You read it right! Another entry for my ‘The Solo Drifter’ section, meaning I’m travelling alone again (at least in the tours)! And you read it right! I experienced one country with three different dimensions – United Arab Emirates. This is first of the Middle East series of ‘The Solo Drifter’. I’ve been planning to write a blog about my experience in the Middle East but I don’t have the luxury of time. By now, you already know that I moved from Asia to the Middle East. It’s a great experience travelling around this region. For now, I can only write two – UAE and Bahrain. Hopefully, in the coming months, I can share my experience with you with the other countries here in this region – especially the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
What you need to know about United Arab Emirates
- It is an elective monarchy. Meaning, emirs (monarch) of each emirate elect a president and vice president from their group.
- Abu Dhabi is the capital, while Dubai is an international hub
- Islam is the official religion, Arabic is the official language
- UAE has hot summer (July and August being the hottest with an average of 45 °C) and warm winter (January and February are between 10 and 14 °C)
What you need to know about Dubai
- Known for the tallest building in the world, Burj Khalifa
- Alcohol sale and consumption, though legal, is regulated
- Adult non-Muslims are allowed to consume alcohol in licensed venues, typically within hotels, or at home with the possession of an alcohol license
- Only about 15% of Dubai’s population is made up of UAE nationals, with the rest comprising expatriates, many of whom either have been in the country for generations or were born in the UAE
- 85% of the expatriate population is Asian (most Indian – 51%, Pakistani – 16%, Bangladeshi – 9%, Filipino – 3%)
- At least in Dubai, non-Muslim groups can own their own houses of worship, where they can practice their religion freely, by requesting a land grant and permission to build a compound
- Non-Muslim religious groups are also permitted to advertise group functions openly and distribute various religious literature
- Historically, Dubai and its twin across Dubai Creek, Deira (independent of Dubai City at that time), were important ports of call for Western manufacturers
- Burj Al Arab is the only 7-star hotel in the world
- Dubai Miracle Garden is the world’s largest flower garden
- Dubai International Airport is the world’s busiest airport by international passenger traffic
- Dubai Metro consists of two lines (Red line and Green line) which run through the financial and residential areas of the city
- Palm Jumeirah Monorail is the first monorail in the Middle East
Obviously, if you are a Gulf citizen, you are travelling visa-free to UAE. Same goes to passport holders from mostly in Europe and Latin America countries. Passport holders of the UK, Ireland, US, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, China, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia and others – they can get visa on arrival, while passport holders from many countries like the Philippines can apply for an eVisa. Passport holders from Georgia, Moldova and Sierra Leone are required to get a visa.
As a Saudi Arabia resident, it was easy for me to get a visa but I utilized the services of Pick Visa for the processing. I got the Tourist eVisa (30 days, single entry) package amounting to USD125. Multiple entry doubles the price, and also if you are getting a 60-day visa. If you are transiting in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, they also have 48 and 96-hour transit visa which would cost you between USD25-65. UAE is also offering a freelance visa that would cost you USD2,859, with a one year validity. I was able to get my eVisa in two business days.
Most of the time, I used the Dubai Metro. I got a Nol Silver card amounting to AED25 and top it up with AED200. After seven days, I had an available balance of AED75. The card is valid for five years. There is also a Gold card which gives you a privilege to access the gold class cabin with double the regular fare. I only used Careem 4x during my stay. If you would be taking a taxi, each taxi has a device that would allow you to use your debit/credit cards.
Where to stay
Staying in Dubai means luxury but you can find affordable accommodation like The George Hotel by Saffron, Dubai Creek. I stayed there for seven days and I only paid AED634.95. Every room has its own theme. Unfortunately, I got a flowery room but that’s fine – I can only say the best about this hotel. Though I did not add breakfast to my booking, its restaurant offers cheap yet satisfactory meals. The best thing about my room – I had a great view overlooking Dubai Creek to downtown. If you read my other blog posts, you should know by now why I decided to take this hotel instead of staying at the city centre. I prefer staying in a heritage or with greens and blues.
What to do
The View at the Palm
When I was travelling for the first time to the Middle East – that was last year. We were on our way to Bahrain. This palm view amazed me. I didn’t know what were those. When I was searching for places to visit in Dubai, I came to know that Palm Jumeirah was built from reclaimed land in a series of artificial archipelagos. It is shaped like a palm tree when viewed from above, especially when you are from the plane. The unique island is home to some of Dubai’s top luxury resorts. Construction of The Palm Jumeirah Dubai island began in June 2001.
I booked the “Fast Track + Next Level” non-prime hours package which costs AED175 thru Visit Dubai. I was the first and only visitor during that time in the morning, 9am. As a gift, though I paid for a souvenir photo frame, the reception also gave me another design. The View at The Palm is located on level 52 of The Palm Tower, which also houses a café, a creative exhibition that showcases the development of the island, interactive aquarium-themed tunnels and a gift shop. When I went back to my hotel, I was able to experience the Palm Jumeirah Monorail.
The best part here, I learned the history of Palm Jumeirah – for me, the highlight was how visionary UAE leaders are.
Burj Khalifa and Dubai Fountain
In the evening, I got to experience the beauty of Burj Khalifa. Outside the Burj Khalifa is the Dubai Fountain. I booked a Burj Khalifa 124 Dinner at Rooftop, The Burj Club at Get Your Guide amounting to USD80. The most challenging part here when you arrive at The Dubai Mall is how to get to the Burj Khalifa entrance. As a tip – look for an elevator/lift with a signage of “At the Top”. It will take you the Will Call counter where you need to show your pass.
Yacht Tour at Dubai Marina
I booked a yacht tour with breakfast thru Get Your Guide amounting to USD52. Xclusive Yachts has a luxurious boarding terminal. The members of the yacht crew are accommodating that they took photos of me.
Dubai Marina is an artificial canal city built along Persian Gulf shoreline. From Dubai Marina, we also had a view of Ain Dubai, the world’s largest and tallest observation wheel, and Burj Al Arab, one of my dream portrait backgrounds.
Shopping and exploring restaurants in Deira
Deira is one of the oldest and most established areas of Dubai. It is located at the northern end of the Dubai Creek. City Centre Deira is a known shopping, entertainment and leisure complex. Thankfully, shops are offering sale when I went there so I was able to buy some clothes. Also, the popular Pappa Roti from the US has a branch here. It is known for its coffee bun and I also tried karak tea – aromatic spices and herbs combined with condensed milk, cardamom and premium quality saffron – now my favorite. I had my dinner at Gazebo Restaurant – The Royal Indian Journey. You’ll be surprised, they have 36 variety of biryani. And one of the favorites is murgh maskawala, grilled chicken simmered in a butter and cream speckled tomato gravy.
Deira is a go-to place of every Filipino in Dubai. When I met ate Romalyn, a churchmate and family friend from Ilocos, we were supposed to have our dinner at Dampa Seafood Grill but it was full that time so we decided instead to try other Filipino restaurants there – they are lining up in one place!
Coffee and Cocoa Pairing Workshop and Tour at Mirzam Chocolate Factory
Middle Easterns like to drink coffee. It’s part of their lives. Though I am not a coffee drinker, I realized I need to learn and appreciate the art of coffee drinking so I decided to book a coffee and cocoa pairing workshop and tour at Mirzam Chocolate Factory. Through this workshop, I was able to learn the steps in drinking coffee, know how dark a dark chocolate is, how coffee beans are roasted, the right coffee and cocoa combination for me based on my taste buds, how to prepare a coffee using single drip V60. We were introduced to the coffees from El Salvador, Brazil and Ethiopia. Had a tour also at their chocolate-making section.
Not only that Mirzam is a factory, but a coffee shop. While people are drinking coffee, they are able to see how Mirzam’s products are manufactured. The entire production is in full view through the shop’s glass windows, taking you through every intricate detail, from roasting the cocoa beans to hand wrapping each bar. Mirzam’s single origin collection of chocolate is crafted from beans originating from Vietnam, Indonesia, Madagascar, Papua New Guinea and India. After the tour, the Master Barista gave chocolates and served hot chocolate drink. The workshop price is affordable which costed me AED200 for two – yeah, I didn’t have an option for one only so I asked JL, a colleague from KPMG in the Philippines who is now based in Dubai, to join me in the workshop. It was fulfilling.
Dubai Dhow Dinner Cruise
Dubai is also known for the historical souk districts located on either side of its creek. Traditionally, dhows from East Asia, China, Sri Lanka, and India would discharge their cargo and the goods would be bargained over in the souks adjacent to the docks. Dubai Creek played a vital role in sustaining the life of the community in the city and was the resource which originally drove the economic boom in Dubai.
These dhows are becoming popular tourist destination in Dubai themselves. They are used for a cruise. We had an international dinner buffet and experienced a live Tanara dance show. The best view that we were able to get was the Infinity Bridge which dons green, white and red colors at night – they represent the UAE flag.
And the best thing about (solo) travelling is meeting new networks. Here, I had a chance to join the dinner table with executives from Australia, they both own logistics and recruitment companies.
Shop, sip and play at La Mer
Bryan, former NFJPIA-NCR president, asked me where I want to visit. He was raised in Dubai but took his accounting degree in the Philippines. Now, he is an active PICPA member in Dubai. Bryan took me to La Mer per my request. is an urban beachfront destination that combines sun and sand with shopping and style. With turquoise waters, white sands and funky murals, the leisure locale brings a splash of colour to the surrounding Jumeirah neighbourhood. Within the North and South sections you can browse more than 130 shops, cafés, restaurants and beach activities. Families can discover a variety of thrills with play areas for young ones and the impressive Laguna Waterpark – a one-of-a-kind waterpark featuring an exclusive surf attraction. A favourite among Dubai locals, La Mer’s picture-perfect views of the city skyline (including the Burj Khalifa) make it a must-visit.
Museum of the Future
Museum of the Future (MotF) is no ordinary museum, with ancient relics behind velvet ropes. It is a gateway to a future world, crafted by visionary designers, artists and filmmakers. The Museum combines elements of exhibition, immersive theatre and themed attraction. Each floor is like a film set from a future that you can inhabit, explore and interact with. The building facade is a canvas for the quotes of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum rendered in the calligraphy of Mattar bin Lahej. The building’s form is futuristic: it opens a new path away from the highrise towers that dominate skylines everywhere. Its form is symbolic: The circular building represents humanity; the green mound it sits atop represents the earth; the void represents the unknown future.
If you are planning to include MotF in your itinerary, ensure to book tickets as early as possible. And expect when you arrive there long queues. Before you line up, scan your ticket pass thru the machine and print your bracelet that will allow you to enter the first tour area of MotF. The reception uses a technology that can scan your bracelet. There are self-service machines that can print your bracelet, but you can also utilize the reception desk. Ticket price is AED145.
Al Fahidi Historical Area Walking Tour and Abra Ride
I booked an Al Fahidi Historical Area Walking Tour and Abra Ride package of Ocean Air Travels thru Get Your Guide. I must say that Ocean Air Travels, personally is one of the best tourism agencies in the world. Each tour guide is consistent with the values of their firm – passionate and knowledgeable. They know every detail of the areas they handle. Apparently, almost all packages I booked for Dubai, including Abu Dhabi (which didn’t push through because I tested presumptive positive for COVID-19), Ocean Air Travels handled them. The tourism agency and the tour guides know what their clients like and need. For example, Abdul, my tour guide for this specific tour knows the answer of every question I would throw. I was the only who joined their morning tour but the company still pushed through even though I declined their offer to join an afternoon tour as I had other plan that time. Abdul took photos of me. And the best part – I was able to experience Abra ride alone with him.
As a traveler, you can actually walk around Al Fahidi without a tour guide. But I still decided to book a tour package because I want to learn the history and culture of UAE and Dubai. Ocean Air Travels didn’t fail me. I was able to see how Dubai has transitioned and maintained history to the now and its future.
After visiting the heritage of Al Seef, I had an excellent opportunity to visit the Middle East’s largest Coffee Museum and knew more about how coffee has become a crucial part of the UAE’s history and culture. We walked around the Spice Souk and Gold Souk, breathing in the aromatic spices and admiring the colorful collection of gold jewelry. We took a traditional water taxi ride, Abra, to the other side of the Dubai Creek, witness the traditional architectures and old trading ships. I made use of this opportunity to take some stunning photos of the ever enchanting creekside.
Another good thing about Ocean Air Travels is how they communicate with their clients. The customer service agents are helpful and respectful.
I paid my tour package for USD31.64
Desert Safari, Quad Bike, Camel Ride and Camping
I had a tour package again with Ocean Air Travels thru Get Your Guide. This time, a 7-hour desert safari tour amounting to USD123. I just want to express my heartfelt thanks to Nazeed, the tour guide, for taking care of us and lovely photos! He knows how to take pictures and the best spot!
From the hotel, we had a one-hour drive to the Lahbab desert, offering us a chance to experience the thrilling adventures of the desert with a quad bike ride followed by an exciting dune bashing and sandboarding experience. Now, I have three quad bike experience with different backgrounds – white sand in the Philippines, mangrove forest in Indonesia, and the red sand in UAE!
We also had a camel ride and had a sunset view. A plus for Ocean Air Travels is that it has its own camp, Al Khayma. Upon arriving at the camp, we were welcomed you with Gahwa, Arabic coffee, Gaymat, sweets & dates and a falcon experience! We had our own area for refreshments and dinner. I engaged myself in various Bedouin activities like Henna tattooing and Shisha smoking. We were invited to a delicious Arabic style BBQ dinner buffet. There are also performers in the camp. One performed Tanoura dance, and a beautiful lady performed the “Ladies Khaliji Dance”. The camp lights were turned off, enjoying the typical desert night ambiance. I was also able to experience wearing an Emirati thawb.
Where to eat
Al Khayma Heritage House
Part of my Al Fahidi Heritage Area Walking Tour is visiting Al Khayma Heritage House. Here, I had the opportunity to meet the management of Ocean Air Travels which manages also Al Khayma Heritage House. I can also say one word – “humble”. My safari tour guide and heritage tour guide shared different, but consistent stories about him.
At Al Khayma Heritage Restaurant, I was greeted with Arabian welcome drinks, “Arabic Tea – with Dates”. They also served luqaimat, Ragag, and camel milk! While exploring the traditional Emirati architecture through this restaurant, I had the opportunity to learn more about the UAE’s journey, starting from the desert with the tents to reaching Mars through the photo walls in the restaurant.
The Burj Club
After visiting the Level 124 of the Burj Khalifa, I was treated to a three-course meal in the Burj Club restaurant. It is located at the third floor of the Burj Khalifa. The best thing here – I had great view overlooking Dubai Fountain.
Zam Zam Mandi
After visiting La Mer, Bryan took me to Zam Zam Mandi Restaurant. It’s everywhere in UAE! Of course, we had mandi (chicken with rice). And the restaurant offered us free luqaimat, one of my favorite desserts in the Middle East, and sulem tea, a combination of a regular tea and mint – now my favorite!
Kimura-Ya Authentic Japanese Restaurant at Marriott Hotel
The last time I had an authentic Japanese experience was in 2020. Thanks to my former colleagues from KPMG in the Philippines – ate Virna (who is now working as an accountant in a private company), Eka (who is now with Deloitte Dubai), and kuya Reyban and JL (who are both with KPMG Lower Gulf) – for taking me to Kimura-Ya. It has branches in The Oberoi Hotel, Habtoor Grand Resort and Sheraton Dubai Creek Hotel. We decided to go to Marriott Hotel for this experience.
The Farm Al Barari
An oasis of calm, The Farm is the perfect place to escape the heat and enjoy fresh fare in front of an exquisite botanical and waterside backdrop. Founded in 2012 and set within the green surroundings of Al Barari, The Farm is more than a restaurant, it is a culinary, leisure and social hub for UAE residents looking to spend quality time and enjoy great food with family and friends. It has earned lots of awards like the BBC Good Food Awards for Casual Dining & Best Sustainable Restaurant. Before you go there, you are required to book for your seats.
For my breakfast, I had Healthy Breakfast (fresh bread with jam, butter or honey; yoghurt, granola, and a fruit platter) and a wellness organic juice, Green Paradise (green apple, lemon, kale, ginger and cucumber). I travelled from my hotel to The Farm for about an hour, but truly it was an amazing experience – from the view to the food.
Itinerary and Budget
Below is a suggested itinerary (not my actual necessary, it has been improved based on my experience). You would notice in my previous blogs that I am not a fan of cities, but Dubai was an exception. It was the first city I fell in love with because of its diversity, vibe and rich culture. Truly, UAE is a convergence of life, history and technology. I promise to go back there as the country offers and promises the best for tourism.
The itinerary below presents my preferences as a tourist (loving unique adventure and anything green).
|FLIGHT – TO DUBAI||6,075.00||405.00||397.06||107.21|
|DAY 1 – FUTURIST DAY|
|9:00am-11:00am||The View at the Palm (Breakfast)||2,598.75||178.50||175.00||47.25||Nakheel Mall Monorail Station|
|12:00pm-3:00pm||Museum of the Future||2,153.25||147.90||145.00||39.15||Emirates Tower Metro Station (Red Line)|
|3:30pm-6:00pm||Dubai Mall||Dubai Mall Metro Station (Red Line)|
|7:00pm-9:30pm||Burj Khalifa and Dubai Fountain (Dinner)||4,400.00||302.22||296.30||80.00|
|DAY 2 – WATER DAY|
|9:00am-11:00am||Dubai Marina: Yacht Tour (Breakfast)||2,860.00||196.44||192.59||52.00||DMCC Metro Station (Red Line)|
|12:00pm-6:00pm||La Mer (Lunch, Shop, Laguna Waterpark)||Palm Strip Center Bus Station (Purple Line)|
|7:00pm-9:00pm||Dubai Dhow Cruise (Dinner)||3,245.00||222.89||218.52||59.00||Al Ghubaiba Metro Station (Green Line)|
|DAY 3 – COFFEE AND CULTURAL DAY|
|7:30am-8:30am||The Farm||1,485.00||102.00||100.00||27.00||Oud Metha Metro Station (Green Line), then take taxi|
|9:30am-11:00am||Mizam Chocolate Makers Factory||2,970.00||204.00||200.00||54.00||Marine Center 1 Bus Station (Purple Line)|
|12:00pm-3:00pm||City Centre Deira (Lunch)||City Centre Deira Metro Station (Red Line)|
|4:00pm-6:00pm||Al Fahidi Historical Area Walking Tour and Abra Ride||1,740.20||119.53||117.19||31.64||Sharaf DG Metro Station (Green Line)|
|6:00pm-7:00pm||Al Khayma Heritage Restaurant||Price included above and within the Al Fahidi Area|
|DAY 4 – SAFARI DAY|
|Depends on preferred itinerary||Quad Bike ride||6,765.00||464.67||455.56||123.00||Hotel pickup|
|Al Khayma Desert Camp|
|DAY 5 – ABU DHABI DAY|
|Depends on preferred itinerary||Sheikh Zayed Mosque||5,897.00||405.05||397.10||107.22||Hotel pickup|
|Qasr Al Watan|
|FLIGHT – TO BAHRAIN (the other half is presented in Bahrain itinerary)||5,452.50||363.50||356.37||96.22|
ALSO READ: The Solo Drifter in Bahrain
RECREATION AND ADVENTURE
FOOD AND BEVERAGES
About the Author
PJ is a CPA, writer, storyteller, environment and youth advocate. As a writer, his articles on national development were published in a Spanish newspaper and local news network Rappler. As a storyteller and environment advocate, his documentary films on mining and environment were featured by ABS-CBN News and GMA News. He launched his career as a CPA at KPMG in the Philippines in 2015. He started his professional journey as an external auditor of a global workspace provider (the largest audit client of KPMG in the Philippines), global bank, leading MFCG in the Philippines and a number of shared service centres. As an auditor, his team won the KPMG Asia-Pacific Data & Analytics Challenge and coached the Philippine team that placed third to the KPMG GlobalRunner Cup. More than two years later, he led KPMG in the Philippines’ Network of Audit Innovators and Data & Analytics Champions and its academic arm, while serving as a member of the KPMG Asia-Pacific Audit Digital Transformation Workstream. He has a strong background across the full life cycle of data and analytics (D&A) and audit methodology. He served as a member of the Audit Methodology Group and Root Cause Analysis Team of KPMG in the Philippines. He was a regular training facilitator of KPMG on audit methodology, innovation, data and analytics, professional standards and regulatory updates. He also served as a coach for newly promoted supervisors. PJ was also the Firm’s System of Quality Management Implementation Manager and a Workforce of the Future Champion. He was also a Sampling Specialist of the Firm. In 2019, PJ was a member of the Philippine Institute of Certified Public Accountants (PICPA)’s Technical Working Group on Audit Methodology. PJ led in developing some of the innovative solutions of KPMG in the Philippines. Above all, PJ is a people investor. He invests on people who have potential and talents. That makes him a coach and mentor to some young professionals in the profession and served as a People Committee member of KPMG in the Philippines. He leads advocacy projects that help communities. He produces vlogs thru his YouTube channel, PJspirations which features stories of different individuals. Currently, he is the Academic Master and Head Coach of PREMIER International Learning and Development Center, which provides coaching, mentoring, training and learning programs and platforms that promote growth and development in every individual’s life and career. He is also with the Middle East region of KPMG as a member of its Professional Practice group and Audit L&D, providing subject matter knowledge and guidance on audit methodology, and learning and development programs to its offices. He is a proud Ilocano and a graduate of Northwestern University.
He also conducts #IamRemarkable sessions, a program initiated by Google for women and underrepresented groups.
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