So after I posted last week, I actually made it over from Abu Dhabi to Dubai and spent the rest of my time in Dubai. Dubai is so different even though it's only about an hour drive away! It feels much more westernized than Abu Dhabi, and it's a lot busier with more people around (definitely more touristy). The local Emirates in Dubai also didn't seem as conservative. Though it must be said that Abu Dhabi has the best service I've ever experienced anywhere. Everywhere I went, they had like 10 different people jumping out to help me and I didn't ever have to lift a finger lol. The St Regis there was a true 5 star hotel, it makes every other hotel claiming to be "5 star" at least 1 star inferior. The service level in Dubai was a stark contrast. Not that it was bad, but it was more like a normal city that I'm used to. If you want to be treated like royalty, go to Abu Dhabi.
Dubai has a lot of high rises and impressive buildings. But it's still not as densely populated as other big cities, so if you are used to places like NYC or Hong Kong, you'd be a little disappointed with the skyline. It seems to me that most tourists who go to Dubai and Abu Dhabi just stay around the resorts, hang out at the beach and shop. There's not really that much else to do in either place, and prices are just as high as where I live so I didn't feel any urgency to shop there. They literally have every brand though. On my first day there, I went to the Dubai Mall which is the biggest mall in the world. It's got every store you can imagine except Lululemon and Nordstrom (but it does have a Bloomingdale) and it's very pretty! I sat at this area and had a coffee which was very nice:
They have an aquarium at one part of the mall, cuz... why not:
And an ice rink where people were playing hockey:
I went to the Mall of the Emirates the next day, which is where the famous Ski Dubai is. I had known about this place for years so I had to go there! It's so funny. I was disappointed that you can't really see the ski slopes unless you buy a ticket and go inside though. I didn't want to ski there lol. So the entrance looks like just another store but you go inside and it's a huge area with ticket counter, little shops and changing area with lockers and equipments.
I walked around to a side where there were a windows to look inside and here's what the slope looks like:
Here's a kids playing area:
By the way, the same mall has a Lululemon store:
I went inside. Prices were about the same as USD price + tax. The AED they use there is pegged to the USD so it makes converting very easy (about 3.6 AED to 1 USD). In fact, a lot of places (definitely hotels and higher end places) are able to charge your credit card in USD which will save you from having to pay credit card companies the foreign transaction fee.
This mall is so cool because... look!
I think if I lived in Dubai, it would be my mall of choice lol.
If you are into gold and jewelry of all kinds, there is the Gold Souk which has blocks of stores that sell tons them and you can negotiate the price. I'm not a big jewelry person, and I know nothing about their pricing, so I didn't even attempt it. It was fun to walk around and look at all the shiny stuff though. I even got a headache from staring at them so much lol.
If you go there, just know that you will probably be hassled by a lot of people trying to sell you fake watches and purses. We actually followed some guy into a shady little store just to check it out lol. They actually had some of the best quality fake purses I'd seen. The guy was trying to charge us 400 AED for a fake Omega watch and a Chanel flap bag. So that's about $110 USD and not super cheap. Of course he started higher, and as we walked away the price just kept dropping. We really had no interest in buying fake items at all, only wanted to look.
Aside from shopping, I did do a bit of sightseeing as well. For one, I went out to the desert! I don't think I'd ever really seen a real desert and this was as real as it gets. This was also the most touristy thing I had done there. Went with a tour called Arabian Nights which everyone I talked to suggested it. Basically they take you out there and drive around the desert like a maniac, then end up at some spot in the middle of the dessert where they provide food, drinks and entertainment such as traditional dancing. It's very touristy but whatever. I wouldn't have seen the desert otherwise.
I also went to visit the tallest building in the world - Burj Khalifa. It was in one of the Mission Impossible movies and I remember seeing it years ago. It's actually a very very nice design. I really like this building.
After the sun sets, they display light shows on this building which is kinda fun to see. I actually saw a brochure for an open call to designers around the world to submit a light show to be displayed on this building.
You can go up to the top of the building, and they have a few different options. The cheapest option is the one I took, which is to go at a non-sunset time and go up only to the 124th floor. This was about $40 USD I believe. If you want to go up to an even higher floor, the price doubles. I thought that was a bit much. 124th is high enough for me. So this picture below is taken from the 124th floor looking up - as you can see, the building is so tall that there's still a bit more to go:
The view from the 124th floor is pretty good already though. But as I mentioned before, Dubai is not as dense as other major cities, so if you go up the Rock in NYC, you'd get a more impressive view. In fact, the higher you go on the Burj Khalifa, the less impressive it would probably be. =P
Lastly, I went to the only 7 star hotel in the world - the Burj Al Arab. They are quite strict on who they let in, and there are many tourists snapping pictures of it just outside of the gate. But you can probably pay for some tours that can take you in, as evidenced by many Chinese tourists I saw being unloaded by buses. How we got in was to just make a reservation for afternoon tea at one of the restaurants there. It's expensive, but treat it like a partial ticket to get inside and take a look.
I gotta say... this hotel lobby was really not what I had imagined. So when you first walk in, it's a very small area with escalators on both sides and this water fountain thing in front:
You then go up the escalator which has nice fish tanks on the sides:
And you look up and see this which is very cool:
Once you get up to the second level, it is also pretty small. It's a circular shape with a fountain in the middle, and shops surrounding it.
Then there's an area that goes to the guest elevators and they had some security guard there so no randoms could walk in:
Here's the floor and light in that area:
We had afternoon tea in the lobby area, and it was about $300 USD for 2 people lol. Like I said, not cheap, but apparently it is "all you can eat" so you can ask for extras. I thought it was a lot of food though and didn't need to eat more. It was very dessert oriented as well so I really didn't need the extra sugar.
They also serve afternoon tea at the SkyView room on a higher floor but they were booked out so that option wasn't available to us. It would have been even more expensive too. I posted a picture on Instagram with all the food I had so I will not repost here. But below is the tea area in the lobby:
Anyway, the design of this hotel is so not my personal taste lol. But it's pretty extravagant and out there. I was expecting something more like the Jumeirah hotel at the Etihad Towers in Abu Dhabi which is suuuper impressive:
But, different styles I guess. It lacked the wow factor for me, and I think all the Chinese tourists snapping pictures inside the lobby at the Burj Al Arab just makes it feel less exclusive.
Outside of the Burj Al Arab, you have a view of the Jumeirah Beach (everything in the UAE is called Jumeirah: beach, hotel chain, island, etc. which was really confusing before I realized this. In fact, the Burj Al Arab belongs to the Jumeirah hotel chain):
So anyway, it was nice to be able to see the place and check that off the list.
Well, that was pretty much the rest of my trip! I had a nice time and a lot of great food. I'm glad that I was able to visit the Middle East finally. But of course the UAE is probably unlike the rest of the Middle East. Regardless, it was still a great experience to see what it's like there. One thing I do wish I did is to go to the gym there! I didn't really have any time for that. But I did look at one from the outside lol. It seemed nice, with all the same types of equipments we have at home. People were also wearing similar things to workout in.
Oh well! Now I am back to reality and back to the grind!
Oh well! Now I am back to reality and back to the grind!