Sightseeing in Dubai from the Big Bus

For my last day in Dubai I was determined to pack in as much sightseeing as possible. I bought a ticket for the Big Bus City Tour which seemed a good way to see Dubai. There are two routes coloured red and blue and and they cross over at one point at the Wafi shopping mall. I got on the bus at the Burjuman stop on the red route without a clear plan for the day. I decided to let things develop as I travelled round. The bus had many jumping on and off opportunities. It had been a while since I had travelled on one of these open top tourist buses. You get a headset which gives you information about what you are passing and where you are stopping. The headset offered ten different languages. After only 3 stops the bus had reached a stop on Dubai Creek which gave an opportunity to take advantage of an hour long Dhow cruise along the creek. The boat tour was part of the ticket price and luckily the bus arrived at the stop just as the hour long cruise was about to leave. Dubai Creek is a saltwater creek which divides the city into the two areas of Bur Dubai and Deira. The creek was the first harbour in Dubai and to this day cpntains harbour facilities for Dhow boats and water taxis are also used to cross the creek. The Dhow cruise allowed good views of a number of high rise towers and moored boats.

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A water taxi

A water taxi

Another water taxi

Another water taxi

Dhow laden with goods

Dhow laden with goods

Mosque viewed from Dubai Creek

Mosque viewed from Dubai Creek

After the Dhow cruise came to an end I got back on the bus to complete the rest of the red route. I stayed on the bus for the next hour and a half as we passed such landmarks as Dubai Museum, and the Gold and Spice Souks.

The entrance to Dubai Museum

The entrance to Dubai Museum

Street near to the Gold Souk area

Street near to the Gold Souk area

After reaching the cross over point for the buses at Wafi it was around 2pm so I used this as an opportunity to have lunch. The Wafi mall is part of the Wafi City development which also includes a hotel, restaurants and a nightclub. It opened in 2001 and the “city” is themed after Ancient Egypt. I lunched in a cafe situated at the top of a multicoloured glass dome. The Wafi mall is incredibly plush with lots of top end retailers. At this time of day is was very very quiet.

Glass dome at Wafi

Glass dome at Wafi

With energy levels replenished after lunch I boarded the blue bus. The blue route heads towards the seafront and offers some great photo opportunities. I got off the bus twice to take some photos.

The first photo stop at Jumeirah public beach offered great views of the Burj Al Arab hotel. The Burj Al Arab is a luxury hotel constructed on an artificial island and the design of the building mimics the sail of a ship. The hotel is often described as having a 7* rating but this is disputed. The buses are 20 minutes apart so I only had a short wait after taking some snaps.

The Burj Al Arab

The Burj Al Arab

Jumeirah public beach

Jumeirah public beach

My next stop was at the Atlantis on the Palm Hotel which is the signature building on the Palm Jumeirah Island. The island, in the shape of a palm tree, was constructed between 2001 and 2006 using staggering quantities of sand and rock. The Palm Jumeirah contains luxury hotels, villas and leisure facilities. There is another palm shaped Island, the Palm Jebel Ali, which is to be bigger than the Palm Jumeirah. However construction of that Island stopped in 2008 due to the financial crisis. The construction took place despite massive environmental concerns. Environmental organisations have attacked the impact of the Palm Islands construction on marine life, coral reefs, oyster fields and subterranean fields of sea grass. They have also stated that the normally crystalline waters of the Gulf of Dubai have become clouded with silt and that beaches are eroding due to the disruption of natural currents.

In front of the Atlantis of the Palms hotel

In front of the Atlantis of the Palms hotel

The man made seafront constructed at the Jumeirah Palm Island

The man made seafront constructed at the Palm Jumeirah island

Getting back on the next bus I finally left the tour at the Mall of the Emirates. I was hoping to visit a branch of a cosmetics business that a friend of mine from the UK has out here. They have a franchise in Bloomingdales but there was no Bloomingdales to be found here. The buses had stopped running, it was around 6pm, so I decided to take the Metro to the Dubai Mall. The Dubai Metro is an impressive, almost space age, transport system with driverless trains. The walk from the Metro to the mall was along long air conditioned corridors with moving walkways like at an airport. The Dubai Mall is by area the worlds largest shopping mall. I was hungry again and was keen to eat but I also wanted to see the Burj Khalifa. This is, at 163 floors, the worlds tallest building. It took me some time to work out how to exit the mall to see it. On the way I saw within the mall a huge underwater aquarium and an artificial waterfall. Eventually I found an outside viewing area with water in front and to the right the majestic Burj Khalifa. It was now dark and the view was amazing. I did feel like I had become a character in a science fiction film having just walked out of the worlds biggest shopping mall to see the worlds tallest building. There were lots of people outside obviously waiting for something. Soon a fountain show took place in the water in front of me.

The Burj Khalifa

The Burj Khalifa

Dubai Mall hotel

Dubai Mall hotel

Fountain show outside Dubai Mall

Fountain show outside Dubai Mall

Dubai Aquarium as viewed from Dubai Mall

Dubai Aquarium as viewed from Dubai Mall

I satisfied my hunger with a lovely chicken Pad Thai in the food court which brought back memories of food I had enjoyed in Thailand.

I also found the Bloomingdales here and my friend Julian’s Illamasqua franchise. As it turned out they have two outlets within the Dubai Mall. I visited both and met and chatted to counter staff – Girlie from The Phillipines and Sally from Egypt.

with Girlie

with Girlie

with Sally

with Sally

The Illamasqua store at Dubai Mall

The Illamasqua store at Dubai Mall

Time was marching on and I had been on the go for nearly 10 hours. I took the Metro back to Burjuman and walked back to the hotel.

So what do I think of Dubai? Well it’s quite incredible to be honest. I can’t really get my head round how it’s transformed from a small pearl fishing village to this incredibly modern and rich shopping, residential and leisure metropolis. Clearly the money from oil in the 1970’s has been incredibly well invested in infrastructure and the tax free environment attracts businesses and the rich and famous. The growth seems to be endless. There have been difficulties caused by the financial crisis but from what I hear Dubai is coming through this. There were examples of a thriving city such as the airport and the number of people at the Dubai Mall. In 2012 the Dubai Mall was the worlds most visited shopping and leisure destination attracting 65 million visitors. That’s more than New York! The environmental impact of the construction of projects such as the Palm Islands is a real worry. I also can’t help thinking that at some point the growth may not be sustainable and some parts of Dubai may struggle. It’s a very clean city and I felt very safe and secure. So a number of different thoughts and feelings really. There is lots to do there and two days is not long enough.

My time in Dubai and my amazing trip had come to an end. Tomorrow I would fly home to the UK.

I will do a summary of my overall trip in my final blog post.

Travelling to Dubai and a trip into the Arabian Desert

So as my week in Goa ended it was time to move on to Dubai. I was entering the final stage of my trip. I had now been away for nearly 11 weeks and in 3 days time I would be home.

Sam, who had been my personal taxi driver for the last few days, drove me to Goa International Airport. As at Delhi I had to produce travel documents to enable me to gain access to the airport. It’s fair to say that my experience of Goa International Airport was not a good one. Any resort airport that has the word “international” in the title should be treated with caution. I didn’t have a great experience in Krabi either. To summarise my experience at the airport in Goa included:-

  • the check in desk being closed on my arrival 3 hours before an international departure
  • watching cleaners rowing with each other. It was quite entertaining to watch but I wish I could have understood what they were arguing about
  • having to scan my hold luggage before check in. I did not realise this was the case until check in and was I was then confronted with a massive queue/scrum of Russians. Thankfully the Air India “baggage man” helped me jump the queue.
  • Immigration desks being closed leading to a further half an hour delay before I could go through security. When the desk reopened there was a long disorganised queue.
  • The immigration man queried whether I needed a visa to enter Dubai. I said to him I didn’t think I needed one but this placed a seed of doubt in my mind about whether I would be able to enter the UAE.
  • Getting “told off” when going through security for wanting to place items such as mobile phone, wallet etc in a tray which is what you do everywhere else. I was required to place these in my hand luggage.
  • Really dirty toilets in the departure lounge. Presumably the cleaners were too busy arguing to clean them!

So it was a shame that my last experience in Goa was such a bad one.

The Air India flight to Dubai was fine. The airport in Dubai is mightily impressive. However there are obviously a lot of people flying in here. On my arrival at around 11pm on a Sunday evening there were long queues at immigration There were loads of immigration desks and most were open. All were manned by men in traditional Arab dress with long flowing white robes and heads covered. I queued for around half an hour and then got through without a problem. So the concern about needing a visa was unfounded. I understand the delays at Dubai airport are being addressed. There is a new iris recognition system being introduced which should mean for returning passengers it will take less time to pass through the airport.

Having arrived in Dubai quite late the previous evening I had a relatively lazy morning. I was staying in an apartment hotel fairly close to the Burjuman area. After a late breakfast I went for a walk to get my bearings. Temperatures were a very pleasant mid to high 20’s. It wasn’t the best area for sightseeing but I was struck my how clean and orderly everything was compared to India. I felt like I was in a completely different world. A world of finance, technology and high end shopping. I walked into a shopping mall. It was quite a small place relative to many others but I was gobsmacked by a floor which had shop after shop selling gadgets and IT peripherals. I lunched at another nearby shopping mall. The cafe had a very westernised menu. I ordered a tuna sandwich. It felt like I could almost have been in the UK.

Mosque in Dubai near Burjuman

Mosque in Dubai near Burjuman

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In the afternoon I was booked onto a tour out into the desert. So at around 3.30pm I set off from the hotel having been collected by a Pakistani tour guide working for the Arabian Adventures company. He was driving a lovely Toyota 4×4 vehicle which accommodated 6 passengers. The other members of the tour were a couple from Delhi who are doctors and three nurses from the US. We drove on motorways for an hour before entering the Dubai desert conservation reserve at which point we had a brief stop whilst our driver reduced the tyre pressure.

The first part of the evenings entertainment was a falconry display. This was followed by a thrilling drive through the sand dunes. I had a great view as I was sat up front with the driver. At times you almost felt that the car would topple over but these 4 wheel drive vehicles are excellent. In addition to us there must have been another 50 vehicles full of tourists doing the same as us. The tour runs 365 days a year so it’s a big business. After the drive through the dunes which probably lasted around 15 minutes we had a stop in the sand dunes for a photo opportunity as the sun came down. After the sun had disappeared below the horizon we drove to the village where we were to have dinner. But first there was the opportunity to ride on a camel. Now I have to say that I am not a big fan of camels and I did turn down the opportunity to ride one in Australia. But here it was included within the price of the tour and all the others members of the group were going to have a go so I went for it. I had a camel to myself and sat in the rear of the 2 seats. It was a fairly short ride but my camel was very well behaved. I was told to hold tight and lean back. The only slightly dodgy moment was when it was time to get off the camel when I could feel it’s movement may launch me forward. I ensured I kept my weight back. The camel driver took some photos of me for which I tipped him.

Falconry display

Falconry display

Deflating tyres

Deflating tyres

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We then entered the village. I am not sure of its authenticity given this was essentially a tourist business but we had a very pleasant evening enjoying a buffet dinner whilst kneeling on cushions. The evening ended with a fantastic display of belly dancing and then some stargazing.

It had been an excellent tour out into the desert and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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