I’m surprised I can really remember anything about our trip, considering I’ve been back in the office for over a fortnight and my days of cocktails, meandering around unfamiliar streets and spending money I don’t have are long behind me (for now).
Of all the places we were set to visit, Dubai was the one I had the least knowledge of in terms of what there was to see and do. I knew there were tall buildings, lots of shopping options and people with money. Essentially, I viewed it as the New York City of the Middle East.
It transpires that the ‘people with money’ part means that a large proportion of the hotels on offer are opulent as balls. Golden balls.
Case in point, the Marriott Marquis. It turns out Secret Escapes is the place to go for five-star hotels and great service. We’d unwittingly booked a corner suite, which meant we had a living room, dining table, counter-top space, bath and shower, two sinks and a distinct feeling that we needed to buy a new house. We’d taken a daytime flight, so were ready to explore almost immediately once we’d unpacked some of our shit.
We decided to make ourselves comfortable in one of the many hotel bars while we sifted through our brochure of overpriced excursions. We instantly ruled out any private tours as the prices were inexcusable and ultimately settled on a desert safari. They had me at shisha and camels.
Excursion booked, we decided to eat at the most British establishment we could find; I think we had travel fatigue by this point, that only a burger and beer could cure. Spoiled only by a group of British blokes being loud, obnoxious and talking shit about their wives back home who for some inconceivable had decided to procreate with these people.
The next morning, it was time to sample the breakfast wares. Honestly, I didn’t know where to start.
The buffet stations were many and copious. The selection? Asian, Western, Middle Eastern and loads of other bits and bobs. There was no end to the options. The main cause of our bafflement came when we discovered that establishments had to hold a licence to sell pork products (understandably in a Muslim country), so the bacon and sausage options came in the form of beef, turkey and chicken. Beef bacon is surprisingly delicious when no alternatives are available.
After breakfast we hopped on our hotel shuttle bus to the Dubai Mall; an insanely large shopping complex with mega brands, a dinosaur skeleton imported from America and its own aquarium.
As we’re not made of money, we decided to give the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo a go rather than piss away our cash on designer labels. This incredible aquarium is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. A 10-million litre tank acts as the main attraction, where passers-by can see hundreds of sea creatures including sharks, rays and God knows how many fish.
We bought tickets that got us inside and proceeded to while away our time taking too many close-up photos of fish and a selection of small mammals including a pissed off barn owl that flew at me when I tried to take a picture through the netting of its enclosure…
By the time we’d seen all there was to see in the aquarium, we’d had enough of our mall experience. Nice as it is to see one of the star attractions of the city, there’s little to experience here by way of culture, other than frittering away your cash. Something you can do in virtually any city.
Our excursion to the desert with Arabian Adventures began late afternoon, as our friendly driver Shan Gaan collected us from the hotel reception along with two other couples; an American husband and wife originally hailing from India and two Japanese tourists. One of whom couldn’t wait to get to a bathroom as we ventured down the highway towards the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve. I do question the brain power of an individual who knows they’ve got the rampant shits, yet willingly goes on a ride over the sand dunes.
We drove in convoy in a Land Rover over the dunes, as Shan hit the accelerator and sent us bouncing over the sand. There were moments where I clung on for dear life, despite knowing we were completely safe which is surely the measure of a good experience. The best part though was watching the sun set and although Shan’s insistence that we pose for photos was moderately cringe-worthy, it didn’t detract from the fact that we were in a desert watching the sun go down.
The makeshift camp where we were ultimately dropped off was far beyond what I’d expected. We opted out of the camel ride as there was a queue and neither of us had any interest in riding a camel in a circle around the ‘car park’. We did however make an immediate beeline for the shisha, kicked off our shoes and sat in the chill out area until dinner – barbecued meats with various delicious sides.
There was nothing that could really compare to our desert experience the day before, so we resigned ourselves to the fact that we’d be wandering aimlessly for our second full day in the city.
The initial plan was to explore the Gold Souk, followed by Dubai’s other famed souks including those of the perfume and spice variety. As soon as our cab stopped in Deira for our planned shopping trip though, it soon became apparent that this wasn’t going to be the authentic market experience we were seeking.
Instead of being greeted by an Arabian market, we were instead met with something akin to the Birmingham Jewellery Quarter. Storefront after storefront of ornate golden accessories and no end of hassle from their owners.
It was time to move on quickly.
Embarrassingly as we doubled back from the souks to the main road, we spotted our original cab driver who’d dropped us off 20 minutes earlier. Time to scuttle past with our faces covered.
The Dubai Museum was our next stop, where you could view mock-ups of what old Dubai once looked like and tourists blocked every walkway taking selfies with stuffed camels. Only a wander around the Old Quarter and lunch by the water with a shisha on the side could save us from tourist fatigue.
All in all our experience of Dubai, while enjoyable and fun in parts, was nothing compared to our previous destinations of Bangkok and Singapore. This is a city built for shopping, cocktails and reliving the least awful parts of the Sex and the City 2 movie. Needless to say, if you have cash to spare and a thirst for world class architecture, this is the place for you.
We opted to stay at the hotel and relax for our very last day in the Middle East. We were ready to return home, with evening drinks and a session at the buffet restaurant the ideal close to our mammoth fortnight of exploring.
Who can say where we’ll travel to next but one things for sure, it felt good to fly home and wash our underwear at long last.