When I was a travel agent I constantly booked clients for a stopover in Dubai.
Since I was flying with Emirates to Europe I figured it was about time that I checked out the destination for myself.
While most people, myself included before I went, think of its recent emergence into a luxurious destination filled with 5 star resorts and glamorously high skyscrapers (which it definitely is) there is also another side to the city.
I feel like a lot of people miss the historic area of Bur Dubai, located on the other side of Dubai Creek across from Deira, when they visit which is a real shame.
A cool experience is riding on an abra, wooden boats which take locals between the two sides of the creek, for the very reasonable price of 1 dirham (0.25 EUR or 0.35 AUD).
There’s also some souq’s or traditional markets to explore, particularly of the gold and spice variety, but I didn’t find them necessarily worth a look especially when compared to the likes of Turkey or Morocco.
A gold store in the souq area
I experienced this area of Dubai on an Arabian Adventures tour called City of Merchants, which focused more on the city’s traditional past.
On this half day journey my group also visited Dubai Museum, which is very basic and I wouldn’t go out of my way to see it.
Through this tour I met a lovely New Zealand woman who was also travelling solo for a few months and we ended up running into each other again in Turkey later the same month. Small world!
My overall major highlight from my time in Dubai was actually another Arabian Adventures offering, the Sundowner Safari Tour.
After being picked up last at my hotel, I found the other occupants of the 4×4 were all one group of Polish friends who unfortunately weren’t too keen on having a conversation.
I was worried that this was whole evening to be a bust however when we met up with the other cars in the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve (there was easily at least 20 more) I met a couple of sisters from England and they were absolutely lovely so the day was saved!
Our driver took us for some 4 wheel driving over the sand which was pretty fun although really nothing too crazy.
The nature Reserve made for beautiful sunset photos on the dunes and we even spotted some animals, including an oryx.
The tour includes a falcon show which was pretty interesting since there is information provided as to the bird’s significance in Emirati culture.
On certain UAE airlines falcons are even permitted to travel in the cabin and hold their own passports – true story!
The best part was dinner which was located at a berber style camp in the desert.
Everyone sat on the ground and the atmosphere was fantastic. The men who were running the meal were super friendly too.
There was some bellydancing and traditional music among the usual tourist activities, think henna tattoos, traditional dress ups and camel rides.
While I normally wouldn’t recommend shopping centres as a necessary place to visit in Dubai this isn’t the case.
The Mall of the Emirates is probably best known for its indoor ski slope which is a pretty fantastic site to see inside a mall, even if all the stores are extremely luxurious and have the price tags to match.
Dubai Mall was only a short metro ride from my hotel and is where you can find an indoor aquarium.
I found the style of the mall itself quite lovely and there’s some great features, statues and details in this shopping centre.
Right next to Dubai Mall are the Dubai Fountains and the world’s current tallest building the Burj Khalifa.
The fountains have a water show which runs various times throughout the day in accompaniment with music.
If you don’t mind heights you can go to the top of the Burj Khalfia however it is advised to book in advance.
Another well known building in Dubai is the Burj Al Arab, located on an artificial island next to the coast and apparently the world’s only 7 star hotel.
While the average person might not be able to afford a room here, you might be able to splurge on a high tea since you can’t enter without having a reason!
The Palm Islands are also artificial islands located close by and this is where you’ll find a variety of accommodation options but most notably the Atlantis Hotel.
This place even has its own water park with slides that run through shark tanks – it’s pretty freaking cool.
In the distance from the palm islands you can spot the skyline and the area that is Dubai Marina.
I wish I got to spend a little more time in this area which has a nice array of restaurants and shops.
The Marina from a distance
I went to Dubai in early April and the weather was pretty great but regardless of which time of the year you go there the city is designed around air conditioning and your comfort.
Air conditioned bus shelters!
My overall view on Dubai
Getting around here is very easy, taxi’s are everywhere and I also used the metro a fair bit.
While it’s called the metro, it’s actually more of a monorail system are is high above the ground. It’s extremely modern, reliable and clean way to travel. A stop was right near my hotel and simple to navigate once I had battled the crowd to get to it (there was a Chinese work conference taking place next door with thousands of attendees).
Solo travelling as a woman
You may get looked at often, especially on the metro which is largely used by men from my experience, but I was never hassled here.
This is a city that sees a lot of tourists so while you will come across people wearing shorts I personally would still recommend dressing quite modestly which means shoulders covered, nothing too low cut for tops and skirts or shorts/pants past knee length.
I had a taxi driver while I was here tell me he hadn’t seen his wife and child for a year. All the money he was earning was being sent back home and there are many others like him. It’s a heartbreaking reality.
So while Dubai is by all appearances a glitzy city (it is hard to remember that 30 years ago this place would’ve been unrecognisable) this rapid growth comes at a cost.
There are many workers, particularly from India and Pakistan in this construction industry who are treated questionably.
It extends further than this with around 80% of the city’s total population coming from abroad yet an expat will never be allowed to become citizens or permanent residents. Emirati’s born here have separate rights, for example they are often given increased pay in the same job over a foreigner.
The divide between rich and poor can be phenomenal so while Dubai has a lot to offer for tourists and there’s much to see and enjoy here, the sad reality is that like some other countries in the world, it is not too difficult to see the darker side too if you open your eyes wide enough.