Dubai sells itself as a beautiful, somewhat exotic and luxurious destination. Something like the Las Vegas of the UAE, but with less alcohol and more Bentleys. I thought Dubai would be a perfect city escape to marvel at modern architecture, dine well, and finally see all those Dubai superlatives like the tallest building in the world, the largest man-made island, and the largest shopping mall in person. After 4 full days, my Dubai daydreams were dashed and I found myself hating a city I thought I would fall in love with.
An Inaccessible Culture
It thrilled me to be going to a new part of the world that I’d never been to before. I had the same expectations for immersing myself in Dubai as I have for anywhere I travel: eat the local specialties and have conversations with people from there. Dubai is pretty stand-offish in this sense. I didn’t have any interactions with Emiratis, aside from the men who stamped my passport on the way in and out of the country. With over 200 nationalities represented in Dubai, the locals are the minority. You’ll be hard-pressed to find an Emirati driving your taxi, checking you in at your hotel, or serving you in a restaurant.
And for local food? You can find a shawarma in Deira or higher-end Middle Eastern food scattered throughout the city, but, in general, it gets lost in the shuffle of Shake Shack burgers, Indian curries, and French-style cafés.
Dubai is a city caught in an identity crisis. Struggling somewhere between its desire to be a playground for the rich and its adherence to traditional Islamic roots, rests a city that lacks sufficient infrastructure to support its delusions of grandeur. Visit if you must, but leave quickly before you are sucked into its calamitous void. – via Escape Artist
My observations are all too familiar amongst tourists. So much, that the Sheikh Mohammed Cultural Center for Understanding has addressed them here.
An Urban Planning Nightmare
I was not expecting Dubai to be SO spread out. Forget walking where you need to go, or even taking the Metro, and rent a car or use taxis. I planned on getting around via the Metro as I had read that it’s new, clean and easy-to-use. What you aren’t told, is that the Metro just cuts through the middle of the city parallel to Sheik Zayed Road, Dubai’s main artery. More often than not, I ended up a far walk (in the stifling heat) from where I wanted to go. After a day of getting around on the Metro, I was more than ready to rent a car; which invited its own host of problems, like the seriously aggressive drivers on the road there. YIKES.
Human Rights Violations
I went to Dubai aware of the criticism it has received by human rights organizations for its treatment of foreign workers. I read this haunting article of Dubai’s dark side, which I’m sure has turned many off of ever visiting, and while researching for this post came across this investigative piece by The Vision Project. And while I find Dubai’s practices reprehensible, I do believe that, like people, no place is perfect. Usually, the people making these decisions are not representative of the country or its people as a whole. Many places I’ve been to have their own share of troubling issues, my home country included. Should that stop us from visiting? I’m conflicted. It’s a very complicated question that Adventurous Kate examines in this thought-provoking blog post.
Accusations aside, I’m going to tell you what I saw. I saw construction workers in August working outside at the hottest part of the day in temperatures hovering between 40-46°C with 95% humidity. I couldn’t stand to be outside for more than 5 minutes, it was awful. As soon as you step outside, your lenses immediately fog up and you start dripping in sweat. It’s unlike any other climate I’ve been in. No human should have to work outside in those conditions. Yet, the sounds of drills and hammers are part of Dubai’s soundtrack as they add more and more to their skyline.
I also saw these workers bused out of the city at night, assumably to the outskirts of town where they reportedly live in cramped, shared housing.
If you go looking for dirt on Dubai, you’ll easily find it. The problem was, I wasn’t looking for it, I just stumbled upon it, there in the open for everyone to see.
Things to Do in Dubai: Spoilt For Choice?
After you’ve seen the self-proclaimed 7* hotel, explored the enormous shopping malls, and seen the indoor ski resort, Dubai’s allure wears off quickly. There are also theme parks, and more hotels to see, but once I realized I was doing and seeing a lot of the same things in Dubai that I could do back home in the United States, I wondered what the point of it all was. If you want to go skiing, spend your money on a trip to the Alps. If you want to see skyscrapers, go to NYC, and if you want beautiful beaches, go to Thailand. Don’t go looking for a lesser version of these things in Dubai.
What I Actually Liked About Dubai
The evening that I spent along Dubai Creek in the souks of Old Deira and The Heritage Village was memorable. In the Gold and Spice souks, you’ll find Dubai’s pulse, a hint of the Dubai without makeup that I had hoped to see all along. If you go to Dubai, I highly recommend that you seek out this part of the city – it’s so different from the rest and gives you a glimpse of the fishing village that Dubai was before all the oil money poured in.
Should You Visit Dubai?
You should make up your own mind about Dubai. Many people go to Dubai and absolutely love it. A lot of people do not. I went to Dubai because I had a layover there, and decided to extend it into a short visit. Would I go back? I’ll never say never, but it’s certainly not high on my priority list.
Have you ever been to Dubai? What did you think of the city? If you haven’t, would you ever visit?