While planning our flight from Istanbul to Amsterdam, I was faced with a choice. The first option was to have a 4-hour layover in the Sharjah airport near Dubai. Four hours is hardly enough time to get through security and explore, so that meant we’d just sleep or eat in a very small airport. The other option was for a 12-hour layover, arriving around 7:30 a.m. Not knowing when we’d get to the Middle East again, we decided to plan a whirlwind stopover in Dubai.
Our first stop was at Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. Maybe you remember it from the last “Mission Impossible” movie. Although pricey, the building didn’t disappoint. (Order your tickets online in advance. TRUST ME on this one; it’s quite the savings.) Unlike some other
tourist attractions tall architectural icons, there is no restaurant or bar close to the viewing tower. So you will need to pay the fee and take the elevator all the way up to floor 124. At 828 meters tall, it easily surpasses other world towers such as the CN Tower (553.3 meters) and the Sears Tower (442 meters).
The trip to the top was extra interesting because I rented the iPod audio tour and learned all sorts of facts, which I dutifully wrote down to share on my blog and have since misplaced. It was interesting stuff about how many people live there, where the highest swimming pool is, etc.
After coming down from our high, we visited the mall. I know what you’re thinking. We have 12 hours in Dubai and we spend time in a mall? But hear me out: First of all, the entrance to the Burj Khalifa is in a mall! And second, Dubai is all about decadence. Many people with more money than us fly to Dubai for the sole purpose of visiting the malls. So, for our trip through the mall, I wavered between thinking, “we need to get out of here and to more sights” and “oh my gosh there’s a multiple story aquarium full of sharks — in a mall!” Yes, this mall had designer stores and a fancy food court, but it also had “mall taxis,” which were golf carts made to look like fancy cars to drive people around. It had sections for the “souks” or old-style market that looked like I’d stumbled into a historic church. It had multiple story gaming centers that would put Dave & Busters to shame. To sum it up, it was pretty fancy.
After tearing ourselves away from the mall, we decided to head to the markets. There are souks for gold, spices, fabric and regular goods. We learned quickly that the marketers are very pushy in Dubai. In most parts of Asia we’d traveled, we could escape unwanted attention pretty easily. In Dubai, people would actually grab my arm to get my attention, which immediately turned me off from purchasing anything from them. Men also stood on the corners advertising designer handbags and watches. They hold little cards to show you the brands and want to take you somewhere private to show you the goods. I politely declined and never went down that road. I was surprised since most other places I’ve been have the counterfeit products right out in the open.
One thing that immediately struck Matt was the lack of character of Dubai. Dubai is so new. While flying in, it was like this huge, opulant city has sprung up from the sands out of nowhere. It has many things to keep you busy and lapping up the luxury, but it doesn’t feel like a lot of history there.