After a 6-hour layover in Amsterdam, a few naps, a few movies, and 7-hours in the air, I had finally made it to Dubai. This was the longest trip of my life, alone. But, I arrived safely, and with a few more friends (had an interesting hours long conversation with the girl who sat next to me on the plane). I hopped off the plane dashed through the airport, which felt just as long as the plane ride, and got greeted at customs. Customs wasn't too bad, however the presence of the Emirati men dressed in their traditional white garbs and a subdued face in replace of a smile, is a little intimidating. Nonetheless, I made it through, and got my luggage after a 20-minute wait.
Like any airport, there are lots of people waiting for their loved ones or pickups. Don't trust any person who comes up to you and ask if you need a taxi, more often than not they are gypsy cabs and will jack the prices up. Always, go to the taxi area, these are the people for hire who aren't trying to get you. Upon arrival, you'll notice that Dubai kind of resembles a cleaner looking Vegas, without the drunks or half-naked chicks. It's open, alive, and definitely flashy. I passed about two Ferrari's, Lamborghini's, and any other luxury car you could think of while driving from the airport. Instead of staying at a hotel, we (don't ask, more on that later) stayed at an apartment in Downtown Dubai through Air BnB. The apartment was clean, and the owner was chill, I definitely recommend using these services as an option for lodging. Any talks of a possible "turn-up" before we arrived, was quickly trumped for bed, I had zero energy to do anything.
Luckily, I stayed right across from the main attractions. The Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, gleamed in the sunlight as the centerpiece of Downtown Dubai. Right next door was the Mall of Dubai. This was no ordinary mall. It's one of the largest malls in the UAE, and features a full-size aquarium, ice skating rink, every high-end and mid-price store you can think of, and many restaurants. Ironically, most of them were of American cuisine; imagine seeing Chili's Grill & Bar in Arabic. If you're looking for food suggestions, don't be surprised if you get P.F. Chang's or Outback Steakhouse. I suggest venturing out and finding your own food. There are cuisines from around the world on the Main Street and in the mall. The popular Lemon-Mint drink, is refreshing, and found everywhere.
If you're looking to party in Dubai, you'll find it's extremely different. In my opinion the party was okay compared to some of the other hotspots in world. Don't go to Club 360, you'll be highly disappointed, the best thing about this place is the drive over with the golf carts. Liquor isn't illegal but frowned upon. It's only served in hotels and nightclubs. Once you hear the prices, it may quickly turn into a sober trip. The Dirham, the UAE currency, is three to the American dollar. So your $60 meal just became 220 dirham. There will definitely be price shock your first few hours in the city. If you must drink, buy duty-free at the airport. Remember, public displays of alcohol or being drunk is illegal.
Things to do while in Dubai:
- Go to the beach, they are clean and beautiful. Kite beach and Jumeirah beach near the Burj Al Arab are great.
- Visit some of the other attractions, like the Dubai Fountain, Dubai Marina, Desert Safari, ride the metro, and take a boat tour.
- Please visit the Souks in Old Dubai. This is the area most websites don't talk about. If you're wondering where the "regular" people live and work, you'll find it here. I found it oddly charming. Finally, I felt like I was in a different country. It was reminiscent of a busier Canal Street in New York, and congested like the Bangkok markets in Thailand. Be careful of aggressive shop owners who are trying to sell you knock-off bags, they will follow you.
As a woman, I didn't feel the conservative pressures to be restricted. Dubai is one of the more liberal cities in the Middle East, and highly influenced by the Western cultures. I wouldn't tell you to walk around in booty shorts, but go as you are. Also, limit your public display of affection to the bedroom, it is forbidden. This is something heavily enforced in the area. Although, I did see some tourist holding hands.
Dubai is beautiful, and still under construction. I would love to see what it looks like in 5 years time. The trip is long, about 13 hours plus from New York, but well worth it. Go out and see it for yourself. I woke up every morning in awe of land. I'm definitely going back.