We decided to head to the Middle East for a few days before heading out of Asia. It has been bittersweet leaving Asia, but I am more than ready to move on to other parts of the world. The Middle East was never on our list of possible locations, but after hearing such good things about Dubai we decided to see what we could do. We were able to get a flight that gave us an overnight/all day layover in Doha, Qatar and then three days in Dubai, UAE. This worked well for us since there are so many flights to Europe from Dubai (and we are going on a Euro-trip — which has already happened now, but at the time of writing this was an accurate statement)! As always, all of the really good pictures featured in this post were taken by Scott and the rest I must claim as my own.
Our trip through the Middle East was brief, just skimming the surface. We would have loved to make it to Oman, other parts of the UAE (United Arab Emirates), and Kuwait. Honestly, we were not entirely sure what to expect and how we would feel about this region so this time we settled for a brief introduction. I really regret that we did not spend more time exploring this region of the world. There is so much negative press about the Middle East. And yes, there are parts of the Middle East are dangerous and full of political unrest, but there are also parts that aren’t. It has been enriching to experience cultures far from what we know and we are so glad we made it to the Gulf.
The most interesting part for me was to observe a cultures so deeply rooted in Islam — this could be seen everywhere from the Islamic call to prayers blaring on the loud speakers throughout the day, shop days/hours open, and the completely different style of dress than what we are used to seeing. Islam is one of the most misunderstood religions in the world, especially for people living in the Western world. I believe that an understanding and appreciation of other cultures, beliefs, and customs only makes the world a better and stronger place. On a completely unrelated and less serious note, it was so damn hot outside! We were there in the most mild part of the year and I was melting in the desert sun (it did not help that I made sure to wear clothes that covered my knees, elbows, and shoulders most of the time). I cannot imagine how hot this region is in the summertime, nor do I want to experience the extreme heat for myself — this former Texan just cannot handle it.
As we are booking flights there was a 24 hour layover in Doha….uh, so where is that? After a bit of research we decided to go for it – it is safe, there are some cool things to see and it was a bonus location we did not have to buy a ticket to see. Doha is a really cool city full of beautiful buildings, museums, markets (souks), and really good food. Doha will be hosting the World Cup in 2022 so I am sure we will be hearing more and more about Qatar in the next few years.
We arrived at 10 am trying to see the souk before the long lunch break that occurs daily. The souk was supposed to reopen at 4, but we had to be heading to the airport around then so the morning was our one shot. We get there and everything was shut down. Apparently Friday is the worst day to explore Muslim countries as a lot of people go to pray in the morning/afternoon. All of the restaurants were open so we decided to sit on the patio, people watch, eat (so much hummus!), and do as the locals do and smoke some shisha (hookah – it is tobacco, not drugs). A few shops opened up by the time we were leaving so we were able to pick up a magnet, our one souvenir that we buy from every place we go. Although the souk was less lively than usual we still really enjoyed our time here.
The Museum of Islamic Art
We showed up at the Museum of Islamic Art not having any clue what to expect. I had seen it on every list of things to do in Doha so we figured why not. The museum building was designed by I.M. Pei and it is incredibly beautiful (inside and out) – if the entire museum would have just been this building I would have been happy just standing there looking at it. Lucky for us though there was a lot of art, tiles, bowls, rugs, and so many different items to be seen. It was one of the nicest and well-put together museums I have ever been too – also, admission was free! There was even an exhibit about Mohammad Ali and we thought it was pretty cool to see all the memorabilia.
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Eighty percent (80%)of the people who live in Dubai are not from the UAE. There is nowhere else in the world with that kind of statistic. There are people from all over the world, but many people in Dubai we met were from India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh. It was interesting to learn more about this city that was seemingly born overnight. There is so much wealth in this city and it is visible…every few seconds another Bentley, Rolls Royce, Aston Martin, or McLaren drives by. It is a city that is excessive, unnecessary, and really beautiful.
Dubai is a vertical city – we would go for walks trying to find street food and there seemed to be none around. It is hard to explain, but everything we know about cities with their life on the streets seemed to be non-existent in Dubai. There was one day we were exploring the souks and were in desperate need for food. We popped into a local hotel to ask where the nearby food was and they responded that there was none around. I asked where the workers of the souk ate and he mentioned something about a cafeteria, but there was maybe one restaurant in a half-mile area. Most cities have street food vendors on just about every street corner, but Dubai seemed to have none of this. We didn’t starve and there are a ton of places to eat (Shake Shack was one of our favorites), but we struggled to locate the local, quick, and cheap food scene we usually thrive on as budget travelers.
The tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa, is located in Dubai and we could not get over it. The building stands at 2,772 feet and was constructed in just 5 years. We went up to the 125th floor to check out the view of Dubai from above – you are super high up from the observation deck and the building goes up many more floors from there. You can even pay more and head up to the 148th floor if you really want the full experience.
The building is located next to the largest mall in the world (by land area) and the entire area is excessive and so very…Dubai. We spent a few hours wandering around the Dubai Mall looking at waterfalls, aquariums, shopping, and then exploring the surrounding areas. Much like the Bellagio in Las Vegas there is a fountain show that occurs every half hour in front of the Burj Khalifa and afterwards the building is lit up with different colors and patterns.
My belated birthday present (after many other failed attempts at excursions) was in the form of a desert safari. It was quite touristy, but we embraced being super tourists and had a fantastic time! We took a Landcruiser fit with a roll cage into the desert and rode over all the sand dunes – it was exhilarating and terrifying all at once. We asked after the fact if anyone ever crashes and he said usually it happens once per week. It really should not be surprising considering how fast we went over some of those sand dunes, but I was happy to not know about this risk until afterwards. We did a lot of things: dinner in the desert, rode a camel, learned about falcons, smoked shisha, and ran up as many sand dunes I could manage. We had a fabulous evening in the desert and we made some friends along the way!
The last morning in Dubai we went to check out all of the souks! The gold market and spice markets are some of the most recommended things to do in Dubai. We found these markets to be full of pushy, almost aggressive, vendors and could hardly get out of there fast enough. The spice market smelled amazing and was beautiful, but the vendors pulling on your arm and physically preventing you from walking was far too much for us.
Our favorite of the souks was the fish market (if you have read this blog at all you will know this is no surprise). The fish market is not at all geared towards selling things to tourists, although they sure did try to get us to buy everything. In addition to selling fish/seafood here they also have a meat section, produce section, and a row of vendors selling dried dates. The people working the market were incredibly friendly to us, were receptive to us taking pictures and asking questions, and were insistent on us holding their seafood and taking photos with them. It was one of our favorite spots in Dubai!
Total Number of Nights: 4
Currency: $1 USD = 3.64 Qatar Riyels = 3.67 United Arab Emirates Dirham
Number of Miles Traveled: 4,000 (including our flight from Vietnam)
Number of Miles Walked: 28 miles (average of 7 miles per day)
Steps Taken: 60,335 steps (average of about 15,100 per day)
Transportation Used: Taxi, Uber, hotel van, and plane
Type of Accommodations: Hotel (2)
Number of Beds: 2