travel

Dubai – November 2015

Dubai desert
Is this Tatooine?

The day after school closed for the December holidays, we upped and left to take the boys on a holiday to Dubai. We’d never been there before, and we wanted to try something really different. It’s not a destination that is on the top of people’s lists, and a lot of friends asked what there is to do in Dubai, but thankfully we had lots of great advice from friends who have lived there, and a few friends who have also visited recently, making planning easier so I wouldn’t have to start everything from scratch, because this mummy is busy enough!

emirates
If the amazing entertainment system isn’t enough (it was, definitely!), there are tons of things for kids to do.

We flew Emirates to Dubai, because they were offering a cheaper fare than SQ and have more convenient flight timings since they fly direct 4 times a day between Singapore and Dubai (some flights go onward to Australia). I have not flown Emirates in maybe 15 years, and was very impressed by the entertainment system on the outbound trip. Inbound it was a little old but still tops Krisworld any day. Time to up your game, SQ?  They certainly ply you with a lot of great gifts for kids, and I understand they have many different types of packages. They also took some Polaroid photos for kids which I forgot to bring with me off the plane. Urgh!

However, the service is decisively cold, even though there are one or two crew members who are somewhat smiley. Boarding the return flight, 2 stewardesses were standing in the rows just…standing the rest. Ok they were greeting passengers, but it’s a culture shock from where I come from, to see them just standing there doing nothing.

And they really pack in passengers like sardines. Maybe their business class on the A380 is widely celebrated, but I’d hate to be the guy who paid for my business class seat only to find myself stuck in a tiny seat between 2 other people, which barely looks wider than the economy seat in SQ. Yes, on a 777-300, they squeeze in a 2-3-2 seat configuration for Business class, and 3-4-3 in Economy! It made me do a double take, and I almost mistook it for Premium Economy. For the same plane type, SQ spoils their passengers by flying a 1-2-1 in business and 3-3-3 in economy. Just sayin’!

But enough about that already, we had a smooth flight over all. From the airport we took a regular taxi to our hotel, a pink “family” taxi that are driven exclusively by women, for other women and families. It seems like a wonderful progressive initiative of society, but in actual fact is really quite the opposite. You get what I mean?

Taj Dubai
Loved the lobby of the Taj Dubai

We arrived at the hotel at around 3pm. We stayed at the Taj Dubai, and it was my first time in any Taj Hotel. I loved the Indian accents, and the high tech lighting controls. It is right next to a condo that has a few eateries (a Subway included), and a Choitrams, which is a supermarket. Other than that there wasn’t much else nearby as its in a kind of business district. You can walk to the Business Bay metro station, which we have done, but I can’t imagine doing that in 50degree summer heats.

At the Taj we chose a family room, which came with two super single beds and a sofa bed. The sofa beds were pretty uncomfortable but the kids were happy to sleep there so I let them be. A little hardship never hurt the kids, right? Ha!!

The day we landed, we headed for the famous Dubai Mall for dinner. Many hotels around the area provide shuttles to Dubai Mall. Yes, THE Dubai Mall which is apparently the largest shopping centre in the WORLD. And we thought Singaporeans are shopaholics! We decided to be kay kiang (smart alecs) and go early by taking a taxi there, and once in the cab, which was a Lexus and supposedly a bit more high class than the normal taxis, he didn’t want to use the meter, and then he took a longer route than he should have, and we actually got out at a traffic light. Hmmm, not quite the warm welcome we were expecting.

Dubai Mall
Notice from the reflection how many floors high the tank is! You can view this tank freely. As in free lor.

Anyhow, once we were in the mall, and saw the hugest aquarium ever, all was well again. We ate at The Cheesecake Factory, which is highly recommended by many, and although the it was pretty decent, I’m not a fan of mall food, or overly-sweet American desserts. The boys have not had much Tex-Mex kind of food, so the fajitas and quesadillas was interesting for them too. We later spied Joe’s Crab Shack which we think might be just as good for a meal given the fact that you get a close up view of the Dubai Mall aquarium (with some space for kids to run around) while dining.

DubaiMall

We didn’t go in to the aquarium, and apparently they have penguins and sea lions, but you don’t need to pay to ogle at the huge tank. This mall also houses Kidzania and some cinemas, in case you are looking for things to do with the kids. We tried to catch the fountain show, but there were just SO many people it was hard for the boys to see past their heads. The shows are on every 30 minutes, but it was getting late and we were tired so we didn’t bother waiting for the next one.

On the return we wanted to take the hotel shuttle, but once we got to the bus bay, we realized we were in over our heads given that there were SO many many buses coming and going all the time. After some waiting and several calls to the hotel, we took a taxi back, which thankfully this time was uneventful.

Dubai spice souk
The unassuming front of the spice souk

The next morning, we meant to take a taxi to the textile souk but the taxi driver took us across Dubai Creek to the spice souk instead. It wasn’t a big problem but you can imagine by now (our second day!) we weren’t quite feeling the love. The spice souk didn’t look friendly enough for us to buy anything. From the spice souk we walked to the gold souk and then on to Afghan Kebab House, which unfortunately was closed. In the end we found a random schwarma place, had the best schwarmas and hummus for a mere AED 29. Dubai Creek is the “old” part of Dubai, , and although some of the souk and the shops along the way are a little touristy, it was a lot more interesting for me than seeing mall shops or skyscrapers.

Dubai abra
Abra

The reason why we were in this area was to take the abra, a traditional water vehicle that they have used in Dubai, and exclusively to Dubai, since . The “station” is located just outside of the spice souk, and on the other side, the textile souk. You can’t miss it if you just follow the hoardes of tourists. It costs 1 dirham (SGD$0.20) per person for one way, lasts for about 3 minutes, and it was the highlight of the trip for the boys so far. Obviously they are not mall people either! There is more detailed information on the abra here.

From the textile souk we walked to the metro station and took the metro back to our hotel. The metro is clean and fast, and was extremely crowded in the middle of the day. There is also a carriage dedicated purely to women and families, men will apparently be fined if they use it.

There are plenty of taxis around, but I can imagine that at some areas, for example, going around the various food stops (that I read about), it would be difficult to find a taxi. I did hear that you can arrange for taxis with Uber, Careem and the like, but we didn’t try any of these. If we had a choice we’d probably want to take the family taxis everywhere! But we had probably an equal number of dodgy taxi drivers as we did nice ones.

Later that afternoon, a guide picked us up at 3pm at the hotel for our Afternoon Desert Safari. We chose a package from Gulf Ventures that goes for AED 250 per pax, so we opted for an entirely private car for AED $1250 in total. We drove for about 45 minutes out to the desert, the boys got to take a short nap, and husband and I learnt a great deal about Dubai from our wonderful driver guide.

gulf ventures desert safari
Ah, the wonders of nature. And machines.

After a short break for some photos, we were to rendezvous with about 6 other 4x4s to continue on our way to the Safari camp in a convoy. The trip there was the highlight – traversing up, down, across sand dunes, almost akin to roller coasters. The boys enjoyed it tremendously, the husband was suitably impressed by the driver’s skills, and I was just glad I wasn’t puking. I had made sure to religiously take motion sickness pills before leaving, since I have been more prone to motion sickness from the time of Scout’s pregnancy.

gulf ventures desert safari
Car rescue

Along the way we had 2 photo stops, including a stop to get one of the other cars unstuck. At each stop the boys loved playing with the sand, sliding, digging, racing each other.. They probably could have been there for hours!

gulf ventures desert safari
The desert camp. The middle area is for sitting, and there are various tents along the side as well, perhaps for hotter weather? One of the tents on the right was for the buffet.

At just about sunset at around 530pm we reached the camp. We were offered dates and Arabic coffee. It is a very comfortable area, with clean working toilets, with lovely traditional Bedouin tents. You could get a henna drawing, buy a sand souvenir, or smoke a shisha. Or, go on a camel ride. Not long after, we were offered schwarmas, followed by a buffet dinner, which the boys loved. Briyani and Arabic pasta and Lebanese salads, what’s there not to like? After dinner there was a belly dancing performance which was erm..a little risqué for little boys, but I guess an eye opener for them? Haha.

Before leaving, we were invited to do a little stargazing but it wasn’t a particularly good night for stargazing and all we could see were plane after plane going to and fro Dubai’s international airport!

Then it was time to go home, I had to keep the boys awake on the journey back, and they declared that it was the best day ever. We arrived back at around 930pm, in good time for a good bath. I would really like to do other trips, perhaps the traditional Bedoin breakfast one, or with desert wildlife with falcons and such.

The next day, we hung out at the hotel and left at around 11am for our next destination – the Atlantis, The Palm. Along the way we got the (nice) taxi driver to stop by Al Reef Lebanese Bakery for some labneh and cheese manishk. They all taste pizza-ish with with different toppings, and we loved it.

Like Singapore, Dubai offers all kinds of cuisines, including Pakistani and Indian, which my boys like, and a lot of Lebanese, which I have been keen to try after Ottelenghi’s restaurant in London, and seeing his recipes all over the place. There is plenty to eat and try, which is more interesting than the skyscrapers in my opinion.

Apart from eating, there is also Ski Dubai, indoor ski slopes at the Emirates Mall, and here is a list of 50 things to do with kids in Dubai! We travelled in late November, when temperature were around 28degrees, felt like 30+ under the sun, but not as humid so it was more pleasant than Singapore. It dropped to around 25 at night which was pleasant.

We are so thankful to our friends, some of whom have lived in Dubai, for answering our hundreds of questions while planning for this trip! We wouldn’t mind heading back to the Middle East again, for the desert and the food, but I would probably like to visit other cities. The boys have since been asking to go back to the desert.

On our next part of our adventure, we stayed at the Atlantis The Palm, and I will share more on that in my next post.

 

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