Like they typical girl you see in teenage movies – you know the one that wants to be the most popular girl, shows off her new designer handbag and jewelry, thinks and wants to be better than everyone else, but loses her true identity for the sake of her image, that’s exactly what Dubai is.

Built on nothing but wanting to be the best, biggest, fastest, longest, highest at the time of construction, Dubai has a self identity complex. The city is fake. It’s cool to see the architecture which is nothing short of amazing, but culturally it’s lacking. Besides seeing local men in their white robes (dishdash and keffiyeh) and women in black (abaya with a hijab), it’s hard to find culture here.

Yes, you’ll see some culture in the architecture, art, music, food but compared to walking into lets say, India where everyday life culture is thrown in your face I don’t see it in Dubai.

So what’s so good about Dubai and why do people rave about this place? First off, it’s definitely not a place for a solo traveler, I can see myself splurging a bit if I was with a significant other and took in the high life. The rest is questionable. It reeks havoc on the environment and not great in terms of human rights so really it shouldn’t be high on anyone’s wish list; maybe worth a layover (how I ended up here).  Why people rave, it’s just impressive to see.

My tour guide stated, Dubai now has 70% of its residents from other countries, mainly India, Pakistan, Vietnam, China, Philippines and only 20-30% are originally Emiratis. It’s this 70% of the population that’s working nonstop on building these skyscrapers and you see it too. The city of cranes.  I was spending a weekend in Dubai and everywhere you went – construction workers building something, on Saturday and Sunday, day and night.

So Dubai has a canal that divides Bur Dubai from Deira.  And it’s this canal that the government wants to extend and have it feed back into the sea, basically turning parts of the city into an island while making the infamous, Sheikh Zayed Road into an overpass.  Seems pointless to be honest; just keep expanding the Metro and let the workers and citizens get to where they need to go first.

Sheikh Zayed Road in the daytime
Sheikh Zayed Road in the Daytime

This city always has traffic.  Always.  In addition to traffic, there are a ton of Malls and these are luxury malls.  The 2 main ones are Dubai Mall (which is right by the Burj Khalifa) and the Mall of the Emirates.  The tour buses have stops at both.  Once you walk your way into the mall and navigating aimlessly, good luck finding your way out without your feet hurting or wasting a lot of time figuring out where you are.  One side you have an aquarium and the other you can go skiing – equipped with a ski lift and all (to see larger size, click on image)

Aquarium inside the Dubai Mall

Ski Lift at the Dubai Mall

Not sure how many people can afford anything from most of the stores here but I guess it’s intended for tourists who have money to spend.

Dubai Mall

I stayed in Deira, the old downtown area of Dubai.  When I say old, I mean no skyscrapers or anything fancy; just the old commercial area.  I was a block from the Metro which took me to where I can hop on the Big Bus, yup another mall.  I went out one night to walk the streets of Deira, see if there’s anything happening and to hunt for food.  It was lively enough, nothing crazy but people were out at restaurants or hanging at outdoor cafes at 2-3 in the morning; but that’s limited to the main street, Al Rigga.  I walked through crossing streets to see how lively other streets are and it was dead; mainly housing complexes with a few hotels spread in between.

Finally, after searching for food (and there was plenty if you were a carnivore), I decided to give the Sandwich Club a try.  Outdoor seating, about 80% of the tables full, figured it’s probably pretty good.  And that I can grab a small sandwich here.  The name itself is deceiving; an extensive menu but not 1 sandwich.  I ordered the vegetarian plate – it was edible but nothing I would rave about.

Its a sprawling city that keeps getting bigger, longer, wider, faster, etc…  They have broken up Dubai into different areas, such as Media city, Palms, etc… each section having their own skyscrapers.

I was never a fan of tour buses but really when you only have 2 days to spend in a city, the tour bus is a great way to see everything at once one day and use the second day to dig deeper into the areas you want to revisit.  With the Metro lines pretty limited, I relied on the Big Bus the second day as well.

Speaking of the Metro –

  1. Be careful and pay attention to what compartment you’re walking into. I accidentally ran into the women and children only cart – I only realized when the doors closed and I saw the sign, then looked around and saw everyone looking at me.
  2. Make sure you pay the correct amount for the zones you travel in.  If you don’t, when you exit the train and try to go on the street, the gates will not open.  Then you’ll have to pay a fine to allow you through.  They are not lenient about this, no excuse will work. I accidentally picked the incorrect exit point and was forced to pay up.

The souks ‘markets’ are pretty cool.  The bus takes you to the Gold and Spice Souks – you definitely have the haggle on the price and the vendors – they can be a bit pushy.  There are knock off goods available as well, but since those are illegal, they don’t keep them visible – talk to a vendor and tell him you’re interested in watches or purses and if he doesn’t have any, he’ll walk you to a vendor that does have some and again, prices are negotiable.

Tucked away, hidden in the depths of all the skyscrapers and the malls is where you’ll find the culture.  It’s in the old towns and preserved in Dubai museums and areas where they show what life was like at one point in time and intended for tourists, everything else is ‘Western’.

Here’s my quick review on TripAdvisor.  Glenn was an awesome guide.  That’s us on the commuter ferry from Bur Dubai to Deira.

Glenn - Big Bus Walking Tour Guide and myself
Glenn – Big Bus Walking Tour Guide and myself

The shipping vessels you see below are goods that have come in from other countries in Asia – India, China, Vietnam etc… the crew is not allowed to stay on shore because they don’t have visas – therefore they have to stay on the boat, drop off all the cargo, load any back up if any is to be taken and sail away.

Cargo ships in Dubai

Overall, I’m glad I stopped here on my way to Bali.  2 days is enough for a solo traveler and probably won’t come here again.  If it were up to me, I wouldn’t but like I said if I ever get married and she’s dying to see Dubai – then I’ll make the exception and enjoy living the high life for a day or two before realizing I need to get back home and work.  There are a lot of Hindus in Dubai, seeing as many of the migrants are from India – but there’s only 2 temples nestled in the extremely narrow alleyway in Little India.

This isn’t a city for you if you don’t have a job or are struggling to find one; it will spit you out and I met someone who was at the crossroads – got kicked out of his apt because he couldn’t afford rent after he lost his job and couldn’t find another.  Didn’t have enough to eat and roamed the streets for safe places to stay, areas where he wouldn’t be beaten by the cops until he could either find a job or save up enough to go back home.  Human rights and forced slave labor in this city and country is horrific but that doesn’t stop millions of people from visiting and it won’t.  They’ve built a beautiful mirage in the desert but really that’s all it is.

To view larger images, click on the pictures in the post above.  Here are a few other pictures from my trip.


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