Dubai: Opulence, extravagance, budget-busting you say? That’s definitely here, but it’s not all there is.
Here are three diverse ways I experienced this corner of the United Arab Emirates.
1. The Suburbs
I opted to stay outside the city center with a sweet English expat family I found on airbnb. I had a small room to myself with breakfast, wifi, aircon, access to the swimming pool, and all their lovely travel advice.
The small neighborhood bakeries and barbeque stands had the tastiest food I had here by far. The mosque around the corner made for plenty of people-watching. After months in Australia and New Zealand I once again, happily, found myself in culturally foreign surroundings. Dubai has a reputation as a modern city, but in the residential neighborhoods it’s best to be extra modest and aware of local custom.
Men and women shouldn’t touch or make much eye contact. I kept several feet between myself and men as much as possible, wore long billowy pants I’d picked up in Thailand that were perfect for the climate. I covered my shoulders (I was wearing a tank top) with a shawl. I felt extremely safe and very respected in the neighborhood, but being a bit demure and modest made me feel like less of a sore thumb.
2. The City Center
The tallest building in the world, a man-made island in the shape of a palm tree, massive malls, an indoor ski slope, and on and on.
I found the modern city of Dubai interesting in the way I’ve always found Las Vegas interesting, like, Wow, look what crazy randomness people decided to build in the middle of the desert!?!
Public transport is great, all air-conditioned (including the bus stops). Buses and the metro run frequently and have women and children only sections if you prefer. Worth a mention are the pink women-only taxis, driven by women in pink traditional dress no less!
3. The Dunes
Wait, what? I did something cheesy and touristy? On a friend’s recommendation I decided to try a desert dunes safari and I have to admit, the longer I keep at this travel thing the more I appreciate activities like this. After a couple days of wandering on foot, on my own, it was nice to be picked up and taken on a somewhat cushy, pre-planned excursion, in the company of a group.
Dozens of white SUVs made quite a sight off-roading on the dunes across the orange-glowing sands. We stopped for photo ops and ended with dinner and entertainment. It was a full moon (or just about) the night I was out.
There is really a lot to see and do in Dubai. If I’d had another few days I would’ve liked to ride a traditional wooden boat over to Bur Dubai (old Dubai), wandered the gold and jewelry markets, and visited the mosques. A gold plated cappuccino would’ve been nice, too.