Long Layover in Dubai
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Over the past 60 years Dubai managed to push its way onto the traveler’s radar. Boasting the world’s tallest building, opulence, and luxury that will make you feel like royalty. Dubai: the Las Vegas of the Middle East. But is that really what’s really going on here? Many people have a long layover in Dubai, but is it really worth leaving the airport?

I’m not going to apologize – I can’t stand this place. However, I most certainly tried. I’m not a negative person, but I’ve got to be honest: how does anyone have anything worthwhile to say about Dubai? All I found were paper facades and miserable people.

All’s a Facade

Here’s what really confuses me about this place: Dubai brags of wealth and extravagance, but there is zero quality. Prime example, our hotel room. We were staying at a five star hotel for our long layover in Dubai. All of the fixtures were modern and fancy, the marble clad shower was enormous with a giant rain head. Sound lavish? Guess again. The shower didn’t slope to the drain so water pooled up all over the place. The handles of the faucet fell off because there was no pipe tape securing them. I mean, even a trailer park in Las Vegas can get that right.

Long Layover in Dubai
The Dubai Marina boasts expensive housing and fancy yachts. Think of how many improperly plumbed sinks and who-knows-what exists in this photo

Everywhere new buildings are being built that are the epitome of luxury but you can’t figure out how to install a sink? I stayed in teahouses in rural Nepal that had better plumbing than my 5-star Dubai accommodation. It blew my mind.

Suspect Moral Practices

There is a connection between the long layover in Dubai and my final destination – Nepal. Many young Nepalese come to Dubai in search of work. Often times, they are victim of scams, forced to live in cramped quarters, paid little to nothing, work inhumane hours in inhumane conditions and have their passports taken away.

Driving to the desert at 4am on a Tuesday the highways were littered with buses stuffed with immigrants in uniforms, heads sunken against the seat in front of them cringing at the thought of another day. According to a Nepalese hotel owner, most of his friends deeply regret moving to Dubai due to these types of conditions.

Sunrise Arabian Desert
Watching the sun rise over the Arabian desert was the highlight of my time in Dubai. However it was difficult believe in the spirit of this place. As you drove along the desert highway you passed by countless buses filled with migrant workers who lived in dorms well outside of town.

Meanwhile, Dubai is extraordinarily expensive. A glass of tap water costs money for crying out loud. Dubai doesn’t need to pay people peanuts, it’s a rich country. I get that this issue is endemic in cities across the world. I have a friend from India who immigrated to Singapore who has a very compelling story about his experience. These issues have been widely documented over the past several years and nothing has changed. Perhaps I was naive to think that something has been done about it.

View Top of the Burj Kalifa
EMAAR – a name splattered on nearly every single high rise in the entire city is one of many companies accused of  human rights abuses.

The final nail in the coffin for me is what’s on display at the Burj Khalifa. The elevator ride to the top and bottom nearly had me gagging. Not because of the constant smell of bad cologne, but they play a little show where they talk about the “human spirit.” They claim the Burj is built by Emirati (not true: American architect, American general contractor, and migrant labor). The Burj is the pride jewel of the world, a true badge of human achievement. Slave labor as a symbol of the human spirit huh?

Burj Kalifa
A world achievement or a symbol of suffering. Perhaps it’s both. Impressive? Absolutely, but I mostly felt a pain for the workers who built it.

Never Mind our Culture

Perhaps everyone in Dubai is on their phone to escape the misery they feel. It didn’t matter if it was expat, tourist, or local. Every single person you passed had their head down staring at the glow or was shamelessly taking a selfie. I found it vomit inducing really. We spent 40 hours in this country observing people absorbed in their electronics.

Dubai Spice Souk
I was really looking forward to exploring the souks, especially the spice souk. My excitement was short lived after being constantly harassed by people trying to sell me knock-off handbags

Squirrel and I went searching for any type of Emirati culture left to the naked eye. Perhaps the souks? Wrong again! People touted at us incessantly. Louis Vuitton? Fake Rolex? Cologne? No. We stopped for a brief moment to step aside and figure out where we were in relation to the Metro. Immediately a man descended upon us, throwing his phone right up next to mine swiping through all the stellar counterfeit goods he was selling. Zero respect towards us or our conversation. I do not want your junk, could you please go away? His answer was no, he just kept standing there touting at us.

Basically the message this place sends is to buy things or get out. There is no warm welcome. There is no friendly hello. Not even a “this is who we are.” Just buy? No? Leave.

So Why Did I Go?

Honestly, I wanted to see it for myself and make my own judgement call. A part of me felt maybe things are different. Perhaps all of the negative press stemmed from the tensions between the Islamic and Western world. Again I am mistaken, it’s got nothing to do with any of that – Dubai simply is not fake about being fake.

Dubai was my first trip to the Middle East and I thought it might be a good introduction to spend a long layover in Dubai. Dip my feet in, get a taste. This is truly a shame. I’m an open minded individual who has lived in a Muslim country and always had a curiosity for the Arab world. I don’t believe in the American ignorance towards other cultures and I believe in breaking that barrier. I hope that once I put this bad taste out of my mouth I’ll be able to give the Middle East another try.

Me finishing up breakfast at my hotel – mostly excited about leaving Dubai!

Should You Spend a Long Layover in Dubai?

Honestly I’m not going to tell you where you should and shouldn’t go, that’s for you to decide. If you are a city person who spends a lot of time in malls, doesn’t mind human rights abuses, and cares about looking rich then Dubai may be your Shangri-la. Who am I to judge? Although I prefer open spaces and the outdoors, I’ve traveled to many of the world’s major cities and truly enjoyed being there. Dubai left me unimpressed. The next time I’m hunting for flights, if given the chance, I’ll most likely opt for a different place for an overnight stay.

Is a long layover in Dubai worth it? There are budget friendly things to do in Dubai, but should you spend time here? There's a dark side to all of the so-called glitz and glamour. I opted for a 40 hour layover in Dubai with Emirates. Would I do it again?

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29 Thoughts on “Is a Long Layover in Dubai Worth it?”

  • I like Dubai, but I can see how it can easily not appeal to some people. I guess I see a different side since I have family there and stay with them rather than have the true tourist experience. I have to admit, the human rights issues are ones that really do need to be resolved as soon as possible.

  • I’ve always wondered about Dubai, trying to determine a middle ground between Hollywood and first hand experience. This retelling being dependent on the individual, of course. Since I’m more drawn to wide open spaces, rich culture and history, and hanging with friendly locals, Dubai has long since been falling lower on my bucket list. Close friends of mine that have been there always seem to fall back on “what you can buy” rather than what “you can experience”. So, glad to say that I’ll save my funds for a trip better suited to my tastes.

    • I’m glad I’m not alone! Before I went I read all of these wonderful things – only to find it was utterly disappointing. It made me wonder WHY people were saying such great things about it and why wasn’t there more out there that spoke to how shallow it is? Oh well, lesson learned I guess.

  • Who even decides which hotel is 5 stars? It is awful how human rights are ignored in so many places; I heard many stories of working in Dubai and having the rich life, but this makes me wonder, at which cost…

    • Haha good question! I don’t know…it sounds like one of those somewhat useless jobs though, like naming colors. I don’t think Dubai provides a rich life, it lacks so much quality. Human rights abuses are terrible, but what struck me hard with Dubai is the fact that it’s everywhere and it doesn’t need to even be that way.

  • Finally! A truthful post about Dubai. I haven’t been able to properly articulate how much we disliked our time There, so I’ve yet to post about it. Although I like Emirates Air, I hesitate to book with them because of the DXB connection. Even the airport sends me into a rant. Why so much open space!? Yet our plane isn’t pulled up to a jetway! Better get writing my post so more people spread the word about what a horrific place it is!

    • Thanks Sarah! I feel like often time bloggers are too shy about being honest with the places they visit. I’ve seen a lot of questions where people ask if they should write about a place if they’ve had a bad experience there. My thought is ABSOLUTELY! You aren’t supposed to fall in love with every single place – giving my honest opinion and experience is at the heart of what I do.

      And I TOTALLY AGREE about the airport! I didn’t even get into that – the airport is atrocious. So we had to transfer terminals, in the middle of the night, and it took AN HOUR AND A HALF!!! Whomever designed that thing is a MORON (I work in architecture for aviation). But, all of the buses across the entire airport campus give you plenty of opportunity to see even more migrant workers looking totally miserable and hating their lives. The ENTIRE Emirates terminal is one crappy mall. Like seriously – why would I need to buy an ENORMOUS sound system for my TV while I’m in transit? WHY?!

      On a more positive note I agree with Emirates! They are a good airline – we had 2 very comfortable 16 hour journeys with them in cattle class. I’ve been looking at returning to the region (Sri Lanka, India, and Nepal) next year and it’s tough to find affordable flights outside of Emirates – but I cringe at the thought of having a DBX connection as well!

    • The Bonnington at Jumeirah Lakes Towers – the problem was the only nice person we ran into in the entire city worked there. A really sweet and friendly hotel receptionist from the Philippines.

    • My view of NYC is mostly skewed – a lot of my friends from uni live out there, so when I go it’s totally different, but from a tourist experience I could totally see it though.

  • I see where you are coming from with all of this as Dubai has drastically changed in recent years. If you wish to see true middle eastern culture, this is not a place to go. However, we spent a great week there few years ago just by exploring the city and beaches. In many ways Dubai is very different from any other places I have been to. I didn’t enjoy the horrible traffic there, the fact that they don’t respect the nature when they build (especially those islands on the ocean) and the immigration policies. But we adapt well in new situations and were able to find the good in this place too. I can see someone who is into luxery travel enjoying Dubai a lot.

  • I have a pilot friend who travels there frequently. He knows how much we love simple little places and enjoying naturals beauty. Every time I’ve asked him if I should go, I’ve been given a resounding, “No, Carmen. It’s not your kind of destination. You would feel so out of place there.”

    • Haha that’s awesome Carmen. I am with you – alllll about the nature. Although I’ve been to many of the world’s biggest cities and been pleasantly surprised from the culture I found there. I can see how the desert pretty inspiring though – maybe I should try Namibia for some desert action.

  • I had a similar experience to you recently but in Doha, Qatar. I decided to stop over so I was seeing the city and not just changing planes there. I think Qatar has a lot of similarities with Dubai, full of migrants etc.. Although I took some good enough pictures I didn’t feel satisfied with my visit. And it was damn hot too!

    • Funny you mention that. I was wondering if Doha was any different. I was speaking with a colleague of mine about Dubai just yesterday and his exact response was “if you thought that was bad, Doha is even worse.” And the first complaint out of his mouth was about the heat!

  • Whoa, your hotel was horrible. I stayed at a serviced apartment in Dubai for 2 nights and it was fine. Sharp observations and insights you’ve got about Dubai! Walked past one souk and every shopkeeper was calling out for us to visit their shops – truly stressful to me. I went Dubai Miracle Garden though, it was a beautiful place.

  • I admire you for coming out so frankly with your honest opinion…you made no bones about it. I haven’t been to Dubai since 10 years, but I can relate to everything you say. Modern cities like Dubai don’t hold much fascination for me either, but I guess its all about expectation management. I expect nothing traditional from Dubai, and after reading your post, I would be even more careful with what I expect :)… if I go!

    • Thanks Punita! I hold honesty dear to my heart. I’d rather write about why I didn’t like something than avoid it all together. Expectation management is an interesting concept. I never really thought of it that way – but if you set the bar low, you might at least know what to expect out of Dubai.

  • Wow, I’m sorry to hear you had such a bad experience with Dubai. Given that I went to Dubai for work you might find my comment to be biased, but I did have a decent time there (at least my 5-star hotel was really 5-star!) It’s indeed a place for luxury but I did have a good time at Bur Dubai/Deira areas just going around the souks, riding the abra across the creek with locals, and eating at street diners. Burj Khalifa and malls? Eh, nope.

    I’d recommend anyone traveling there to visit the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU) for a cultural meal and chat with the hosts, or a desert safari if you have more time.

  • I have heard that Dubai and Qatar give off vibes of being sterile and fake. I guess not without justification. Qatar I hear is judgmental as well – even for conservative people.

    My first Middle East introduction was Oman, though (thank heavens!). I rarely hear bad things said about Oman, not even from expats (usually the pickiest lot) and upon visiting it myself, I could see why. The first thing that struck me in Oman, is that workers are relaxed and confident there – including the migrant service workers. Even in my home region in Asia misery is more regularly seen. But, Muscat isn’t quite a transit hub though, is it?

  • I had been on a three-week holiday trip to Dubai, and stayed at the Marina. I feel that though it’s extremely warm there, it is really cold for most people without families. I was surprised that it’s very happening there – ladies nights at the bar, pool parties, concerts – things that I am not really into. Most people there seem lonely. I did a couple of touristy things there – desert safari, dolphin swimming. But what I enjoyed the most was the trip to Old Dubai and its museum. There’s learning and culture.

  • Sadly, what you observed about dubai is the truth behind many of the sparkling cities in the world. Labors from poorer countries migrate there in search of work and in lure of good money. And they live in pathetic condition which is often hidden behind the shining buildings and malls. The basic ‘humanity’ doesn’t have a space in capitalist world.

  • I did a long layover in Abu Dhabi and while I was thoroughly impressed with the scenery, it was really surprising to me the lack of culture. It seems as though its a city of beautiful facades but not a lot of depth. We were lucky to have befriended a local who was good to show us his side of the city by way of a walking tour but I can see what you mean… I feel as though UAE has a bit of disingenuine tinge to it. I still would like to see Dubai for myself!

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