I remember in uni when Yi and I used to dream of travelling the world, the first place we talked about visiting one day was Dubai. We talked about the futuristic architecture and how much bling bling the place rocks.
About 10 years later, it’s finally happening! It all started when my boss sent out an email to remind people to take Christmas leave so I got in as soon as possible. I booked my 10 days and started wondering what to do. I could do the usual and go back to Melbourne to visit my folks and then come home to climb over the new years. The psych wasn’t high so I started thinking about places I’d like to visit .
Japan came to mind but I don’t think I was ready for it, I thought about Singapore but I didn’t want to go back just yet and then there was Hong Kong to visit my cousin but just didn’t feel the psych. I don’t know how it came up but Dubai just came into my mind and I started getting giddy and excited! The more I read about the things to do the more excited I go. Immediately I asked if Ray was free to come along and he made it happen!
What Ray brings to the fold is his keenness for food and as much as I love adventure, I love food which I didn’t realise until our last trip to Sydney. We started listing all the activities we could do and all the local foods we could eat. I had a chat with an old high school friend who is current living and working in Dubai and asked for suggestions. She recommended to get out of Dubai for a weekend a see the natural wonders of the middle east. A quick google and a photo of Petra popped up and I was sooo excited. I was so keen and ready to lock it in on the spot.
I spent this weekend planning the Petra leg and the more I read about it the more amazing it was. There is so much to see all along the drive down including old crusader castles, Wadi Mujib (Jordan’s equivalent to t he Grand Canyon) , little Petra, the dead sea and heaps more! I’m so bummed that it’s winter and going to be cold cause we won’t be able to get in the water =(
We managed to finally book all our flights and accommodation, even booked 5 hrs of Snoozecube action in Dubai airport so we can recover from our late overnight flight and prepare for NYE!
I really wanted to do something special for the New Year, whether it’ll be sleeping in the desert and waking up to see the first sunrise of 2017 or watching the fireworks and counting down. The other thing that also came into mind was hot air ballooning! As romantic as it sounds… We’re doing it! I’m pretty excited actually cause I’ve never been on one and I’ll get to see the first days of light of 2017 which I’ve never woken up early enough to experience every year.
We decided to travel light since we’re also flying to Jordan, we only get 7kg carry on. I did the best I could and then basically halved the amount of undies and t shirts I was bringing to be lightweight…looking back, I could’ve halved it again…
So the trip kicked off on Saturday night, i managed to squeeze in a quick catch up with Nish before the flight. I was so early at the airport that I decided to use my complimentary Qantas lounge pass. I figured it was going to expire on May and this would be the perfect time to use it.
I got a roomy seat on the plane but somehow managed to score a crying baby next to me, but never mind… There were plenty of Asian movies to catch up on =)
I watched this one called Happiness which was about two people unexpectedly meeting, a young homeless orphan and an old lady, slowly they develop a relationship and help one another through each of their issues. Really enjoyed it. The second movie I remember was Chongqing Hot Pot which was about a couple a guys who own a hotpot business in an old abandoned bomb shelter. They were making extensions and then find out that the dug right into the vault of the bank next door!
Maybe it’s to do with the Muslim culture but when you watch Japanese porn, the genitalia are at times censored by pixelating the area. For those who haven’t experienced Japanese adult cinema, you would’ve see the pixels on the news sometimes when criminals faces are blurred out in videos. Anyways, I was watching one of the Asian movies on the plane and there was this guy cooking food, in particular, he was preparing / marinating /massaging meat. The meat was pixelated! When I was first saw it I thought there was nudity, but no it was only a chicken getting prepared… What the?!
I managed to get a bit of shut-eye and before I knew it, I was going through customs and my first glimpse of an Emirati. They wore their white robes and head scarf looking all majestic and all but what let them down were their sandals… Like seriously… You’re a customs office and your wearing foot attire which I would wear to the beach? It’s definitely the only place in the world where wearing thongs is accepted in any formal setting as long as you’ve the matching white robe and head scarf.
When it was turn to get processed, I got my photo taken as usual however the guy said to me, “open your eyes” and had to take another photo.. Lol!
I made it through and met up with Ray who arrived like 5 min later. We headed for the metro, figured out how to buy tickets and made our way to our accommodation, keep in mind this was like 6am local time. When we were buying tickets, Ray whipped out a Christmas survival kit that Liz prepared for us, inside were a selection of lollies and chocolates which deemed crucial to our survival later in the trip! Thanks Liz you’re the best!
Once we got dropped off our stuff, at our 1 star hotel we instantly felt more alive and off we headed to the Dubai mall. It was still really early and plus it was Xmas day so peeps were probably unwrapping presents.. Or still in bed. The mall was blardy huge! It had an ice skating rink in there, a mini theme park Sega World, a waterfall and even a mega aquarium that spanned a few levels.
We were pretty hungry and two of the food places that we marked out was “shake shack” and “cinnabon”. Miraculously shake shack appeared right in front of us and we couldn’t resist sharing a cheeseburger, cheese loaded fries and a gingerbread shake. The fries were so damn good! We walked around a bit more and there was another strong smell that smelt like a bakery. Following our noses we finally got to the bottom of it! It was Garetts popcorn! You wouldn’t believe my excitement levels… Boom got a bag of Chicago mix and I was happy as Larry.
The mall was so damn big that we were just knackered! We ended up doing so much walking during our trip averaging around 22km per day! It was weird cause we knew in our heads if we walked more or less than previous days and it was always spot on.
We had a date with the Burj Khalifa later in the evening so we decided to sneak a quick trip to the Burj Al Arab. Unless you had a reservation or having food there you can’t enter the hotel so we walked all the way around to the nearest beach to get a view. It was quite a touristy beach but we managed to find some shade and after the day of walking, taking off our shoes and socks, having sand between our toes was bliss.
It was just really nice to take some time out and breathe, soak it in and just do nothing =) I gotta remember to do that more cause I always tend to remember those moments.
There was another restaurant nearby that was on our list called Bu Qtair which do fried tamarind fish. It was only a 10min walk to the end of the beach. The footpath we took also had a running track on it however it had this nice cushiony surface! Sooo nice =)
So we opened the door to Bu Qtair and it was as if we entered another world. Indians left right and center, we were definitely out of place. So we went to the counter and asked how do we order, the guy told us to go to the fish counter, we went there and the guy told us to sit down either inside or outside. We sat outside but there was no table service for fish…. Finally we got the gist. We had to sit inside for people to bring fish and rice around. If u want it you grab it. Everyone ate with their hands, making balls out of their rice and fish… We just got the fish to try and double handed it which is a big no no.
In Muslim areas, they have the bum gun and they don’t use toilet paper. So you hold the garden hose gun thing with your right hand and finger your bum with your left… Hence they eat with their right only. They must’ve thought we were savages eating with both! That’s why all the toilet floors you walk into are wet… So much over spray!
We booked to go up the Burj Khalifa at 5pm so we got there around 4pm and the line was epic! There were people for ages and even once we got in, we waited for like an extra hr or so. I expected alot from the Burj actually, expected skyscrapers left right and center however realised that wasn’t the case. Dubai isn’t set up like that. Instead they plonk attractions randomly with not much else surrounding it except for construction and desert.
The galaxy Hotel in which we stayed was near Al RAS subway station and there were alot of Indians and other non local Arab looking people. The room we got had a bathroom located outside the room, the water pressure was insignificant and the basin tap dribbled. But it was home for the next 3 nights.
The next morning we headed to Al Fahidi Old Neighbourhood which had maintained/preserved buildings that looked like the buildings Dubai used to have. We booked ourselves into the Cultural Breakfast which I was initially sceptical about considering it was like $30AUD.
The presenter was a local Emirati and he talked about the history of Dubai, their culture, their attire and the food.
What’s interesting is now Dubai became what it is today only in the last 50 or so years. From a small fishing village and an economy driven by pearl diving, it’s become an international hub and tourist destination home to the tallest building in the world. To me it’s still a developing country with construction and desert everywhere.
We went for a bit of wander around the neighbourhood after the breakfast and then headed out to Palm Jumeriah and the Marina. This place was cool!
The marina reminded me of docklands on steroids! It was huge and went on forever!
The nearby beach was really touristy and nice actually. Had a real resort feel with all these lounge deck chairs on the beach, an inflatable playground that’s floating in the water and white people everywhere! We saw one of the double deck chairs free so jumped on it.. Just as I finished taking my socks off, a man came up to us and asked us if we’ve paid yet…. He’s like.. It’s $200 a day! We looked at each other and put our socks and shoes back on =P
Next up we caught the train and monorail to check out Atlantis at the end of the Palms. It was kinda cool to see what and how the palms were formed however the Atlantis hotel is definitely not worth going to cause its all closed to public unless you’re going to the water park. I guess they are trying to make it exclusive for the visitors. What was cool was that had a huge aquarium!
We didn’t spend all that much time around the Palm since we were definitely not high rollers… Back to the slums and local food adventures we go!
We heard of this famous dessert called kunifa which was one of the weirdest things we’ve ever had in terms of texture! It was like a pastry like slice that was warm with melted cheese infused within and then sweet syrup! Soo soo good!
We then hit up some falafel a which was actually my first time trying them!
My memory isn’t great hut we didn’t have many days left in Dubai before we flew over to Jordan.
Other things we did I recall was going to the Deira fish market where we had an awesome breakfast of curry and prata with Indian tea! We also went to visit our backpackers accommodation to confirm our reservation but one thing we learnt in Dubai is to never trust addresses and google maps addresses! We went to three locations before we found the blardy place! I think one of the most value things to do is to catch the Abraham, water taxis across Dubai Creek!
Oh let’s not forget my app time highlight! Garrett popcorn! Chicago mix for the win!
Alrighty! On to the fun part of the trip… Jordan!
We flew out nice and early out of Dubai airport and landed in Jordan around 8am. A man from the car rental company came and picked us up shortly after. From sunny 35degC Dubai to freezing cold, wet icicle looking Jordan… It was definitely a change. The initial feeling of the place was third world… Pretty much what you see in those Middle Eastern movies… Or even what u expect a Russian airport to look/feel like… That concretey kinda feel. We got taken about 5min drive away from the airport to some dirty side road where the car rental office was and damn did it look dodgy. The guy was just chain smoking and tried to scam us into getting car insurance and how dangerous drivers in Jordan are etc. We started strong and refused. So we ended getting a little Kia that reeked of cigarettes… I thought I’d let Ray drive and experience driving on the other side of the road =P slow and steady would be how I’d describe the experience. I could sense that he was result nervous!
What didn’t help was the layouts of the roads and the fact that u could drive in areas that said one way or no entry… Totally bizarre!
We drove along the scenic route, the King’s Highway which took us through beautiful valleys, small rural towns and a hell of a lot of speed humps!
Jordan felt like a typical middle eastern movie..rubble, bumpy roads and police check points every 50kms. These would consist of a few policemen in full combat gear holding a machine gun asking where we’re going and where we’re from, a huge tank pointed at the car and confused looks when we told them we’re from Australia.
They look at us funny and be like… “You from Australia?! But you’re eyes” … And then they either try and squint or pull the edges down, “small eyes… Like chinese”…. Damnit… Can’t escape destiny =P
We stopped at many lookouts and the scenery was beautiful! We even saw someone with a rug out doing their arvo prayers!
We stopped by a shop in a small town to buy drinking water. There was a guy who just came out of the shop and saw me approaching. He said hi and tried to speak to me, asked me what I need and he followed me into the shop. He spoke when the guy at the shop and I was like… Ok… Brace to get scammed.. Instead he helped translate for me and figure out the price. It was so nice of him to go out of his way for us… That was the first of many encounters which demonstrated how friendly the Jordanians are!
We made it to our first stop, the Shobak Castle which was an old crusaders castle now in ruins.
We got there in the arvo and the light was beautiful! Although it was pretty exposed in a hill and the wind chill cut right through the bone!
Onwards we went however I suspected that we had a flat tyre… Damn… As we coasted into the next town we saw some guys changing out tyres and a tyre shop. I asked if they could help and two guys came out more willing than usual to inspect. I’m thinking to myself… Going to get scammed again… They pumped up the flat tyre and with their non existent English said ok ok! And didn’t want a cent for their services! We are forever grateful for their kindness. It wasnt long before we got lost and parked on a start of a Junction, the left road had a no entry sign and the right looked normal but our map said to go left. Another car pulled up next to us and the lady and her partner said hi and we said we want to go to Petra, which way. They said go left… I’m like… It says no entry! She laughed and was like… It will be crazy but exciting.. Try! So off we went. Unfortunately this wasn’t one of the normal Jordanian one way roads where u can drive in bidirectional… I suspect this one was a genuine one way road cause there were cars honking us, high beaming us and numerous hand gestures could been seen through the windscreen =P I was like crap Ray, do I do a three point turn on this blind tight 2 lane road? He’s looking at the map and he’s like, the end is only 100m away! Keep going! It sertiously felt like I was playing crazy taxi but real life!
We didn’t get to our hotel until late.
So the hotel was dirt cheap! I think it costed us $10 a night for the two of us. Downside is that the hot water didn’t work… Ray luckily was conditioned to having cold showers at home so no big deal… Me on the other hand.. Not so much.. It was single digits outside… As if freeze more. So i decided I’d skip the shower for the first night.
We went to town and stocked up on some food. We ended up getting loaf of 3 month old bread for breakfast which costed us $8AUD.. WHAT A SCAM!
equipped with our loaf of bread, we set off for Petra!
We got to the door and ticket booth… $50JOD per ticket… That’s $100AUD EACH! we only had limited Jordanian dollars and was hoping they’d take credit card…nup..cash only! So essentially between us both, we only had 10 JOD… so we started walking through what us known as the Siq, a slot canyon of red sandstone. It slowly weaves it’s way through and u can see sculptures and water channels carved into the rock which was used to bring water into the city of Petra.
Before I came on the trip, I made sure I watched Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade cause I heard they filmed a snippet of it at Petra. Walking through the end of the Siq was like it came straight from the movie! As it winds towards the Treasury, you start seeing a glimpse of light and a sliver of the Treasury! As you approach, it slowly reveals itself and it was definitely a wow moment for me! One of the views I’ve come across in photos since I was in high school and my Flickr trolling began. I remember seeing the colours, the rock and the horses and wondered if I’d ever visit such an exotic place half way around the world as I sat in front of my laptop in my bedroom in Melbourn with a bowl of ice cream in front of me.
This was it!
We took our time taking it all in amongst the wave of other tourists, it was so magical. Once we were ready, we headed down the path towards the Royal Tombs. The path was wide and u could see the caves or tombs on either side.
Shortly after, I noticed a walking path that went up the hill on the left. Whipping out the map, the path leads to the “Higher place of worship” which is apparently where the cults sacrificed animals to the gods. We inured we walk up a little and then see how we go, nek minit we made it to the top and the views were amazing! You could see over the main tourist path as well as the distant valleys.
We saw a local Bedouin who was selling goods at a little shop on top of the lookout and had a chat about life and Petra. I mentioned to him that I’ve seen this photo of the Treasury front the top and asked how we get there. He said he’d take us for a fee after a bit of bargaining, we managed to get it down to $10USD. The walk was pretty cool, some scrabbling and navigating our way through the mountains. We defensively wouldn’t have figured it out by ourselves.
Probably what felt like a 30min walk, took us to a lookout over the Treasury!
Unfortunately we were a bit late and the Treasury was in the shade but nevertheless, it was still spectacular!
Onwards we went following the path towards the Monastery via the longer loop which I’m so glad we did because it takes you via the spectacular and multidimensional landscape instead of the boring old tourist path. What’s cool is it was pretty quiet.. Maybe we came across maybe no more than 20 ppl all day and at times we even got lost which was just magical =)
We slowly wound through the multi dimensional path, wowwing with each corner we turn. The weather was perfect! It was sunny but there was a cold breeze and couldn’t have asked for a better day.
Above is a photo taken from the inside of the Garden Tomb.
After hours of wondering and exploring, we made it to the crossroad which connects to the main path. Here was places which was selling food, buffet restaurant which looked like someone’s garage as well as a fancier looking restaurant which we obviously couldn’t afford. We walked into the canteen looking garage where a number of people were eating in picnic benches. $10Jod each was the asking price… We quickly did the maths in our head… $20aud… We were desperate.. I whipped out my wallet to suss out the situation.. RAY looked at me surprised thinking what the hell is this guy thinking! I had nothing in my wallet.. We looked at each other and walked out in shame.. On the way out a merchant tried to ask us if we wanted to ride a camel.. We told him we couldnt even afford to eat let alone ride a camel.. Luckily there was a man in a cave selling like cakes which would have to do for now… We still had our peanut slab thanks to Liz as backup.
We started making our way up to the Monastery.
The walk was pretty much repeat the distance we already walked… If only we knew cause it was a bit of a let down. It got to around 2pm and we were both starving! Time to initiate by he back up plan! Out came the peanut slab.. Damn that thing is hell dense! Thank you Liz… Lifesaver =)
There was a Cafe and chairs where people would chill out in front of the Monastery. It’s bigger and take than the Treasury but just didn’t have the magic it possessed. The walk back was painful and slow! Check out the epic blister! It ended up growing to the size of my toe =P
After the big day, we hit up the currency exchange and got some JOD so we could eat big!
These chicken shwarmas were the bomb!!
When we went back to the hotel, nothing changed in terms of the cold shower situation… I managed to take a quick shower then piled into all my my clothes and jumped into bed!
We left nice and early the next morning and started our drive back towards the airport via the Dead Sea. We visited some hot springs on the way which was hell expensive, packed full of people and really not that great for the price … i think it costed us like $60AUD. We soldiered on and made it to the Dead Sea! the coastline was actually really nice and along the way you could see people pulling out and going down for a walk / swim. We did some googling the night before and found that there were two options (for us)… the elcheapo which was essentially $40AUD each which gave you access to the beach, change rooms and cold showers and a $60AUD option which had warm showers … obviously we went el cheapo.
It was funny cause the sides were fenced off and i wouldn’t really call it a beach…more like a construction site that sloped down towards the water. Essentially the only thing we were paying for was changerooms and showers. In hindsight, we would go to the supermarket and stock up on bottles of water and just pull into any one of the car park things on the side of the road and go for a swim.
It was a pretty cool experience being able to float so effortlessly considering i can’t even swim! The salt water left a real slimey residue on your skin, hair and clothes!
alrighty! it was time to head back towards the airport but we still had to figure out what we wanted to do in terms of dinner. we had $5 JOD in our wallet between us so we had a decision to make..
A) Use that $5JOD to buy some crappy food on the side of the road
B) Use that $5JOD to fill up more petrol, take a 50km detour to Maccas on the border of Amman which should take credit card
Option B it was! talk about desperate times =P
i think for us, it was the first time during our Jordan trip where we didn’t feel like peasants … instead we were eating like kings!
We managed to find the car rental place, returned it without issues and arrived at the airport….our flight was scheduled for 10:30PM … rocked up and we were told it was delayed for 8hrs …. 8 HOURS!! again…back to peasant status and back to sleeping on the floor at the gate.
We finally got on our flight and arrived back in Dubai for New Years Eve around midday! so our plan was to pretty much take it easy, grab an early dinner, have a nap and then see the fireworks…
When we were hanging around at the Jordanian airport the previous night, we got an email from Agoda saying that our accommodation cancelled on us due to lack of vacancies and instead offered us an alternative. I responded YES WE’LL TAKE IT in my email. Somehow that wasn’t clear so when we arrived in our accommodation in Dubai, they had no record of any bookings that we made … and said that it’ll cost $300 a night …. anxiety kicked in and luckily we had enough phone credit to call Agoda and got them to sort it out. About 3 hours later, the hotel gave us keys to our room and we were high fiving left right and center in the lift. YES! we weren’t going to be homeless on NYE.
We grabbed a quick bite, took at nap and woke up for the fireworks. We decided to watch them from Burjuman station which was a short walk from our hotel and you could see the Burj Khalifa from there. It was a bit underwhelming cause all we could see were fireworks shooting out of the tower, nothing else….. back to bed we went =)
We woke up nice and early the next morning to head for our Hot Air Ballooning! our pilot picked us and a number of others up and drove about 30min into the desert. It was still dark when we got there.
Some of the staff were preparing the balloons and we were just standing by as we were told that it was looking a bit foggy so we’ll have to wait it out.
The sun started peaking over the horizon and we finally got the thumbs up. Go Go Go!
Our pilot fired up the burners and off we went!
It was still really foggy as we lifted off but as we got higher, the fog made it even more magical as the first sunrise of 2017 peaked through.
The experience all up was just amazing and definitely one of the highlights of the trip! Upon landing outside the camp, we were served a buffet breakfast which was no doubt the most fancy food we had all trip!
After breakfast, we all got into little jeeps and they fanged it across the desert back to our cars.
We got back to our hotel around 11am and then headed towards the IMG theme park which is supposed to be the worlds largest indoor theme park. We tried to hit up a few more food places before we called it a day for our last night in Dubai …
What an adventure it was! we saw some amazing stuff, ate some amazing food and i was so lucky to share all it with such a good mate! I really hope we get to do this again in the future =)