Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Dubai Travel Guide


Having written about the 'Dubai, Do Buy' philosophy and the 'Dubai Job Hunt' recently, I thought it would be a good time to also focus on some of the other interesting reasons to visit Dubai.

Since the Dubai Shopping Festival will take off only on 5 January 2012, I will be writing about it next month. Meantime, since arriving a month ago I have taken the opportunity to visit some of the places I had not been to earlier. However, the following places, suggestions and experiences I am recounting is based on multiple travels to Dubai over the last few years.

Entering Dubai

The Dubai international airport is truly a gateway. As I had stated once previously, sit long enough at the airport and chances are you may even spot an Eskimo! Being the fourth busiest airport in the world, be prepared to see masses of people everywhere within the airport at any point of time.

There are two types of passengers arriving at this airport. Those in transit, thanks to the ever growing Emirates Airlines as well as the multitude of other airlines stopping here, and those people whose final destination is Dubai be it a visit for pleasure or business.

Being an Indian origin person, not only do I have to get used to the antics of my fellow brethren when they reach here, but also get used to being treated a bit like cattle by the folks manning the arrivals. Herded into large and long snaking queues for immigration, to avoid being barred from entry, ensure that a valid visit visa is secured in advance. That is, unless you are already a GCC resident with a mudheer or 'manager' type higher-professional status on the residency card, in which case you are entitled to get a visit visa on arrival, irrespective of your nationality, in most cases. There are some nationalities who can secure a visit visa on arrival even without being a GCC resident, details of which can be found here and here

Getting through immigration also requires you to have your iris scanned. Eventually you emerge through to the Dubai Duty Free area and beyond, to the baggage claim area. Once done, you will need to get all your luggage including hand baggage X-ray scanned again, but usually the officers sitting at the scanning point will just wave you on (unless you are carrying contraband items - which can get you severe punishment in this country). Finally, get out of the airport, and you have many transportation options.

Local Transportation
  1. Rent a car: valid International driving license is good, rates vary by type of vehicle and duration of rent. Negotiating is a good idea. Ensure that salik or the road toll tag, mileage allowance and insurance costs are bundled into the package agreed. Fuel is subsidised and cheaper than most places on earth.
  2. Get into a taxi: remember that all taxis are metered and whenever a taxi is hired from the airport, there is an automatic AED 20 surcharge. 
  3. Take the Road Transport Authority (RTA) bus or metro train: ensure you pick up your Nol card / ticket from a vending machine or an operator if available.
  4. Shuttle pick-up: If staying at a hotel, may be available. Not necessarily free, it is important you communicate with the hotel prior to arriving and secure confirmations on this mode of local transport.
  5. Ask a friend or relative living locally, to pick you up.  

With so many options, planning becomes a bit important. The golden rule that I have clearly understood after a month in Dubai is that if you intend to rely on public transport like buses and trains, then be prepared for "triple the time" at "one-third the cost". Whereas with taxis, it is a case of "triple the cost" at "one-third the time".


The RTA website is indeed, very useful. I would suggest that you download the RTA network map so that you can enlarge and view it prior to making a journey. Despite being a PDF, it is rather a heavy file, so viewing it on your smartphone is troublesome given the time it takes to render. Much easier on your computer, really. Alternatively, the RTA’s Wojhati site has a very useful journey planner.

What to Experience

A blend of both old and new places exists in this city. Some suggestions:

Inside the Dubai Museum
The Dubai Museum, gives you a bit of historical perspective on what Dubai was.

Gold Souq, Dubai
Walk through the alleyways of the Gold Souq, reminiscent of the ancient way of trading yet upgraded enough not to affect the sensitive sensibilities of the discerning gold lover. 


With multiple options, it is usually a good deal to buy gold and diamond jewellery here. At least, that is what the ladies claim. I usually just smile, at the glitter. Not just in the window showcase, but also in the eyes of the beguiled.

Spices, spices and more spices
Take your olfactory senses on a ride in the Spice Souq. A short walk away from the Gold Souq, it is quite a seamless affair and you know you have reached the Spice Souq, when you begin to see with your nose first and then, your eyes. Or just follow the fascinated Western, Russian or Chinese tourists with their huge cameras.

Abra waiting to ferry passengers
Take a ride in an Abra - an old country boat, fitted with a modern engine. For a nominal AED 1 fee per person. you can sit on the wooden frame, get a five minute ride from one side of the creek to the other.

Burj Khalifa
Visit the Burj Khalifa, now even more recognisable after millions have seen Tom Cruise swing across it in his latest Mission Impossible film. Even if you have those fancy suction gloves, chances are you will not be allowed to do the swing, but you can reach the observation deck for a fee of AED 100 if booked in advance or AED 400 for an immediate entry. Fees are per person. The website has more details. Once you are done with the heightened experience (pun intended), do take the time to stroll through the adjoined Dubai Mall, which is also an experience by itself - especially the dancing musical fountains, lovely.

The distinctive billowing sail shaped Burj Al Arab
Go to the Jumeirah Park (AED 5 entrance fee per person), walk on the sandy beaches and visit the Burj Al Arab, one of the world's most photographed and luxurious hotels. Then, put on your swim suits and head to the Wild Wadi water park, nearby.

Dubai Dolphinarium, show in progress
The Creek park is a huge setup and has acres of grassy walkthroughs in addition to the “Dolphinarium”, where you could catch a show involving Dolphins, Sea Otters and an illusionist - Max Stevenson. If you are travelling with kids, they will love it. As an adult, my heart reaches out to the animals for they belong in their natural environment, not here performing tricks. AED 5 for the park entrance fee, AED 120 for VIP seats in the Dolphinarium.

Mall of Emirates

Ibn Battuta Mall, with multiple cultural themes
Walk through acres of air-conditioned shop-till-you-drop brand havens like Mall of Emirates (check out Ski Dubai), Deira and Mirdiff City Centres, Ibn Battuta Mall, Burjuman Centre and Lamcy Plaza.

Atlantis hotel, The Palm, Dubai
Also take the opportunity to visit the man-made Palm islands and the Atlantis hotel.

Exchange Rate

The US Dollar and AED also known as Dirhams are pegged at a fixed rate. 1 USD = 3.67 AED or alternatively 1 AED = 0.27 USD

Eat, eat and then eat some more

You can literally never go hungry in this place, unless you deliberately want to starve. With a culture of eating out, Dubai's culinary gob-smacking options are galore, ranging from Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan, American, British, Italian, Greek, Lebanese, Turkish, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Indonesian and African, to many more. I will probably have to do another post on this subject, as there is way too much to do justice in a small paragraph.

Music, Dance, Party

If nightlife is on your agenda, there are plenty of options available here in this desert oasis. For a good guide on this, go here.

When, oh when

Best time to visit is between November to February, where the ‘winter’ season reigns supreme. You could visit at other times, but the outdoors during most part of the day would be searing hot. During the winter time, climate is dry, windy and can really go quite low in open desert areas. You will need warm clothing, but not as if you are visiting Antartica.

Be smart about a few things
  1. While alcohol is available at pubs, bars and hotels, drinking and driving is heavily punished.
  2. Though Dubai is relaxed in terms of attire, wearing short dresses and swim suits outside the beach area is not a good idea. While you do not have be dressed like an Egyptian mummy, remember this is an Islamic country, so I think it is good to respect the local people and culture by wearing modest clothing that covers most of your body.
  3. Having comprehensive travel insurance for the duration of your visit here is a good idea. Make sure, you check with your insurer that comprehensive insurance actually includes baggage loss not just in flight, but anywhere. Similarly check that all emergencies are covered. Reading the fine print is worth it.
  4. Though crime rate is quite low, and there is really no need to be paranoid, keeping a separate copy of your passport, visa, credit/debit cards as well as, being mindful about your belongings would be a good approach.
  5. Depending on your country of origin, the exchange rate may be in your favour or not. If yes, better to use plastic. If not, better to use cash. Money changers are liberally found on the streets and in malls.
  6. On arrival, securing a local Du or Etisalat SIM card on arrival is a good idea, as your communication needs would be met, cheaper and easier.
  7. Finally, wear a smile. It is usually contagious and reflected back.
I feel that Dubai is a city of options. Whatever be your status, there is something here for you.

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This post is not an endorsement of any product/service/brand and is written based on my experience here. Your experience could be different, so do exercise your own judgement. Here's wishing you a very happy 2012 ahead.

21 comments:

  1. You know I always want to go Dubai during the Dubai Shopping festival and I can use n share this post with a lot of people.

    Great compilation:) Thanks!

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  2. wow... your blog is definitely informative.. great job, it takes so much of patience to write so much... kudos to your work!

    ReplyDelete
  3. @Saru: Thank you. I hope you can make it to the DSF 2012 :) Some great travel deals are available online.

    @Rajyalakshmi: Thank you, for the appreciation. It is feedback from readers such as yourself, that makes blogging a joy. Not having been a patient person all along, I am now making an attempt to inculcate this quality :)

    ReplyDelete
  4. Nice guide Anish... I was lucky less than a month ago. I had a transit time of over 12 hours in Dubai and hadn't applied for a visa. When I landed, I thought why not and applied for visa on arrival. For some reason, got it in 10 mins with no hassle :))

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thank you buddy :) I am really glad to hear that you had a hassle free process and got your visa on arrival. May I ask, which country passport do you hold?

    ReplyDelete
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