While in Istanbul, mentioning Dubai as my next destination did succeed in raising many eyebrows. I had learnt that it was not much of a backpacker friendly city during my research about Dubai. The city does not have a lot of budget accommodations for backpackers. There are practically no hostels in the city and to my surprise; I couldn’t find any couch surfing hosts either. Dubai has been the only place (in the course of my travels) where I couldn’t secure a couch surfing host. But that didn’t discourage me from travelling to the city. I didn’t want to book a hotel in Dubai for obvious reasons and was hence forced to use an Airbnb to find a reasonable accommodation within the city. A lot of people share their apartments on Airbnb at affordable prices and I realised why no one was ready to host a couch surfer but preferred the idea of making some extra cash on Airbnb. After having spent a few days in Dubai, I don’t blame them for trying to make some extra cash. I found one Airbnb apartment which the host had advertised as being located in Dubai but it was actually in Sharjah which is a 20-minute drive away from Downtown Dubai.
I had a really hard time getting the visa for Dubai because I wasn’t going to be travelling by Emirates Airways. So let me make this easy for you: if you are travelling In and out of Dubai by the Emirates Airways, then you can obtain the visa through the Emirates website itself. If you are to be travelling by any other airline, then you have to get the visa through the Ministry of Interiors website (Click here). It’s a simple application but if something goes wrong, it’s extremely hard to chase after them because the customer service number doesn’t work.
Every time we hear the name ‘Dubai’, the main thing which comes to mind is luxury and style and that is basically what Dubai is all about. But there are always two sides of a coin and the darker side often gets ignored. Dubai is divided into two major regions- Downtown Dubai and Old Town Dubai. As the name suggests, Old Town Dubai is the place where you can get the feeling of the real Arabian culture. Exotic food, shiny souks (markets), local lifestyle, and old Islamic architecture can be easily found in Old Town Dubai. Downtown Dubai is the place which has been showcased to the world as the ‘Real Dubai’ which includes all the big names you can think of- the Burj Khalifa, the Burj Al Arab, the Jumeirah beach, the Atlantic Palm etc. Other than these two, there is another part of Dubai which is more modern and joins the mainstream Dubai called the Dubai Marina. Dubai Marina is the more residential part of the city meant for expats and the middle class locals. I had the pleasure of meeting an inspiring travel blogger (and a friend now), Neel there. She was kind enough to show me around the Dubai marina and the Jumeirah Beach Residency area around the Dubai Marina Mall.
During my three-day visit to the city, Neel suggested that I spend the first day in the Desert Safari followed by a day on the Red bus city tour. Although I am strictly against such touristy things (especially Red bus tours!), every building and sight in Dubai had a specific history and I wanted to get to know about most of it in the limited time that I had on my hands. I couldn’t afford to waste my time in planning my travel routes through public transport and so on due to which I decided to take the Red bus tour for the second day and keep the last day to myself for revisiting the places that I liked. The Red bus tour cost about 240 AED (47 pounds) for a 24 hours ride. The ticket included the day hop on and off bus tour, night tours, and some cruise rides in old town Dubai. The bus operates at three different routes marked as Red, Blue, and Amber covering old town, downtown, and Dubai marina respectively. Skyscrapers and the business world dominates downtown Dubai. The tall risers and elegant buildings make for perfect eye candy to a backpacker wandering around the city, looking for the taste of luxury.
Public transport is another cheap way to explore the city. A combination of high speed metro and air conditioned buses connect Dubai from one end to another. The only issue I faced was that the metro closes at 11 pm which is a considerably early hour for the citizens of Dubai. You can buy the NOL silver card which is a common transport card for metro and buses (including trams in the Dubai Marina area). The card can be as cheap as 25 AED (5 pounds) and you can get 25 AED worth of credit in it so that you don’t lose anything extra. I stayed in Sharjah for the first three days and had to stick to the metro timeline since a taxi from downtown to Sharjah was an expensive business. Do remember that the most important tip regarding public transport is that IT IS ILLEGAL TO DRINK OR EAT inside the metro or buses. Other than public transport, taxis can be easily found and are a convenient option but not cheap so sticking to public transport is the best option for budget travellers.
Dubai has the reputation for being the party and Shopping hub of the world but for the locals themselves, partying in Dubai is not a very popular option. Most locals stick to house parties because going downtown can burn quite a big hole in the pockets. Alcohol is mostly available only at select hotels and luxury pubs which make it difficult for casual night outs. The best bet is to buy your share from the airport while leaving for the city and to keep it indoors as drinking in public is against the law.
As a budget traveller, one might struggle to experience the lavish nightlife of the city but nothing can stop us from watching the amazing skyline of the city with the glittering lights illuminating every building. It’s just an experience which is unique in its own way. It’s okay to stop worrying about metro timings and there are multiple ways to return home even if it’s late. The night view of the city is not worth missing. Major buildings like the Burj Khalifa, the Burk Park, and the Emirates Tower, etc. look totally different at night. I will be talking about each attraction in detail in my next post. So till then, keep wandering and don’t let anything hold you back.