Monday, June 13, 2011

13 Jun 11 – Day 11 (Dubai)

I shall skip the part on the plane and jumped right into Dubai trip report. Landed, cleared custom and our bags as well as luggage were subjected to scan. After my luggage was scanned, the guard stopped me and asked what the small metal bottle in the case was. So replied him it was the perfume I bought in Paris, he hesitated and another guard came around. After a while, he let me passed and another guard helped me bring the luggage down. Finally got out, found the local guide, Asad, and was told that the group from London would be late due to flight delay. So he suggested that we get some food while waiting. Found seats at the nearby café and ordered a blueberry muffin and medium cup mocha. Cecilia told us beforehand that we could use Euro or CHF or USD in Dubai and so we didn’t change any AED. Asked the cashier if he accept Euro and he said yes and converted AED29 to Euro where I paid 10 Euro and got back AED18.

My breakfast

Waited for quite a long while before the group finally arrived and we started our city tour. Once we stepped out of the airport, we could feel the heat wave hitting us. Got onto the coach and the local guide started telling us about Dubai. Will just write down what I can remember: Local men married foreign women, their wives will never be able to get citizenship; local women married foreign men, their husbands and kids will never be able to get citizenship; when a couple gets married, the government will give them US$23,000; local kids get free education; Dubai is a safe place like Singapore, no pickpockets so on and so forth.

During the journey, we saw many low-rise houses with nice designs and when we entered the city, we saw many construction works going on and many tall buildings. I took some photos while traveling but the photos were having a tint of yellow due to the shade on the coach windows. The coach brought us to the Atlantis, near the Palm Island (Palm Jumeirah) for a photo stop. Got out of the coach, took some quick shots and went back into the coach.

Couple of photos taken from the coach :

Alantis, Dubai 

Next was the Burj Al Arab, the 7-stars hotel of Dubai. We didn’t go there, just stopped afar at a beach to take some photos and while there, we saw people doing surfing. Took another series of quick shots and headed back to the coach. Asad told us that during the free day on the next day, we could consider going to Burj Al Arab for lunch even though it’s going to be expensive, at least go there for the experience. Some of the members expressed interest and intended to enquire about the reservations. The next photo stop was the Jumeirah Mosque and again we got down, took a few quick shots and ran up the coach again.

Burj Al Arab

Jumeirah Mosque

I was wearing long-sleeve shirt over a tank top with sleeves rolled up and after two photo stops, I could feel my skin burning up therefore quickly rolled the sleeves all the way down. Next we headed to the Dubai Mall, the world's largest shopping mall and while walking through the all towards Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, we saw the big aquarium. Took some photos of Burj Khalifa and went back into the mall to the food court for food.

Burj Khalifa

Bought tacos and cinnamon twists for myself, Mag bought tacos and apple pie while Kim bought Japanese food. I paid in AED and exhausted most of it. Met up at the meeting point and Asad came along. Asked him for some ideas of what to do on free day and he suggested that we explore the gold and spice souks in the morning, then take a cab to Deira City Centre Mall to take metro to Mall of The Emirates and go to Dubai Mall last so that we could catch the Dubai Fountain show at night. He pointed out that after taking metro to Dubai Mall, we need to connect a cab coz the mall is some distance away from the station.

Hopped onto the coach and we were on our way back to the hotel. There were three groups of us: one group arrived from London, another group that came to Dubai with us and we were allocated three different hotels. The coach dropped the other two groups at their respective hotels before bringing us to Al Manar hotel. From the outside, we thought the hotel wasn’t fantastic but once inside, it was a different story. The hotel is actually hotel apartment and so triple sharing ones got bigger apartments that were equipped with kitchen (including pots, pans, cutlery and so on), a dining area, a living room, two bedrooms (one came with own toilet) and a common toilet.

Kim was quick to take the master bedroom that came with a toilet so Mag and I had to share the other room. As Kim and I complained about Mag being noisy in the morning, she put her stuff in the dining area while I put mine in the bedroom and Kim in her own room. Settled down, washed up and sat down to eat lunch. After that Kim went for a short nap while Mag and I chatted to kill time coz we had to get ready by 4pm to be picked up for the Desert Safari trip.

My lunch

Soon it was time, initially was thinking of wearing covered shoes coz I remembered reading it from a post in TripAdvisor but since both Kim and Mag wore sandals and so I went with it. Gathered at the lobby, Mag asked the staff at the reception counter for map and name card of the hotel. She said they only had one name card and so she took a snapshot of the card before handing it over to Kim. Our drivers came and we were told one land cruiser could take six persons but our group had 13 people so one of the cruisers would have to take seven people.

The two families of three in our group were quite close during the trip and so they occupied one land cruiser and the rest of us, the Tays, the young couple and the three of us took the other land cruiser. When we came to the car, the three of us were quick to say we would take the back seat and the driver commented that we were very cooperative. Kim and Mag got in and they both took the side, leaving the middle seat for me. Our driver is called Asif and he’s from Pakistan. Mr Tay beside him during the journey and asked a lot of questions and from the answers that Asif gave; we got to know more about Dubai. Asif was a humorous man, he joked a lot so our journey to the desert wasn’t boring.

Made a first stop at a shop for toilet and there were already a lot of people inside. Once we stepped into the shop, the staff started wrapping our heads with the traditional white headscarves. They were trying to sell the scarves to us. Was interested and when the lady of the young couple asked for another color, me and Mag did the same coz the material was thinner. They charged us AED20 per piece and as I didn’t have enough AED, Mag paid for me first. The young couple was teachers and the guy bought the full set of the traditional costume so that he could use during the Racial Harmony Day in school. Happy with our purchases, we returned to the car and Asif said since Kim didn’t buy the scarf, he gave her a hat.

Some photos taken while in the car :

Continued with the journey and Asif told us to look closely at the desert, the sand changed from yellow to red. How peculiar. As I was seated in the middle so I wasn’t able to take many photos while Kim and Mag went shutter happy. Soon we came to another stop in the desert where Asif had to deflate the tires so as to prepare the car for the ride into the sand dunes. There were a lot of other cars doing the same thing and after instructing us to put on our seat belts, we soon found ourselves into the desert sand. Asif driving skill was pretty good and we went dune bashing one after the other, just like rollercoaster ride but even rougher than that. It was simply exhilarating and I was enjoying myself very much.

Made a stop in the middle of the desert for photos and as soon as we got out of the car and stood in the desert, sands got into our sandals. You just couldn’t avoid it coz the sands were really soft and fine, they just kept flowing into the sandals. Helped to take photos for the young couple with the guy in full costume and we had fun. Kim and Mag climbed up a sand dune and I tried to do it as well. Had some difficulties and one of the drivers sitting on top of the dune told me it would be easier to walk without sandals. Despite his advice, I made it up the dune but didn’t dare to move around too much coz the sand was simply too soft to walk on. Walked slowly down the dune and finally decided to just take off the sandals since there was already too much sand inside. Tried walking up the dune again and true enough, it was much, much easier and the driver said good for foot massage which I totally agree.

Couple of photos taken while in the desert :

Soon it was time to go and Asif told us to take off the sandals before going into the car so as not to bring too much sand into it. Did a few more rounds of dune bashing before heading to the camp site. During the journey, Asif briefed us of what to expect and what to do after we reached the camp site. He said there would be free camel ride and once inside the camp, there would be an area where we could try shisha pipes, an area for free henna painting, an area for drinks, an area for appetizers and there would be someone with a falcon for people to take pictures with. And that once we get there, we were to find seats, place something there before going to get food.

Finally reached the camp site, did what Asif told us before going to get drinks with Mag. Kim and Mrs Tay were not feeling too well after the sand dunes ride and so they were sitting down to rest. Saw a local lady doing henna painting and so hurried over with Mag to do ours. After that, the guy of the young couple told us about the camel ride but Mag didn’t want to ride. So I thought it was a no go for me since it seemed like it required two to ride. Went to the camel riding place anyway and they kept psychoing me to join the queue and so I did. Mr Tay was there in the front and he asked me to help him take photo. He was alone and so Mag suggested that I rode with Mr Tay and so I did. I sat in the front and he was at the back. It was fun riding a camel and especially when the camel was bending down, we had to hold on to the handle really tight.

Back to our seats, ate some appetizer and then the belly dancing started. My camera couldn’t take nice night shots and fast movements and so I took video instead. The belly dancer wore very nice costume and danced to a few songs. Her movements were smooth and nice. About 8pm, dinner started and everyone went to queue for food. Mag and I waited for the queue to clear a little before joining. We didn’t know there was difference in queuing and we just join one of the two. The staff at the camp signaled to us to join the other one and then after some observations, we realized that they separated the two queues into female and male. Took a little bit of everything and went to the other table where the staff distributed the meat.

Belly Dance during Desert Safari in Dubai -

Ate our food while watching the tanoura dance and it was really beautiful. The big skirt had many layers and the dancer just spun round and round for so long. I was so impressed. Took video of it and after that continued with my food. Couldn’t finish the meat and also because most of the others were already done eating so gobbled what I could and quickly gathered back to the car. Journey back to hotel was a bit quiet coz I guessed everyone was tired. Night time in the desert was really dark and when we got back to the city, there were lots of neon signs and there were people on the streets and eating places. Daytime it was simply too hot for people to walk on the street and so most of them only came out after the sun set. Back to hotel, confirmed the plan for the next day and it was going to be mall-hopping coz the ladies didn’t want to go out under the hot sun. So washed up quickly and hit the bed coz was so very tired.

Tanoura Dance during Desert Safari in Dubai -

Thoughts: The incident at the airport left me a bad impression of Dubai initially but after a while, I told myself that I shouldn’t be too quick to judge. Perhaps the guards were just being careful but at that point in time, I was really quite scared and I could almost feel my face getting flushed. I did read about one of the people in TripAdvisor subjected to stringent checks but didn’t think it would happen to me.

Even though it is hot, it is better to wear long sleeves to protect the skin from sunburn and do apply lots of sun block lotion. Keep hydrated, use an umbrella or at least wear a cap and wear sunglasses coz of the big, glaring sun. Think it is better to wear sandals for the desert safari coz easier to take off if you want to climb the sand dunes. Besides, it isn’t too bad walking on the sand, really feels like foot massaging.

Dune bashing was really, really fun and the camp was good, food was ok and I think I like the yogurt (I think it was yogurt) best. The belly dance and tanoura dance were worth watching and the music was very nice. I don’t mind doing the Desert Safari again if I ever go to Dubai again and I guess it will be really neat if I can spend a night in the desert but not during summer though.

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