celebrate Christmas, there were still big Christmas displays around the place. My first day started off at a Christmas party at the Off Shore Boating club, which was definitely a nice way to be introduced to the country. Santa arrived on a boat, and my 8mo cousin Zoe got her first picture with Santa. Then it was off to Mall of the Emirates, which has Ski Dubai, a massive indoor ski field in the mall.
I spent a couple of days working on my tan, before heading off on the most important adventure - acquiring alcohol! This adventure is known as the Barracuda Run. To be able to purchase alcohol in Dubai, you need to apply for a license (hotel's are licensed, so don't fret, you still have hundreds of bars, pubs and nightclubs) as it is a Muslim country (there isn't beers and wines in the supermarkets like NZ, or a bottle-o on every corner like in Oz). Heading to Barracuda you usually pass through Sharjah, which is a dry Emirate and you can be arrested or fined if you get caught with alcohol in your car (Barracuda Bandits - people that follow you from Barracuda and will bump your car, and threaten to call the police, then accept a bribe), but luckily for us, there is the new 611, which bypasses Sharjah all together so you don't have to be worried about passing the dry Emirate. Sharjah is known as one of the stricter Emirates with their view on clothing, cohabitation and alcohol. There is even stories of there being searches on apartment blocks in the middle of the night to make sure there is no “cohabitation” happening. Barracuda is a hotel that sells alcohol and is about an hour and fifteen minutes drive from Dubai. If you know someone that is going to Barracuda, you are usually very quick to put your orders in. I was expecting a dodgy little shop with ridiculous prices, but instead I got a nice spacious air-conditioned modern oasis, with prices starting at 30dirhams (around $10AUD) for wine and 60dhms for a 1lt bottle of Absolute Vodka ($20AUD) - the cheapest alcohol in the country, and even beating duty free prices. My Aunty and I stocked up on alcoholic goodness to the point where our trolley was over flowing. My life was now back on track with a case of red wine, and getting to see camel's crossing the 12 lane highway on our journey back. What more could a girl ask for?
We had a few days to practice having our Christmas day at the beach, deciding that Kite beach was our favourite, a little down from the Burj Al Arab so that you don't have the steady flow of tourists coming through. Kite beach is known for the hire of water sports activities, and kite surfing on windy days. The beach has changing rooms, showers and toilets. The locals and expats all enjoy the atmosphere with volleyball and a blow up football pitch covered in water and detergent for children of all ages. Christmas day arrived and we headed to Kite beach wearing our Santa hats along with the other hat donning families to celebrate Christmas Kiwi/Australian style with our pot-luck picnic.
On one of my first few nights in Dubai, I got to catch up with an old school friend Ritchie, who introduced me to Barasti. A bar that would become my local, situated right on the beach near the palm, it is a favourite among expats and one of the top bars in Dubai. A great idea in Dubai is ladies nights. The main ladies night is a Tuesday, but you can get other deals throughout the week. Timeout magazine has a great list of the deals, usually ranging from 3 free glasses of bubbles between a couple of hours, right through to unlimited selected drinks for the whole night. Of course, where there are lots of ladies, the men follow, so it tends to be a bit of a meat market. Great fun for a very cheap night out though!
Before living in Dubai, my Aunty had lived in Al Ain for 2 years. Al Ain is in the Abu Dhabi Emirate, about an hour and a half from both Dubai and Abu Dhabi towards the Oman border. It is interesting driving out there, passing the camel race track and massive sand dunes. Upon arriving in to Al Ain after travelling through mostly flat/duney desert, amazing rocks/mountains start to jut out of the sand. A very pretty change from the flat land we'd be going though.
Heading to the camel markets was first on the agenda, and you could tell we were approaching them as the number of camels in the back of ute's and small trucks were almost every second vehicle. Pulling up we were quickly pounced on by 2 local's eager to show us around. We were shown baby camels, big camels, racing camels and they even felt the need to show us mating camels. I was ever so grateful that the 7yo with us didn't ask me what they were doing.
As we walked around all the different types of camels, ones for eating, ones for breeding (complete with live show) and ones for racing, we were allowed to stop and feed them. Oh, did I mention camels stink? I wish I hadn't taken the opportunity to pat them. I’m sure the smell was just baked on me from walking around the markets anyway. It was upon standing there feeding the camel, that I became aware of a conversation going on behind me between my Aunty and the local guy. It went something like this:
Man: She have husband?
Man: She have man?
Aunty: No she is mine
*which of course, means that any deals can be done through her if anyone is interested in buying me
Man: Hmmm ok, you take 2 camel's for her?
Aunty: *long pause* no I think she is worth more than 2 camels, plus my brother wouldn't be happy if I only sold her for only 2 camels.
I hope they were at least fast racing camel's that he was offering. Also, can I just say, I think if he had said 3 camel's I would be married by now, and my Aunty would have three smelly camel's in her backyard. Thankfully the rest of the walk around the markets didn't bring any more offers of camels, goat or sheep. It was an interesting experience in seeing the local Emirate men driving up in their 4wds, and having the farmers leading the camels out in front of them to see if they liked what they saw, all without them stepping out of the air-conditioned car. If they like what they saw, a price would be agreed on and then the camels would be chucked in the back of a ute and transported to their new home.
After that we got shawarma's (local traditional sandwich's) and headed up to Jebel Hafeet, which is the second tallest mountain peak in the UAE, with views out over Oman and Saudi Arabia, and also down to Al Ain itself. Unfortunately for us it was a very hazy day, and we could only see down to Al Ain.
Final stop of the day was to the Al Ain zoo. The zoo was very nice, with a massive field for all of the African wildlife to run around on, and all of the animals looked happy and healthy. It was amazing the amount of lion's that were in the zoo, it seemed as though every second enclosure were lions. After seeing a plaque outside one of the enclosures thanking a Sheika for donating the lions from a personal zoo, it all seemed to make sense, most of these lion's would have also come from private animal collections, and then donated to the zoo once they had become bigger and more aggressive. Oh to have that much money to have pet lion cubs in your own personal zoo!
If you read anything about Dubai, it will more than likely say that Friday brunch in Dubai is something of an institution. The summary of a Friday brunch, is restaurants provide all you can eat and drink (prices vary between restaurants and if you have soft drink or alcohol) usually between the hours of 12.30pm to 4.30pm.
My stars must have been aligned - luck had it that my birthday this year fell on a Friday, and my bestie Jess would be in Dubai with me that week. After much researching online and from Dubai brunch connoisseurs, we decided on going to The Observatory, at the Marriott Dubai Marina. It was 450dhs (around $120AUD) and well worth it!
We arrived to be greeted with a glass of bubbles, and shown to our table to be met by our friends Gareth and Sam who had already arrived. Eager to go off and explore we grabbed our wines and ventured clockwise around level 52 to see what The Observatory had to offer. Where to start! There were buffet stations with seafood's, meats, desserts, salads, cheeses (to Jess's delight, I am sure she got cheese on every single plate she came back with), then stations where you could choose lobsters, prawns, salmon, fish, scallops and more cooked to your liking plus an a la carte menu on top of that with steak and pasta and other items I forget. The list I have provided does not give the food any justice either. There was everything you could imagine. And then the drinks! On top of the bubbles being topped up every sip you took, and being able to order anything you wanted, there was also a mobile cocktail station that went around the room - although it spent most of the time in front of our table as we refused to have anything less than 4 drinks at 1 time.
Sneaky Jess had emailed the restaurant the previous day and arranged a birthday cake, it was such a surprise, and after I got over being angry at her admitted that it had turned it in to a proper birthday for me. After we had eaten ourselves stupid, we moved around to the other side of the restaurant where there were tables set up to look out over the marina and the palm. Jess and I gasped as we saw a skydiver plummeting towards the earth, then at the last minute suddenly slow down and land perfectly. We had thought we were about to witness someone dying!
We had all thought we wouldn't make it past 4pm (Gareth had been passed out at 3.45pm for his birthday brunch!) and when it came to 4.30 it was time to decide what to do next. I had been waiting to take Jess to Barasti, and since we could literally see it from The Observatory we decided that would be our next destination.
Barasti turned out to be the perfect choice. We found ourselves a beach lounger and ordered 4 jugs of mojitos, and enjoyed the beautiful Arabian sunset. Once the sun dropped though, so did the temperature. We ventured upstairs to try and get a table, but the place was packed, so we were up to deciding where to go again. We had been at Nasimi Beach on New Years day and it was another place that I had wanted to show Jess. It’s a beach club out on the plam at the Atlantis, and it was our next destination.
We got settled on our next beach lounger at Nasimi, complete with a bottle of grey goose vodka and a sheesha. All of a sudden I see a group of Russian girls (it was a themed night, apparently a big thing in Dubai as we'd almost ended up in a Persian night a couple of nights earlier) glowing as they were walking towards us. What was that they were singing and clapping to? And what was that glowing? It almost sounds like they're singing "happy birthday", and is that a cake with sparklers coming out of it? JESS!!! So thank you Jess for my 2 birthday cake that day.
When Jess decided that she was going to come and stay with me in Dubai, she had 3 requirements. 1. Spend quality time with myself 2. Time in the sun 3. Camels.
The first two were easily done, but with the third requirement we had a couple of options. The thought had crossed my mind of telling her that you didn't need to be conservatively dressed in Al Ain and to take her to the camel markets. Tall, blonde and attractive, surely if I worked on my negotiating skills I could get 3 fine racing camels? The other option was to do a desert safari. Since we are going to be living together in London and I might get lonely without her (plus I don't think I could get the camels cleared through customs), I thought it best to stick to the desert safari.
We had been searching the coupon websites and finally one came up on Living Social that we were happy with, so Jess, myself, Gareth and Sam booked it. We ended up saving around 80% - so it's worth keeping an eye out for them if you are interested in doing one.
The safari we went with also included a small tour of Dubai, so we went and took the token tourist shots outside Atlantis, Burj Al Arab and then to Deira and cruised across the creek on a boat. Now it was time for the real fun to get started.
After what felt like forever we finally arrived in what looked like desert. We stopped at a shop, for no main reason, but to trap tourists into buying overpriced souvenirs. Tourist like us, Jess and I went into the bathrooms to get changed in to our jeans and walk out and the boys are getting ghurta's (head scarves) and igal's (black ties that go around the head scarves, that can also be used to tie camel's front legs together so that they can't run away from you). When the shop assistants realised that we were with the tourists they'd suckered in we were quickly fitted with white head scarves - something that I am pretty sure the women don't wear at all. Oh well, who doesn't love a bit of dress up here and there.
Sitting at the shop, we wondered if this was where the safari was about to begin and we were dune bashing next. There were a few worried looks as our group of 11 climbed back into the minivan and started to head off road. There were a few close calls as we were driving next to a concrete wall and the back end started to slide towards it, but all of a sudden we popped out on another motorway. Let's hope that wasn't our dune bashing experience.
We pulled up off a side road and suddenly three 4wds appeared. Yes, this was more like it! The 4 of us plus another couple got called over to one 4wd and we all piled in. I am not sure if taking the very back seat with Sam was a wise move. They seemed to be the seats where if we hit a dune hard enough and got air, it was only our heads that banged the roof. And I was sitting next to the person that liked to bait the driver to be going harder, faster and higher. The main thing I was thinking was "where do I hold!" I didn't want to hold the roll cage in case we did roll and my hand got crushed (ridiculous thought, I know). It also didn't help that Sam seemed to get the giggles when he was nervous or something. The dune bashing was an amazing experience and we were really disappointed when we pulled up to the camp we were spending the next few hours at.
The camp setup is where all of the different tours meet up. The boys had expressed an interest in hiring quad bikes (at extra cost) and taking them out on the dunes, but once we got there they were just little bikes to take around a track - they passed on that quickly. The set up was really good though. There were camel rides out by the quad bikes, with a never ending line, but we waited a couple of hours and rode the camels in the dark. Jess was happy, she got her camel fix. Inside the camp, there were chances to dress up in local dress, but the boys ended up buying their own dishdashas (and obviously already had the head wear). There were food stalls, chances to get henna, sheesha dens, and in our true form, we found a bar and managed to buy a bottle of vodka. There were a few local dance shows, and then a big BBQ with more dancing shows afterwards.
Our 4wd driver came and found us and told us it was time to return back to the 4wd and then on to the van. A bottle of vodka down, plus beers, we were a lot more game than earlier in the evening, and our driver sensed that. We were getting sideways all over the place, even flying past other 4wds that were going back to the vans. Dune bashing in the dark and half drunk is a whole lot more fun!
With Jess happy she got to pat and ride the stinky camel, it was back to Barasti to finish the night off. Another great day in the sandpit.
My two months in Dubai passed very quickly, I had a few days in Oman (which is absolutely beautiful), a day trip to Abu Dhabi to see the Grand Mosque, a few ladies nights, a couple of Friday brunches, hanging out with my family and friends, writing blogs and lying in the sun. Australia Day being celebrated (with mainly Kiwi's) at Barasti, dinners out at the Wesitn, Loca (where they make guacamole fresh at your table), Nezesussi (a great little restaurant that my friend introduced me to that offers free meals under 99dhms off the menu to ladies on Tuesday nights), coffee/juice at the Pavilion, which was a gorgeous little cafe that has an art gallery as well as screening art films throughout the week. You can sit outside looking out over the Burj Khalifa while enjoying their free wifi (something not very common in Dubai) and the tasteful lemon mint juices that the Middle East offers. I went to Sharjah to the Blue Souk, which is a huge market that spans across 2 buildings. It has everything from oil perfumes, massive diamonds, persian rugs, gold and silver to amazing little nick-nacks. Sharjah was an experience in itself, as soon as you cross into the Emirate, the driving just gets crazy (a reputation I had heard much about).
On one of my final nights, to tick off the “things to do in Dubai” I went up the Burj Khalifa (picture below). To go up the Burj you can book on the day and it will cost 400dhms, but if you book online at least 3 days in advance you will only need to pay 100dhms. These book out fast though (hence why we were going up at 10pm at night), so you need to be organised for this. I had originally wanted to go up to the Burj during the day, but someone had pointed out, if it's a hazy day you might not be able to see much. Since we had a bit of time to fill in, I finally got a chance to check out the "dancing fountains" at Dubai Maoll. They are compared to the fountains in Vegas, some people saying that these are more spectacular. Once we battled the masses to get to the Burj, we were in the elevator to the 124th floor - the observation deck. This disappoints me a little as the building is 160 levels (828metres), so you could have actually gone so much higher. Some little facts about the Burj (apart from it being featured in the new Mission Impossible film)
• Tallest building in the world
• Tallest free-standing structure in the world
• Highest number of stories in the world
• Highest occupied floor in the world
• Highest outdoor observation deck in the world
We arrived at the observation deck, and I was surprised to see that it was outdoors for part of it. Naomi kept freaking out when I would hang my camera out of the window to take photos. You couldn't see as much as I had hoped (the palm seemed very far away still), but maybe it would have been completely different during the day.
My final day in Dubai was a busy day with lots of playing with my cousin, lunch at Jones the Grocer, getting some bangs cut into my hair, final drinks at Double Deckers and then dinner at Karma Cafe overlooking the fountains.
I feel so lucky that I got to spend so long in Dubai, but most people experience what I did in a week, I just liked to drag it out as I was pretty much living there!
Here's a link to my Oman Blog.
Would you recommend this destination: Yes
Overall rating destination: 5 out of 5