When you fly Emirates, you get the experience of flying with one of the best airlines in the world. In-flight services are the best – I could live in one those planes and watch recordings of plays from Shakespeare’s Globe. You can also have your visa processed by Emirates in partnership with VFS Global. How it works? Sponsorship is one of the ways to get in UAE. With The Emirates Group acting as the guarantor for your visa, you can apply for your visa hassle-free.
They offer an online visa-application service straight from their website where you can submit scanned copies of your required documents. Basically if you fly to and from UAE to your final destination on both Emirates, you can avail of this online service. There is a fee of 70.89 USD ($44 – visa fees, $23.38 – service charge, $3.51 – VAT) and I got my e-visa, 2 days after I applied instead of the expected 4 days as advised. Fast diba!?
Flying to Dubai from Dublin, I am greeted by the desert as seen from inside the airplane. I am used to seeing hills and seas and city lights, but I have never seen anything like this. The moment the passengers exited the border control checks, everyone was scrambling to take off their jackets. You can feel the difference in temperature even inside the airport. I shudder to imagine what’s waiting outside.
Prior to travelling to Dubai, I’ve had friends warn me about laws in Dubai especially during the Ramadan season. I was told that laws were strictly enforced particularly on migrant workers and those from the neighboring countries. Being neither, I worried how I’d fare should I get caught violating unfamiliar laws. So when I arrived at the airport, I immediately asked the driver of my hotel’s pickup service if the following were allowed or not:
- females wearing shorts/skirts/sleeveless – Allowed. Except inside religious places where you will be given a robe to cover yourself up.
- eating/drinking during Ramadan – Not allowed in public during specific times. If you need to eat/drink, you can do so in the privacy of your hotel room or in a closed-off food court. Non-Islams are required to adhere to the food and drink ban in public during the specified times usually from 5am to 7pm. Some drivers are gracious enough to let foreigners hide and drink inside their vehicles lest you die from dehydration on their watch.
- red lipstick – Allowed. In fact, my friend wore the MAC Ruby Woo inside the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi and a staff was quite smitten with her lips.
Basically, those were my major concerns being my first time in a desert with temperatures soaring over 40 degrees Celsius combined with the restriction of drinking in public. At one point, I thought I’d collapse somewhere along the way that I repeatedly advised my companions about it, just in case.
I checked in at Marco Polo Hotel – the price which is incredibly cheap compared to Cebu’s Marco Polo. Granted, Dubai’s Marco Polo was more like a 3-star hotel riding on the 5-star reputation. However, the hospitality was the same – perhaps because there were plenty of Filipinos around. I knew plenty of OFWs are located in the Middle East but I didn’t expect to hear people speaking Tagalog/Bisaya everywhere. Inside the trains, I felt like I was back in the Philippines, except that their train is incredibly high-tech and clean. Did I say clean? And working well? Yes.
Go get yourself a NOL card as the train is the most convenient way to travel around Dubai fast without breaking a sweat. High ceilings, air-conditioned halls, artworks on the walls… yep, this ain’t Manila’s MRT. Nol cards also work in most bus services, make sure to top up enough amount in your card before boarding.
So for day 1, I just spent the afternoon catching up zzzzs and woke up in the early evening to shop for sun protection. In a hurry, I located the nearest metro and shopped at the nearest mall while waiting to meet my classmate Jen. I got my hopes up for longer mall hours when I went to UK, but shops close at 6pm! Given that it was Ramadan season, I thought mall hours would be shorter in Dubai. I was so wrong. They are open until past midnight! Crazy, but makes sense, since Islams couldn’t indulge in earthly pleasures during holy hours. The size and grandeur of the malls are the grandest I’ve ever seen. I could get lost in there. I love you Dubai shopping malls!
At this point, I’m practically amazed by everything. We capped the night with Filipino food from a restaurant next door. I never dreamed of having isaw and tapsilog so soon! How I missed Pinoy food.
The next day, we rode the bus for 2 hours to Abu Dhabi, a city south-west of Dubai where the Grand Mosque is located. There was a special visiting hour and we were lucky to make it. Visitors are requested to be in decent clothing or you can rent a robe for free, just present any ID other than your passport. This place is a must-see.
We planned to have our late lunch at a nearby mall but unfortunately, the mall didn’t have a closed-off food court for non-practitioners. Abu Dhabi is strict like that. So we had no choice but to take the bus back to Dubai again. Somewhere in between I probably wrote my last will should I die of hunger and heat.
Upon arriving in Dubai, the thought of food gave us the last rush of adrenaline as we scurried to the Dubai Mall where we will meet another classmate. Still, we managed loads of selfies. #priorities
On my last day, we decided to meet up with our high school class adviser before the long drive to our desert safari in Sharjah. This was the highlight of my 96hr tourist visa in UAE as it was my first time to ride a camel, and see the desert. The 4×4 ride wasn’t as heart-stopping as the ones in Ilocos, Philippines. Still, with the unlimited food and drinks, free sandboarding, and cultural performance, the amount we paid for our Groupon was worth it!
I always dreamed of meeting old friends in other countries as we become more stable and more successful in our lives. I’m happy we were able to meet, despite the short time. I hope to make more memories with friends in different countries! #goals #travel #wanderlust