Airport Rating *****
Reception of locals ***
You can read my new updated 2022 article on Dubai here.
After spending a summer in Thailand, and some time in Singapore, I was exhausted by the time I reached Dubai, and that may have had an impact on my enjoyment of the city, but nevertheless, I tried to see as much as I could in the few days that I spent there.
I have always been fascinated by large, imposing architecture and I followed the development of the Burj Khalifa complex closely. It was one of the special sights on my 'to-do list' and I had been looking forward to seeing it for a number of years. I didn't realise just how early into my journey I actually would see it. As the plane taxied on the runaway, in the distance I could see the Burj Khalifa, towering on the horizon. I was astounded that I could see it from such a distance and you cant be anything but amazed by its sheer size.
I got a reasonably priced taxi to my hotel which was close to the Gold Souk market, just outside the main city. I'd managed to get a last minute deal online, giving me a 5* hotel for less than GBP 80 per night, I figured, after a summer of hostels, huts and local houses, a few nights in a nice hotel at a good price would be a welcome change. Booking sites usually have offers on different hotels on different days of the week, I would always recommend checking these offers as I've managed to get some nice hotels on a number of occasions for the fraction of their 'true' price.
I decided to venture into the city on the first day and head toward the Burj Khalifa. I left the hotel at about 2pm. As I was leaving the receptionist asked where I was going so I told him I'd be walking to the subway station and heading into the city. He recommended that I wait a few hours until it cools and I told him not to worry. "Okay Sir, but dont say I didnt warn you" he replied with a smile on his face. I didnt think too much about it. I stepped outside and almost instantly felt a burning, searing dry heat on my head. I thought after a summer in Thailand I'd be used to the heat, but this was different, this was an angry, raging, dry heat. I thought about heading back, but then the pride kicked in, there was no way I was walking past the same receptionist only minutes later.
I'll never forget that walk to the subway station.. I knew I had done something stupid when the streets were deserted; locals and tourists were all indoors. I walked through the streets, zig -zagging into any shade I could find. After about 30 minutes that felt like 2 hours, I finally found the subway stop and ran indoors into the air conditioned building. It felt like a journey to Mordor, but I was finally there.
The subway system stretches across the spine of the city, and buying tickets is relatively simple. I headed toward the financial district for about 30 minutes where I got off and took a short walk to the Burj Khalifa.
There is no escaping the size of the Burj Khalifa, it is comfortably larger than other skyscraper's I have visited. I took a walk around Burj Khalifa complex. At this point, as it was the middle of the afternoon, the tower was almost completely deserted, there I was, sweating like never before, desperately looking for isolated pockets of cover around the tower.
It's a shame however, that there are no comparable buildings surrounding it to give an idea of context and therefore, as impressive as the height is, its fairly difficult to really appreciate it close up. From the airport, where there was a bit of context with the surrounding skyline it seemed more impressive. The tower is also quite slender, which I didnt expect. I walked around to appreciate the views from different angles. You can climb the tower and see views from the top, but (a) I was broke after a long summer, and (b) I figured I came to see the Burj Khalifa, if I climbed it what would I be looking at? Sand?
Dubai at night
The sun was beginning to set, so I decided to get back onto the metro and take a short hop down the line to view the Burj Al-Arab, another uniquely designed building in Dubai. The building houses a '7 star' hotel. Taxi's were quite expensive, so I decided to walk from the metro station, which was significantly longer than I expected. On my walk I walked through more traditional, quieter, dustier side streets, but this is a city so strict on crime that I never felt uncomfortable or unsafe.
Its difficult to get too close to the hotel unless you are staying there, but there is no denying that the building is quite impressive, perched right next to the sea. I spent about 30-45 minutes walking around the surrounding area to gain different views and before I knew it the sun had set and I headed back to the hotel.
I spent the next day indoors during the day, visiting the giant Dubai Mall. I'm not a huge fan of shopping at the best of times, but it was given to me as a recommendation as a place I should visit, if I could do it again, I probably would have visited the palm islands instead. Dont get me wrong, the mall is impressively large, but at the end of the day, that's all it is, a large shopping mall. Perhaps this is the kind of place you visit with a lot of cash in your pocket, but it was nice to stay out of the heat for a while. As soon as the sun started to set I headed back to the Burj Khalifa to see the famous fountain show.
If there was one thing about Dubai that I found particularly memorable was the fountain show. I reached the Burj Khalifa about 10 minutes before the fountain show was due to begin and managed to get myself a good vantage place. I'd suggest getting there a few minutes early as the complex does get quite busy as the show begins.
It's weird to explain, 'Thriller' by Michael Jackson began playing as the fountains started 'dancing'. It all felt a little cheesy, a little tacky at first. It then quickly became quite breathtaking as the fountains shot up tens of metres into the air, much higher than I expected. This felt like a perfect microcosm of Dubai - a little tacky, but the scale of it is genuinely jaw-dropping. I was completely caught up in the show and it was a little bit of a shame when it all came to an end.
I then spent the next 3/4 hours walking around the downtown area, looking at the different architectural patterns of the city from the older Dubai Museum to newer shopping malls and Marina area.
My final day was spent pursuing a sight that I had a particular interest in. There was a lot of hype surrounding the building of Dubai's first Gurdwara (Sikh Temple). The finished article looked pretty majestic on the pictures I had seen online. I jumped onto the metro service and rode it the full length (over an hour) to the very end of the line. I jumped out and realised the Gurdwara was still a fair distance away so decided to take a cab. The driver wasn't completely sure where it was but decided to have a go at finding it once I gave him the names of the general area it would be located in - this really was in the middle of nowhere.
Singh's in Dubai
I reached the Gurdwara and it was completely surrounded by a sandy wasteland, but out of the endless desert, was this beautifully unique building. Neither built in the intricate style of Indian Gurdwara's or the imposing style of British and Canadian Gurdwara's this was built to a completely different style, which was a refreshing change.
Not particularly large, I walked around the premises and there were little details that were nice additions, such as a small fountain. On entering there was first a sign thanking the ruler of Dubai for allowing a Gurdwara to be built. I have mixed feelings about this. I think its great that the Emir of Dubai allowed the building for Dubai's large Sikh population, but in this day and age, freedom of belief should be a universal right and not a privilege to be granted at the mercy of a ruler.
Downstairs wasn't anything special and as I climbed upstairs I felt the dread of an anti-climax. Other than the unique structure of the outside, so far, it was similar to smaller Gurdwara's in England...and then I saw the Darbar Sahib (main hall).
I spent a good couple of minutes just staring at it. The room was beautifully designed to ensure strong acoustics as singing is a central part of Sikh meditation. The room was large, not too dissimilar to the Darbar Sahib in Southall. I sat in the hall for at about an hour, listening to Naam Simran (meditative music) and taking in my surroundings. I then spent a few minutes chatting to a local volunteer who told me that they have an annual interfaith langar (free food) with some political figures and local dignitaries. I left the Gurdwara, satisfied and happy to have made the trip. It did take me a good 20 minutes before a taxi arrived with the next group of individuals that I was able to jump into back to the subway stop.
I then decided to spend an evening at the local Gold Souk. not far from my hotel. This showed me another side of Dubai. Gone was the glitz and glamour of the city centre, and here were older, narrower passageways filled with stalls selling clothes and jewellery. The type of people here didnt seem as friendly, although I didn't come across any overt trouble. Everywhere I looked there was the glint of gold shining everywhere but after an hour of navigating through the narrow passageways I decided to head back to the hotel and hit the gym before my flight.
Dubai is a city that is hard to judge. For a solo traveller, I'm not sure I would recommend it, however, for a family holiday, a couples holiday or for those with more money there are definitely a lot of activities to do. The Burj Khalida and Burj Al-Arab are impressive structures, and the Gurdwara, although a little out the way is well worth the visit. I would definitely sound a word of warning about the weather, in the hotter months, I would avoid open spaces between mid-day and late afternoon, as I found out the hard way, the sun is unforgiving. I managed to avoid sunburn during my summer in Thailand, but I came back red raw from a few days in Dubai.
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British Sikh, born in the Midlands, based in London, travelling the world seeing new cultures.