Day 12: Dubai North
We woke up to a dry but cloudy day in Dubai, with panoramic views of the Persian Gulf. Dubai had been having some strange weather over the past week, with heavy rains and even some flooding. It appeared to clear up ahead of our arrival, so we were able to stay dry. We started the morning with breakfast at the hotel. As a Hilton Diamond member, I could take breakfast in the main restaurant or the executive lounge. Since we’ve been to a lot of lounge breakfasts, I wanted to see what was downstairs. Typically, the restaurant breakfast buffets have more variety but is of lesser quality and the space is more crowded. This restaurant was still pretty empty, so we got a nice window seat and checked out the spread. Initially, it looked impressive, but halfway through we realized the two major sections were duplicated and had exactly the same dishes. The dishes were mostly traditional western breakfast and some Arabic options. The quality was very average, except for the hummus which was great. We got a small plate and then decided to head up for the executive lounge.
The lounge upstairs also wasn’t very busy and had some nice seating options. The spread was limited but not that much less than the restaurant. It had some higher quality dishes like the Eggs Benedict and Smoked Salmon Bagels. The latter was definitely the highlight – the mini bagel was really soft and the salmon was delicious. I’m usually not a huge fan of bagels because of how hard they are, so this was a nice surprise. One thing to note is that while pork dishes were available, they were served at a separate section to respect the local customs. I took the opportunity to try some of the beef and chicken substitutes for these dishes. Overall, coming directly from one of the best breakfasts’ ever at the Conrad Macau made this experience feel more underwhelming than it was.
Before we headed off, I noticed that as a Diamond benefit I could get my shoes shined and my shirt pressed. Since I would be using this business casual wear later in the trip, I took the opportunity to do so. The concierge arrived immediately and I told them they could return the items in the afternoon.
Now it was time to head out and explore the city. Since the Conrad is situated in the northern part of Dubai, we would be focusing on the attractions on this side of the city. We took the metro to our first destination: Deira, also known as Old Dubai. The Dubai Metro is clean, modern, fully autonomous (one of the few outside of Vancouver), and convenient. One part that stood out was the car configuration. A typical train has 5 cars, with the first being reserved for Gold ticket holders, then the second and half of the third is reserved for women and children. We took the third car, so my mom went to the women half and I was on the men side. It was interesting to see that contrast in the third car, with the men side overcrowded while the women side fairly empty with lots of seats. Later on when my mom was on a regular train car, the men would immediately get up and offer their seats. This was pretty unexpected from what we normally perceive of the Middle East after growing up in the West. My mom definitely enjoyed this.
Coming out of the subway station, there was a string of Saffron shops with merchants encouraging visitors to enter their store. Interestingly enough, they also spoke Chinese, likely due to the influx of Chinese tourists in Dubai. While we didn’t want to buy any 赞红花, it was pretty funny to hear. Next, we arrived at the Gold Souq, a traditional market exclusively for gold jewelry.
I’ve never seen so much gold in one place before. It was kind of a mix of a jewelry store with those clothing stores in China where you can haggle. We inquired about a couple pieces but didn’t end up buying any. We weren’t too confident in our Arabic haggling skills (although they also all spoke Chinese surprisingly well). As we navigated through the silk and spice souqs, we arrived at the banks of Dubai Creek. One of the ‘authentic’ Dubai experiences is to take the wooden Abra (ferry) from one side of the creek to the other, just like people did centuries ago before all the glitz and glamour.
The ride costs just 1 Dirham (27 cents), which won’t get you anything else in Dubai. On the other side of the creek was the Dubai Museum. This was built on an old fort, which made the experience feel even more immersive.
There was a model of a large wooden ship outside the museum.
There was a courtyard inside the fort with several exhibits showing the home life of old Dubai. The roofs had these wooden apparatus on what looked like a chimney which helped with the air circulation and acted as an old fashioned A/C – critical in the Dubai heat.
The rest of the museum was underground and had a lot of cool exhibits detailing different parts of Arabic life in the past. After this interesting glimpse into Dubai's history, we went to explore Dubai's present and future. We took the metro down to Dubai Mall and the Burj Khalifa. This large complex in the North-Center area of Dubai is considered the Downtown core of the city. From the metro station, it was at least a 15 min walk through a series of elevated walkways and travelators before officially entering Dubai Mall. Along the way you can see how beautiful, modern, and massive this area is – filled with tall skyscrapers of luxury apartments, hotels, office towers, and plaza space. Of course the Burj Khalifa, the tallest structure on Earth, looms above it all.
At over 828 meters and spanning over 160 floors, this structure was mind boggling. I remember hearing about it over a decade ago thinking it was impossible. As a huge architecture nerd, I’ve wanted to visit it since it’s opening in 2010. I’ve been to a lot of observatories recently, especially over the past year across Asia, so I have been trying to cut back. I didn’t go up Taipei 101 earlier this trip and due to the timing and weather, I wasn’t too keen on going up Burj Khalifa this time. I think the building is best admired from the outside and despite some stunning architecture in the city, the view from the top is not particularly special without its crown jewel in the shot. What we did go see was the Dubai Fountain show – which has a few daytime performances before really lighting up at night. The fountain is even bigger than the Bellagio in Las Vegas, and was pretty awesome. I think it’ll look even better at night. I can imagine this place being spectacular when the Burj is also lit up for events like New Year's Eve.
We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the massive grounds of Dubai Mall, one of the largest malls in the world. With over 1200 stores from all over the world, it has just about everything you can imagine – including a Tim Hortons!
The Apple Store in Dubai Mall was quite amazing, with these massive ornate doors that can open up to a terrace viewing area of the Dubai Fountain.
Beyond the stores, there were several impressive attractions at Dubai Mall. There was this huge waterfall at one of the atriums.
There was a skating rink in another
But the best part was this gigantic acrylic viewing panel of the Dubai Aquarium, also inside the mall.
Different parts of the mall had different themes, such as this Arabic Souq design
Then there’s the high end area, covered in glass
Every atrium had something special.
With one giving us a peek at the future of Dubai and a building that will tower even above the Burj Khalifa – the Dubai Creek Tower.
While at the mall, I picked up a pair of pants from H&M because my mom had accidentally put my ‘formal’ pants in my dad’s suitcase that back to Vancouver. There was going to be a few occasions that we needed to dress up in this second half of the trip, so I needed to get another pair. After that, we headed back to the hotel and relaxed at the lounge for some afternoon tea.
My shirt was also laid on my bed after the pressing.
We spent the rest of the night relaxing at the hotel. We had dinner in the lounge, which got pretty crowded to the extent that we had to wait for a seat. The food selection was fine – similar to the more business focused lounges like the Shanghai Marriott as opposed to the bespoke service of Conrad Macau. It was also pretty dimly lit so I don’t have any pictures. In the evening, I went down to the Spa, which was excellent. It had a full suite of facilities, with different types of showers, sauna, steam room, and jacuzzis. The best part were the water beds inside the jacuzzi that you can lie on without being fully immersed in the water. The dark blue mood lighting gave it a great ambience. The was also a lounge area that with several day beds as well as some snacks and herbal tea. I read a local real estate magazine while lying on one. A great way to end my first full day in Dubai.