Technically, it’s been 6 years and 9 months (as of the time of this writing) since I last went to Dubai in December 2016. Which is significant in the sense that a) I went to Dubai in December so the weather was cooler than it was when I went this time and b) it felt more Christmasy last time I went, so the mood of the place was different.
A lot of the things I did do this time was similar to what I did last time, except less fancy restaurants, and more time in souks and the malls and stuff. If you want to read my previous blog about Dubai, you can read my post, Dubai is not a Walking City, but a Dining City to read about the things I did last time. I also highly recommend doing a day trip tour to visit Abu Dhabi, which is a little over an hour to get there from Dubai. You can read my post, Forget Dubai, Visit Abu Dhabi! (Day Trip) for my recent experience over there, and after seeing the photos I promise you that it will make you want to go there. For places to eat that we went this time, check out Where to eat in Dubai 2023
The reason why we stopped by Dubai again was because we were taking a flight with Emirates to go to Vienna, so we decided to check out Dubai. I think 7 years is a good time to check it out again, since people have been saying a lot of real estate have tripled in price, a lot of crypto influencers and founders are currently based there, and a lot of expats love to go there as well, since there is 0% tax there.
That being said, after my second time in Dubai, I have to admit while I can see myself going there time to time for a visit, it definitely won’t be a place I will come again as a tourist, and I’ll explain why later.
Getting There (Flight)
You’re probably going to be landing at the Dubai International Airport, especially if you’re travelling outside of the Middle East.
While 3 out of the 4 flights I took were Emirates, there was one flight, from Prague to Dubai, which was by flydubai (but operated by Emirates). It was such a bad flight experience. flydubai is a budget airline where you have to pre-book your meal beforehand, otherwise anything you buy on the flight such as coca cola or peanuts or cup noodles will require payment. The bathroom floors were wet, the service was mediocre, and worst of all!! The flight had no aircon for most of the trip. It was as if they wanted us to experience the Dubai desert even before getting to Dubai! It was super hot, I was sweating, and it was very suffocating and difficult to breathe. I am not sure whether they had some problems with the aircon or were trying to cut cost, but it was unbearable. Usually, most flights I’ve taken were too cold, but this one was the opposite. When they sent me the survey to complete about the flight experience, the link told me that the e-mail I clicked it from was invalid, so I couldn’t fill the survey to tell them how bad the experience was!
Getting Around (Public Transportation)
Unless your hotel and the place you’re going is near the metro, I recommend taking the taxi instead to most places, especially if you’re travelling. That’s because places like Gold Souk, Dubai Mall, are all far away from the metro station, and walking around under the 40 degrees withering heat is really something you don’t want to do while getting around; it’ll tire you out. Dubai taxis aren’t cheap nor expensive, but compared overall with the value with the metro in terms of money and time, you’re better off with a taxi. This is even more true if you are travelling with 3 or more people.
We met a young taxi driver that picked us up from Gold Souk, recommended by the passengers that just came out of the taxi lol. This was a young guy who came from Bangladesh, originally studied physical science then computer but dropped out of college in Malaysia since he couldn’t afford, and eventually settled in Dubai to become a taxi driver. He told us however he met this German man who’s willing to hire him for coding or something once he is able to speak fluently in German, so he is learning German by himself right now. He doesn’t see any future prospects with Dubai because it is almost impossible to get citizenship in UAE, even for the children that are born here. He also likes to talk about a variety of topics, such as the politics in Hong Kong, what it’s like to live in Dubai compared with Bangladesh and Malaysia etc.
Where We Stayed
Millennium Place Dubai Marina (website)
A four star hotel located near the JBR beach, MPDM was a very good hotel in terms of service, facilities, room size and cleanliness. What I liked most about the place was probably the size of the room and that it was clean and tidy and all the furniture there was adequate. They had a pretty small gym – and at night there would be a staff just standing there which I felt was unnecessary and creepy, especially given how small the space was. The service was good, and when we went we tried to get an early check-in since we arrived at the hotel about 7-8am, but unfortunately the place was so full that they weren’t able to accommodate our request.
While I don’t regret booking the hotel, and it lived up to its expectations, I do think I could have made a better decision. So the hotel isn’t exactly close to the JBR beach – it’ll take about a good 15 to 20 minute walk to get there, so from the hotel you aren’t getting beach views anyway. Even then, if you aren’t planning to go to the JBR beach a lot, it doesn’t make sense to stay there, because you’re paying a premium for this hotel to be near that area. But had I booked a hotel near say the Museum of the Future / Financial District, which would be more central to the places that we went such as Gold Souk and JBR Beach, I would have saved 1/3 of the hotel fees.Views at night from the hotel’s swimming pool
So for what it’s worth – it’s a good hotel, but you pay a premium to stay near the JBR beach which you aren’t going to go that much if you’re a tourist, so I recommend going somewhere else for the same quality but lower price and somewhere more convenient to tourist attractions.
The gym. It doesn’t have all the equipment, it has the bare essentials, but you’ll get your basic workout taken care of with what they’ve got. The only problem is if the gym gets packed with lots of people, you’ll feel cramped and be waiting to use different equipment
Things to Do
Dubai Frame (website)
From Wikipedia, “The Dubai Frame is an observatory, museum, and monument in Zabeel Park, Dubai. It holds the record for the largest frame in the world. The building has a height of 150.24 meters and a width of 95.53 meters.” You can’t miss it.
Last time I was in Dubai, this wasn’t opened yet, but coming to Dubai this time, you will definitely get a glimpse of it while on a taxi or something.
We didn’t go up the frame or anything, we merely just took photos of it at the park and while we were on a taxi.
Museum of the Future (website)
This was one of the tourist attractions that I didn’t go last time, that I really wanted to see, but that I had to miss out on because I didn’t pre-book the tickets!! Ugh. One of the few things I missed out on on this trip. Guys, if you want to go here, pre-book the tickets two weeks in advance. When I tried to walk in in the morning at 10am, the tickets were all booked for the week after, so make sure to book beforehand! This museum focuses on innovative and futuristic experiences, so be sure to check it out and let me know how it goes!
Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood (visitdubai.com)
A historical neighborhood in Dubai, or what I call it old Dubai, you’ll get a glimpse of what it felt like to be in old Dubai. This was also something that I didn’t do last time, but to be quite frank, if you don’t have a lot of time, this is something you can skip. There really isn’t much to see here, and even the area just feels like it’s been renovated so it doesn’t preserve the historical old environment that you’d expect. Plus the area is small and there were a couple of souvenir shops / clothing shops only, so not really worth going unless you’re nearby the Gold Souk or the northern part of Dubai and have an extra few mins.
Coins Museum in Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood (dubaiculture.gov.ae)
While the neighborhood itself was kinda meh, I thought that the Coins Museum was actually pretty decent! I didn’t expect much since there weren’t a lot of reviews about it, but it was something that we would pass by, and best of all it was free! You get to see a lot of history about coins, not just from the Middle East, but as far back as the Roman and Greek times as well. Given that UAE didn’t have its own currency until 1973, when before it was relying on Qatar and Bahrain currency, this history makes it more interesting and relevant to what you see inside there. A lot of interesting coin designs you can see, even big coins that used to be used. This, I recommend checking it out, not intentionally, but if you do have the time.
Al Fahidi Souk (visitdubai.com)
This heritage-themed marketplace is right next to the Al Fahidi neighborhood. Again, not of particular interest because it’s similar to the souks that you will visit in other places, where it was selling spices and Arabic clothings such as abayas or thawbs.
Abra Creek Crossing at Dubai Creek
This was an activity recommended by ChatGPT when I asked it for things to do in Dubai. To cross from Al Fahidi to the gold and spice souks, you’ll need to pass by the Al Fahidi Souks to get to the boats, where you’ll be on the Dubai Creek for like 5 minutes to get there, and don’t worry the boat ride is very cheap! Remember to bring cash with you though since you pay on the boat.
Spice Souks and Grand Souqs
I’ve been here last time and I’ve gone here again. The spice souks weren’t that interesting because yeah sure like the first time you encounter these spices and herbs, you think it’s so cool you get so many Middle Eastern flavors here, but once you see a bunch of shops selling the same thing, you’ll get tired of coming here soon. Plus, the worst thing about it was that the salespeople here are so pushy. They keep gesturing you to come over, and one of them even intentionally rubbed a fragrant on my skin so I could smell it, so it definitely felt very invasive.
Dubai Gold Souk (Tripadvisor)
From Tripadvisor, “As one of the Emirates’ oldest traditional markets, Dubai Gold Souk has over 350 retailers trading tax-free gold of different carats, designs and weights.” In fact, people have said this place is a bit cheaper when it came to purchasing gold accessories. This marketplace was more interesting than the spices because the designs here can be different, with different designs for accessories, and different designs for clothing.
Dubai Mall (website)
Dubai Mall is a huge mall with lots of international and Arabic brands, lots of restaurants and food options, and also a Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo as well that you can visit.
Located right next to the Dubai Mall, the Dubai Fountain will have water shows from 6pm to 11pm daily from every 30 mins, lasting up to 5 mins per performance. They also have additional shows at 1pm to 1:30pm, and on Fridays the times are 1:30pm to 2pm.
I’ve watched the water show twice – once intentionally, and once because we were dining in Souk Al Bahar, so we decided to walk out of the restaurant to watch it again. Thankfully the water shows were different each time, so the water will be dancing to different songs.
The Souk in Dubai Mall (website)
Did you know that the Dubai Mall also has its own souk as well? Unlike the gold souk or the spices souk in Old Dubai, the Souk in Dubai Mall is much more upscale and luxurious. It still has retailers selling gold accessories, but it also has retailers selling premium footwear as well.
Souk Al Bahar (website)
Relatively close by to Dubai Mall (I use relative because it depends on where you are in the Dubai Mall, since it’s huge), you get another shopping area, Souk Al Bahar. Unfortunately, Souk Al Bahar isn’t that interesting and there aren’t that many shops that caught my eye there. It is pretty evident because while in Dubai Mall the place can be packed after lunch, Souk Al Bahar remains relatively empty.
Mall of the Emirates (website)
Another mall in Dubai, and probably the second most popular mall, there are more differences than similarities when comparing it with the Dubai Mall. While both have their own metro stations named after them, Mall of the Emirates is literally a minute or two away from the metro station, whereas for the Dubai Mall, it’ll take you 15 mins to find the metro station, only to walk another 20 minutes to actually get to the station.
Additionally, whereas Dubai Mall is much more upscale and more international, Mall of the Emirates feels more homey, comfortable, and more catered towards locals. You can feel it right away once you arrive at the station because the environment just doesn’t feel as grand, and a lot of the brands just feel more catered for locals and expats living here as their products just feel more affordable and more… “living here” concept.
It’s not that interesting as well, so I’d come here only if you have the time and energy, otherwise it’s not something that I would consider mandatory to go to.
Dubai Marina and JBR Beach
And right nearby our hotel (somewhat) is the Dubai Marina and the JBR beach. At the JBR Beach, besides the beach and chilling on the beach chairs and sipping on some cocktails and what not, you get a variety of chain restaurants and shops to visit as well.
Atlantis, The Palm in Palm Jumeirah (website)
I consider visiting Palm Jumeirah overrated. While it’s recommended by many mainstream touristy places because it’s a man made artificial island shaped like a palm leaf, there is really nothing to do here, except stay in the 5 star hotels here, or check out Atlantis, which is exactly what I did the second time (but not just to check it out, but to dine there).
Atlantis feels like a family oriented hotel though, with its own aquarium, water parks, and a beach nearby. The whole vibe of this place feels catered towards family, but at the same time ironically also has a lot of escorts walking in and out of the place as well.
So there you have it! Given the length of this post, I will be writing a shorter blog post right after about the places we ate in Dubai (you can read here at Where to eat in Dubai 2023). Honestly, if you came here as a tourist, I think 4 days 3 nights is enough, just like what we did. This also includes a day trip to Abu Dhabi as well. The tourist attractions are just mediocre.
Instead, I think Dubai is much more of a place to stay for fun like a week or a few weeks or as an entrepreneur rather than a tourist visitor. The latter won’t be too impressed, but I think if I were to stay here for a week or three, I can definitely envision myself partying here, dining in many places, chilling at the beach, and working on my startup for a few short months. It’s also a very crypto-friendly environment, so if you’re into web3, you might want to stop by here as well.