The last time I was in Dubai, it was over 5 years ago, when I stopped over for a few days on the way back from London to Sydney. Back then, the Burj Khalifa (tallest building in the world) was still under construction, the metro was not completed yet, and the road was so horrendously choked full of cars, I waited almost 2 hours for each taxi ride! This time though, it’s a reasonably long 10 days break, which allows far more time to properly explore the famous city. Some things haven’t changed (at least from first glance), e.g. Burj Al Arab (The Sail) is still super super expensive that it put me off staying there (Over AUD $1500 / night)!! The taxi drivers still drive like Formula 1 drivers, and the local woman in their traditional black robes (abaya) still carry Louis Vuitton and Pradas on their shoulders. It’s definitely a city showing off its excessive wealth in the most ‘visible’ manner possible.
We didn’t pick the most popular travel period to come here though. First, it was the last week of Ramadan, which means there is absolutely no food/drink allowed during the day. That proved to be a little harder to bear than we thought. Almost all restaurants and food outlets are closed, while some are open for ‘takeaways’. We, or presumably majority of the foreigners, would have had to resort to these ‘takeaways’ and eat within the confines of their hotel rooms to avoid being told off.
On the plus side, I get to join the Ramadan spirit, by joining the locals for ‘Iftar’ dinners (evening meals), which is basically Muslim’s time to break their fast when the sun sets. Traditionally, this is a low key affair with families breaking the fast with simple vegetables and dates. Not in Dubai. The rich and wealthy here go to expensive hotels for lavish Iftar buffets, and we tried 2 of those (Ramadan Majlis @ 135 Dhs and KGrill @ 175 Dhs) to get a chance to try out some genuine local cuisines. From the Irani mixed grills, gourmet dates, aishu laham (lamb biryani?), huge range of mezze spread, exotic drinks (e.g. Jallab, tamar hindi), desserts (e.g.umm ali and katayef), it was 2 nights of bloated stomach and diet straight out the window.
It probably didn’t help also, that we picked the hottest time of the year to visit Dubai. The highest temperature of the day almost reached 41 degrees, so I can assure you, no sane human beings could walk around outside for any more than 10 minutes before raising a white flag. Even after the sun have set, it is still extremely hot. So this will mostly be an ‘indoors’ holiday. This didn’t really proved to be a problem though, given there’s plenty of ‘indoor’ activities available in Dubai, e.g. Ski Dubai at the Mall of the Emirates.
I already tried snowboarding the last time I was here 5 years ago, so I decided to give skiing a go here. It’s definitely too small for any intermediates, with the fun out of steam after approximately 1 hour. Would be fantastic place for someone who is just starting out and wants to learn skiing before going to a real mountain elsewhere.
To me, Dubai is essentially the ‘Gold Coast’ of Australia, except it’s for the Middle East. Just about every hotel brand names you can think of (Sheraton, Sofitel, Raffles, Hilton, etc etc), have an ‘outpost’ here. We’ve only been here for a couple of days, and can say, the accomodation even at the ‘value’ end of the range is very very good. Take Ocean View hotel as an example.. at just over AUD$120/night, with breakfast included. As if that’s not good enough, it included a view of the Palm island (although plenty of construction nearby) and a breakfast with a huge selection of food.
At the 5-star end of the range, we tried Raffles Dubai, which was just over SGD$323/night (on special) in their Signature room. The quality of the decor and facilities were definitely a couple of notches higher, starting at 70sqm of room size with a walk-in wardrobe and big private balcony. I can’t recall staying in a hotel room this big, and is by no means the biggest sized room the hotel has to offer.
Everything about it oozes ‘luxury’ from the shower head (rainforest shower head), to the Bose speakers in the room, to fancy lobby designs, state of the art gym equipment…. the list goes on.. Mind you.. it’s the first hotel I’ve been to, where the lift doors seem to be open for me before I get there! Now why can’t other hotels offer this!?
As my wife puts it, she can definitely ‘live’ here… Having said that.. next weekend, we’ll be staying at Palm Jumeirah, on the Palm island itself. I am guessing this will put Raffles Dubai to shame? Let’s see..
Our next leg of the 10 day trip will be at the Liwa Desert, at the 5-star Qasr Al Sarab. We will be driving there in a rented Hertz car. That should be a fun activity on its own, given I’ll not only be driving on the wrong side of the road, but also having to ‘match’ the Formula One-esque drivers here. This should be a good break away from the crazy ‘city’ experience so far.