Smile #64 – Nice to Meet You, Dubai, UAE [Part III]!

Nice to Meet You, Dubai, UAE [Part III]!

For an authentic experience of Dubai life, we took an abra ride.  Abra is a traditional wooden boat that transports residents across the Deira Creek.  Instead of taking the regular abra, we hired an abra to give us an exclusive tour of the Dubai waters.   It was a nice escape from high towers and modern society.  🙂

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Before we head back to New Dubai, we stopped by a local supermarket to grab some lunch.  It was just like the old times when we used to travel.  🙂  No need for fancy meals, just some bread and desserts will do.  🙂

At the center of Dubai emerges Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest man-made building / world’s tallest free-standing structure.  Dwarfing over all neighboring towers, Burj Khalifa stands at 828 meters high aka = in translation – 3x the tallest building (Bank of America Corporate Center, 265 m) in Charlotte.

The shinny futuristic structure reminds me of Asgard from Thor.  See the resemblance or is it just me?  🙂

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I love viewing cities at the highest point, so of course we didn’t pass up this opportunity.  J and I booked tickets weeks ago.  🙂

I randomly selected our ticket appointment time.  As it turns out, booking our tickets at 2pm has its advantage.  There was no queue to the elevator, breezy easy to the top.  🙂

We hopped in the world’s tallest service elevator and within a minute, we reached floor 124!  🙂

Greetings from the top of the world!

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Standing at world’s highest outdoor observation deck, the view below is unbelievable!  The vantage point from here allowed me to see the city extends far into the desert, construction continuing at every street, Seikh Zayed Road busy at all hours.  We spent over an hour viewing Dubai from every angle.

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There are telescopes scattered throughout Floor 125 that allow you to zoom in different areas.  We got to see the city in prehistoric, day time, night time and current view.  Very neat for those of us that visited during the day but would like to see the night view.

Last but not least – the final attraction – Gold Souk and Spice Souk.  It was a journey to find the markets from the train station.  After trudging some tight street, we finally found the Gold Souk.  Victory!

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Gold glittered in every display.  There are all sorts of accessories from gold pendants to gold bangles to gold chains to gold earrings to gold bracelets.  My favorite is this little gold penguin.  🙂 In addition to gold and diamond, every shade of gemstones known to mankind are also available.  I have never seen such an abundance of gold in one place!

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Adjacent to the Gold Souk is Spice Souk…according to guidebook.  We walked through the gold market and found no spice souk.  With a lack of street signs, we tangled in the maze for a bit.  At last, we saw sacks of herbs and spices.  We have found our final destination!  🙂

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Despite Dubai is renown for glamour and contemporary, there are still strong root for culture and history.   We experienced the contrast between the old Dubai with the new Dubai.  🙂

Thank you Dubai for hosting us the past week.  This has been an eye-opening trip to the Middle East.  I can’t wait see your new transformation in just a few years.

Hard to believe our first reunion after two years have concluded.  I can’t wait until our next meet up!  🙂  Until then, let’s get planning!  🙂

Smile #63 – Nice to Meet You, Abu Dhabi, UAE!

Nice to Meet You, Abu Dhabi, UAE!

Just a short hour and half drive from Dubai, we reached Abu Dhabi, capital of UAE.  We were greeted by a gust of hot air.  The heat in Dubai was brutal, but the heat in Abu Dhabi is even more blistering.  The heat reached 113F, what a record!

The tour begin with Shiekh Zayed Grand Mosque.  It is the world’s largest mosque.  No words can truly express how magnificent and mesmerizing the Grand Mosque is.  From a distance away, I was stunned at its size.  A closer look further exposed its exquisiteness.

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Access is granted to all regardless of religious beliefs.  However, women must be covered from head to toe.  I got to try on the traditional dress.  Visiting the mosque dressed in an abaya and hijab made the visit much more authentic.  🙂

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The white marble exterior heightened the mosque’s grand appearance.  The main prayer room from ceiling to the floor is decorated in details.  The walls are embellished with marble flowers.  The back wall listed all of God’s name in elegant script.  Extravagant chandeliers hung inside its halls and foyers.  Intricate art work decorated each window.

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According to our guide, the mosque cost roughly $2 billion dirhams and 11 years to complete.  We could tell no change was spared during construction. 🙂

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Nearby the mosque is a ‘museum’.  The definition of museum at UAE slightly differs from the usual meaning.  The museum is essentially an open art gallery.  Visitors can purchase beautiful carpentry, expensive jewelries, delicate tableware and well crafted furniture.  My wallet would weep too loudly if I had made any purchases.

The tour continued to Emirates Palace.

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A loaded tank was parked outside the Emirates Palace to prevent any one lingering outside for too long or entering the hotel without an actual purpose.  Gotta protect the guests!

Side story: A Chinese lady was too focused on taking the best photo when she cross “the line”.  Immediately, the armed vehicle turned the guns to her.  Hope she got a great photo.

I’ll be over here instead…

Across the street is the Etihad Towers.  I felt a certain connection since I just watched Fast and Furious 7 on the flight to Dubai.  Vin Diesel and Paul Walker drove through the penthouse into the neighboring towers.  Just remember, cars don’t fly.

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Next stop – the Heritage Village.  An open museum that showcases historical Arabic living.  We bypassed everything and went straight for food and A/C (yes, we literally stood underneath the AC for a good minute to cool off) at Al Asalah, a local Arab restaurant.  After lunch we strolled outside the restaurant to find the beach with Abu Dhabi’s striking city skyline.  🙂

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We made a quick stop at the Date Market.  Each store offered a wide variety of dates.  There are fresh ones and flavored ones.  I already picked up two boxes of regular dates to bring back home.  🙂

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The tour ended at Yas Island/Ferrari World.  Ferrari World is world’s largest indoor theme park and houses the world’s fastest roller coaster.  Since we didn’t buy admission tickets, we only visited the official merchandise store.  The store sold items from a Ferrari shirt to Ferrari purses to Ferrari 24K gold cuff-inks.   Cray!

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Sidestory:  J and I decided to get a cold treat after a hot day.  A sign advertised 100 gram for 11 dirhams.  I somehow managed to dispense exactly 100 gram of sorbet.  Nothing more and nothing less.  That’s what you call talented!   🙂

A visit to the dazzling capital taught me the true definition of rich.  From the Grand Mosque to Emirates Palace, everything can only be described as extraordinary.  Abu Dhabi is certainly worth a visit.  🙂

Read Smile #61 for my experience in Dubai or Smile #62 or my first safari encounter or Smile #64 when I reached top of the world.

Smile #62 – Nice to Meet You, Dubai, UAE [Part II] – Safari Desert Edition!

Nice to Meet You, Dubai, UAE [Part II] – Safari Desert Edition!  

No trip to Dubai is complete without a trip to the safari!  🙂  Friends and coworkers who have been to Dubai highly recommended a trip to the desert is a must.  I was very excited to experience the desert safari!  🙂

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A formation of Land Cruisers 4×4 arrived at our hotel for pick up.  Off we go to the desert.  🙂

Waiting out in the sun for our drivers to deflate the tires confirmed I have serious #firstworldproblem.  Even though I am in shorts (for the first time in Dubai), I still sweated a puddle.  Please, I need portable A/C! (Someone please invent that!)

Mr. Camel in the ring caught everyone’s attention.  Because I am so great with animals (totally sarcastic), here is my attempt to pet him.

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After a 45 minutes wait, we are ready for sand dashing!

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Speeding over each bump left us bouncing around the car.  Up and down we go!  At some bumps, it seems the front bumper is almost touching the ground!  Going in, I had no idea what sand dashing entails.  Come to find out sand dashing is almost like riding a roller coaster, but just in a regular car.  🙂  I am so impressed with our driver’s driving skills, but even more with his geographic navigational skills.  I would be so lost in the unbounded desert.

We stopped in the mid of the desert.  Just in time to see the luminous warm glow. 🙂

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The desert is warm with occasional breeze.  Unfortunately sweat and sand do not get along.  What a sticky situation!  🙂

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After surviving the thrilling ride in one piece, our drivers dropped us off at a campsite for dinner and performances.

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A number of tents were set up for drinks, henna, and souvenirs.  I couldn’t resist getting a tattoo.  The henna tattoo lady drew this in no time, talk about skills!

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Behind the campsite, a couple sand-boards were found laid out.  J dragged one of the boards up the hill and lock his feet into the board.  Slowly he nudge toward the edge.  Off he goes down the hill!  I decided to take a stab at it.  ….well, more like sand sliding since I sat on the board instead.  🙂  With a push from J, I successfully slid down the hill.  The more challenge part is bringing the board back.  With every three steps I took, I slide two steps back.  I had to use the board for support to pull myself up.  🙂

Minor tip:  Climbing up the hill in barefoot is much easier.  🙂

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Our touring company reserved a section just for us.  It gave us an open view to the stage.  The performances were fantastic, particularly the fire act!  The performer threw fireballs, swallowed fire, and spitted fire from gasoline.  Every second kept me at the edge of my seat!  🙂

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The night wrapped up relatively early.  At this point, we were all ready to head back for a shower and some relax time.  🙂

Being in the desert was a novel experience, and certainly one that I’ll remember for years to come.  🙂

Read Smile #61 for my experience in Dubai or Smile #63 to understand the definition of rich or Smile #64 when I reached top of the world.

Smile #61 – Nice to Meet You, Dubai, UAE [Part I]!

Nice to Meet You, Dubai, UAE [Part I]!  

I arrived a week ago in Dubai, but all I managed to see is just my hotel room and SP Jain Management School’s classrooms.  Although the view from my room is pretty spectacular, I am ready to break free and explore Dubai beyond these borders!  🙂

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My favorite travel buddy arrived last night.  YAY! 🙂   It has been too long since we last travel together.  Without further delay, Dubai, here we come!  🙂

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We escaped the brutal Dubai summer heat by hiding in the world’s largest mall – Dubai Mall.  Literally every shop from around the world is gathered here.  Over 1,200 shops to browse, it is every girl/guy/kid’s dream (yes, kids.  There is a whole wing of the mall dedicated to just kids’ fashion, including Gucci Kid.).  In addition to shops, the mall also houses the world’s largest suspended aquarium, an ice rink, a movie theater, a flight simulator, an indoor theme park and hotel.  I am at awe! 🙂

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The mall is divided in different sections.  The gold souk decorated with Arabian theme exposes Dubai’s tradition and historical culture while the village is quiet and calm.  It is hard to grasp the size of this mall.  No kidding, we spent over 7 hours at the mall and there are still areas left unexplored!  🙂  On the upside, more reasons to come back.  🙂20150822_142038

Accompanying the mall is no less than the world’s largest dancing fountain.  It is beautiful both day and night.  Crowds gather every 30 minutes for the great fountain show.  The lights and water dance in perfect rhythm with the music.

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The same area also offer a great view of Burj Khalifa.  🙂

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We wander to the market across where we found a vendor selling sand art.  With just a few small tools and colorful sand, the vendor quickly whipped up a new painting within a small bottle – camel trekking through the desert in just the perfect sunset.  What an unique souvenir from Dubai!  🙂

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Voila! My very own bottle! 🙂

I’d say our first day exploration is quite successful!  🙂  Time for rest, first time since I arrived in Dubai.

Read Smile #62 for my first encounter with desert safari or Smile #63 to understand the definition of rich or Smile #64 when I reached top of the world. 🙂