As I started writing this I just departed LA on a flight bound for Mexico City. How ironic that I am sitting next to an American guy of Lebanese origin who is visiting his ‘girlfriend’ in Mexico. Among the many things he tells me, most interesting is that there are lots of Lebanese people in Mexico.
I thought I’d use the remaining few hours of this flight to catch up on some blog posts, namely the UAE. I spent 10 action packed days over there primarily to see my sister however ended up getting seriously side-tracked.
For me, Abu Dhabi and Dubai were a contrast. I found Dubai to own most of the ‘glitz and glamour’ with the pick of restaurants, bars and clubs and many international names. It reminded me a lot of Las Vegas with all the lights, an impressive skyline and loads of decadence (minus the casinos and strippers).
Abu Dhabi on the other hand was much more conservative, slower-paced and I guess more ‘family oriented’ with theme parks such as Ferrari World, the massive Sheikh Zayed Mosque and definitely a more suburban, local feel to the place.
I was also fortunate enough to visit at the best time of the year from a climate perspective – winter. During the day, the temperature would range between a very dry and comfortable 25-30°C. This made walking around the town all day possible which I’m told is something you don’t want to try during other seasons.
My visit to the UAE also included a few firsts for me. To begin with I thought I’d try my luck finding a CouchSurfing host in Abu Dhabi for my first night. Having regularly used CS throughout my world tour to simply meet people, I often wondered about actually staying with a host. Well that turned out to be an easy and positive experience in Abu Dhabi. My one and only couch request was answered within about 5 minutes, and my host Syed even picked me up from the airport at midnight. Definitely a 5-star experience there.
The next day I met my sister who I had not seen for some time and we made the 1.5 hour drive from Abu Dhabi to Dubai to attend the post wedding celebrations of her close friend. Once again I got treated to some warm hospitality where I stayed at her apartment in Palm Island Jumeirah. I also befriended many of the international wedding guests whom had travelled to Dubai from all over the world.
As a result of my new friendships I ended up staying a week in Dubai before I headed back to Abu Dhabi to hang out with my sis for a few days. Inspired by what was very comprehensive “Best of” list compiled by my new wingman ‘MSG’ – I thought i’d put together my own slightly shorter version.
Best Shisha – The Palace Hotel (Dubai) I don’t normally smoke shisha (aka hookah) but for some reason got addicted to them in the UAE – and we were literally smoking them everywhere. It is definitely the thing to do with many restaurants, cafes and bars offering comfortable outdoor lounges where you can kick-back and enjoy what we referred to as a ‘sheesh’. With a range of flavours, double apple was definitely the favourite.
The Palace near the Burj Khalifa (the tallest building in the world) was a very impressive place to smoke shisha with the most comfortable outdoor lounges and experienced bar staff – which I quickly learnt are very difficult to find across the UAE.
Best Thrill(s) – Driving a Ferrari F12 Berlinetta (Dubai) / Worlds Faster Roller Coaster Ferrari World (Abu Dhabi) Another couple of firsts for me ended up being a tie for best thrill and they both centred around Ferrari.With a price tag of AUD$700,000 and performance to match I was totally blown away getting behind the wheel of this awesome machine. The fastest we clocked was about 240km/h and unfortunately noticed a speed camera flash at that very time. We had the beauty for a whole day and had an absolute blast.
And if you haven’t seen it already, be sure take a look at the YouTube video below.
Another adrenalin rush was the fastest roller coaster in the world which happened to be at Ferrari World Abu Dhabi. This roller coaster reaches a top speed of 320km/h in a matter of seconds – a speed I had not experienced before. We had to go another round and I highly recommend visiting this theme park if you are in the UAE.
Best Wingman – Mike ‘MSG’ Gore Mike was a guest at the wedding I mentioned earlier and when I overheard him mention that he was shopping for suits in Dubai I had to tag along. We absolutely killed it at Zegna Dubai Mall where Mike copped a super impressive suit to which we made a few minor alterations to make sure it fit like a glove. From that point we couldn’t be separated and had a blast in Dubai checking out several bars, clubs, restaurants and of course driving around in the Ferrari F12 Berlinetta.
Best Meal – Lebanese Flower (Abu Dhabi) For months my brother and sister had raved about the Lebanese food in Abu Dhabi. Whilst it certainly wasn’t Michelin star dining, it definitely delivered the goods on authenticity, flavour and generous servings and a very reasonable price.
We definitely ordered far too much but the security guards at my sisters building were more than happy to finish it off what we didn’t eat.
Some other honourable mentions were Afghan Kebab House (Naif Souk Dubai), Hakkasan (Dubai) and Hotpots (Abu Dhabi). There is no shortage of good food in the UAE ranging from street food all the way up to Michelin star dining.
Best Buy – Zegna Dubai Mall Even though I technically didn’t buy it, the suit MSG bought at Zegna (Dubai Mall) would definitely be the stand out purchase of the visit. We spent hours in the store making sure the suit fit like a glove and received the most amazing service from the manager there. Whilst it was no bargain, it was one of the best Zegna’ I’ve seen.
Best Cultural Experience – Desert Safari (Abu Dhabi)
This was another ‘must do’ attraction that my brother and sister said I had to do. I must admit the timing of the safari was perfect being on my last day in the UAE. After the intense 10 days in Dubai, it was great to chill out in the desert where we went dune bashing in the 4WD’s, rode camels and ate some traditional middle-eastern food.
Best Drink – Vodka Martini (Hakkasan Dubai)
The UAE is probably not the best place to consume alcohol. In fact it is forbidden for most locals, places for foreigners to consume it are generally restricted to hotels and public drunkenness will have zero tolerance. Also, most bar staff have limited knowledge of cocktails so don’t expect too much.
One exception though was Hakkasan Dubai where we had the most incredible vodka martini. I’m not usually a martini drinker myself but after a few days with MSG I quickly developed a liking.
Best Local – Amir (Naïf Souk)
Finally, I couldn’t compile a best of UAE list which mentioning Amir whom we stumbled upon in the Naif Souk in Dubai. There wasn’t a great deal of tourists in the Naif Souk and it was mostly inhabited by the local Indian community where I learnt the UAE has the largest population outside India.
The reason we visited the souk to begin with was to find a recommended Afghan Kebab House which I read about online. There would have been absolutely no chance we would have found it on our own and I would call it divine intervention that Amir approached us almost immediately after disembarking from the old water taxi that bought us to the souk. We almost dismissed Amir on first glance as he just looked like he wanted to sell us stuff (which he kinda did), but he literally became our personal concierge getting us phone recharge cards, finding the kebab house as well as finding specific clothing and footwear. We took him to lunch and got to know him a little better and like him so much that we got his number and hung out again in the Naif Souk for a few days later.
Overall the 10 days I spent in the UAE were a massive change from the earlier 6 months in Europe and the USA. In particular, having a break from hostel life was welcome (btw don’t expect to find them anywhere in the UAE). Best of all it was great to hang out with my sister for a few days and enjoy the simple things like eating traditional foods and laugh a lot.
The UAE was a great preparation for my upcoming visits to Jordan, Palestine and Israel. Whether you are stopping through on your way to Europe or elsewhere, the UAE is definitely worth more than a few days and definitely don’t bypass Abu Dhabi if you have a stopover in Dubai.