This post is not really a travel post as I lived most of my life in Dubai before I moved out in 2018. So, when I returned to the country on a ten-day trip in early October, it was more about meeting friends than visiting places. However, for all those who haven’t visited Dubai, I do recommend a visit to the country. The best time is between November-end to March, if, like me, you are not a great fan of the blazing sun. However, if you are one of those who want to go back to your country with a warm tan, then October and November, maybe your thing. Many people visit the country between April to June as well, and if you decide to too, be prepared for the heat. July-September is excruciatingly hot and is best avoided.
Why you should visit Dubai? To see the desert, enjoy the best cuisines from all across the globe, shop until you drop, buy gold, appreciate the number of nationalities and religions that live there in complete harmony and marvel at the infrastructure- the web of roads and bridges built across the city, the well-planned manner in which the city is expanding and the art galleries, museums and theme parks there (if that is what interests you). There is simply something for everyone in the country- you can enjoy it on a budget if you want or go all out and spend extravagantly. Whatever you want to do, plan ahead.
For those on a budget, there are a number of affordable, decent, stylish hotels. You don’t have to compromise on comfort when choosing. Also, be sure to take the NOL card from the nearest metro station so you can use public transport. It’s very convenient. AED 26.00 for an NOL card gives you 19 Dhs of credit and you can use it on the bus and the metro. There is also an option to buy a card for AED 2.00 and then credit it as and when you wish. Given that taxis are killers in terms of fares, the NOL card is a lifesaver. For example, a ride by cab to the Mall of the Emirates cost us AED 51.00 while a bus ride will cost us AED 16 (for 2 people).
Subscribe to Cobone or Groupon (on the website) to get great deals on eating out, desert safaris, hotel stays, spas, cruises and a host of other services. Buy coupons using your credit card. Most of them have a three-month validity. Before you travel, book the services you need using your coupon. Then, enjoy your holiday doing everything you wanted to do, without worrying about overspending!
As I said earlier, I spent my time meeting friends and shopping. Despite the fact that almost all of them have full-time jobs, they not only managed to squeeze time for me, but they also drove all the way to see me at the hotel which was at the other end of the city (since that’s where my husband’s company opened a new office). I was overwhelmed by the thoughtfulness and willingness of those who went the extra mile for me. But, it’s not just friends; the people of Dubai amazed me in general at every touchpoint. Be it the cab driver or the salesperson at the store, or the waiter at the restaurant- it’s as if there was something in the air, that made people kinder, more generous, more helpful and just more human. Each day I returned to the hotel happier for the experience. The customer service in the country is par excellence. I don’t think I ever felt it before – I probably took it for granted. But, after living in other countries and speaking to friends in other countries who have shared experiences with me, I couldn’t help but notice it- it was pretty difficult not to as customer service stares at you in the eye in Dubai.
Friends and colleagues: I gather time is precious – we are always trying to pack in more than we can in the time available and not many people take the trouble to go out of the way to meet up unless they are very close. So, imagine how thrilled I was, when ex-colleagues took the time to catch up over a coffee, invite me home, pick me up for dinner and drop me back at the hotel or just pick and drop me off at a mall or anywhere else I wanted (like I told you, taxi chargers are killers in Dubai). It’s not as if they have full-time domestic help, chauffeur-driven cars or traffic doesn’t exist and travel time, is not a thing. Yet, each one of those I contacted made the effort to come and see me and it made me feel on top of the world. There were others whom I had to meet but had to keep it for another time. There is nothing better than feeling welcome in a country you’ve lived in and being remembered by people you’ve worked with or befriended.
The people in Dubai– I’m sharing a few experiences I had in Dubai which formed an indelible impression in my mind. I think one of the reasons for visiting Dubai other than all that the country offers, is the human touch.
A taxi driver The time I took a taxi which charged me a whopping AED 75.00 for the ride and made me swear that in future I would not go out of the way to meet someone unless they came or there was a way to get to the meeting place through public transport. The good thing that came out of this ride was that the driver earned the amount and we had a good conversation. He said he was from the northern part of Pakistan; had just returned from his holiday and missed home very much. He asked me where I was from and I said, ” India”. And he asked, “Do you miss your country?” When I replied in the affirmative, he said, “India is beautiful, isn’t it?” I said, ‘Yes. It’s very green.” He spoke of the mountains and valleys in his hometown and spoke of his family- a son who had finished studying I.T. but hadn’t got a job, a daughter who was still studying in High School, that he had diabetes and wished to return to his country but had to be here for the money. I listened. When we reached the hotel, he wished me luck, wished he too could visit India someday, hoped my children would succeed and that I would enjoy my stay here. Then we parted ways.
Cashier at Debenhams We were at the cash counter in Debenhams and I asked the cashier for the tax refund ( if you’re travelling to Dubai, remember to collect your tax refund sticker from the outlet you’ve purchased from. If you spend AED 250 and show them your passport, they will issue a tax refund and stick it behind your receipt. You need to scan your passport at the airport at the refund counter to get your refund). The cashier, a lady from Africa, very kindly asked us if we had the ‘Aura’ app and ‘Share’ app. When we said we didn’t, she asked us to download it and laughingly told us how helpful the app was as the points could also be used in Carrefour to purchase groceries. “It’s a lifesaver,” she said, “especially at the end of the month when you’re broke.” Once my daughter downloaded the app, the cashier scanned the receipt and showed us how to scan all previous receipts so we could get the points. The app is great because the points get credited within 24 hours, so, you can redeem them during your stay in Dubai, even if you are only visiting. The only condition is that you need to have a Dubai sim card to use the app. A sim card is provided at the immigration counter to all those above 18 as soon as you enter Dubai. 1 GB is valid for 24 hours. You can top it up at any of the malls and buy validity for 10 days or 30 days (depending on the length of your stay) and provide your number to the stores every time you make a purchase, to avail of the points.
I found the salespersons at the other stores equally helpful and smiley, despite the crowds.
Waitress at Studio 1: On the fourth day in Dubai, I had a headache and asked the server at the restaurant to get me a glass of water so I could pop in the tablet. When the waitress, a Philipino lady, came to serve us our food, she saw the medicine wrapper on the table and asked me kindly if I was feeling better. I said I did and she replied, “That med is really good. I take it too at the end of the day if my body is aching. And then all the pain just disappears.” I smiled understandingly.
An incident at Carrefour: I happened to be shopping at Carrefour when I saw an Asian man in the roastery section. The man looked like a labourer. The man at the roastery counter, an Arab, offered the labourer nuts to taste, knowing fully well that the man couldn’t afford to buy.
These are just some of the experiences I had in Dubai. There were many others who made me love the city again. At the end of ten days, I can say that I don’t care for the comforts Dubai has to offer, although, shopping for groceries is a delight, setting up a beautiful home without burning your pockets is easier and getting from one place to another does not seem like a Herculean task. It’s a place that makes me feel safe – just knowing that I can dial any of the numbers on my contact list and ask for help and they’ll be there.
Time to return
Our short holiday in the country went by in the blink of an eye. It proved to be a perfect break after all the hard work involved with moving countries. However, going back to Dhaka from Dubai proved harder than I thought; moving from Mumbai to Dhaka had been easier. Being in Dubai reminded me how good it feels to speak to people who’ve known you since your twenties just when you’re out of college and beginning life. These people have seen you at your best and at your worst and watched you grow- the colleagues you’ve worked with are those who have seen you fun, edgy, competitive, vulnerable and even selfish at times. And if they’ve stuck around, then you know that you must have done something right.
Meeting them was a reminder of how easy it is to talk to someone who knows you. You have to say a word about a person, an event or a place and you see the entire story unravel in their eyes or their smile.
But, when you move to a new place, then you have to begin from scratch all over again. You have to go back to introduce yourself and go through the entire routine of making acquaintances and finding friends. The thought of doing it again is exhausting- I only hope it’s a temporary feeling and passes soon. I hope it has nothing to do with age and me, becoming inflexible.
P.S. On the return journey, I watched, ‘Mrs Harris goes to Paris’ based on the book we studied in grade 6 in school, ‘Flowers for Mrs Harris.’ Funny how all these years I remembered the sad part of the story and forgot the happy ending.
For all those who visited the post wanting to see a little of Dubai, I’ve added below a few videos. If you’ve visited the country, let me know your experience in the country. If not, then I hope this post makes you want to explore the Middle East.