United Arab Emirates
| May 16, 2002 06:31
place, shopper's paradise, cheap and easy transportation, many places
Our vacation started on March 13th and ended on March 24th 2002.
The travellers this time were as usual my love Nikki Mooki and myself
Gard Karlsen. We flew from Stavanger (Norway) via Amsterdam to Dubai
in the United Arab Emirates. We stayed at the Arif Castle Hotel
in Bur Dubai.
We always take a lot of time deciding when to go and where to go
on vacation. I first read about Dubai in a local newspaper about
4-5 years back and this was the first time I realised that it would
be a fun destination. Well, I had really never thought of it as
a travel destination before at all. The article can be found on
this link (only available in Norwegian). The article described a
town of many contrasts, a town being under a great development,
a town filled with shopping possibilities and cheap gold.
So when we found an offer on the website www.reisefeber.no we decided
to visit Dubai. The rumour is that it is best to visit Dubai in
the spring and fall. In the summer it can get VERY hot (up to 50
degrees Celsius). Going there in March was great for us because
at that time it is still pretty cold in Norway.
As I have already mentioned, our trip started on March 13th. We
flew Braathens/KLM from Stavanger (Norway) via Amsterdam to Dubai.
The 5000 km trip from Amsterdam to Dubai takes about 6 ½
hours. Before we left we bought a travel guide in order to have
some sort of idea what to expect. We bought the Dubai Explorer from
www.amazon.co.uk but I’m not sure it that was such a good
idea. When we got to Dubai we found out that there was a newer version
of the book available and we could have bought it there for the
same price. The book itself is OK but it seems to be laid out for
people that are moving to Dubai. So it is not your traditional travel
We arrived at the airport in Dubai at about midnight. The airport
itself is modern and new and the only thing that revealed that we
were in an Arabic country was the clothing of the personnel working
there. Most of the females had vales covering their hair and quite
a lot of men were walking around with the traditional long white
robe with a matching white (or red/white) headpiece.
I had not applied for a visa before going there and that was not
a problem at all. Nikki on the other hand had gone through some
trouble to apply for a visa and she even had to pay a few hundred
Norwegian kroner for that. But according to the person that checked
us in at Sola airport here in Stavanger that wouldn’t have
The airport itself was buzzing with life even if it was late and
once we got out of the doors of the airport we were met by lots
of people with posters for the different hotels and they were all
trying to find the people that they were meant to pick up. We had
not arranged for a pick up but we found a guy with the Arif Castle
hotel on a poster and we asked him if we could catch a ride back
to the hotel. And that was not a problem at all. When we got to
the hotel they had all our details from our booking at reisefeber.no
and soon we could jump into bed.
The Arif Castle hotel
Arif Castle is a 3 star hotel located in Bur Dubai. There is
a description of the hotel on the following page but I’m not
sure if I agree with all the stuff that is said about the hotel.
The staff was polite and helpful, the breakfast was good and the
location was OK. We don’t really require much from a hotel
during a vacation because most days we are only back at the hotel
to sleep at night. According to the website there is a gym at the
hotel and it looks pretty big in the picture. But don’t be
fooled: it is a tiny gym and it only looks big because there are
lots of mirrors on the walls. There is also a nightclub in the hotel
but we didn’t hear much from that since we were lucky enough
to have a room on the 7th floor.
Nikki was not very amused when she saw a couple of cockroaches in
the hotel by the way - never a pleasant experience to see these
The hotel was located in a street filled with computer stores by
the way and it didn’t take long before we found an internet
café. The prices were very reasonable – only 5 Dhs
for half an hour.
We were a bit surprised when getting a ride from the airport to
the hotel. The town seems pretty “small” and the ride
only took like 10-15 minutes. But that was only because there was
no traffic on the streets of course. We woke up the first morning
to a bit of traffic noise from the street outside the hotel. In
the breakfast buffet I found egg, sausages and I was thinking that
it would be great with bacon. But there were no bacon of course
since pork products are not very often eaten in this part of the
world. This was only the first of many incidents to remind us that
we were in an Islamic country.
Equipped with good walking shoes and a pretty bad map from The Dubai
Explorer, we started the first day by walking in Bur Dubai. I think
it is great just to walk around in a new country and look at the
people, the buildings and the way of life.
But it was not that easy to get a lot of information about the way
of life because we don’t know anyone in Dubai. On some of
my other journey’s I have been lucky enough to know locals
that could give me information about the local way of life, what
one can eat of local dishes, how different events are celebrated
and so on. In Dubai it was hard to get in touch with people to get
that information. First of all: not everyone spoke great English
and that limits the conversation. Second: I am a bit intimidated
when I see women with their faces more or less totally covered.
I was not sure if I was even allowed to talk to them. So most of
the people that we did speak to were only “guests” working
in Dubai. Some of them did not speak very highly of the local people.
As I understand it the locals are favoritized when it comes to health
care, education and so on.
One of the first things that we found on our walk this first day
was the Dubai Museum. The museum is located inside an old fort and
gives information about Dubai history/development and much more.
The museum is not very big but it is worth a visit. It only costs
5 Dhs to enter.
You are never really far from a mosque when walking around in Dubai
and it is quite fascinating when the “singing” starts
being broadcasted from every minaret. According to our guide on
the desert trip they all say the same words but it sounded very
different depending on which mosque it came from. According to our
guide it is better to pray in a mosque but the praying can basically
done wherever you are and there are certain time frames for the
different prayers. The first has to be carried out before 5.30 am
before the sun rises.
We soon found out that the rhythm of life is quite different in
this part of the world compared to what we are used to in Norway.
Around here we work from 8 am to 4 pm and then you go home. In Dubai
the workday has been adapted to the weather amongst other things.
Many places were open in the morning and then they closed for about
4 hours in the middle of the day and then they reopened in the afternoon
and stayed open quite long. In the period when places were closed
we could see people relaxing in the shadow of a trees or on shaded
All the local shops seemed to be open when we came home from walking
around in the city all day. We shopped at a local grocery store
for the essentials like water and my daily fix of Coca Cola J.
I noticed that some Arab men use an unusual way of greeting - i
think that the greeting is referred to as a “nose kiss”.
Around here men don’t really have that much physical contact
apart from the occasional hugging so it was strange to see this
form of greeting. There were other things that surprised me too.
We saw several men hand in hand and that is something that you don’t
see around here J.
When I read the newspaper article that first made me interested
in Dubai, it said something about Dubai being a town full of contrasts.
And yes, it is quite a contrast to see a man in his traditional
white outfit getting into a Ferrari. Or walking next to a woman
all dressed in black and where you can’t even see her face
and then all of a sudden the cell phone rings and she pulls up a
Smokers seem to have found their place in Dubai. In Norway there
are lots of rules on where you can smoke and not and most people
follow these rules. As a non-smoker I don’t really think much
about it because most places where I go I don’t have to deal
with it. But it was a bit different in Dubai. First of all smoking
was allowed in public places like the mall. In some areas there
were signs saying something like “We thank you for not smoking”.
But these signs just seemed like requests not actual rules that
had to be followed. One day at a mall I was in the toilet washing
my hands. And in the mirror I could see cigarett smoke coming up
from one of the cubicals. And when his cell phone rang at the same
time the situation got even funnier J.
Talking about toilets: most of the time we found standard toilets
but there were also some squatting toilets around. The toilets in
the malls were pretty clean but on various other locations the situation
was often a lot different. Most of the times we found that the toilet
floors were very wet. One of the question that remains unanswered
after visiting a toilet is: “what do you use the hose located
next to the toilet for?”
Standing in a line can be a challenge in Dubai. Most of the time
when we got in line (e.g. to get a on the bus) we always seemed
to end up getting last.
I said earlier on that life was adapted to the weather. Most of
the time during our stay we had pretty good weather with blue skies
and warm weather (like 30 degrees Celsius). On one day the weather
forecast said chance of rain towards the evening. Evening came and
it started dripping a little bit and all of a sudden in became very
windy and there were thunder and lightning and it started raining
a LOT. We were out walking at this time and there was not much we
could do apart getting cover and wait for it to pass. The sun is
pretty strong at this latitude at least for me with a pale skin
after a long winter. So sunscreen was needed to avoid getting burned.
Dubai has a lot of Indian guest workers so this is a great place
if you like Indian food. We tried out a place called Kwality Restaurant
and we can really recommend it. It is located near the Arif Castle
hotel in Bur Dubai by the way and the food was great and the service
excellent. Apart from this we ate shwarmas of course. Shwarmas are
more or less what we call Kebab here at home. A piece of chicken
or lamb meat is fried and it is served in pita bread with some vegetables.
We also went to an Italian restaurant called La Moda on the Inter-continental
hotel and they served some pretty good risotto. Apart from this
you will find food courts in the shopping malls serving all the
stuff that you can get anywhere in the world: KFC, Burger King,
McDonald but there are also places that sell more local food.
When we first got to Dubai we walked quite a lot because the town
itself is not all that big. Remember that there is a pedestrian
tunnel under the river that goes from the Gold Souk bus station
to the area around heritage village.
We also discovered that taxi is quite cheap compared to what I’m
used to here in Norway. In our guide it said that we had to make
sure that we got into a meter taxi and that taxi drivers don’t
always know how to get to certain locations. But we never had any
problems with that. All the taxis had meters that started on 3 Dhs
and they always got us to our destinations. The taxi drivers do
drive pretty aggressively but that seems to be the style in general
After a couple of days we also discovered that the bus could take
us to most places and it was very cheap. One-way tickets were 1,00/1,50
Dhs (0,3/0,45 €). The main bus-stations that we used were Al
Ghubaiba (Bur Dubai) and Gold Souk bus station on the Deira side.
Get a bus route and figure it out. It must be mentioned that the
bus drivers also seem to have the same aggressive driving style
that the other drivers have and the bus trips were not always comfortable.
But hang on and you’ll be fine. There is also an area in the
front of the bus that is reserved for women.
Remember that the traffic can be pretty bad at times and it will
often take quite a while to get to the destinations. Sometimes it
was in fact a lot faster to walk compared to sitting and waiting
on the bus.
We also tried out the Abra of course. These are small boats that
cross the river from Bur Dubai to the Deira side, and back, and
it only costs 0,5 Dhs one-way. It only takes a few minutes to cross
the river. We were also offered to rent a boat for half an hour
or more to take trips up and down the river but we didn’t
do this. But it is not like you have to go to them to get this offer.
Even when we were walking along the river we were “yelled”
at from boats that were sailing past J.
Things to see and things to do
The Gold Souk
I was pretty amazed when I walked through the Gold Souk. There are
so many shops selling gold and the rings, necklaces and bracelets
shine from the reflection of the light in the display windows. There
are of course no prices on the different items so you have to ask
to get a price estimate. The price is based on the weight of the
item and also the complexity of the work. And the price is just
a starting point because if you bargain the price will go down.
The prices seem to be pretty good at least compared to what I’m
used to here. And most of the items in Dubai are in 18 carat gold
that means that it is better quality than in Norway (where most
items are in 14 carat gold). The shop Hemendra Jewellers where we
bought some of our gold had friendly salesmen but this was not the
case for all the shops. Some of the shops we were in were not really
interested in our demands they just wanted to sell something to
us. I had a picture of a necklace that I was buying for a friend
of some of the shops presented totally different necklaces and said
There seems to be many nice beaches along the coast and we went
to one of the nearest beaches called the Jumeira Beach Corniche.
The beach was really nice and the water was clear. Quite amazing
considering that the dry docks of Dubai are not that far away. The
water was not as warm as I had expected but I guess we have to take
into consideration that it is spring. I would guess that the water
temperature was a bit above 20 degrees. If you want to go further
out of town it is possible to visit the Jumeira beach park. But
remember that they have “Women only” days in this park
so check before you go. And if you go even further you will reach
the area where Jumeirah Beach hotel and Burj Al Arab is located.
Burj Al Arab (The Arabian Tower)
This hotel was the first (and only?) seven star hotel in the world
and I have to admit that it an amazing building. They also say that
it is the tallest hotel in the world with its 321 meters. Built
on an artificial island you can access the hotel by a bridge out
to the hotel (or by landing with a helicopter on top of the hotel
of course J). It is possible to get a short tour of the hotel and
you have to “pay” 100 Dhs (about 30€) for this.
I put pay in quotation marks because you get a voucher that you
can use inside the hotel. We went up to the hotel bar on the 27th
floor where we enjoyed some expensive drinks (45/55 Dhs) while looking
over Dubai. Note that everything that is golden in the hotel is
actually covered with real gold. According to a Norwegian TV program
the hotel has to be fully booked for 400 years just to break even!
Wild Wadi water park
This water park is located next to Burj Al Arab and the Jumeirah
Beach hotel. It has some pretty good rides, a wave pool and artificial
surf waves. We had a pretty good time in this park for a whole day.
It costs 95 Dhs (about 28€) to get in and lockers cost another
5 Dhs. They have an excellent system when it comes to lockers and
buying food inside the park but I will not get into details. I thought
it was a pretty fun park and the best thing: there were not that
many people in the park and this meant that we didn’t have
to wait much to get onto the different rides. They also have the
cleanest locker rooms that I have ever seen in a park like this
There are many tour operators that offer trips out to the desert.
We hooked up with a company called Lama Tours and we were picked
up from the hotel one day to go on a trip. The car that we drove
in was a Toyota Landcruiser (these cars seems to be very popular
for this purpose) and we were 7 in the car including the driver.
First we drove out of Dubai to find some big sand dunes. The driver
then reduced the air pressure in the tires and we drove of. It was
a fun ride but very, very bumpy. In fact we saw a person in another
car that got really sick and that had to throw up after a while.
We stopped in between and we saw another tour group trying out sand
skiing. It is quite amazing to look towards the horizon and see
sand dune after sand dune. In this landscape that I’m not
used to I find it really difficult to tell the distance to or height
of the next sand dune. Let’s just hope that I never get lost
in the desert.
When the sun set we stopped to look at that and we later drove to
a camp. There was quite a lot of activities there and the good spirits
got even higher when people discovered that they sold alcohol there.
First of all we were allowed to go for a short camel ride. In the
camp itself it was possible to get a henna tattoo, dress up in traditional
outfits, smoke a shisha pipe and watch some belly dancing (and even
participate). In the end we got a meal from the barbeque.
Heritage and Diving village
This place is located at the mouth of the river on the Bur Dubai
side. We walked past this place several times because it was on
our way over to the pedestrian tunnel. During the day the place
seems totally empty but at night it was filled with people. There
were shows with traditional dances and some days people were making
traditional food that could be bought. And there were guests from
other Arab countries showing their Bedouin culture as well. It seemed
to be a place where lots of locals went because we didn’t
really see that many tourists there.
This place also has a “submarine” called the Seascope
that you can go out with to check out the marine life. It costs
about 50 Dhs pr. person for a 45-minute trip. The day when we went
it was a bit windy and I think that this stirred up the water because
the visibility was not great.
Various sports activities
We enjoy playing minigolf when we travel and also in Dubai we managed
to find a course. It was not great but it was enough for us. It
had a clever layout. A normal putting practice golf course had been
laid out as a circle and outside of the minigolf course. The course
can be found at the Hyatt hotel (not to far from the Gold Souk).
At the same hotel they also have a small ice rink if you want to
test your skating skills. We saw a few people that appeared to be
on ice for the first time J.
I enjoy playing squash here in Norway. When I got to Dubai I came
across a great offer when it comes to a Wilson racquet that I bought.
This also allowed me to play a little bit in Dubai. The Hyatt hotel
has two courts that hotel guests have access to. But for 50 Dhs
it is possible to use the squash courts together with tennis, gym,
sauna/spa and so on. The squash courts had concrete walls by the
way and I’m not really a big fan of that.
I think this is a place that is only open during the Dubai Shopping
Festival. A lot of different countries (mainly from the Middle East
and Asia) have been given one tent each where products from the
country can be sold. In addition to this there are food “court”
where one can buy food from different countries. In a newspaper
I saw that the number of visitors was quite high. I did not really
think that it was such a great display because many of the different
countries sold exactly the same stuff. Special buses were available
to get out to the Global Village but it took quite some time especially
during rush hour. We tried to go out there on a Friday night from
the Al Ghubaiba and the lines got pretty long and people almost
started fighting to get onto the bus. When we finally got out there
one day and we found that it was a women’s only day so check
this before you go.
If you like to cook Indian food then you can find more or less all
that you need here. I enjoyed walking in and out of the shops looking
at all the stuff they had. We also bought some saffron of course
but we only bought a little because I don’t know much about
it and the prices varied a lot. They sold both Iranian and Spanish
saffron and the Iranian was a lot more expensive because it was
claimed that this was much better. And it certainly did smell a
lot more potent than the Spanish saffron. But they also have lots
of other spices of course. The people selling the stuff are a lot
more “aggressive” when it comes to closing the deal
compared to what I’m used to. And you have to bargain of course.
When I first read about Dubai it said that the city was a like a
Hong Kong of the Middle East. And yes, we did find out that they
have quite a lot of malls and you can find really good buys. I found
a Wilson 120g squash racket for 280 Dhs (about 90€) at Lamcy
plaza and this is normally like 175€ here in Norway. In almost
all of the malls the prices was reduced because of the Dubai Shopping
festival. We went to Lamcy plaza, Wafi mall, Bur Juman Center, Deira
City Center. I think that the Deira City Center probably was the
best one in terms of selection. Some of the places are more “up
market” than others. One can normally tell this on the number
of brand stores inside of the shopping mall and the number of nice
cars on the parking lot outside the mall. Outside Wafi we came across
a BMW Z8, BMW 840 and a Hummer. Now that is a car that is not seen
If you just want to relax and watch the world go by, then I can
recommend Creekside Park. There is actually a 5 Dhs entrance fee
to get into the park itself. The park is well kept, lots of benches
and green grass and there are also places where you can barbecue.
If you want some exercise it is possible to rent bikes inside the
park and you can get bikes that are made for two or 4 people.
Nikki and I enjoy going to the movies and if we don’t have
any plans one evening it is always nice to go to the movies. There
are quite a lot of cinema houses in Dubai but some run movies that
are only in Hindi. We went to the movies at the CineStar at the
Deira City Center and the quality of this cinema was good. They
had big screens and good sound.
Going back home
On the 24th of March we were all packed and ready to leave in the
morning. The hotel staff had arranged for transportation to the
airport for us. The airport is new and modern and the chack in was
pretty efficient. We did walk around the shopping area of the airport
and it seems like you can make good buys here as well. The prices
on some items were more or less identical to prices that we had
seen in town.
On our last night we were crossing the river on an Abra. I sat there
and looked at stars and moon above, the lights of the modern buildings
and the old boat that I was sitting on. Travelling to Dubai was
a dream come true for me and we had a great time there. The city
is not very big and it still can’t offer all the sights European
cities like London and Paris can offer so maybe it is not necessary
to spend as many as 10 days here. But it can certainly offer an
environment that is quite different than what most Europeans are
used to. It is not the place if you want to party hard. But if you
want to combine a city trip with a beach trip and you would like
it to be in a setting that you are not completely used to then this
is a destination that is recommended.
Web sites for information