Fancy Dubai

5 12 2018

Fancy architectures, stunning skylines, fast cars and glittering gold, all these are what come to my mind when I think of the “desert land” Dubai. The largest and most populous city in the United Arab of Emirates (UAE), it is really amazing how such an amazing city can be built (and they are constantly building) in the middle of the desert!

You will surely not miss Burj Khalifa, the tallest structure in the world. Located beside the Dubai Mall, this you can get up to the observation deck to take in stunning view of the city. Do remember to book the tickets online in advance to save you some time queuing and be prepared to queue, queue and queue and get up there. The Dubai Mall is also another place that you will likely hang out pretty often during your trip, a good retreat from the desert heat. For the shopping lovers (like me lol), you can really shop till you drop at this mall. Even if shopping is not your cup of tea, the mall has a giant aquarium with an underwater zoo and numerous restaurants that will make you want to go back. The mall also has a fountain show every 30 minutes in the evening similar to the one at Bellagio in Vegas. If you want to catch a nice spot to watch the show, do go earlier to “reserve” your spot. But for those who has seen the show in Vegas, the Dubai’s one may pale in comparison.

The other “must-see” is Burj Al Arab. This 7 stars hotel can only be assessed if you are willing to spurge around USD 2,000 a night for a room here, or to go with the “cheaper” option of dinning in the restaurant at the hotel. For those who are unwilling to dig so deep into their pockets, you can get a good view of Burj Al Arab from the beach or the souk (see tip below).

Another famous site is the Palm Jumeirah. Like the name suggests, this place looks like a palm tree from the air and is said to be the only structure created by man (apart from the Great Wall of China) that one can see from space. The famous The Atlantis Resort is situated at the end of the Palm and is a nice place to spend a day or two for the whole family. See my tip below on how to get there.

The Dubai Creek, the old city and the famous gold and spice souks are also worth a visit. The old Dubai area is a huge contrast to Dubai’s modern and stunning skylines. I will recommend that you start your visit at the old fort (Al Fahidi). From here, it’s about 15 minutes walk to the water taxi berth and you can then take the water taxi for 1 AED across the creek to the spice and gold souks, which are 5 minutes walk from one another. Alternatively, you can take the metro to Al Ras station and walk to the souks.

Also, less than a hour drive from the city center will take you into the Arabian desert where you can ride the camel, do some sand-boarding or go on a four-wheel drive into the desert. I will strongly recommend this even if you have seen other deserts before.

Tips:

1. Getting to/from the airport: The metro connects well the airport and the city. This is the cheapest way of travel though taxi (the most convenient way) is not that expensive compared to the European and US cities. You can get a day pass which allows you unlimited rides on metro, buses and trams.

2. Getting around Dubai: The metro is an efficient and cheap means for of transport around central Dubai. However, the taxi is not expensive compared to Europe or US so for those places requiring you to change to a bus after the metro (eg Atlantis, Burj Al Arab), it may be a wiser choice to take the taxi to avoid the hassle.

3. The best time to go will be during the winter season where the weather is pretty cooling unless you fancy the dessert heat.

4. Dress code: Dubai like the rest of Middle East region is an Islamic Emirate, though it is one of the most liberal of all Emirates. It is advisable that you dress modestly. For women, dress should be below the knees and wear top with sleeves. Avoid tight fitting or revealing clothes. If you are visiting a mosque, you will need to wear a head scarf and ensure your arms and legs are covered up.

5. Getting to Atlantis: Take metro to Damac Properties station and change tram to station 9 (Palm Jumeirah). Thereafter, you will need to follow the marked pathway (through a carpark) to the Atlantis light rail station and take the light rail across to Atlantis. You will need at least a day in Atlantis if you want to try out the rides at the water parks. If you just want to see Atlantis and possibly visit the aquarium, half a day will suffice.

6. You can take in the wonderful view of Burj Al Arab from the beach around it. The one beside it (a private beach of Jumeirah Beach Hotel) is only available to its guests or if you pay a fee to access it. Alternatively, go to the public beach next to Jumeirah Beach Hotel which is free and I will recommend this option if you just want to see Burj Al Arab. You can also catch the view of the building from the soul (which sees the other side of the building).

What to Eat:

Below are my top 3 restaurants (not in any order):

1) Red Lobster at the Dubai Mall – good value for lobsters lover. I love it so much that I dine here for a few meals.

2) The Meat Co – Great quality food with a good view of the Burj Al Arab

3) The Fish Hut – For fish and other seafood lovers, this place serves them well and at a very reasonable price.

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Morocco – The gateway to Africa

20 12 2017

To be honest, Morocco was not on my top list of countries to visit. My misperceived painting of Africa is sight of animals roaming (safari), Sahara desert, African tribes, ulu (Singlish for remote) towns and poor hygiene conditions popped in my head. However, since I was already going to Spain and Portugal, my initial thought was that I should just crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and get the African continent checked off the continents that I visited. This is the first time I set foot in Africa and I was glad I mustered the courage to venture to this country.

Morocco is really awesome. The landscape, architecture, food and people/culture are something that I have never seen or experience before.

Marrakech

I have chose to stay in the riad in the old town instead of the new town to get the “real experience” of Morroco. As the car drove into the medina, I was feeling rather overwhelmed with the crowded, noisy and chaotic scene. As the alleyways are too narrow for cars to pass through, we alighted at along the main street and walked through narrow alleyways to our riad. For first timer to this city (like me), navigating around the medina is like trying to get out of a maze, a rather daunting experience. Don’t worry, after a while you will get a hang of it and start recognizing your way 🙂

Some must see sights in this city is the beautiful garden of Yves Saint Laurent called Majorelle Gardens, Bahia Palace, the souks and Jamaa El-Fnaa. Many guides recommend the Saadian tombs but I must say I can’t help but compare it to the magnificent Chinese emperor tombs that I have visited. Well, I guess I should not but I just can’t help it… pardon me.

Atlas mountain

Just out of Marrakech lays the Altas mountain. Actually, the Atlas mountain (or mountains to be exact) are in fact three ranges, with the Middle Atlas in the north, the High Atlas near Marrakech and the anti-Atlas in the south. The Ourika valley, Ourigane, Imil and Jebel Toubkal, the highest peak in Morocco standing at 4167 meter are nice sites around the High Atlas not to be missed. Do drop by the Berber villages in the mountain area too. You could even pick up some nice argan oil along the way.

Before heading back to Marrakech, why not do a desert safari on the AV? I really enjoyed it though I ended up with sand all over my clothes lol.

Driving across Atlas Mountain

The drive from Marrakech to Ait Brnhouddou takes more than 4 hours one way across the High Atlas mountain, along the famous Tizi-n-Tichka pass. The first part of the drive out of Marrakech along river Ouled Zad is a rather arid landscape. The drive then takes one up the slope of the Atlas mountain, through small villages and olive groves until the first pass, Tiz Imguer at 1470 meter. I will suggest stopping at the nearby test station for a quick drink/bite, toilet break and of course take some interesting photos of the eroded coloured red rock wall below the pass and the surrounding view.

After which, the road ascend all the way to the Tizi-n-Tichka pass, with the landscape changing to more and more barren but majestic along the way. I was lucky that it snowed while driving through the pass so the scenery is amazing with snow capped mountain! Too bad I couldn’t stop to take photos 😦

The scenery on the other side of the mountain is quite different and the landscape slowly changed to a pre-Sahara dessert landscape. I would say that even though the drive is long and toting, it is quite an interesting and scenic drive. If you didn’t have time to see the Atlas mountain, this could be your opportunity to catch a glimpse of it, though the mountain itself is really worth at least a day or even more.

Ait Benhouddou

Ait Benhouddou was an ancient fortified city (ksar) built by the Berber people along the trade route between the Sahara and Marrakech and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is interesting to climb up the fortress, navigating through the maze of narrow and crenelated towers. I would say it is certainty worth all the hassle to make this long trip to see this site. Many movies were filmed here including the Game of Thrones so don’t feel surprised if you find the place looking familiar 🙂

Tips:

⁃ You can change to the local currency at the airport. The money changer would advise you to change some cash and credit some cash into a debit card. Do that as it is easier than carrying tons of cash. However, it is wise to say put 30% of the cash into the card as many small shops, the markets, entrance fees, drivers and guides do not accept card payment.

⁃ If you are travelling in a group of 3 or more, it will be cheaper to get a driver to take you around instead of joining day tours. It will also give you mor flexibility of what to see and where to stop for photos.

⁃ The Altas mountain and the valleys are very beautiful and worth a visit. You can stop by berber houses and see argan oil making too along the way.

⁃ Be warn that the drive to Ouzazarte and Ait Benhouddou is around 4 hours one way along windy mountain roads. So if you are planning a day trip, note that you will be spending 8 hours on the road.

⁃ For the best photo shoot of Ait Benhaddou, take it across the dry river bed of Oued Ounila.

⁃ Head to one of the kasbahs to see how the rich used to live back in the old days though I can’t imagine how the small dark rooms with uneven floors and tiny windows can be considered luxurious back then. Well time has changed indeed…

⁃ From Ait Benhaddou, Ouarzazate is a short drive away and renowned as the Moroccan Hollywood.

⁃ If you want to go into the Sahara desert, it is another good 3.5 to 6 hours drive from Ait Benhaddou or Ouarzazate depending which part of Sahara you are intending to visit (Zagora or Merzouga). From there, you need to ride a camel into the desert camp so make sure that you are well attired for it.

Food:

⁃ Highly recommend Cafe Kif-Kif in Marrakech, located opposite the mosque at the Souk. Serves really yummy Moroccan food at really cheap prices (~€6.50 for a main course) with a good terrace view.

⁃ Cafe Kasbah opposite the Saurian Tombs is super nice too. It is slightly more expensive than Cafe Tik-Tik but still cheap (~€10 euro for a main course).

⁃ If you are into fine dining with a nice Arabian ambience, head to La Maison Arabe. The price is not too expensive (~€40 per person excluding wine). They serve both Moroccan and International cuisine. The Moroccan cuisine tastes good but more of a fusion type hence the “Moroccan taste” is much lighter. So if you find the typical Moroccan cuisine too rich, this restaurant may suit your taste.

⁃ For food with a view, ask your guide to bring you to the restaurant by Lake Lalla, 40 minutes drive from Marrakech. Estimated price per person is €15 euros comprises of salad, main course and fruits.

Accommodation

I stayed in a riad (Riad d’Clefs Orient) which is the traditional local houses converted into hotels/air bnb in the Medina area. Each riad different decorations depending on the owners. The riad that I stayed in is beautiful and the owner (who are French staying in Morocco) is so helpful. I will strongly recommend that you book your stay in a riad for the Moroccan experience. The riad comes with breakfast and they could also prepare dinner of you like. But as the riad is made of stone walls, it can be cold at night during the winter months but you can always request for additional heater.





It’s Vegas Baby! Zion, Bryce and Antelope Canyons are amazing too!

18 07 2012

I recalled some while ago, there was a breast cancer awareness campaign whereby based on your birthday, you will be given a “destination” and how long you will be there. Over the campaign period, I have seen many friends posting that they will be going to places like Munich, New York, Moscow, etc for XX months or years. The “curious me” took part as well and guess what, my “vacation” is supposed to be Vegas! Somehow (God knows why) it sort of gave me an “inspiration” to launch “Project Vegas 2012”. I know this sounds silly but indeed, just some stupid campaign like this got me to start planning for a trip to Vegas. Oh well, there’s always lots of good reasons (no matter how silly they can be) to get oneself out for a vacation right? Hahahha =) So Vegas here I come!!!

What seems like a silly campaign turns out to be not that silly after all. I had a great blast in Vegas and now screaming “I love Vegas and want to go back!!!” Vegas is indeed amazing and i have fallen in love with the city, actually it’s love at first sight. It amused me that in the middle of nowhere (Vegas is in the middle of the wild desert if you don’t already know), there exists such an amusing city. Eiffel Tower, Statute of Liberty, Pyramids, Venice, Rome, Bellajio, etc can be found in this amazing land (or what used to be wilderness). Of course, for those who want to try their luck, there’s no where in the world like Vegas (I was not asked for my ID when I played but when I. ordered alcohol, I had to show my ID lol). Not just that, great food and shopping, great place to catch great shows, a “hip” place well known for its great party venues (of course the Vegas code of “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas help), how can anyone not love Vegas? Now I understand why I friends have claimed that they can visit Vegas yearly without getting bored!

Braving the desert heat in the middle of summer (all because I wanted to be there for the Independence Day fireworks and sale :p), I spent eight nights in Vegas. Yes EIGHT nights! But I still felt it was not enough. Vegas has just way too much to offer. No don’t be mistaken, I am not a gambling addict that stick myself to the casinos day and night. No no no…In fact, I don’t play at all (apart from the free $10 credit which Wynn gave away). But Vegas is not all about its casinos. During the day, I was so preoccupied with hotels hopping (going from one theme hotel to another and posing for photo shots) and of course, indulging in the great food (lots of nice dinner buffets and fine fining) and shopping the city has to offer. When night falls, there are so many great shows to watch (and so little time). I managed to catch Celine Dion which received many standing ovations during the hour and a half concert, Viva Elvis Cirque du Soleil and of course, the free shows at various hotels along the Strip. I was also lucky enough to be in Vegas during the Independence Day week and was treated to a nice fireworks show at Caesar Palace (ok as a matter of fact, I planned my trip to coincide with Independence Day). With so many happening stuff, it is little wonder why eight nights still left me feeling that I haven’t had enough of Vegas and can’t wait for my next visit.

Apart from just wandering in the city, the “explorer” in me decided to venture out to sights in nearby Arizona and Utah for a little sightseeing. So I made a day trip to the famous Grand Canyon South Rim in Grand Canyon National Park to see one of the wonders of the world. As it is quite a distance from Vegas (around 4 to 6 hours drive depending on traffic), I decided not to take the wheels but rather “donald trump” (aka fly) into Grand Canyon. Yes, I LOVE to fly and I won’t be shy to acknowledge this. Flying saves a hell lot of time and I just LOVE IT LOVE IT LOVE IT lol. In fact, I highly recommend flying into Grand Canyon if you can stretch your budget a little (ok it’s more than a little). It saves a lot of time, is less tiring thus ensuring that you will be in the best shape to enjoy the canyon, and the aerial view of Hoover Dam and the Canyon from high up provides an even more majestic and magnificient view of the canyon. Being a lover of flying, I also took the helicopter ride at the South Rim to get me up close to the canyon and also fly to the North Rim and the whole helicopter ride is indeed amazing! Note that tours (both bus and flight tours) offer the option of either the West Rim or the South Rim. For West Rim, there are helicopter tours directly from Vegas or you can choose to drive or take the bus to the West Rim (around 3 hours drive) and take the helicopter from there. For the South Rim, there is no helicopter directly from Vegas. You will need to take a plane to Grand Canyon Airport in the South Rim (or take the bus which typically takes 4-6 hours) and take the helicopter ride from there. The West Rim has a skywalk which allows visitors to walk on the glass panels to see the canyon below your feet. But even though the West Rim is part of the Grand Canyon, it is NOT part of the Grand Canyon National Park (which includes only the South and North Rim). Most photos that you see on Grand Canyon are taken from the South Rim. So personally, I will recommend the South Rim for first time visitors as it provides a more classic view of the canyon and is much more majestic. But if you choose the nearer West Rim, you will still find it nice as well 🙂 For flight/helicopter tour operator, I really like Maverick and find their service really good and professional. But the downside is that they are more expensive so if you want a cheaper option, you can try out Pavilion or Grand Canyon flight/helicopter.

Apart from Grand Canyon, I also made a separate trip to Zion National Park in Utah which is a 3 hours drive from Vegas. Coloured with reddish and tan-colored sandstone with soaring cliffs and great basins, Zion National Park is rather scenic as well.

Bryce Canyon (also in Utah) is also another nice national park to visit and is another 3 hours drive from Zion. Bryce is not really a true canyon but an amphitheater of magnificent red rock formations created by erosion in the high Colorado Plateau (called hoodoos). In fact, I love Bryce more than Grand Canyon as I find the colouts at Bryce much more vibrant (apart from the flying and helicopter ride in Grand Canyon which is the highlight to me).

But all said, the highlight of my whole US trip this around which really makes me go wow wow wow is really Antelope Canyon near Page in Arizona. The canyon is so beautiful that it made me wonder for a second whether it is real, so much so that I feel it warrants a separate post so visit https://thecarefreetraveller.wordpress.com/2012/07/20/antelope_canyon/

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Tips:

1) Visit Walgreen where you can get water, food and souvenirs. There are a couple of them along the strip such as at planet Hollywood & Venetian. Don’t get souvenirs at souvenir shops without checking out Walgreen first as the price difference can be huge.

2) Get show tickets from Half-tix which has a few booths located along the strip (eg outside Treasure Island, in Fashion Show Mall). Don’t be bothered with the dining vouchers as they are not really good deals so why lock yourself on what you can eat?

3) Do catch the free shows especially the Bellagio fountain show (after 7pm is once every quarter) and Treasure Island show (one at 8.30pm and another at 10pm). What you can do is to start with the Treasure Island show at 8.30pm and then walk over to Mirage volcano show at 9pm followed by the Atlantis show at Caesar Palace at 9.30pm before moving to Bellagio for the fountain show. With this, you will be able to cover the free shows in 1 night.

4) If you are thinking of watching Celine Dion (which I will highly recommend), make sure you book the tickets early as they sell pretty quickly. For other shows, there’s no need to book upfront as you can get cheaper tickets from Half-tix.

5) It is possible to walk from one end of the Strip to another. However, given the heat (don’t forget that Vegas is in the desert), it may be advisable to take the bus (the Deduce and Express bus). A 2 hours ticket cost $5 and the 24 hours ticket cost $7. You need to buy the ticket from the ticket machine at the bus stop before you board the bus.

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Shopping:

1) There are many shopping malls linked to the Casinos eg in Venetian, Forum Shopping Mall (beside Caesar Palace), Miracle Mile Mall (beside Planet Hollywood), Crystals shopping mall (beside Cosmopolitan). The Fashion Show Mall opposite Venetian is a great place to shop and has a Macy’s there. Do go to the visitors’ centre in Macy’s to get the discount card which gives you an additional 10% discount.

2) For outlet shopping, there are 2 outlet malls in Vegas – one in the South and the other in the North. The South outlet is nearer to the Strip and is indoor hence may be great if you have limited time and prefers to be in the shade. The North outlet has much more stores so if you are fine to brave the heat and travel just a little further, this will be a better place to shop. Both outlets are reachable via the Express bus from the Strip. Make sure you go to the Premium Outlet Mall online website to register and print out the coupons to get the VIP booklet and extra coupons for additional discount.

3) Get the free cards from the various casinos for dining privileges.

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Nice food to try:

1) The Wicked Spoon Buffet at Cosmopolitan has quite a good international spread and good quality food and is my favourite buffet so far. Do go early as there will be a long queue at later timing.

2) The Buffet at Bellajio has a great spread and really popular as well (but quality wise I think Wicked Spoon is slightly better). Do go early to avoid the long queue.

3) The Cut at Palatio (beside Venetian) serves nice steak and is much cheaper than those in other places/countries.

4) For cakes or pastries (or a nice breakfast), head to Jean Philippe at Aria.

5) Pizza Place in Wynn has nice breakfast and pizzas.

6) Lobster Me in the Miracle Mile Mall has really yummy (and pretty cheap) lobster roll.

7) Serenpidity at Caesar Palace serves nice burgers and it’s Frozen Hot Chocolate is superb!

8) There are lots of good and affordable food in Vegas so just try them out 🙂

 

Hotels:

I stayed at Bellajio which is in the middle of the Strip and highly recommend this hotel. Do book the fountain view room if you can avoid it. I can say that the musical fountain show is one of the nicest that I have seen around the world and it is really awesome to see it from your windows. For those with big families, Venetian may be a good choice with its suites but really, I may be bias and will go for Bellajio any time 🙂