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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Destination: Dubai

Never did I imagine that I would go to Dubai for vacation. But because my friend and I scored ridiculously cheap roundtrip tickets - like, $30.00 cheap - last January 2015, we just had to go. :D

VISA




First things first. Filipinos need a visa to go to Dubai. Based from experience, we learned there are several ways to obtain a visa:

  • The easiest way is to have someone living and/or working in Dubai lodge your tourist visa application at a Dubai-based travel agency. We just sent scanned copies of our passports, passport-sized photo, and flight details. 
  • Some hotels can also 'sponsor' your stay and process the visa for you, but most of them require a security deposit of AED5,000 (around Php65,000!). To get the refund, you must send them a copy of your exit stamp upon your return to the Philippines.
  • Some Dubai-based travel agency can sponsor your visa if you don't have any family or friends in Dubai, but most of the time, you also have to avail of their hotel and/or tour package.
  • Lodge your visa application through a local (PH-based) travel agency. However, we found this very expensive. The visa fee can range from Php9,000.00 (e-visa) to Php12,000.00 (hard copy).
To avoid being offloaded, make sure you have the proper visa, lodging reservation/s, tour bookings etc. to prove that you really are just going there for leisure. 

IBIS DEIRA CITY CENTRE


As one would expect from flying long haul with a low cost carrier, we were confined in a very small plane with little or no legroom for 9 freaking hours. I probably suffered from gluteal amnesia, I wanted to find a chiropractor as soon as we landed.


Thankfully, the hotel we booked was less than 10 minutes away from the airport. I swear I could hear my spine thanking me as soon as I laid on the bed.



photos from Ibis Deira City Centre's Facebook page

This was our home for 7 nights and we didn't have a single problem. Location's unbeatable, too, in my opinion. It's just across Deira City Centre and Carrefour, and only a 3-minute walk to the Dubai metro. It's pretty safe even at night. One time we got back from Abu Dhabi at almost midnight and we still felt secure walking to our hotel.


The buffet breakfast's pretty modest, but decent. I think I actually miss it especially the pain au chocolat lol


OLD DUBAI/DUBAI CREEK/SOUKS



Gold Souk, Textile Souk, and Spice Souk
Abra on Dubai Creek
Arabian Tea House

On our first few days, we decided to check out Old Dubai first since it was closest to the hotel. We planned on staying at The Palm on our last 3 days so we might not have the time to drop by the souks before we leave. 

From Deira City Centre, we took the metro and got off Al Ras Station. We walked for a few minutes until we reached the Gold Souk. Probably not the best place to start your Dubai trip because you'll never run out of options, only Dirhams. :p 

Not too far from the Gold Souk are the Spice and Textile Souk. Again, there's plenty of options here for souvenir shopping.

Next, we found our way to the abra (traditional boat) station, and for only a Dirham, we crossed Dubai Creek to Bur Dubai where the Heritage Village, Dubai Museum, and Bastakiya are located.

We had lunch at Arabian Tea House then walked to Al Fahidi station to go to Dubai Mall. 

DUBAI MALL, DUBAI FOUNTAIN BURJ KHALIFA  




Hailed as the tallest building in the world (as of writing) and Dubai's landmark, we just had to see Burj Khalifa. 


One can actually check out 360 views of Dubai from At the Top, the 124th floor, for AED125 to AED200 (depending on the time of your visit). My friend got a good deal from Groupon prior to our trip so she was able to check it out. I decided to pass because I find it steep. Pun intended.  


Right next to Burj Khalifa is Dubai Mall -- one of the largest malls in the world. 


We actually went there twice. They didn't have the dancing fountain show the first time we went because the country was still mourning the death of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. On our second visit, we made the mistake of going during Eid. Walking from the Metro Link Bridge to the mall seemed like a pilgrimage.


ABU DHABI




Around 2 hours from Dubai is Abu Dhabi, UAE's capital. 


We took a bus from Al Ghubaiba Bus Station in Dubai then took a taxi to Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque from the bus station in Abu Dhabi.


Now, while we know there are several attractions in Abu Dhabi like Corniche, Emirates Palace and Ferrari World among others, we felt like there's no point in going there just for photo op. 


So, yes, we went to Abu Dhabi solely for Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and it was worth it! It's one of the most beautiful structures I've ever seen. Its interiors and exteriors are equally gorgeous, and is picturesque at any time of day.


NOTE: Women need to borrow an abaya before entering the mosque. Make sure you bring a government-issued ID because they don't accept passports as identification


I just want to share a minor boo-boo that happened when we left the mosque.


We took one of the several taxis waiting outside. We told the driver to take us to the bus TO Dubai because, frankly, we had no idea how many bus stations there were, and we didn't want him to take us to the wrong bus station. He said "To Dubai?" and we said yes.


My friend and I were chatting, and we even joked "Baka dalhin tayo nito direcho sa Dubai." and we just laughed it off. But then I started seeing signs pointing to Dubai and we were about the enter the highway. Slightly panicked, we asked him "We're going to the bus station, right?" Pissed, the driver replied "You said to Dubai. I asked you, you said yes." Clearly, we had a miscommunication and we apologized for the confusion. He took the closest U-turn while lecturing us that we should be clear with our instructions because we are tourists. 


In the end, we paid more than what we were supposed to, but just imagine how much damage it would have made to our budget had he drove us directly to Dubai. Yikes!


DESERT SAFARI




For me, Dubai Desert Safari was probably the highlight of our trip because it's something I know I can only experience in the Middle East.


The safari includes dune bashing which was scary at first but so much fun!


We then had photo ops in the desert and posed with a falcon. For a minimal fee, one can also try riding a camel, sand boarding, and have a henna tattoo. Renting a quad bike, though, is a bit pricey. Couldn't remember exactly if it's AED100 per 30 minutes or an hour. 


Barbecue dinner was served while waiting for the awesome belly dance and tanoura show.


Going back was equally exciting because we had to drive through the desert again at night!


You can see a snippet of our Desert Safari experience, here.


MADINAT JUMEIRAH & BURJ AL ARAB




Another Dubai landmark is Burj Al Arab -- the self-proclaimed only 7-star hotel in the world. 


There are two ways to have a photo op with this sail-shaped hotel. 


You can see it from Madinat Jumeirah, a resort complex that recreates ancient Arabia. It even has its own waterways where you can ride an abra for AED85. Yikes! Unfortunately, there was an ongoing construction when we went. I believe this is the Fort Island expansion.


Alternatively, you can go to the public beach, Kite Beach. Again, we made the mistake of going during Eid so the beach was very crowded. Thankfully, my cousin recommended we pass by again before dropping us off in Atlantis, so we managed to sneak in a few 'tourist poses' with Burj Al Arab. hehe 


SHARJAH





After leaving Madinat Jumeirah, I originally asked my cousin if we could go to The Palace Downtown, but the traffic going there was terrible. She suggested we go to Sharjah instead. 

Sharjah is one of the seven Emirates and is about an hour away from Dubai. It is more conservative than the latter which explains why nightlife here was pretty mellow.


We went to Al Qasba which seemed like a popular place for families. It has a kilometer-long manmade canal lined with cafes and restaurants. Other attractions include the Eye of the Emirates and a kids' place which is like a small carnival.    


IBN BATTUTA MALL




One day we ran out of things to see/do so we decided to go to Ibn Battuta Mall to have coffee at the most beautiful Starbucks store lol. 


Located close to the end of the Dubai Metro's red line, the long train ride itself was a good way to sightsee. 


The mall is sort of an homage to Ibn Battuta and his adventures that's why the courts were named after the countries that have been part of his journey, namely: Tunisia, Egypt, Persia, India, China and Andalusia. 


ATLANTIS - AQUAVENTURE & THE LOST CHAMBERS


Ever since I learned about Atlantis in The Bahamas, I told myself I'll visit it someday. But then a little over a decade after it opened, they opened another one in Dubai so my dream became even more feasible. :D


A few days after we booked our tickets to Dubai, we immediately reserved a room at Atlantis via Agoda. The room already includes access to Aquaventure and The Lost Chambers.



The Chihuly Sculpture at the reception of Atlantis, The Palm

Our Deluxe Room was very spacious and beautifully decorated. And while we didn't get a room with a view of the beach, our view of Crescent Road wasn't that bad at all.

Their bed is one of the most comfortable I've ever slept in. I would even dare say it's the best.

However, my biggest pet peeve in a hotel is when you have to pay for WiFi! The 24-hour WiFi costs AED99. Ridiculous! We had major issues with their poor customer service, too. I don't want to ruin the mood of this post so if you want to read the details, you can check my TripAdvisor review here.

Atlantis as seen from its private beach
I actually miss this pool! When it gets really hot, they even give out cold towels to guests by the pool.
Aquaventure - where I almost drowned lol
The Lost Chambers

I wasn't expecting that I would enjoy going around The Lost Chambers so much. You'd really get the feeling that you're in Atlantis, as in the lost city.

RIXOS, THE PALM


We decided to spend our last night, still at The Palm, but this time, at Rixos which is the ultimate definition of chill. It's perfect for people who just want some R&R.


Don't get me wrong, Atlantis is nice but it tends to be too crowded because it caters more to families, not to mention the frenetic busload of day-trippers.


Beach or pool?

Our Sea View Room was impeccable with state of the art amenities. I particularly loved the freestanding tub where I enjoyed a warm bubble bath before retiring for the night.

Food was delicious, of generous serving, and reasonably priced. Room service was commendable, too.  

Rixos also provides complimentary scheduled water taxi to Dubai Marina and shuttle service to and from Mall of the Emirates.


Oh, just looking at these pictures again make we want to go to the beach. STAT!



***

Would I go back to Dubai? If Emirates had a glitch and the travel period is during winter, why, hell yes! LOL

Monday, April 4, 2016

Video: Dubai Vacation

While I'm still cooking up the blog post, here's a short video of what transpired during my Dubai vacation last September 2015.


UAE Trip 2015 from Kat Torres on Vimeo
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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Review: Gaju Suite Hotel, Kathmandu

When looking for accommodations in Thamel, Kathmandu, make sure you do your research well so you don't end up in a 'hotel', which, really, is just a guesthouse, like we did. 

The first 'hotel' we stayed at doesn't have a lift (and we were given a room on the 4th floor), doesn't have an inverter air conditioner so we had to endure single digit temperature at night, we had to wait for 15 minutes (or more) for the hot shower to heat up, and breakfast takes forever to be served. It was unbearable I cannot wait to leave that place. haha

Anyway, on my remaining days in Kathmandu, I was very relieved when I stayed at Gaju Suites. It is conveniently located a few minutes away from Garden of Dreams, but far enough from the noisy and chaotic side of Thamel. There's also plenty of restaurants, souvenir shops, ATM & foreign exchange close to the hotel.




The hotel is within a business center, and the lobby is at the ground floor while the rooms/suites are on the 3rd and 4th floors. The restaurant-bar, Reef, is at the 5th floor. The building has a small lift, so guests don't have to worry about their heavy luggage. A staff also assists guests to the rooms.


I also appreciate that they have security guards at the building entrance, and at the 3rd and 4th floors.




I was given a modest sized Deluxe Room with modern amenities. 



The first thing I noticed was the air conditioning unit. Hello, 25°C! I was still nursing a cold then, so the warm room temperature plus the comforter gave me a good night's sleep.