Editor’s note: I have been to a lot of countries, but it is amazing to experience those I haven’t yet visited, or even have thought of visiting, through the eyes of one of my writers. Today, Sam Spector shares his experience in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in part one of a UAE double feature. For more of Sam’s adventures, click here to visit his index page.
I recently received a phenomenal opportunity. The Utah World Trade Center and Utah Governor Spencer Cox’s Office of Economic Opportunity embarked with 66 delegates on a trade mission to the Middle East, and I was awarded the opportunity to be one of the delegates. To lead such an important mission, the governor had to consider carefully which places would benefit our state the most to visit. Israel was chosen as the first destination for a variety of reasons; like Utah, Israel was created as a refuge for a religious group that was homeless and faced persecution, Israel has managed a water crisis, and Israel, like our own state, has become a center for startup tech companies. While Israel is a place I consider a second home, having lived there and visited more times than I can count, the second destination for our delegation was the United Arab Emirates, a new country for me to visit. While there were many places that could have been chosen, the UAE was picked because it is a visionary country that looks to the future and also we wanted to make a strong statement of support for the Abraham Accords. The Abraham Accords were treaties brokered by former President Trump’s administration between Israel and (as of now) four Arab countries for mutual peace, recognition, and cooperation. The UAE led the way in this effort and was the first Arab country to agree to the accord, and now with multiple daily flights between Israel and both Dubai and Abu Dhabi, not only are both countries’ economies and situations improving, but Israelis and Emiratis are able to travel to each other’s countries and have cultural exchange. Our delegation sent the message that UAE was being rewarded for these efforts while countries that had not made such a bold effort missed out. Though our trip was largely work, we did have opportunities for seeing some of the incredible cultural and tourist sites of this incredible place. We visited both Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and this article will talk about Dubai.
Upon arriving in Dubai, the one word that kept being said by everybody was “wow”. First, Dubai’s airport looks like a palace; the arrival hall that greets you has massive white marble columns with gold trim. In an impressive touch of the infamous Arab hospitality, upon going through customs, every visitor is given a free 1-GB sim card to use while in the UAE. The streets of Dubai are completely lit up at night as if to put the entire city on display. A must do at nighttime in Dubai is a night cruise. A great introduction to the city, you will go past the high rises of the city and the Ain Dubai Ferris wheel, the world’s tallest and largest. Alongside others from around the world, you will enjoy Emirati music, a DJ playing top hits, belly dancers, and a delicious buffet. While out and about, you will discover how unbelievably hot and humid Dubai still is at night. Every person was soaking wet with sweat even in the middle of the night in September due to the humidity. As a result, daytime is largely spent indoors, but there is still much to do.
A popular thing to do in Dubai is to go up one of the tall buildings. There are many popular options from the Dubai Frame (a tower shaped like a picture frame where you get a view of the city) and of course the Burj Khalifa (the world’s tallest building), but I chose to go up the View at the Palm. The Palm Jumeirah is a manmade archipelago in Dubai that looks like a palm tree. It was made with 120 million cubic meters of sand shot out of a hose. Today, tens of thousands of individuals live in homes on the islands, which are also home to many luxury hotels, retail locations, and, most famously, the Atlantis Resort. The cost is approximately $30 to go to the basic viewing level of the Palm Tower viewing area, which includes exhibits on the history of the Palm Jumeirah and a video. The 360 degree viewing platform gives you a view of the entire city, the Burj Al Arab (a sailboat shaped luxury hotel, which claims to be the world’s only 7 star hotel), and the Palm Jumeirah, which cannot be viewed any other way except aircraft.
Another popular indoor tourist attraction is the Museum of the Future, which opened in February 2022. The building itself is fascinating, as it is a shiny oval with an open center. The building was largely created using 3D printing and is one of the greenest eco-friendly buildings in the world. The outside of the building has beautiful windows that depict quotes in Arabic of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai, which are translated to say:
We won’t live for hundreds of years, but we can create something that will last for hundreds of years.
The future will be for those who will be able to imagine, design and build it, the future does not wait, the future can be designed and built today.
The secret of the renewal of life, the development of civilization and the progress of humanity is in one word: innovation.
Inside the museum are several floors of a vision for the future. I was debating whether or not to go to the Museum of the Future as the online reviews were mixed. Our group, likewise, had mixed reviews. I, personally, was not a fan of the museum as it felt like a Disneyland ride instead of a museum with just ideas of what could be one day. It felt hokey to me and several others in our group, unlike the incredibly impressive Peres Center for Peace that we had visited in Tel Aviv, which showed visions for the future that people are working hard on at the moment and seem more tangible. However, many in our group loved the Museum of the Future, pointing out that the UAE is a visionary country that has a Minister of Artificial Intelligence, and that this museum reflected the culture of their visionary leadership. The tech geeks among us particularly recommended this experience. In my eyes, it is not worth visiting, but if tech and science fiction are your jam, then you might want to go.
More up my alley was Old Dubai. In that area there are all the souks (markets) which the Arab world is so famous for. The two best souks that you must visit are the Gold Souk and the Spice Souk. In the former, there are hundreds of stores next to each other, each selling millions of dollars in gold and jewelry. Be sure to get a souvenir here, but also bargain for cheaper prices. It is exciting to watch gold and jewelry sellers from around the world loudly trading, buying and selling gold. Nearby the souks is one of the cheapest experiences in Dubai, the Abra Creek ferries. Here, you can take an old, traditional boat called an abra across the Dubai Creek for 2 Dirham (until recently was only 1 Dirham), approximately 50 cents. Doing so around sunset is particularly beautiful as you are among locals and tourists alike getting from one side of the river to the other with old Emirati buildings lining the creeks. These old buildings (or buildings built in the old style at least) have chimneys, which was an Arabian feature of architecture, allowing the hot air to leave through the chimney and trapping the cool air in the structure. Across the creek is the Al Fahidi historical neighborhood, which has buildings and alleyways reconstructed to depict what Dubai looked like a century ago. In the neighborhood are antique dealers, galleries, and cultural centers of learning like the Coffee Museum and the Sheikh Muhammad Center for Cultural Understanding, which educates about Emirati culture and aims to bring people and cultures together. However, my favorite spot was the Arabian Tea House Café, which is a café serving many traditional Arab teas and foods in a quiet garden. Spend at least an hour here just to unwind and relax.
Finally, head to the Dubai Mall. Dubai has a couple malls that are impressive to choose from: the Mall of the Emirates with its indoor ski slope and the Dubai Mall. The Dubai Mall is the largest mall in the world, and though I am not a mall person, this is an experience. Inside the mall are thousands of stores, an area that is designed to depict an old Arab souk, and numerous activities and art exhibits. Famously, the Dubai Mall is home to the Dubai Aquarium, inside of which are many exhibits, opportunities to interact with the animals, and a tunnel that goes through an aquarium. However, for free, you can stand outside the aquarium and see a giant wall with sharks, rays, and other sea creatures. Go to the Dubai Mall at night because outside the mall are the Dubai Fountains, the largest fountains in the world. The fountains are in a manmade canal at the base of the Burj Khalifa, which has been the tallest building in the world since 2009 standing at 2,722 feet. The height of the Burj Khalifa is jaw dropping, and at night you can take in its impressiveness with a fountain show set to music every half hour. While many do go up the Burj Khalifa, the cost is around $100 or more depending on what level you go to. I did not do this because, after all, if you are in the tallest building of the world, you can’t see the main attraction, which is the building itself. The main draw of going up the Burj Khalifa is to simply say that you have been up the world’s tallest building.
Dubai is truly the city of the future, and it was able to be experienced even in this short time. From here, the group went to Abu Dhabi, which will be discussed in my next article. (Click here to read it.)
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