Why did we choose the UAE?
‘Dubai’ is always mentioned as a layover point (a bit like Singapore!) and a sort of hub for a flight stop between Asia and Europe. But to us the appeal of a desert skyline, a modernness so far advanced, and the allure of the Arab culture we knew little about all sounded like it couldn’t be much more different from little old New Zealand. We wanted to check it out for ourselves and see if we could get a bigger glimpse of the culture of this modern Middle Eastern country, so we decided to stay in Dubai, but with the goal of visiting two of the other Emirates while we were there.
What we loved…
Arriving in the Middle East felt like a fresh start to a whole new travel leg of our adventure. Dubai is a beautiful city to fly into; over desert, sea, and sky rises .
We were intrigued by the mixture of cultures that have made Dubai home, and likelwise people were really friendly and curious to introduce themselves and find out where we were from.
Walking around Dubai was memorable itself. It wasn’t like Asia where sometimes the requests for selfies got too much for the kids, but such a different feeling seeing the boys shaking hands with locals who applauded their efforts to be dressed in kandura, and an uplifting feeling of mutual respect for the effort the boys had gone to and how much they were enjoying the robes and ghutrah!
We loved the vibe just walking around Old Dubai and along the riverfront, and enjoyed our first ‘souk’ (marketplace) in this part of the world. Interestingly, it is the oldest residential quarter in Dubai, though is comparatively young by Middle Eastern standards, only dating back at far as the 19th century.
The vendors definitely aren’t shy in the souk, but once we found our feet it turned out to be an awesome experience; we fast lost count how many high-fives and hand-shakes the boys received!
We hired a car and drove to Abu Dhabi. It was a bit of a last minute decision as we were going to get a bus from Dubai to the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi (in lieu of the price for a taxi of about $80USD one way!). It turned out to be a good little road trip, and it was amazing to see the enormous highways and spaghetti-like junctions that just rise right out of the desert!
The Grand Mosque was beautiful, and of course – enormous and grand in scale! But phew – it was HOT! [Obviously it’s hot every day in the desert in summer, but seriously!].
We didn’t linger too long at the mosque, as it was fairly busy and felt very touristy (possibly compared to where we have just come from!), but it was definitely worth a visit… AND we now have some very precious photos of us all looking lovely and sweaty, though perhaps not thoroughly impressed… We knew I would have to put on an abaya, but Gavin had to put on a long sleeve SWEATER!
We took the ferry to Sharjah as a different kind of outing, and a chance to check out one of the other Emirates [the only two we knew much about was Dubai and Abu Dhabi]. It was a great day out! The ferry only takes 40 minutes to Sharjah, and is a nice journey along the river from Old Dubai.
It was VERY hot by the time we arrived, and we were excited to see people swimming at the beach and went straight to check it out.
We were all assuming the beach swim would be the perfect way to cool off, but the boys came out pinker than they went in – the shoreline is quite literally like a tepid bath!!
Temperature aside, a boat trip and a chance to see more of the Emirates was a great day out and I would recommend it as a fun way to explore a bit more of the UAE. Tickets cost 15AED ($6.30NZD) one way, and children under 5 are free.
We walked, taxi’ed, trained, metro’d and drove in the UAE. It is a well set up to navigate, and we found people to be very friendly and helpful as we found our bearings with train timetables and directions.
Where to stay
- Dubai: Gateway Hotel
We really enjoyed our stay here and would recommend Gateway Hotel to anyone. The hotel pool alone was a very welcomed sight to counter the 40°C heat and the lack of swimming we had felt slightly deprived of after two months in Central Asia, and the breakfast buffet was enormous! Staff were lovely and went right out of their way to look after us and make sure we were able to do everything we wanted to in Dubai.
We hadn’t realised how good the location of the hotel was and went to ask how to get to Old Dubai only to be told we were already IN Old Dubai!
One thing that challenged us
The heat in UAE was massive for us. We had spent the last couple of months in the dry heat of Central Asia and it felt like a humid heat wave to be back by the ocean again. This wasn’t a huge problem as the hotel, rooms, malls, and shops are well air-conditioned but it did see us making a few hurried decisions about where to eat and we wound up in touristy-restaurants that lacked soul (in a rush to get the kids and ourselves out of the heat). With a bit more patience on our last days we found a few smaller restaurants that were more what we were looking for, but do confess we rushed into finding a few where we were disappointed with the food and service, just because we felt so desperately hot!
If we went again we would…
Stay in the same place in Dubai, but hire the car for a few days and do some more road tripping around the whole country.
It felt like a whole new world to explore!