Part of the United Arab Emirates, Dubai, foreign, exotic & hot. It is impossible to talk about this city-state in the Middle East without using superlatives! Everything about Dubai, from her magnificent modern buildings to oasis golf courses shimmering in the desert, to the unbelievable man-made palm islands vie for your immediate attention and it is hard to know where to look first! For cash-strapped South Africans, Emirates Airline offers by far the cheapest flights to just about anywhere in the world, via their hub in Dubai, so last year we decided to stop-over in the city on our way back from the UK to see it all ourselves. We made one major mistake … our timing! We travelled in July, the hottest month of the year, and we underestimated the impact that the religious month of Ramadan would have on our Dubai experience. During Ramadan all Moslems fast from day-break to sun-set every day; this much we knew in advance, but were unprepared to discover that it is illegal to eat or drink in public during this time, and that we would be unable to find anywhere (with the exception of our hotel) selling food or drinks during the daytime; no relaxing over a cup of coffee or a long cool drink to counteract the heat….unless you go back to your hotel for it!
Major sights in Dubai
We decided that we would use the Jump-on-Jump-off bus tour to orientate ourselves and get an overview of some of the major sights. This was a really good decision – the temperature reached 45 degrees that day and it would have been impossible to walk anywhere, (and the bus handed out bottled water – an absolute necessity, although we could only drink it while on the bus). Our tour bus took us through the centre of the city, past most of the landmark buildings and then along a coastal road to the Palm Island, the Atlantis Resort (where you can swim with dolphins in an enormous lagoon) and the iconic Burj Al Arab hotel on the Jumeirah Beach. There were a few people swimming, though how they reached the water over the burning beach sand I never managed to find out – perhaps they keep their shoes on? We got off at all the major sights to take photos, but could not wait to return to our air-conditioned bus.
The Old Town:
The Old Town is a fascinating network of cobbled streets along the Dubai Creek and this is where you need to go to find the famous Gold Souk and Spice Souk. Unfortunately, many of the shops were closed, (they close in the afternoon – we did not do our homework!) so we went on a boat trip along the Creek; this is a great way to see some of the city and although we had to do without aircon, there was a slight breeze to make it tolerable.
The Desert and the Dunes:
Everyone recommended that we go on the famous 4 X 4 dune “surfing” excursion in the desert, and it was fun, although the dinner afterwards was a little drawn-out. It was fun driving up and down the dunes as the drivers all tried to impress with their 4 X 4 driving skills; The dinner afterwards was very good indeed and although it is an expensive excursion it is quite unique and worth the expense.
Shopping in Dubai:
Dubai is famous for her shopping malls, and we visited most of the main ones, not to shop (mostly too expensive) but to gasp at the opulence and the unbelievable number of tourist attractions to be found in the malls, from a ski slope (genuine snow!) to an amazing walk-through aquarium. There are a few bargains to be had during the Ramadan Sales, but generally the shops are high-end designer boutiques and very expensive. The malls all had large food-courts – all closed for Ramadan.
Some tips for visiting Dubai:
Although July and August are the cheapest months to visit Dubai (all the hotels have special deals during these very hot months), I would not go there again at that time. Unless you are used to the heat and humidity, it is really very limiting and even walking a couple of blocks in the evening is unpleasant. Also, if you are there during the Holy month of Ramadan, expect many places to be closed or to have restricted trading hours. The Dubai Metro (new and spotlessly clean) is easy to use; men must be careful not to board the Ladies Only section of carriages – my husband was politely (but firmly!) told to move along when we boarded one of these together.