Dubai, UAE, from my experience

Deira, Dubai (2016-11-3) :

So I have been to Dubai, UAE. 😎

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Along Baniyas Road (at the edge of Dhow Wharfage, Deira)

Its metro system is connected to the airport and therefore the transport from the airport to one’s hotel is the easiest.

The first mission I have assigned myself today was to buy a postcard and mail it. But it’s far more difficult to find a postcard than I have expected.

The metro ticket system is unnecessarily complicated. Eg. if one buys the red Nol ticket (a popular option for tourists), it has to be used for only one of the 3 options, 1 zone only or 2 zones or >2 zones, for the first time and future top-up’s, one can’t mix. And if one wants to buy a daily pass, it has to be another red Nol ticket and that can be topped up only for daily passes. Their chat room staff told me something different/wrong a couple weeks before.

For the metro ticket logistic reason (to stay within one zone !), I have confined myself in Deira in the first afternoon. Unexpectedly, the Al Ahmadiya School and the Heritage House were closed for maintenance. So, the rest of the tourist spots in Deira are mainly various Souks ( Spice Souk, Gold Souk etc. ) This is the traditional quarter of Dubai and it’s not the most charming kind of tourist spots. Wandering around with temperature > 30℃ did make me dig deeper into the philosophical question of “what’s the meaning of travelling ?” again 😅 … From another perspective, these souks here in Dubai are like a modern upgrade compared to those I visited (for example) in Marrakesh/Casablanca of Morocco in 2013.

I have come across many small (at least not very big) “trading stores” outside the Souks. They looked to me like grocery stores but when I tried to buy something, I was told that unless I bought an entire cartoon (box) of it, they didn’t want to sell me just a single item.

Among all the shops in the northwestern corner of Deira that I have passed by this afternoon, there seem to be Africans and all kinds of Asians (my definition of Asians are simply people from the continent of Asia), certainly many Indians/Pakistanis/Bangleshis … There seem to be a non-negligible no. of Chinese (though not overwhelming yet). Chinese are not just tourists but many seem to be doing business here, which are not just restaurants but also hotels (with Chinese names and slogans to appeal to Chinese), shops selling clothes, utensils and all sorts of products (made in China ?). I happened to stop in front of an electric shop trying to grab something from my bag and then I noticed that the shopkeepers all seemed to be Chinese. I took a more careful look and found that their displayed products included big power supplies and/or regulators, some with ~30000 VA (!) from “CHiNT”, something our Lab. may use. I guess these Chinese business people probably have been in Dubai for quite some time (?), just like their Indian counterparts (for example). The Chinese central govt. is having a grand scheme of a new silk road … but I wonder whether this kind of things had already happened without and before the Chinese central govt. tried to tell Chinese business people what to do. The Chinese central govt. perhaps was merely reacting to realities instead of being a genuine initiator. Just some thoughts …

In the evening, I’ve made a bit of effort to find the Afghan Kebab House off Deira St. as it was recommended by a few websites. Probably, I should have ordered a stack of naans with lamb, rather than chicken buriyani — Indian (!) — that I ended up ordering, I couldn’t say that I had enjoyed it. The only merit is that it’s less than 1/3 of the price in my hotel. 😐


Burj Khalifa etc. (2016-11-4):

After some internal/mental struggle, I bought the ticket online — before I arrived at Dubai — at the price of 350 AED (US$96.65) to visit the world’s highest observation deck on a non-prime hour (500 AED on prime hours). This 828 m tallest structure in the world (for now) had its original observation decks at levels 124/125 (452/456 m). But after it was surpassed by a tower in Shanghai and then another even taller one in Canton, they created a new observation deck in late 2014 at level 148 (~555 m). My struggle was whether to spend more than 200 AED to visit this “At the Top SKY”. The “At the Top” at levels 124/125 would cost only 125 AED (non-prime)/200 AED (prime). The webpage mentioned that “you will be personally escorted to a dedicated elevator” which was just untrue. I was just one of the many high-fee paying suckers shepherded by a couple staff. There was nothing personal about it  And on the way down from levels 124/125, the “SKY” visitors need to use the same elevator as the others. The warning or notice said it’d take 30 minutes or 45 minutes for the waiting queues at level 125 and 124. I of course picked the one at level 125 and though it’s not really 30 minute’s wait, it’s probably 15-20 minutes.

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Reflection of myself by the glass window of the 148th floor observation deck of Burj Khalifa

Since I have gone to this highest observation deck, I am now qualified to say that the extra fee is not worth it. The “SKY” package offers some tea (and dates) at the bottom and some juice and chocolates at the top. Though I drank a glass of lemonade and a glass of orange juice plus 4 pieces of chocolate, I still don’t feel it’s worth the extra 200 AED — which is ~always true for me, just like a more expensive meal has never made me feel more proportionally satisfied. Before buying the ticket, I read that some bloggers had the same dissatisfaction … but I decided to have this planned dissatisfaction anyway.

I took a picture by reflection of myself from the glass wall at the highest deck. My image immerged in the background of more “direct” photons (though through longer path) I thought of doing this before the visit and it actually worked at night ! A joy of a mission accomplished or an experiment succeeded. This is slightly more creative than asking a bystander or taking a selfie 

The observation deck at level 148 is considerably smaller than those at the levels 124/125.  One saw pretty much the same thing from either higher or lower observation deck and the image of the Dubai city far below is probably clearer from the lower levels.  On the lift to go up to level 148, I saw the largest floor no. was 154 but the staff told me that there are more than 160 floors. The price of 125 AED is actually about the same as the price to go up to the observation deck at One World Observatory in Manhattan (which is the highest in the western hemisphere) and the levels 124/125 at Burj Khalifa is a better bargain as it’s 70 m higher than the One World Observatory at ~382 m.

This is also the 3rd time that I paid to visit a skyscraper at night. The previous two times were at Taipei’s 101 (when it was the world’s tallest building) and New York’s Empire State Building on a July 4th watching fireworks.

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From the balcony of Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum House

I somehow woke up after half past two in the afternoon, thanks to some weird state of remnant jetlag and not committed to sleeping very early in the morning … I managed to visit only Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum House in Bur Dubai before I realized that I very likely couldn’t finish my earlier plan of visiting the Al Fahidi area. It’s fortunate that I didn’t try adventuring to visit another place or two before hurrying to Burj Khalifa. Because when I arrived at the Burj Khalifa reception desk, it’s almost 17:40 and they advised arriving 15 minutes before the reserved timeslot (18:00 for me).

Between the Dubai Mall metro station and Dubai Mall, there was a long walk (> 1 km or something like that) though there are many segments of motorized moving walkways to help you. The Mall (largest in Dubai) is truly huge and finding Burj Khalifa inside the Mall was considerably more difficult than expected. To save energy and time, I have asked many staff how to get to Burj Khalifa.

Maybe the metro is slightly slower than I thought, or Dubai is really huge. The metro line, after leaving Deira and Bur Dubai, seems typically in the middle of some wide highway-like roads far away from buildings. Probably at least some hundreds of meters before one could reach a building. After some 7 trips (at least, depending on how one counts), its average frequency is probably not as frequent as the Hong Kong MTR system but probably like New York metro system or slightly better. This Dubai metro system started to operate in Sept. 2009 and it still looks reasonably new and modern. It has two lines up to now and the two lines intersect at 2 distinct/discontinuous locations. Its most interesting or avant-garde feature is that it’s driverless ! But I’ve noticed one good feature, ie. inside the gates, there are toilets, which seemed decently clean, seemingly in each metro station (that I’ve visited)    Another feature that is not so useful to me is that each metro train seems to have a couple cabins only for women and children and another gold class cabin which charges double on the passengers.

Walking in downtown Dubai or those malls, people have appeared to be more affluent than those in Bur Dubai and Deira. From my limited observation, the visitors at the top of Burj Khalifa seemed not entirely different from those that I had seen at the One World Observatory, ie. mainly Caucasians and Asians. There were more Asians (including Middle Easterners) in Burj Khalifa. Dubai may be truly Asian in its Asian diversity. I have seen many Southeastern Asians and Chinese in Dubai’s service industry (hotel, restaurants and tourist spots like Burj Khalifa). I often felt that I had seen Thais but they were probably Filipinos. And I think I most likely have come across Chinese in service industry rather than Koreans and Japanese — some googling reveals that there are many workers from Philippines and China. I think I can’t confuse them with many Iranians here in Dubai …

Another feature that was mentioned in tourist guides and my personal observation has confirmed is that English seems to be the working language in Dubai ! I overheard staff of some facilities (hotel, metro stations or malls) speaking English to communicate with each other over their walkie-talkies etc. In Dubai, English practically is more widely used than Arabic as it serves a link between various ethnic groups as well as in European expat community and business/tourism sectors — slightly modified sentence from the 2nd paragraph on p.127 of “Pocket Rough Guide Dubai” (2nd edition/Sept. 2016). A very interesting feature indeed !

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Dubai Fountain (of Dubai Mall) in the Burj Khalifa Lake at ~8 pm just outside the Burj Khalifa

….. Just remember to add a few words about the water fountain performance (Dubai Fountain) in front of the Burj Khalifa and Dubai Mall. It’s probably the most amazing of its kind. The water jets actually twisted and bent reminding you of women doing belly dancing, especially under the influence of the Arabic music. It’s not shown in the photo but the water jets went very high often. The water fountain performance happened every half hour at night. I arrived just before 7:40 pm and I decided to walk around the “Burj Khalifa Lake”. I walked very fast — another silly thing that a solo traveller could decide to do instinctively —and just managed to come back to the origin around 8 o’clock. One couldn’t walk entirely on the promenade around the Lake . It was a bit broken as a small portion was interrupted by construction and some parts were obstructed by hotels/shops. I had to walk around those parts.


Metro, bus, tram and abra all over Dubai (2016-11-5) :

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Crossing the Creek between Bur Dubai and Deira

On the 3rd day, in addition to the metro, I have taken 3 new modes of transportation available in Dubai, from the oldest abra (wooden boat) to the newest tram, as well as the buses, which have allowed me to visit many places efficiently. Except the abra, a daily pass (of 20 AED, valid only until the midnight of that day) covers all the above transportation. I haven’t had the joy of using the daily passes for years. While all other modes of transportation were used more or less out of necessity, taking abra to cross the creek between Bur Dubai and Deira was just to gain the fun and experience and it’s the best bargain in town for only 1 AED (only 27 US cents !) per ride.

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Jumeirah Mosque before the speech of the guide was given

I have somehow also paid 20 AED to visit the Jumeirah Mosque which is the only mosque in Dubai that is open to the public with a tour at 10 am every day except Fridays. The fee included something to eat (dates, pastries and pancakes) and drink (tea and water) 😁 The mosque was considerably smaller than I have expected. The main part was the explanations given by the guide(s) and the discussion afterwards. I somehow thought or hoped that it’d be a cultural event but really, it’s a religious event as the Muslim lady with an obvious British accent mainly told us about the 5 pillars of Islam. She was very eloquent; but had I known what the subject was, I probably wouldn’t have paid to join, especially that it’s taken me more than 30 minutes to walk in quick pace for ~3.4 km in a hot day to get there from the World Trade Centre metro station. Probably the only thing she’d mentioned that was unique to UAE was that the govt. actually gives a subject to the Iman in every mosque to discuss every Friday and so all mosques in UAE discussed the same subject ! Some sort of systematic control …😁

Dubai likes to build the tallest this or the largest that. But strangely, I haven’t found the largest mosque or anything close to it ? It makes one wonder what their leader is thinking 😎 … Probably smart !

After the abra, the 2nd best bargain was probably the Dubai Museum. For the same 3 AED, there were much more to see in this museum than the Sheikh Dared al Maktoum House. From outside, the fort didn’t look that big but it actually had underground floors and rooms. I have also wandered around the beautiful quarter of Bastakiya nearby but I didn’t bother going into any of those small museums (even if they were open).

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Inside Madinat Jumeirah with Burj Al Arab in the background

After that, everything was modern and commercial. From the Mall of Emirates metro station, Google suggested a meandering path (on foot) to go to Madinat Jumeirah which would take more than an hour. However, I was not that stupid and I have simply walked straight and through a construction site. It took less than 25 minutes (in my pace). The most important purpose going there was to take a shot at another icon of Dubai, Burj Al Arab.

Leaving from both the Jumeirah Mosque and Madinat Jumeirah, I somehow thought of using the buses as I tried to avoid the same walking paths to go back to the metro stations. At the end, I have used the same bus no. 8 along Jumeirah Road (to go east) or along Al Sufouh (to go west). For tourists, taking buses is typically more difficult than taking the metro. But the Dubai buses seemed quite good, as it’d announce the next stop (in Arabic and English) and if you have some ideas of stops, it’s not really too difficult to find the right stop to get off, especially with the help of Google Map and the bus driver.  Fortunately, it’s also air-conditioned.

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In the beach of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Jumeirah Beach Residence.

The most westward place that I have adventured to in Dubai was the areas of Dubai Marina and Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR), which is more than 30 km from my hotel in Deira. Getting off the bus, this place with all the highrise hotels and residential buildings next to the beaches and the Arabic Gulf immediately gave me some sort of déjà vu feeling. It probably looked like Hong Kong. Dubai didn’t look like a city among the most densely populated city in the world, except here. I also thought about Chicago in north Michigan Ave. where there is a small stretch of tall buildings next to the beach but it’s too small compared to this JBR. Maybe, the long stretches of Copacabana, Ipanema etc. in Rio de Janeiro of Brazil are closer in comparison. Here the buildings seemed more closely packed. In Copacabana etc. of Rio, the beaches next to the ocean are completely unobstructed and open to the public. But here in “The Walk” (~promenade) at JBR, the beaches seemed often hidden by various hotels. At the end, the last photos were taken after I sneaked into the Ritz-Carlton Hotel area  While I was strolling in “The Walk” or the Dubai Malls, with so many Caucasians, sometimes you forgot whether this was in Europe or US (except of course Europe or US probably didn’t have such a massive and closely packed collection of hotels and residential complexes next to the beaches) rather than somewhere in the Middle East.

The last public transportation that I have tried was the new tram which opened in late 2014. It’s still a small network mainly around the areas of Dubai Marina and JBR. It looks like the metro but it’s on the ground level, rather than in an elevated track as in the metro system. And this new tram system was not “driverless” as I did see a driver at the front of the tram. As a tourist, all these were just like new toys to play/use


Even though Dubai may not be the most interesting tourist spot (to me), this trip has still been quite rewarding.   The diversity of the population in this mega city and the feature of English as the lingua franca have almost been eye opening.  It’s meant to be an expensive place but I’ve managed to spend not too much, by eating in the food courts of the malls and cheaper restaurants, instead of the best but most expensive hotel restaurants.

The UAE citizen population in Dubai is said to be only slightly more than 10%.   The rest are mostly foreign workers from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Phillipines etc.  Apparently, there are more Indians and Pakistanis than the UAE citzens   Though I don’t know how UAE really treats the foreign workers/immigrants, I tend to admire this kind of diversity and it only adds marks to my impression towards Dubai and UAE.

Compared to my flights between USA, Korea and Hong Kong, my flights between Hong Kong and Dubai were quite empty.  I’ve got all the 3 seats on one side of the plane to myself on both flights and some other people had all the middle 4 seats to themselves.  The Dubai airport (DXB) also seemed to be not too busy at all.  It might be my limited observation and statistics but it probably didn’t bode well for this ultra-modern-looking city.  Not sure whether the low oil price would rattle the country or Dubai.  But I probably have more to worry about myself or my own country than Dubai and UAE 

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About kinyip

An experimental particle physicist ...
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