A decade ago, America and Europe were dream destinations. However, in the last few years, Dubai has emerged as a new, closer, and luxurious paradise for wealthy travelers hailing from Asia.
Text & photos: Le Minh Phuong
Dubai, a city in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has an area of over 1.000 square kilometers, and yet only just over 2 million residents. Dubai’s wealth and luxury are thought to be dependent on oil industry; however, its main revenues come from tourism, finance and real estate. Dubai has turned its weakness of an “arid desert” into a unique “unusual dish” – the most desirable one on the “travel menu”.
You need around 5 days to visit Dubai. The best time to go to this city is from November to April when the climate is cool and comfortable since Dubai’s summer is very hot and dry, with outdoor temperatures soaring over 50 degrees.
“City tour”, discovering the sumptuous city
Hop on – Hop off tours are the most popular means of transport when making an obligatory “city tour” in many places all over the world. However, in Dubai, private cars are much more appropriate. The end of January is comparatively cool with a temperature of 27 degrees along with dry, windy climate, and intense sunlight that necessitates scarves, hats and glasses.
Dubai is a city with endless skyscrapers, boasting its modernity, but it also features more traditional Arabic architecture. The ever-expanding winding roads, continuous real estate development, and ever more daring construction endeavors seen throughout the site are testament that Dubai does not intend to stop growing. Being a coastal city built on a desert, it is hard to see the emerald green of trees in Dubai. Sometimes, there are just groves with rugged branches.
Prime destinations and must-do activities in a Dubai “city tour” include wandering in the ancient city of Al Fahidi, and walking on the coastal road of renowned Palm Island. In addition, visitors can bask in awe before the Burj Al Arab – the most luxurious 7-star hotel in the world. Then impressive sail-shaped silhouette built on the sea across from the channel viewed at sunset from a water taxi (motor-boat) will give some perspective as to what humans can accomplish. Modernity aside, the most interesting thing to do is visiting Spice and Gold Souks.
The Spice and Gold Souks are two separate traditional markets. Tourists are oft fascinated and tend to buy more goods than planned here. The spice Souk mainly sells dry goods, spices, and fragrances with hundreds of items in stock from tea, dried flowers, seeds, and dried fruits, to traditional cakes, jams and candies goods all available in a range of vibrant colors and eye-catching shapes. Dried date palms are the most popular goods sold in every shop which tourists can comfortably try and haggle over. Although date palms are sold by the kilogram, there is a huge difference in prices according to their quality.
Delve deep inside the markets and you’ll find, after passing the Spice Souk, the Gold Souk. There may be nowhere else with quiet to many gold and jewelry shops gathered more densely than this market. There must be hundreds of endless small and big shops lying next to each other. Gold Souk sells only gold and products made of gold. Even in the evening hours the market is awash in tourists and customers all throughout the area. Shops are bright with numerous products of gold, and gems galore. Each shop is magnificent and luxurious the same as the treasure in the folk tale “One thousand and one nights”. The market retailers are all men, most of whom were immigrants with different nationalities.
Shops are bright with numerous products of gold, and gems galore. Each shop is magnificent and luxurious the same as the treasure in the folk tale “One thousand and one nights”.
Deceiving night in desert
Saying goodbye to the 7-star sail-shaped hotel, the Palm Island with luxurious villas, and the city with skyscrapers, we began our “Safari Night” journey at 3pm, an appropriate time to both avoid the harsh temperature of midday and while still having time to see the desert sunset.
Dubai covers an area of more than 4000km2, however, three quarters of this small country is deserts while the new urban area was built in only 1000km2.
After about one and a half hours travelling by car out of the city, the desert welcomed us with its endless beauty highlighted with some low bushes and small groups of date-palms. We stopped to drink water and watch falcon show before going deeper to the heart of the desert. The show in which falcons display their hunting prowess is favorite traditional show and sport here. After the show ended, everyone, regardless of nationality, age, or gender lined up to take a photo with the trainee and his masterful falcon. We then continued to explore the desert by a 7-seat all-terrain Toyota.
Our driver was an immigrant from Syria, thin tall, and quiet, yet humorous. He asked us to always wear safety belts, not arbitrarily lower the car windows, and tell him immediately if we felt ill. All the vehicles were checked carefully that the tires were not too inflated (slightly flat tires allow for better traction in the sand). We were curious at first, wondering why the rules were so strict but we got the surprising answer just a few minutes later. The convoy, consisting of more than 10 cars, entered the desert. No more flat areas, the desert welcomed us with large sand dunes, steep sand holes, and unexpected bends. Passengers started shouting and clutching their chairs trying to avoid knocking heads with other passengers. Some cars had to stop as passenger’s progressively got ill. The most frightening yet exciting moment was when the car suddenly stopped while trying to climb the slope and then almost free fell down the other side of the slope like a sled down a snow-covered hill.
After a dozen kilometers, the convoy stopped at a high point in the desert, an ideal spot to admire the beauty of sunset and take photos. Just a few minutes later, the sun went away, letting darkness cover the desert. All the members of our expedition gathered at the campsite to have dinner at about 7pm. On a large grassy area, hundreds of carpets and tents were set up in the Bedouin nomads’ style around a main stage. My companions and I chose a comfortable place and started enjoying our Arab-styled buffet dinner.
There were numerous attractive activities taking place during the night such as belly dancing, henna drawing, sand slides, and camel riding. But the most interesting experience were savoring fried dates from a copper basket and chit chatting with friends with shisha. In late night, the sky was adorned with thousands of stars while the sand dunes sparkled showing their shapes as beautiful silk lines in the deep blue night. Before we left the desert, all the lights in the campsite were turned off as the organizers wanted us to “get away” from modern devices to immerse fully in the desert’s ambiance for 5 minutes. Hundreds of people lied on sand, relaxing and watching the sky while taking in the cool air of the desert by night.
Shopping at night in the heart of Dubai
Shopaholics will undoubtedly have a difficult time when leaving Dubai. Few have enough time and energy to visit all shopping malls as well as traditional markets in this country. Among the thousands of them, the Dubai Mall which is located on the foot of Burj Khalifa – the world’s tallest tower and the heart of the Dubai’s high streets- is the busiest mall that everyone should mistake note of. At the height of 828m, the 124th and 125th floors of Burj Khalifa are also ideal for admire the city’s beauty.
As the largest commercial center in the world, Dubai Mall is home to more than 2000 stores, entertainment areas, aquariums, food and beverage establishments, cinemas, and a separated zone for boutiques of the most luxurious brands such as Louis Vuitton, Catier, Rolex, Prada, Givenchy, YXL, Dior, and Chanel. Outside the mall is a large square with an artificial lake where water music performances take place every 30 minutes.
Every night, the area is filled with visitors partaking in shopping activities, enjoying water music and watching light performances in Burj Khalifa tower. One of the restaurants offering the most beautiful views is Serafina at Souk Al Bahar*. Here, you can enjoy a delicious dinner while watching water music and admire the sparkling Burj Khalifa. So don’t think of going to bed early while the world outside is so attractive!
(*) Souk Al Bahar is a commercial complex of hotels and restaurants decorated in an ancient style.
+ Lifestyle: As an open Muslim country, Dubai is a perfect blend of Western and Asian characteristics. Its attraction comes from the traditional culture and modernity as well as the multi-ethnic population. Laborers are mainly immigrants from countries all around the world.
+ Safety: Dubai is known as a safe city. No need to worry here thought one should always practice good common sense and respect local laws and customs.
+ Currency: Dirham. 1USD is about 3.5 Dirham. You can exchange money at international airports. The minimum amount to exchange is 200USD. Keep your bill so that you can return the money if you don’t use all the money that you have exchanged.
+ Time: The best time to travel to Dubai is from November to April. During this period, it’s about 20-30 degrees C daytime and under 20 degrees C at night. Dubai during the summer can be shockingly hot and potentially put a damper on the visit.
+ Outfits: Bring athin scarf, jacket, hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, and skin moisturizer to protect from the sun. It’s best to prepare conservative clothing on such a visit. While modern, Dubai is still a city in the UAE. More conservative clothing can help provide protection from the sun as well. Women are advised to not wear short skirts or sleeveless tops to public areas.
+ Sightseeing: Apart from the attractions mentioned above, attractive destinations include Zabeel Royal Palace, Dubai Miracle Garden, IMG Worlds of Adventure with characters from Carton Network, Ski Dubai, Adventure water park, and the Dubai Museum.
+ Cuisine: Many visitors are often hesitant of strange foods in new countries. However, you needn’t worry about a thing in Dubai. There is every type of food for imaginable to be found here, from Asian and European dishes to Middle Eastern food and even phở (Vietnamese noodles).