Review: Dubai Desert Safari

If there was one thing I wanted to do during my recent short trip to Dubai, it was a desert safari. I had never been to the desert but I’d heard so much about it from friends and thought it would be a wonderful memory to take back home. I did a little research online and found that there are several companies who have desert safari services. They all offer the same 5-6 hour package which includes hotel pick up, dune bashing, camel riding, barbecue dinner at a Bedouin camp with live entertainment from a belly dancer, shisha, henna tattoo, and hotel drop off. The only thing that differs between each company is the price which ranges from 40-80 USD per person. Seeing as though the packages were the same we decided not to pay too much and booked with the Go Dubai company for 57 USD per person. I received a confirmation e-mail right away and a phone call the next day to re-confirm the booking which reassured me that I had chosen a good company. I was slightly worried that the quality of the experience would differ because other companies had a higher price tag, but boy was I wrong!

IMG_0152We were picked up from the hotel as planned and set out to the desert which is a 45 minute drive from the city. The 4-wheel SUV fits six so my friend and I shared it with a family of four along with the guide who was super friendly and funny. At the entrance to the desert were some shops and cafes where we stopped to use the rest room. As we were walking back to the car we were instantly swarmed by locals who started wrapping traditional head scarfs on our heads. I naively thought this was part of the whole tour package until one of the men pointed to the cashier. My friend and I decided to keep the head scarfs as we thought they’d make for good photos, but she bargained with the salesman to give us a good price (Tip: many salespeople rip off tourists at the desert but they will surely lower the price if you bargain.)

IMG_0177With our head scarfs on we departed for the dunes. For about 30 minutes we drove up and down enormous dunes as the car skidded and drifted. It was such an adrenaline rush and got a bit scary at times but our guide assured us that he’s been doing this every day for 7 years so we knew we were in good hands. We stopped at a nice spot and got out of the car to take photos. Our guide took some lovely pictures of us jumping in the air and kicking the sand(which was as smooth as running water). Looking out into the distance, we were rewarded with an incredible sight! Endless rows of sand dunes formed over hundreds of years. The weather was warm and the sunshine felt so nice on my skin, although I recommend taking a jacket because at night it gets a bit chilly.

IMG_0262After dune bashing, we headed to the Bedouin camp site which is a further 20 minute drive away. The site is shared with other safari companies but we were the first group to get there. We spotted three camels on a hill just outside of the camp entrance and hopped on them for a ride. Camels are super tall, I had no idea! And they’re really friendly animals. By the time the other groups arrived it was dark and I was so grateful to our guide for getting us there early because we took some amazing sunset shots (Tip: there’s a professional photographer that takes photos of you while on the camels however you are charged extra for these. I suggest you give your cell phone to the guide to take some photos so that you won’t have to pay any unnecessary additional costs.)

IMG_0274Next, we headed inside the camp site where we were greeted with a date and cup of Arabic coffee. The camp site itself looks like something out of the Disney film Aladdin. Tents, carpets, candles, and even a camp fire were set up,  it all looked so charming. Once everyone had arrived, the primary entertainment act came on stage. A male dancer dressed in traditional clothing spun around non-stop for what must have been 20 minutes, all while throwing things in the air and changing outfits. I was really impressed. After the show they opened the barbecue buffet, by then it was about 7pm and I was getting hungry. I thought the food was average, mainly because I’m Middle Eastern myself so I’ve had better but from what I could tell the other tourists seemed to like it. There was hummus and tabbouli, and a large plate of rice with several hot stews to choose from. There was also a stand giving out shawarma and falafel. Following dinner, a belly dancer came out and danced for 20 minutes. Everyone was clapping and dancing along to the Arabic beats, it was a fun way to the end the night. We left right after the belly dancing and were back at the hotel around 9pm.

Verdict: An authentic once in a lifetime Arabian experience that is not to be missed when visiting Dubai.

Have you been on a desert safari? How was your experience?

Weekend in Dubai

So I mentioned earlier on the blog that I’d be heading to Dubai for a three day getaway with one of my best friends. I recently got back and despite being a short trip it was quite fulfilling because we got a lot done. My friend and I had both been to Dubai before so this trip was mainly for relaxation rather than tourism, and we chose the perfect time of year to go. Dubai has beautiful weather in March unlike the summer months where there’s scorching heat. Anyone who’s planning a short trip to Dubai, this was our itinerary:

Day 1 – Friday

We arrived in Dubai at noon and headed straight to the hotel to check in. We stayed at First Central Suites in Tecom for 2 nights. The hotel is located in a quiet area not far from downtown and close to the metro. The staff was great and the room was spacious, the only downside is that we had to pay for WiFi and breakfast wasn’t included in the room price. Nonetheless after we checked in we had a quick bite at the hotel restaurant and immediately embarked on a desert safari which I’d booked online in advance (detailed review coming soon). The safari lasted 6 hours so by the time we got back to the hotel we were pretty knackered and slept right away.

Day 2 – Saturday

Woke up early and had breakfast at a café across the street from the hotel. We then took a taxi to Jumeirah Beach, a large stretch of sand with restaurants situated all along the boardwalk. Many hotels are located on the beach which charge visitors for access to their beach beds. We opted not to pay for a bed and instead went to the free zone of the beach located toward the end of the boardwalk. It was a hot and sunny day and we spent a good 3 hours tanning before we decided it was time for a dip in the crystal clear water. After drying off we chose a restaurant at random to have lunch. We sat on the second floor and were rewarded with a stunning view of the sea. After lunch we headed back to the hotel because I was scheduled to meet up with a university friend who had recently moved to Dubai for work. We sat  in the hotel lobby and caught up for an hour before it was time for me to get ready for the Drake concert. If you’ve never been to Dubai an alternative to a concert would be Dubai Mall(the largest mall in the world) for some shopping and dinner. Also catch a glimpse of the magnificent Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, which stands just outside of the mall. Don’t miss the Dubai Fountains right under Burj Khalifa which put on a spectacular musical show every 15 minutes.

Day 3 – Sunday

Woke up early to check out and left our luggage in the hotel lobby. We went to the same café as the previous day for breakfast and then headed to the Mall of the Emirates. This is the second largest mall in Dubai and is a 10-minute drive or less from the hotel. We split up and spent the day shopping, met up again for a late lunch and then went back to the hotel just in time to leave for the airport.

Have you ever been to Dubai? Did you like it?

Beirut Nightlife: Winter Edition

If you ever come across a Lebanese expat and strike up a conversation with them about their homeland, they are likely to boast about the vibrant nightlife scene particularly in the capital Beirut. Despite the country’s occasional instability there’s no doubt the Lebanese know how to party, so much so that many famous Lebanese clubs and lounges have recently opened in Dubai.  Having experienced a fair number of nightlife scenes around the world, I am yet to find anywhere that compares to Beirut – in terms of variety, cost, and ambience. Dubbed the party capital of the Middle East, Beirut has something for everyone no matter what day of the week it is. Most, if not all, clubs/lounges/bars open late daily which is one of the many reasons I love Beirut. Here are my top picks for going out in Beirut during winter:

Music Hall

Looking for good music, live performances and great food? This place is for you. Serving a slightly older crowd in a theatre-like setting, this is one spot guaranteed to keep you entertained all night. Avoid if on a budget. Reservation is a must.

Indie

This lavish lounge is the winter brainchild of the team behind White, one of Beirut’s hottest summer rooftop nightclubs. I love the interior décor of this place, not to mention the excellent cocktails. You can catch a live band playing here frequently. Reservation is a must for large groups.

Bistro Bar

This bar is one of the pioneers behind the revival of the iconic alleyway in the Hamra district. For a chilled out night Fridays here are best, but for a pumping night be sure to go on a Saturday as the music is more upbeat.

Caprice

Bazaar night happening here every Friday is one of the hottest tickets in town. Dance the night away at this funky lounge/bar with a fusion of English, French, & Arabic tunes. If you prefer R&B music be sure to head over on a Thursday for URBN night. Reservation is a must.

Uruguay Street

Looking for a last minute drinking destination and not sure where to go? This alleyway in the heart of downtown Beirut is home to an endless streak of pubs and bars. Good for pub hopping with friends.

B018

EDM music lovers, you won’t want to skip this underground nightclub famous for its open and closeable ceiling. Be sure to check out its legendary 80’s night every Thursday. Reservation is a must for large groups.

The Hub

The latest nightclub to hit the Beirut party scene, this place hosts superb R&B nights every Saturday and funky Pop Tart nights every Friday. Reservation is a must.

Under Construction

Enjoy deep house beats all night long in one of the coolest lounges in Mar Mikhael. The interior is super dandy with pipes along the ceiling and large bolts on the walls, hence the name ‘under construction’.

Coop D’etat

Located on an enclosed rooftop in Saifi, this bar is a favorite among foreigners due to the cheap drinks and casual atmosphere. Go early to get a good spot because they don’t take reservations. Good for those on a budget.

The Grand Factory

This place hosts the “C U NXT SAT” party every Saturday. If you’re seeking somewhere to let loose and rave to EDM music all night, you’re in for a real treat here.

The O1ne

The winter equivalent of Skybar, this club has only been open a year and is already booming. If you’re looking to have a wild night this is the place to go. Avoid if on a budget. Reservation is a must.

SUD lounge

For those looking for a more relaxing vibe, head to SUD Lounge right above SUD restaurant in Mar Mikhael. Great for both dinner and drinks.

P.s: Be sure to ask about the age restriction as a lot of these places are 21+

Have you ever experienced Beirut’s nightlife scene? If not, which is your favourite party city?

My Love Affair With Byblos

There are certain places that, no matter how many times you visit, never seize to amaze you. Byblos is one of those places for me. It was certainly love at first sight for me and Byblos and every time I go there I fall in love all over again. I call it my happy place, my sanctuary. There’s something about it, a sort of magical aura that’s sure to leave a mark on you, which isn’t surprising considering it’s the second oldest continuously inhabited city in the world (Telegraph).

Located 40km north of the Lebanese capital, this picturesque Mediterranean port town is the perfect combination of history and modernity. Whether you’re looking for a getaway from the city or a simple break from reality, Byblos is for you. Go for a ride on one of the fisherman boats nestled along the harbor. Take a stroll throught the ancient cobblestone souks adorned with beautiful souvenir shops. Discover the Roman ruins and Crusador citadel. Have a meal at one of the charming restaurants. And if at the end of the day you’re still buzzing, stick around till it gets dark and watch the pubs come to life.

Old Souk

Old souk – Image via Lebanon Guide

The port

The port – Image via Friends Choices

eCafe

eCafe – Image via Edde Yard

Crusader Citadel

Crusader Citadel – Image via Wiki GOGO

Young or old, Byblos has something for everyone. I’m so lucky to have this gem in my country and be able to go whenever I want. It’s definitely a must-see for anyone visiting Lebanon.

Do you have a happy place? Leave a comment, I’d love to hear about it.

7 Days in Beirut

I recently had my cousins from Australia over in Beirut for a visit. Seeing as though it was their first trip to the “Paris of the Middle East”, I was more than happy to formulate an itinerary for their 1 week stay. Nothing like a local to show you around, eh? The following is a recommended 7-day itinerary for Beirut, Lebanon. Despite the tense security situation, this city has a lot to offer if you know where to go. With its rich history and culture that blends East & West, along with its buzzing nightlife and friendly citizens, Beirut is one city you won’t regret visiting.

How to get around: The public transportation system in Lebanon isn’t that great, so if you don’t have relatives or friends to drive you around I suggest you take company cabs which are more expensive but a lot more reliable than the random service taxi’s you’ll see on the streets. (Warning: the driving in Lebanon is a little crazy, the road rules are close to none so buckle up.)

Where to stay: There are so many accommodation options in Beirut if you don’t have family or friends to stay with. Depending on your preferences and budget you shouldn’t have trouble finding a place to stay if you do some research beforehand.

Day 1 [Monday]

Arrive in Beirut, go for a walk through the downtown area to see Parliament Square and the Roman ruins. Do some shopping at Beirut Souks followed by dinner at Classic Burger Joint (one of the best, if not the best, burger place in Beirut.)

Day 2 [Tuesday]

Go to PAUL restaurant in the suburb of Gemmayze for a nice French brunch, then head to Bonita Bay in Batroun for a relaxing day by the sea (Note: if you’re not a fan of pebbly beaches go to Jbeil aka Byblos instead where the coastline is sandy.) When you’ve had enough sun, go for a late afternoon stroll through the old port & old souk of Byblos where you’ll find plenty of Roman ruins. Have dinner at E café in Byblos, they offer a wide selection of steaks as well as Italian cuisine.

Day 3 [Wednesday]

Traditional Lebanese saj breakfast at a Zaatar w Zeit branch (Order the labneh sandwich, it is to die for) Make your way to Jounieh and catch a cable car up the mountain to the Our Lady of Lebanon Church for some breathtaking views of Jounieh Bay, then take the cable car back down and have lunch at Margherita Mare in the old souk of Jounieh, my favourite Italian restaurant. After lunch head to Jeita Grotto, a nominee for the 7 Natural Wonders of the World [Note: The place closes at 5pm but I always recommend doing this activity in the afternoon to skip the long queues and crowds of tourists] For dinner, grab a falafel to go from Arax in Bourj Hammoud before going clubbing at White Club (Note: This club is strictly 21+ and on Wednesday’s they only play R&B music, so if you’re not into that music you’re better off going there on a weekend.)

Day 4 [Thursday]

Go for a morning walk along the corniche in Raouche and catch a glimpse of the ginormous Pigeon Rock, one of Beirut’s icons. From there go to ABC Mall in Ashrafieh for some midday shopping [Note: if you’re a fan of sushi, OBI restaurant at the mall does all you can eat for 28 U.S dollars on Thursdays.] For a nice Lebanese dinner, head up to Mounir restaurant in the mountain town of Broummana, one of the most famous Lebanese restaurants. However, if you’d prefer to stay in Beirut you can go to Al Falamanki in Monot, a traditional Lebanese café famous for its chill atmosphere.

Day 5 [Friday]

Take a roadtrip to the Bekaa Valley for some wine tasting at the Ksara vineyard in the town of Zahle. Have lunch at the Berdawni in Zahle followed by a visit to Baalbak, one of the most well-preserved Roman ruin site in the world. Head back to Beirut just in time for sunset dinner and drinks at Iris Rooftop bar in the city [Note: A live band plays here on Fridays.]

Day 6 [Saturday]

Have breakfast at Bar Tartine in the Mar Mikhael district then take another roadtrip, this time to the Chouf area to see the spectacular old Beiteddine Palace, the official summer residence of the Lebanese President. While you’re in the Chouf check out the Baakline waterfall where you can enjoy a nice picnic or lunch at one of the restaurants. Head back to Beirut and have dinner at Zeitounay Bay, followed by drinks at one of the pubs on Uruguay Street. If you’re still buzzing afterwards, head to the Train Station in Mar Mikhael (the name speaks for itself – a rundown train station turned outdoor bar, the latest addition to the Beirut nightlife scene.)

Day 7 [Sunday]

Head to Rikky’z restaurant located in the mountain town of Faraya for a massive barbecue party. For 66 U.S dollars you can eat & drink all you like while a DJ plays the latest hits all afternoon. (Note: Rikky’z only does barbecues on Sundays and reservations at least 1 week in advance are recommended.)

P.s: This itinerary is ideal during the summer months and for those aged 18+ who aren’t on a budget. I’ve only included 3 breakfast options because I’ve assumed you’ll be having breakfast at your hotel. Also, I haven’t included the North & South of Lebanon on this itinerary but if you’re interested you should definitely check them out.


Some useful tips:

– Two currencies are accepted in Lebanon, the Lebanese Lira and the U.S Dollar.

– The majority of the Lebanese population is trilingual. Most people can speak English, Arabic, and French so don’t stress about the language barrier.

– Everything opens late in Lebanon whether it be shopping malls, restaurants, or clubs so take advantage of it.

– Most beaches are actually private beach resorts since there are very few public beaches in Beirut or Lebanon in general. You can access any beach resort for a fee yet keep in mind that some are cleaner, nicer, and cheaper than others. I personally prefer going to the beaches in Batroun because the water is crystal clear, it’s less crowded and entrance is cheap but the resorts in Jbeil or Damour are great too. [Note: on weekdays the entrance fee to beach resorts is cheaper than on the weekend yet on weekends many resorts throw huge beach parties.]

– Not that I want to promote laziness, but you can get almost anything delivered in Lebanon whether it be fast food, groceries, even shisha!

– If you’re going clubbing or pubbing in a group, its best to reserve a table beforehand. But if you’re only 2 or 3 people head to the pub/club early and grab some seats on the bar.

– Tipping is a regular aspect of Lebanese life since the minimum wage here is pretty low. A 10% tip at restaurants is appreciated but not obligatory.

– During the Ramadan season the nightlife scene in Lebanon dies down a bit. If you are in Lebanon during Ramadan though, it’s best to go clubbing/pubbing on the weekend or on theme nights like R&B Wednesdays at White Club.

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