To Abu Dhabi and Dubai – First Time UAE

I first heard about Abu Dhabi when I was very young because one of my friends was actually born there. She is of Caucasian descent and so it was always interesting to understand why she was there considering her background. Also it has been nearly 8 years since I first explored the Middle East, and so it was due to go back and see a different part. And thirdly the flight ticket from the Maldives was the cheapest direct flight out of there. So as they say in the Middle East – God willing – I shall go there.

Abu Dhabi is actually a fairly nice city that isn’t too large to explore. But I had just arrived after some major flooding that occurred in the area between Oman and Abu Dhabi. It really affected Dubai especially. The rainstorm that came in slowed down a lot of the exploring for me while I was there. But it was okay because I had just surfed almost everyday for the last two weeks, and every day was a multi session surf day. I needed a rest.

In the afternoon, we tried to go to the beach to relax, but the beaches were closed because they thought the rain would come back again. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky though and not sure where they got that forecast because it didn’t rain since that time. Anyway, we sat outside on a patio and watched the sunset. It was with my two new South African friends, Paul and Gabriel, who I met at the Villa Hostel.

As a side note for the memories, the ladies working at the hostel gave our friend Gabriel such a hard time for some reason. It was funny but also concerning to watch. I don’t know why the ladies were so aggressive, but regardless we enjoyed some home-cooked burgers and fries that we picked up at the store for dinner.

On the following day my only goal was to get to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. It’s one of the most picturesque mosques in the world. You may have seen it on Instagram or Facebook before.

It’s free to enter but note that it does take at least an hour to get there from the main city and also make sure that you wear appropriate clothing which covers your knees and shoulders and that you try to minimize the items that you bring with you into only a small bag as they do good security check for each person. The bus is the cheapest option to get there but taxis aren’t that much either maybe 20 US dollars to get there.

Before I start describing the mosque and its beauty, I have to advise that this place is one of the most confusing and least user friendly places to visit. I recommend that you make a reservation online ahead of time to skip some of these steps. But there’s a good forum post that describes in detail what the issues are for visitors here. And that includes: that the main entrance to the mosque is not actually at the mosque. And so you will be walking towards the mosque through the parking lot but then a security guard will tell you to turn around and walk back to these glass domes that sit outside the parking lot, which was where you were initially dropped off. You then go down these escalators into a mall like area, and then you follow the signs to the ticket entrance. But then the entrance person will turn you around and say that you have to go back towards escalators and walk past the food court in order to get to the ticket reservation system. You’ll register to get a ticket and then have to walk back to the entrance area which you just went to. If your outfit is not appropriate then you’ll have to go and buy some garments to wear. It’s not that much but there is no option to just borrow or rent something correct to wear. And then you can enter the mosque but first you need to walk through a long corridor underground, which is the same thing as walking above in the parking lot. There is not much to see in this tunnel and so it feels like you’ve walked twice as far unnecessarily. Finally you’ll actually get to the mosque, and once he get past everyone who is trying to take a good Instagram photo then you can enjoy the view (I acknowledge that I am also the problem on this last part too). Main point: come prepared so you don’t have to backtrack.

To summarize the paragraph above do the following and to make your visit seemless: reserve a ticket online, go to the glass domes on the edge of the parking lot, go down the escalator and take a left and make sure that you’re wearing the correct clothes otherwise pick up some clothes at one of the stores there for 50 AED, then enter the corridor which will lead you to the mosque. Easy as that.

I heard that visiting at night is also very nice to see. With the typical photos are from daytime. I would say the morning is probably the better light direction from the sun. You should be able to find the right direction so that everything is exposed nicely on the photos.

Here is my friend Paul from South Africa. He is borrowing my pants because his shorts showed kneecaps and I bought one of thobes to wear instead. 

So now back to the beauty of the mosque: this place is breathtaking in its traditional design of Islamic architecture. It really captures all your attention when you first see it. You’ll first notice the sheer scale of the mosque and all its white domes & towering minarets. Then you can see the marble structure and details that took a lot of intricate work to make it inlaid. There’s many different types of stones used in order to create the patterns. Sometimes they even used pearl shells. It’s elegant and harmonious in the way its built.

If you bring a polarizer on the front of your camera, then you’ll also see a lot more vivid color off of the shining marble walls and blue sky. This can’t be replicated in Photoshop or any other program easily. Some might say that it’s a little bit too striking in terms of how deep the blue goes, but I like how you’re able to see a lot more detail in the marble because it cuts the reflection and anywhere else there is glare.

As a final note, the best place to end the trip is back in the mall at McDonalds, which you have to go through anyway to exit, for a 2 dirham ice cream cone to cool off.

That was only thing I got to do in Abu Dhabi if I had more time there would be a lot more to see. But I had a flight out of Dubai because it’s cheaper that way and so I had to make my way between the two cities. Unfortunately I had arrived the day after the major storm and things were still flooded. When I first saw it on the news, I didn’t think it was anything. What could a storm do in the desert? All the water would be dried up anyway pretty quickly.

But this was the scene three days after the rain on one of the major highways and it was not as dry as I thought it would be. Many of the highways and even the metro were closed. We had to be rerouted and so it took forever to get between the cities. Only a two hour bus trip but it took 5 this time.

And so because the bus didn’t stop at its normal stopped then the bus took me all the way into the middle of Dubai. This was more than 20 minutes away from the hostel which I wanted to stay at, which is near The Palm, and that’s a good area to be in. So my plans changed a little bit and this would also dictate the rest of my time in Dubai significantly.

Here are the architecture and the sheer scale of the buildings and monuments is insane. I didn’t realize how much there would be to see and how big the city is as well so there’s just not enough time to see everything. The bus drive into the city did give me a nice overview of some of the major sites though and so these are the photos from the bus window with some glare in the background.

And so I was able to rebook a place to stay because it would take me forever to get back to the palm. I stayed near the Business Bay and this area is fairly nice and close to the Dubai Mall and Burj Khalifa.

There are certain times where you think that fate really plays into things and Dubai was one of them. The bike shop which I wanted to go to well it’s not open on a Saturday, and so I had to change my plans. That meant that I couldn’t go to the beach or any of the other sites close by. I tried to get a haircut but that was not open either. Instead I went to a dodgy massage place and got a Thai massage and that was all I did that day. 

So maybe I will be back at some point to Dubai to be able to see more. In Abu Dhabi they are going to open a wave pool and so that may be cool to see. If you do have time in Dubai then you need to do a lot of research and book ahead of time for the major attractions and set aside some extra hours for the time needed to get to the places and because there are major crowds there. For example at the Burj Khalifa there is an extremely long line – sometimes this is on the elevator going down the building instead. Also last note is that Dubai is a major cash drain on your bank account. Everything costs money here and it’s like a Las Vegas of the Middle East. But I can definitely see how if you have lots to spend, then it would be a great place to visit and shop and to live life grand there.


Abu Dhabi is the main capital of the United Arab Emirates. It is close to Dubai – only a two hour bus ride if there is no flooding. However since there was flooding when I was there, which doesn’t happen very often, then it took more than 5 hours to get there. You have two options to get between the two cities: you can take the public bus A100 and the other numbers that costs 25 dirham, or you can take an express bus that cost thirty five dirham. Also there is an option to find a taxi and they will drive you for about 50USD between the two cities. 

I stayed at the Villa Hostel Dash by Lunar, and this was both cheap and close to many of the attractions in Abu Dhabi like the beach and bus station and Grand Mosque.

Dubai is an extremely large city and I didn’t have that much time to explore so I don’t have that much detailed information about the different areas, but maybe you want to stay near The Palm or the beach, then you should be good. Also there’s only two metro lines there and the main one goes directly to the airport so if you stay close to that line then you can get back and forth between the airport cheap and efficiently.

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