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There are many top ten lists for Dubai, most of them focused on spending a quite a lot of money! It is a fact anyone can spend a fortune and have a good time, the trick is how do you have a good time when you are on a budget (and possibly short of time)? And still be happy after the trip when looking at the wallet?

My take on traveling and having fun is tied with two things  i.e. how much of the culture of the place you can experience in the process learn from it and of course the food. I thoroughly believe that food and culture are intertwined.  The kind of food people have most definitely explains much about their traditions and cultures.

Okay so this is my list of top ten things I would do in Dubai, if I came here for the first time or the second or third time. The locations I’ve picked are like barometers that keep reflecting Dubai’s cultural and economic status. I’ve tried to be as accurate as possible with the costs involved and at the time of writing this article and have done a reality check, this is also something that really depends on what you are made of whether you are as stingy as scrooge? or a spendthrift like a?

1. Visit Burj Khalifa 134th floor viewing gallery - ( 100 AED to 400 AED)

This is something that you can do for as little as 100 AED or pay as much as 400 AED per person, if you booked this tour before hand it costs only 100 AED and it can be done online at On The Top @ Burj Khalifa. If you try to get an immediate entry ticket it costs 400 AED. Burj Khalifa is an engineering marvel and has become an icon of Dubai, I can still remember the 20 days that I used to wake up to see it outside of my window, that is the first twenty days of my life in Dubai where I stayed in a hotel apartment which was just across Sheik Zayed Road facing Business Bay. At that time it was such a complicated and massive construction site one cannot make out the end or the beginning of anything.  When it was finally completed in 2009 everyone was awestruck not only because of it’s sheer height that dwarfs all buildings surrounding it, but because of the attention  to detail the developers had given to it.

Suppose you are not satisfied with just going to the top and you have the money to spare there is a restaurant at the 122nd floor named Atmosphere, supposedly it is the worlds highest restaurant (also in terms of cost it is one the highest) and minimum you need to spare 130 USD per head.

In addition to this there is the Armani Hotel’s- Oasis Bar, I’ve been here a couple of times and frankly in my opinion for the money and the hype it is really a dull place.. But has a stunning view of the Dubai fountain from sixth level which is my next item on the list.

2. Visit Dubai fountain (Doesn’t cost a thing, only the cost of getting there)

This 218 million dollar man made extravagance is definitely one mesmerizing experience. The fountain spans 30 acres in the Burj Khalifa Lake, designed by WET designs of US (the same people who built the Belaggio Fountain in Las Vegas) . It is an ingenious idea in the sense of aesthetics that it adds to the location as well as economics. Dubai fountain is certainly a crowd puller, every single show is filled with people and if you assume that each person visiting the fountain spends on average 20 dollars (the amount it will cost for a simple meal here) the fountain is churning out at least 20,000 USD every 20 minutes to 40 minutes.. (And please don’t hold me responsible for that number!!)

3. Dubai Museum at Al Fahidi Fort ( Cost 15 AED)

If you are a big history buff then Dubai Museum has very little to offer, of course it is incomparable to the big museums such as Louvre, but its a good starting point for the rest of the items on my list. Dubai museum is located in the heart of Bur Dubai, and closer to the creek, this is part of the reason why you would want to choose to start here because it gives you the freedom of choice to do multiple things either eat to your hearts fantasy, shop at the old cloths souk (Arabic for market) or just enjoy the hussle and bussle of real Dubai.

4.  Walk along the Creek visit  the creek side restaurants, Al Bastakia, Al Maktoum house

Once you are done at the museaum walk along the creek towards the Al Shindagha historic area through Bastakia  the original town center of Dubai, now known for its restored windtowers. Some of which are in buildings with cafes and art galleries including the Basta Art Café. The area was originally built by Persian merchants in late 1800’s and they named it after the town of Bastak in Iran (this where the persian merchants were from);  it is a 20 to 30 minute walk, but guranteed you will not feel it (unless you chose to do it in the peak of summer), towards the later end of the walk there are couple of nice restaurants (the food here is really delicious and well priced), personally I’ve tried the Al Bandar restaurant many times and the food is exotic except the fact they do not make fresh Qubus (Arabic Bread).

5. Dhow cruise at the Dubai Creek or at Dubai Marina - Costs 75 AED to 350 AED (Little bit of haggling would help)

You have the choice of going on a Dhow cruise either from Dubai creek at Bur Dubai or from Dubai Marina the later is more expensive due to the lack of choices. There are many Dhow’s operating from Dubai creek the cost per person varies from 75 AED to as much as 350 AED, all of them provide dinner and shisha!!

6. Visit to the Old Gold Souk, Naif Souk and spice souk (Cost – Nothing to millions if you wish!)

This is a must do if you want to experience the old Dubai and the way life was before the real estate bubble and the bubble burst. All of them are located in the Deira district and you can  walk from one to the other, the best sequence would be start at the Naif cloths souk and move to gold souk and finish off at the spice souk.

7. The Big bus tour Costs from 60 USD to 150 USD

This is a good way to get maximum city coverage in minimum time, the big bus tour is operated by an independent organization and provide a tour bus service with a proper time schedule where you could hop on or hop off at specific destinations. There are 24 and 48 hour tickets available and tour routes provide a personal recorded commentary available in multiple languages.

8. Visit to the malls (Dubai Mall, Mall of the Emirates and City Center Malls, Dubai Outlet Mall) or Copy Cat center of the city the back alleys of Karama.

Dubai is nothing if it is not for the malls!! that is really not an overstatement. They come in various sizes from the mega sized worlds largest Dubai mall  (where you could buy a half a million dollar watch) to the wallet friendly Dubai Outlet mall down the Al-Ain road.

If you are really short on budget and looking for gifts for plethora of your friends back home forget the mall and head to Karama the place is located between the fish market and the Lu Lu gardens you will find hundreds of shops selling anything you could imagine (including edible Lingerie!!) , but be careful of buying stuff that you had not already assessed the price because the guys could try to sell you something that costs 10 AED at 100 AED if you don’t haggle!!

9. Desert Safari Costs 150 AED to 300 AED

There are many tour operators who arrange desert excursions with BBQ sessions and dune bashing, sand surfing etc… Many desert safari camps provide you quad bike renting services and it is worth trying (provided you know how to handle a bike!! the last thing you want is to end up in a hospital bed during your holiday)

10. Eat at the restaurants in Dubai Marina..

A walk along the beautiful Dubai Marina walk and trying some of the restaurants would be a great way to end your trip, Dubai marina is one of the prime residential locations in Dubai and has a buzzing community of Yacht enthusiasts and sea goers..

This particular article would be a work in progress and I intend to add more details as and when I have time, I hope you enjoyed it and love to hear what you think about it.

For a city emerging out of a dessert, Dubai is amazingly green, much credit should be given to the Dubai municipality who relentlessly work to keep the city clean and beautiful. Either side of most roads are beautifully paved and gardened and you see more Bouganvilla and other flowering plants in Dubai than a metropolitan in a tropical country. And you are sure to spot a palm tree every nook and corner there is space.

Dubai has a wonderfully placed irrigation system that uses drip watering to keep the plants watered and safe from the scorching sun. The irrigation system gets its water from the sewer treatment plant at Al Awir; though the purification process leaves parts of Dubai with an unbearable stench at times, the fruits of it are well worth it. The water obviously has an element of manure in it (obvious from the smell it produces) and flowering plants just love it.

This well planned irrigation system has water outlets that can be connected to drip watering tubes that can be quickly configured to water any type of plant. The system has enough water pressure so wherever required they can even have sprinklers. Being a gardening enthusiast myself I’ve been closely studying how this works and I believe I’ve amassed enough knowledge to write whatever I said above.

My first visit to a park in Dubai was to Zabeel Park near the Trade Center. A techno themed park, Zabeel park is wonderfully landscaped with areas designated for barbecuing, children’s play, boating, a cricket cum football ground, amphitheater and of course my children’s favorite place the Star Gate a complex made to the shape of four planets that accommodates a small roller coaster, arcade games, joy rides and food court with adequate choices.

Apart from this Dubai has six parks all of which are great entertaining venues for families.  Though I most often visit Zabeel park because of the choice of games it offers to my kids, my favorite would be the wonderful creek side park along the coasts of the Dubai’s man made creek. What I love most about the creek park is that it’s landscaping and nearness to the water and convenient picnic spots that it offers with barbecue pits. Also the creek park has great vantage points for photography enthusiasts, the floating bridge, the Dubai Creek side Golf course, Garhoud bridge are some of the picture worthy spots that are visible from the parks restaurant’s spire. Also the Dubai Dolphinarium is located within this park where you can entertain your self to a Singapore’s Senthosa park style dolphin show.

My second favorite would be the Jumeirah Beach park, this is one of the two beach parks of Dubai, the other being Al Mamzar Beach park nearer to the Dubai – Sharjah  boarder. Both of these parks allow you to drive in to the park along with all your picnic gear and it costs only 10 AED (2.5 USD) for the car including the passengers in the car. Al Mamzar beach is mostly secluded in the evenings and it has good facilities including a chalets service that has to be booked prior to visiting. Also the Al Mamzar has a slipway for all jet ski and boats enthusiasts.

If you are a swimmer who’d like to confine yourself to a swimming pool, Al Mushrif park in Khawaneej has an excellent public pool facility that can be accessed at a cost of 5 AED per person and ladies and gents pools are segregated so it doesn’t really hurt the culturally sensitive.

This is something I did last year and thought of writing about for the benefit of my blog readers. Last October I was in Riyadh for a business visit and had to pay a visit to Dammam as well. As I couldn’t get an internal flight to Dammam, myself and my Jordanian friend decided to drive all the way to Dammam. From Riyadh to Dammam it is approximately 375 km and it takes around three and a half  to four hours to reach Dammam, Khobar. The drive is mostly through the desert and quite monotonous. With many people preferring to take the flights you hardly find many vehicles except for the truckers. So if you love to cruise at high speeds this is a ideal trip for you.. But be sure to have a powerful enough car to really enjoy the drive. We rented a Chevrolet Lumina, the pickup on this car was awesome.

In Dammam, Khobar we stayed at a hotel close to the coast (cannot remember the name), for 1200 Saudi Riyals per night we managed to get a  two bedroom suite  and it was a bargain compared to the average rates. Though I am not a big fan of Saudi hotel’s food this particular one was good and had lots of variety. After spending couple of days in Dammam I couldnt get a flight back to Dubai as it was a Wednesday (Wednesday is the last working day of the week for Saudis – TGIW) and many Saudis fly to Dubai on this day and flights are usually full. So my only other option was to take a flight from Bahrain.

King Fahd Causeway

Part of the Causeway

When I asked the hotel to arrange for a Taxi to Bahrain the guys were nice enough to warn me about the traffic on the causeway on Wednesday afternoons and evenings. I checked out from the hotel at 2.00 PM and was on my way to Bahrain by the King Fahd Causeway trying to beat the traffic, I was right on time. The Taxi costs 250 to 300 riyals including the causeway fees, you have to bare the visa fees to enter Bahrain.

About The Causeway

The construction of the bridge was started in 1968 and was completed only in 1986. It cost the Saudi’s a staggering 1.2 Billion US dollars. The bridge is 28 KM long and is approximately 23M wide. There is a man made island on the center of the bridge, part of which is Bahrain and the other half is Saudi. The immigration and passport control offices of both the countries are on this island.

The Island on the center of the bridge

There are hundreds of blogs about which is the best night club in Dubai, which is the best hangout joint in Dubai so on and so forth. My blog entry is not about any of this. I am not into clubbing and I am a teetotaler. If you are the freak-out globe trotter already you must be thinking I am so boring.

In peak summer Dubai goes into a lower gear, the roads become less congested and breaths free because many return to their home country or at least send their families home. I’ve also followed the trend and packed my family back home to join them at the end of Ramadan. No later than few days I realized my mistake , but mistakes are never without lessons to learn.

Good food is one of my passions and if you read my post Sri Lankan food in Dubai you would’ve realized this. But good food is nothing if you don’t have the right company to enjoy it, this is my latest realization. Though I am not the greatest cook I am confident that I can make out the ingredients of most of the dishes I try and replicate the results. And I used to take pride in that to the extent sometimes to my wife’s annoyance I even compete with her. But suddenly I seem to have lost the interest in cooking, First because I hate the cleaning up, second there was no one to share the joy of good food. And in peak summer non of my good school buddies who are in Dubai share the idea of eating out. So many a times I used to order food from a restaurant to be delivered home.

If you’ve been a family man in Dubai and suddenly when you are alone you cannot kick sense to your mind as to how to kill your time. Of course the month of Ramadan keeps you busy with religious activities but weekends are almost too much to take. Luckily I have high speed broadband internet connection which I’ve made wireless within my home. Most weekends I’ve been only surfing the net and watching the set of Discovery Channels for which I am paying dearly.

I’ve been carefully compiling this particular blog entry for one whole month, not because I had too much activity to cover, simply because there wasn’t much I did to report. During this time I spent 4 days in Riyadh and 4 days in Kuwait, which I enjoyed, simply because there was someone to do the cleaning up.

During my last two weeks before my vacation I spent most of my time with my soon to be married school buddy (and enjoyed playing “know it all” married man!!), did lots of shopping and some window shopping of Digi Cams.

Driving in Dubai

One of the biggest worries about Dubai is getting around, the public transport service though comparable to developed or newly industrialized nations it is not well spread and doesn’t reach many parts of Dubai. Getting a taxi here used to be a nightmare and often taxi drivers are quite impolite (of course some are extremely nice) with Dubai’s economic issues and people leaving the city the taxi availability issues have reduced. Dubai is rolling out a state of the art mass rapid transit (MRT) and a bus network that would feed into the MRT, a time tested methodology used in other developed cities known as the fish-bone system. I really hope that the commuter woes would be eased once the metro (DURL) is operational on 9-9-9 at 9 am.

If you are on a visit visa and have an International driving license then you can get a temporary driving permit. There is plethora of rent car companies where you could rent from luxuries Rolls Royce to the matchbox sized Suzuki Altos. If you are a four-wheel fanatic welcome to the land of four wheelers and the choices you have are endless. But when you are renting a car a word of caution though, make sure that you carefully read the terms and conditions of the rent a car company, as many of them have hidden charges that mysteriously appear on the final bill! If you are here on resident visa then the things get a lot more complicated.

For those who hold the residence visa, the Dubai government accepts direct transfer of license from the following countries,

Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Kuwait, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Poland, Qatar, Romania, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States.

If you are license is not in English you would require a translation attested from your respective consulate.

More on converting a license>

If you are not from any of the above countries, you ought to be ready for a great deal of pain. Most of us who got our driving license have many ‘horror’ stories to share. I see this is partly because of the strict procedures RTA follows and partly because of the language barriers; I have come across very few RTA officers who speak fluent English.

If you have a driving license (from your home country) that is more than 2 years old you have to go through only 20 lessons to get to the final test, if it’s much newer or you didn’t have one when you arrived you have to go through 40 lessons. A driving license could cost you minimum 2500 AED (20 lessons) to 4000 AED (40 lessons) this would be a lot more depending on the number of times you retake your final test (Yes on average thrice!!). Every time you fail your final road test, you have to undergo additional 8 more lessons that would cost you 750 to 800 AED. Of course since you are immobile you need to add in the costs of taxi’s to get to the training centers and tests.

Having had food cooked by greatest cooks (My Mom, Mom in Law and Wify) the very first day I came to Dubai the first thing I started looking for was ways to satisfy my spice loving Lankan pallet. Lucky enough I was able to find some Sri Lankan cuisine without much difficulty.

Approximately 5% of Dubai’s population  is made of us i.e. Sri Lankans. Obviously we are a minority my first impressions of Dubai was similar to the experience I had in Little India in Singapore though it is not India everywhere you turn all you see is Indians; they makeup 40+% of the population. There are more Indians in Dubai than in India’s fourth most populous metropolitan area Chennai.

That aside, soon I was headed to the famous Chef Lanka (CL) in Karama, Dubai.  I still remember how I was so pleased to see so many faces that I could relate  to (the Sri Lankan Look) and the smell of Sri Lankan Spices and not to mention the bottle cooler filled with Elephant Cream Soda and Elephant Ginger Beer!!.

CL offers a variety of Sri Lankan food including an “All you can have” buffet for just 25 AED. My favourite of course was the Kottu Rotty. It is nothing compared to the Kottu at Pilawoos or Hijra which so many of us the night dwellers are used to, but something is better than nothing is n’t it. The service here is great and friendly as you can expect from any Sri Lankan joint.

I figured on Friday’s for lunch they serve lumpries packed in banana leaf (this is making me hungry); but you are ought to arrive early or you’ll be disappointed as the supply does not match the demand.

Apart from CL, there are few other places where you could try Sri Lankan food one of which is Indunil Lanka, they are located just a stone throw away from CL near the Ted Lapidus shop (around the corner) in Karama. This is a very small place as compared to CL but hey who cares about the size of the place as long as the food is good!! The Kottu here is way better than at CL.

The Curry Leaf at musalla towers in Bur Dubai is another popular place amongst the Lankans, I’ve had one of the best nasi gorengs ever in this place, one nasi goreng cost 30 AED and the quantity is huge so watchout if your palet is small. Of course Nasi Goreng is not a Sri Lankan dish (its Malaysian) , but so much so with all the Malays in Sri Lanka we’ve grown to love this stuff.

Nasi Goreng

Nasi Goreng

There are couple of restaurants that I’ll be blogging about later on, I need to do couple of more rounds of UATs before I recommend them to anyone for I don’t want to be cursed.

My inaugural post.

This is one of my many blogs and the very first one dedicated to traveling in Middle East and life in general in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. I will not bore you by mentioning my other blogs as it is of no interest to anyone looking to have a good time (they are technical blogs – you know what I mean).

I’ve been wanting to blog about life in the middle east ever since I set foot in Dubai. As a total alien to the region at that time I did not want to misinform any reader; as such gave some time and space until I am accustomed to the ways and means of this land.

I hope I will live up to your expectations.

Please read on..

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