For our first day in Dubai, we decided to tackle the major tourist attractions. Our first stop was the Dubai Mall. I wasn't expecting to be as blown away as I was — the endless row of stores and huge central aquarium was incredible.
After that, we headed to the Burj Khalifa. As we rode the elevator up to the observation deck, I was thinking about how Dubai had transformed itself from a small desert town into one of the world's top tourist destinations in just a couple of decades. From the top, we could see the edge of the city and the desert beyond, which provided an interesting perspective. After we descended, we watched the nighttime water show in front of the Burj Khalifa. I was amazed to learn that the building is covered in lights that can display a wide range of patterns and animations.
We spent most of the day relaxing and exploring Dubai on our own. As we wandered around the city, it was fascinating to see how the presence and atmosphere of each block could change so dramatically. Later that night, we visited the Gold Souk market. Beautiful stores filled with jewelry lined the walkway for as far as the eye could see. Don't let the availability of jewelry trick you though — it was still extremely pricey.
Today, we took to the water to see some of Dubai's most iconic landmarks. As we pulled out of the port, the imposing skyline of Dubai shone against the harsh sun. We visited the Palm Islands, the Burj al Arab, and Atlantis. It was surreal to see the luxury and extravagance of these places, knowing that just a few miles away, there are people struggling to get by.
After our boat ride, we went to Jumeriah Beach. The beach was crowded with tourists soaking up the sun. We watched the sunset, and I met a man with two camels. Despite the language barrier, he was friendly and welcoming, and even agreed to take a picture with me, and even posed!. He offered camel rides for 100 dirhams.
We took a day trip to Abu Dhabi, which was a two-hour drive from Dubai. Our first stop was the Sheikh Zayed Mosque. Despite the heat, there was a comforting rush of cool air when we entered due to the amount of white marble. Each room had intricate marbled patterns with an incredible amount of detail.
After the mosque, we visited the Emirates Heritage Village, where we had a traditional lunch and participated in various cultural workshops. On the way back to Dubai, we stopped at the Yas Marina Circuit, an F1 racetrack. The building itself was impressive, with stunning architecture and design. Inside, the light was scattered in many different directions. Standing on the side and watching the training cars fly by was an experience I won't soon forget.
We drove about an hour and a half outside of Dubai in a Toyota Land Cruiser into the middle of the desert. I thought we were pretty cool in our big truck, until we reached our first destination and saw hundreds of other Land Cruisers scattered across the desert.
We then put the Land Cruiser to the test as we sped across the desert mountains. It was a bumpy ride — at times, we were almost driving vertically up some of the slopes, and we couldn't see the ground when we were coming down. Some of us enjoyed the thrill, while others found it a bit scary.
After an hour of this roller coaster, we stopped at the top of a hill and went sandboarding. I flew off my board and ended up with a face full of sand, but it was still a ton of fun. It was even more entertaining to watch my parents try to stay on their boards as they slid down the hill. We continued to sandboard as the sun set and the desert turned from a harsh yellow to a soft orange.
At night, we went to a nearby camp for a traditional "Arabian Night" experience, complete with belly dancers, hookah, and camel rides. The camel rides were a lot more violent and unstable than I had anticipated.
We visited the Dubai theme parks: Bollywood, Motiongate, Legoland, and Hollywood. The parks were expansive, but I didn't find anything particularly extraordinary about them. They had a mix of shows, rides, food stands, and small events.
In the morning, we went to the Miracle Gardens. It was fascinating to learn about how they care for and maintain so many flowers in the middle of the desert. As soon as we entered, we were greeted with a strong floral scent. The gardens were filled with flowers, and there was even an entire plane covered in blooms.
In the evening, we went to the Global Village, where I experienced many different cultures in a single melting pot. Each country had its own booth, where they displayed some of the unique aspects of their culture. It was amazing to see how all of these cultures came together in one place, and how you could walk from one continent to another in just a few minutes.