Spending the holidays in Dubai

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We got invited to travel to Dubai and Abu Dhabi during a Christmas and New Year Holiday break. Lucky enough that we can save on accommodation because we stayed at our family’s house in Dubai and spent time with them to celebrate the holidays.

We flew via Cebu Pacific and our visa classification was Visit Visa, which is sponsored by someone who is currently living in UAE. If you’re planning to travel to UAE here are the requirements to get a travel visa: Passport copy of the sponsor and of the tourist; copy of the salary invoice or employment contract of the sponsor (resident); proof of family relationship; travel insurance; and Visa Application Form.

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You can send all of the requirements to your relative based in UAE for him to process it there and then just pay the application fees for both sponsor and tourist. You’ll receive the approved visa via courier in your country.

Apart from flying from Manila via Cebu Pacific, you can also fly with luxury airlines like Emirates and Qatar Airlines. We flew for 9 hours and 35 minutes and touchdown at the Dubai International Airport.

To see the best spots in Dubai, the best way to go around is by hiring a van or if you know someone who’s living there who has his own transportation since most of the places that you’ll visit are far from each other. You can take the public transportation like the Metro and the buses if you’re only going around the city centre to see the Dubai Mall or visiting Jumeirah Beach. But if you have plans to see the sand dunes or go as far as the other cities in UAE like Abu Dhabi or Sharjah, you need to hire a private vehicle.

The Metro train is easy to take, its pretty clean, simple and there are signs where to get the tickets so there’s a slim chance of getting lost. The train stops are all connected to the mall or near the central business districts. Also the locals can mostly speak English so you won’t have any problems with the language barrier.

If you’re taking the bus after riding the train, make sure of taking note of each number that corresponds to different routes in the city. We were lucky because where my family lives, the buses go inside the condominium complex. If you prefer to ride a cab, there are plenty of them at the terminals but they are more expensive than the bus fare.

The drivers are also easy to talk to since they are pretty helpful and know a lot of the usual tourist spots. I’ve ridden some cabs wherein the drivers who are Middle Eastern can even speak Filipino. I was surprised how many of the foreigners over there can speak our language. We had an Indian driver of a van we hired who is fluent in Filipino.

For accommodation, if you don’t know anyone in Dubai and you want to splurge, stay at the world-famous Burj Al Arab, Atlantis The Palm or Kempinski Mall of the Emirates. There are also cheaper places to spend a couple of nights such as the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Rove Downtown or Hampton by Hilton.

My favorite place in Dubai is the Jumeirah Walk area because of the city with a beach view. If you prefer that kind of atmosphere, there are plenty of condominiums where locals and expats alike are offering accommodations via Airbnb or Couchsurfing. If you are really scrimping on accommodation, there are cheaper accommodations like Oyo Hotel in Deira and Bur Dubai.

One of the best things I enjoyed the most when I travelled to UAE is their delicious local dishes. They have plenty of cuisines with different types of meat like lamb, mutton, goat, beef and veal. There are also a lot of seafood dishes on their restaurant menus.

I loved it when we went to the fish market at 5 in the morning. Their seafoods are huge and fresh! Their wet market is super clean and quite alive with sellers and buyers so early in the morning. Don’t miss it if you have time because you’ll be amazed with the selection they have!

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Try their popular local dish of shawarma that is of lamb or chicken and mixed with garlic sauce, pickles, fries, tomatoes then wrapped in Arabic Roti. Over there, it’s made more similar to a Kebab. Don’t miss out devouring on authentic hummus, one of my favorite Middle Eastern dish, which is served with a shawarma and pita bread. Hummus is made out of smashed chickpeas and mixed with olive oil, lemon juice, tahini paste with a sprinkle of salt and garlic.

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Al Machboos is another local dish made with rice, vegetables, meat, onion, and dried lemon. It’s cooked with spices the Middle East is known for. Margoogat is a local dish made of meat in a tomato-based stew that is quite spicy because of turmeric, cumin and bezar (which is a garam masala-like spice mix). Some make this dish with chicken or lamb while others add marrow and potatoes.

Before going here, I didn’t know that there are dumplings in the Middle East but check out their luqaimat which are hot dumplings but they taste more like doughnuts. They are served with a sticky date sauce and has sprinkling on top of sesame seeds. Although this dessert originally hails from Palestine, knafeeh is a pastry that has become a local favorite. It is made of sour cheese, sugar syrup and dough.

They also love coffee or tea but if you’re used to your normal drink, over there it’s pretty common to add cardamom, saffron or mint, giving them a distinct taste. Dubai is also known for their dates eaten plain or coated chocolate, particularly those sold from dessert stores, Bateel and Patchi.

If you’re a bit queasy about trying the local cuisine, don’t fret as there are plenty of international cuisines. Dine at the mall food courts to get the best of both worlds and cheaper finds. If you prefer internationally known restaurants, try Jollibee, KFC, Paul Café, Five Guys Burgers and Fries, Shake Shack, Carluccio’s, and Le Pain Quotidien. If you’re aiming for Middle Eastern food, visit Latitude, Sultan’s Lounge, Marakesh, Li Beirut, and Operation Falafel.

Dubai isn’t just all about malls and scrumptious dishes, make sure you visit the dessert and spend the night there as they allow overnight camping or stay for the evening dinner with dancing shows at the dessert. You can ride the camel or do ATV on the sand dunes.

Visit the famous Burj Al Arab, a 160-storey skyscraper and observation deck, and Burj Khalifa, a luxury hotel which is designed like the sail of a boat. Of course, the world famous Atlantis The Palm is also a good and fun destination if you prefer a luxurious hotel with an amusement park and a view of the ocean where you can spend the day swimming.

Learn more about the history of UAE at the Dubai Museum and enjoy riding the boat at Deira. Shop for local perfumes, textile, spices or gold at Souk Madinat Jumeirah or at the Gold Souk. For shopping, shop until you drop at the Mall of Emirates and Dubai’s biggest mall, the Dubai Mall.