Hold on sister. Open your eyes.
I think broadly, most tourists who land in Dubai fall into two categories. There are those that are content to lie on the beach or by the pool during the day, and fill their boots, or flip flops, with alcohol in the evening. There is something to be said for R&R.
And there are those who are a bit confused and feel Dubai is devoid of culture and doesn’t have much to offer. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
I have to admit, I was a skeptic when I first came here. I’ve travelled all around the world but I couldn’t get my brain to understand what Dubai was all about. I’d heard that it was the Vegas of the Middle East. I’d heard it was all fake. I’d heard that it was gold-plated.
And some of it is. But you only have to keep your eyes open to find out that the diversity and multi-facets of the Emirates is what makes it unique, and therefore confusing because you can’t compare it with anywhere else. You have no frame of reference. Of course, there are still “only in Dubai” moments when you see a shiny gold Maserati, or do a double take when you see a vending machine spitting out gold.
However, I think the best place to start your journey of discovery is at the beginning of history. Find the roots of the place, and then you will understand how the city grows from its foundation. I decided to take my own medicine – I jumped on a Big Bus tour and with my shades on (knees and shoulders suitably covered, of course) I pretended to be a tourist.
I find public transport stressful. There, I’ve admitted it. What should be a service that provides me with a solution when my mobility is challenged, turns into a challenge itself. I worry about missing my train or bus; I worry whether I’ll get a seat; I get stressed about the price of a usually poor service; and living in Dubai I’m pretty much out of practice, seeing as there are no trains, the metro is clean and efficient, and I don’t know how to catch a bus.
On holiday I’ve often seen hop on-hop off services touring around, and I’ve viewed them as a public transport solution, that takes the hassle out of buying separate tickets when I don’t know where I’m heading to, albeit at an inflated price. So that’s something else I have to admit. I’ve misunderstood the point.
The first lesson I learned is that this is not a public transport system. Yes, it takes you from A to B, and on to Z and back round to A if you want it too, but this is tour. We were given personal headphones, which allowed us to listen to commentary, encouraging us to look left or right. The service was punctual, and given the traffic in Dubai, this is not easy to achieve; the staff were courteous and I have to praise the drivers. You need to know how to navigate the dangers of Dubai’s roads, and with a massive bus this can’t be easy.
There are three routes: the red route takes you around old Dubai and the Creek area, the blue route travels down the coast as far as the Palm, and the purple route is a shuttle to Dubai Festival Centre. There are two points where you can change your route: at Wafi Mall and Burjuman Mall. We parked at the latter, and not wishing to rush around with two small children in tow, decided to spend our time on the red route, although it is possible to fit in the blue route too.
Even having lived here a couple of years, we found new places to explore. Here are some of the highlights:
· Creekside Park: Cost 5Dhs entry per person. You can visit the Children’s museum, Dolphinarium or walk along the Creek promenade. The children enjoyed the mirror maze (20Dhs per child) in the Dolphinarium, but the flashing lights were a bit much for the adults.
· Cruise: An hour’s cruise on a dhow takes you to the mouth of the Creek and back. The ticket is included in the Big Bus package. We enjoyed a shawarma while letting the bustle on the river pass us by.
· Souqs: Whether you’re interested in textiles, spices or gold, this is a great way to see traditional life in Dubai.
· Dubai fort and museum: Al Fahidi Fort is probably the oldest building in Dubai dating from the 18th century. There are air-conditioned displays that take you through Dubai’s development from the pearl fishing village to the ultra modern shiny city. The ticket is included in the Big Bus package.
· Sheikh Saeed al Maktoum’s house: the residential quarters of the former ruler of Dubai contains displays and photographs, which give you an insight into Dubai’s humble beginnings. The ticket is included in the Big Bus package.
So whether you’re a tourist visiting for the first time, or an expat who has lived here for years, there is always something new and surprising if you look for it. Just wipe the sand from your eyes.
Tips: If you choose to travel on a Friday little is open until 2.30pm so plan your day accordingly.
Big Bus 24 hour ticket cost: AED 220 for adults and AED 100 for children aged 5-15. www.bigbustours.com
Enter our new Big Bus Tour competition to win tickets worth $120
Welcome to Expat Explorers’ latest competition, in partnership with the Big Bus tours. We have three pairs of tickets up for grabs for Big Bus tours of Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Muscat.
How to enter: Read our Big Bus article above and answer a simple question to be entered into the draw. The winner will be pulled out of a hat. Remember to say which city you’d prefer tickets for.
Competition question: How many routes does the Dubai Big Bus run and what colours are they?
Deadline: 10 November, 2013.
Good luck, and we look forwards to hearing from you. Click here to enter.