Dubai, UAE – Day 1 of 3

Today I had to wake up at around 7:00am to catch a 10:00am flight to Dubai. I had booked a hired driver the night before to take me to the airport, since the cost was only $20. I had a quick breakfast before being driven to the airport. The airport is very beautiful, new, and spacious. After clearing security I relaxed until it was time to board my flight.

After landing in Dubai I quickly cleared customs, where they presented me with a free 1GB 5G sim card, which I ended up not using, but that’s a very nice gesture for tourists. I took the Dubai Metro to check-in to my hotel; The City Avenue Hotel. Check-in took a significant amount of time (nearly 1 hour) because they had a bunch of people checking in at the same time, and the staff were also fairly slow.

After checking into my hotel I took the bus to my first stop of the day, which was Deira Clocktower. The Deira Clocktower sits in the middle of a roundabout in Eastern Dubai at the intersection of Umm Hurair Road and Al Maktoum Road (Route D 89). It was designed by Otto Bullard and Ziki Homsi, and built in 1965. It is considered to be among the top 20 most beautiful clock towers in the world.

I then had to sit around and wait for the bus to take me to The Dubai Frame. While Dubai has a very good metro network, that can’t be said about their buses. They’re actually worse than Calgary’s buses, which is saying something. Sometimes you have to wait for 45 minutes!

The Dubai Frame is a combination observatory, museum, and monument in Zabeel Park. It stands 150 metres tall, and is 95.5 metres wide. The building overlooks Old Dubai in the North, and the newer modern Dubai in the south, and was conceived by Fernando Donis, although theres a fair amount of controversy, which you can read about online. The project was completed by Hyder Consulting (Arcais NV), and opened in 2018. The views from the top were so-so due to the amount of smog, but I imagine on a clear day it’s pretty incredible. I noticed that during my entire three days here that the city seems to be trapped under a cloud of smog the majority of the time.

I was starting to get fairly hungry, so why not head to the Mall of the Emirates to check it out, as well as get some food there. I wanted to have some Western food so I settled on Black Tap Craft Burgers, where I had a Cuban burger, and a house salad. The Mall of the Emirates was opened in 2005 and features over 630 stores, 7900 parking spaces, over 100 restaurants, and an indoor ski hill!

The sun was starting to set, so it was a perfect time to go check out Expo 2020. I took the metro, and was able to watch the sunset the entire trip there. What a special treat! Expo City Dubai is the site where Dubai hosted the 2020 World Expo from October 2021 to March 2022. It was delayed from 2020 due to Covid-19. I’m pretty sad that I didn’t get to go see the expo, and decided that I’d like to go see the next one, which will be hosted in Osaka, Japan in 2025. Over 24 million people visited Expo 2020 during the six months. The site is now part of a 3 million square meter green development called District 2020. Dubai is designating it a “15 minute city”, where everything is accessible within a 15 minute walk.  When its fully built out in 2040 it will be home to 145000 residents.

At Expo 2020 there was a beautiful waterfall feature that was designed by WET Design. It literally creates waves that can rush over people standing below. It’s hard to explain, you just have to see it in action. Checkout my YouTube video here. WET Design, which has created some of the world’s most famous fountains including The Dubai Fountain, The Rain Vortex in Singapore, Fountains of Bellagio in Las Vegas, 1988 Lisbon Expo Fountains, Fountain of Nations at EPCOT in Florida, etc. WET (Water Entertainment Technologies) was founded by Mark Fuller, Melanie Simon and Alan Robinson in 1983. All three worked as Imagineers at Disney. Their original creation was the Leapfrog foundation at EPCOT.

Final stop for the day was Dubai Miracle Garden. I ended up taking a $25 taxi here, as it’s kind of in the middle of nowhere. When I got in the cab I was shocked that it had over 500,000km, and it was a 2019 model! They really do use their cars here! The Dubai Miracle Garden is a beautiful flower garden occupying 780000 square feet of space, which makes it the world’s largest natural flower garden. It features over 50 million flowers, and 250 million plants. It was opened in 2013 by Dubailand and Dubai Properties Group. The flowers are maintained by the re-use of 760000 litres (260000 gallons) per day of treated wastewater. My favourite feature of course was the Emirates Airbus A380. If you love large displays of flowers and foliage, be sure to checkout my blog post on my experiences in Singapore.

After exploring the beautiful gardens I took a cab back to my hotel, since it was nearly 11:00pm. This time the cab had nearly 580,000km.

Singapore

Today we woke up at around 10am, got ready, and set out for the day. We first checked out what The Jewel looked like during the day. It’s an absolute gorgeous piece of architecture.

After admiring the waterfall for a while, we went in search of breakfast. We settled on Starbucks, as it was one of the first food places that we found. I had a breakfast sandwich, and Julie had a granola bar, as that was the only gluten-free item that she could find there.

After breakfast we took the MRT (Singapore Metro) into the city center. We ended up getting a two-day tourist pass for about $26. The journey takes about an hour, and requires you to switch about ¼ of the way into the journey. The metro line to the airport was added afterwards, so it was a bit of an afterthought, but there are plans to have a direct line later on.

When we arrived in the city center it was pouring rain. Before we dive into our adventure lets take a look at Singapore’s history.

Singapore’s History

Singapore, officially known as the Republic of Singapore, is a sovereign island country and city-state. Singapore’s territory consists of one main island, and 63 small satellite islands and islets, and one outlying islet. Singapore’s history dates back about 1000 years, having been a maritime hub of many empires. Singapore’s contemporary era began in 1819 when Singapore was established as a trading post of the British Empire. In 1867, the colonies in SE Asia were reorganized and Singapore came under the direct control of Britain as part of the Straits Settlements. Singapore was occupied by Japan during World War 2 from 1942 to 1945, before being returned to British control as a sperate crown colony following Japan’s surrender in 1945. Singapore gained self-governance in 1959 and in 1963 became part of the new federation of Malaysia. Singapore became an independent sovereign country in 1965. After years of struggling due to lack of natural resources the national rapidly developed to become one of the world’s most recognizable countries. It is ranked as the 11th best country to live in by the Human Development Index (HDI), which is defined by the United Nations.

Exploring Singapore

First stop was Raffles Hotel. The Raffles Hotel is a colonial-style luxury hotel that was built in 1887. It was established by Armenian hoteliers, the Sarkies Brothers, and was named after British statesman Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, who was the founder of modern Singapore. It is currently managed by the Accor group of hotels, and features 115 luxurious rooms.

After walking around the hotel in the rain we went and had a buffet lunch at Colony, which is located in the Ritz Carlton. For about $80 you have access to an immense selection of delicious foods from all over the world. While this is a fairly steep price back at home, this is somewhat normal pricing in Singapore. Singapore happens to be the most expensive place I’ve visited in SE Asia, and one of the more expensive places I’ve visited globally, only to be trumped by Switzerland, and eventually Norway when I visit there next year.

After stuffing our faces at the buffet we walked past the Singapore Flyer, which wasn’t operating, but was still neat to see. Singapore Flyer is a 165 metre (541 foot) tall Ferris wheel, and was the world’s tallest Ferris wheel until the 168 metre (550 foot) tall High Roller Ferris wheel opened in Las Vegas in 2014. The High Roller is now in second place, and the Singapore Flyer is now in third place stacked against the Ain Dubai Ferris wheel, which stands at 250 metres (820 feet) tall. The Ain Dubai Ferris wheel was constructed between 2015 and 2021, official opening in October 2021.

We then hopped on the MRT to see the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple is a Chinese Buddhist temple and museum complex that was completed in 2007. The beautiful temple is four-storey’s tall and contains a relic tooth of Buddha from a collapses stupa (temple). The tooth measures 7.5 cm, which far exceeds the size of a human tooth. The relic tooth is located on the fourth floor, however I was not allowed to take any photographs of it.

We were then going to see the Sri Mariamman Temple, however it was closed for renovations. We walked past it on our way back to the MRT. The Sri Mariamman Temple is Singapore’s oldest Hindu temple. It’s an agamic temple, built in the Dravidian style. It was completed in 1827 by Naraina Pillai. Pillai was a government clerk from Penang who arrived in Singapore with Sir Stamford Raffles on his second visit to the island in May 1819. Pillai setup the island’s first construction company, and also took part in the textile trade business. He quickly became a leader of the Indian community. The original temple was a simple temple made of wood and attap (mangrove palm). The temple grounds were expanded in 1831 when private land was donated to the temple. This event is recognized on a stone tablet, which stand in the temple to this day. The temple underwent numerous modifications since then, with the majority of the current day temple being built between 1862 and 1863. While much of the original structure is no longer there, the oldest parts of the existing structure date back to 1843.

We walked through a traditional market on our way back to the MRT. It was really neat to see the local vendors selling their goods. The smell of warm durian was a bit overwhelming though.

We took the MRT to Marina Bay area. We exited the Marina Bay MRT station into the large mall adjacent to the Marina Bay Sands. There’s a small Venice style canal with gondolas inside the mall, surrounded by shops on both sides. It reminded me a bit of The Venetian in Las Vegas. We took two very long escalators up to the top floor, which connects to the Marina Bay Sands. Marina Bay Sands is a beautiful resort hotel fronting Marina Bay. The resort is owned by Las Vegas Sands Corporation and cost about $8 billion to build in 2010. The resort includes a 2561 room hotel, a 1.3 million square foot convention centre, a 800000 square foot shopping mall, a museum, a theatre, restaurants, two floating crystal pavilions, art-science exhibits, and the world’s largest casino, which includes 500 tables and 1600 slot machines. The hotel is comprised of three towers topped by a 340 metre long Sky Park and infinity swimming pool. A fourth tower is expected to be constructed by 2026.

After walking through the hotel we walked towards Gardens By The Bay. Inside Gardens By The Bay is Floral Fantasy, Supertree Grove, and two conservatories; the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest. First stop was Floral Fantasy, which has four beautiful garden landscapes of floral artistry. It also has a 4D ride, however that was closed due to COVID.

Next door is Supertree Grove, which has 18 tree-like structures that tower over the Garden’s landscape with heights ranging from 25 to 50 metres (82-160 feet). The Supertree’s are vertical gardens that perform many functions including planting, shading, and mechanical functions for the gardens. They are covered in exotics ferns, vines, orchids, bromeliads, etc. They are even fitted with solar panels to harness solar energy to be used for lighting, collect rainwater, and serve as air intake and exhaust functions for the conservatories cooling systems. There is an elevated walkway called the OCBC Skyway, which links the two largest Supertree’s so that you can enjoy a panoramic view of the Gardens. Every evening at 745pm and 845pm the Supertree Grove comes alive with a coordinated light and music show, which is known as the Garden Rhapsody.

The Flower Dome is the largest greenhouse is the world at 3.0 acres, and replicates a cool-day Mediterranean climate. It features a changing display, flower field, and eight other gardens; including the Baobabs, Succulent Garden, Australian Garden, South African Garden, South American Garden, Olive Grove, California Garden, and the Mediterranean Garden. While we were they there was a special Hydrangeas display, with cute scenes with bunnies, sheep, a Dutch windmill, etc. The conservatory is designed by WilkinsonEyre and Grant Associates.

The Cloud Forest is slight smaller at 2.0 acres, although slightly higher, and replicates the cool moist conditions found in tropical mountain regions in SE Asia, Central America, and South America found between 1000-3000 metres (3300-9800 feet) above sea level. The Cloud Forest features a structure called the “Cloud Mountain”, which is completely clad in orchids, ferns, spike and clubmosses, bromeliads, and anthuriums. The conservatory is also designed by WilkinsonEyre and Grant Associates.

The sun was starting to set, and we were getting hungry, so we had some burgers at Shake Shack, which was located inside Gardens By The Bay. On our way out, we walked past the Garden Rhapsody at Supertree Grove to see the tree’s all lit up. It was pretty neat!

We then walked along Fullterton Road, which is located on the other side of Marina Bay. We saw the Fullerton Waterboat House, and Merlion.

The Fullerton Waterboat House is a historic water supply house that was formerly used to supply fresh water to incoming ships in Singapore. This beautiful three-storey Art Deco style building was built in 1919, and was used to supply fresh water to incoming vessels until 1990. In 2002 it was announced by the government that the building would be protected. In 2003 the building was renovated and opened up as a restaurant. While numerous restaurants have called the Fullerton Waterboat House home over the last 20 years, it still is used as a restaurant today. Basque Kitchen by Aitor, and European restaurant chain Picotin now call the building home as of 2021.

Merlion is the official mascot of Singapore. It is a mythical creature with the head of a lion and the body of a fish. It was first used in Singapore as a the logo for the tourism board as early as 1964, and is now widely used to represent both the city state and its people in sports teams, advertising, branding, tourism, and as national personification. The official Merlion Park was designated by the Singapore Tourism Board in 1964, and in 1972 officially opened the 8.6 metre tall Merlion Statue.

It was around 9pm, and we were fairly exhausted from only sleeping a few hours, so it was time to catch the MRT back to the hotel. It was about 1030pm by the time we settled in for bed.

Sunshine Meadows Hike

A few weeks ago I had the chance to finally hike in Sunshine Meadows, a beautiful alpine setting located slightly Southwest of Banff. Sunshine Meadows has been closed since the beginning of COVID, two and a half years ago.

To get to Sunshine Meadows you take a gondola from the base (1659 masl) to the Sunshine Village Terminal (2159 masl). The 4.5km gondola ride is fairly unique because it has two curves, and a mid-station, all while staying on the same cable! The highest point of the gondola is 40 metres (130 feet). The gondola was opened in 2001, and includes 165 8-passenger cabins, four garbage carriers, and one work carrier. A few fun facts, are that there was an accident in 2016 when two empty gondola cars came off the cable in high winds and crashed to the ground, and in June 2013 nine of their cabins were washed away during the Alberta Flood that occurred because they were getting painted, and were washed away. They were all found, and one nearly had made its way all the way to Canmore!

After arriving at Sunshine Village you’re given a quick orientation on the trail system, and then you’re off on your own. After a seven minute ride on the Standish Chairlift you arrive at the very top of the hike, where you’re presented with gorgeous 360 degree views of the mountains surrounding you. There’s beautiful alpine flowers all around!

Normally my hikes start at the lowest point, and end up on a mountain peak, but this hike is the inverse of that. The 2.5 hour hike starts with a steep descent towards Rock Isle Lake, before continuing on a loop around Grizzly Lake and Laryx Lake, before heading back up to the top. It’s amazing at how much the scenery changes as you progress through he hike.

The was one of my favourite hikes that I’ve done in Canada, and is a great family friendly hike, that isn’t too difficult. The 2.5 hour hike has 316 metres of elevation differential over 8.0 kilometres.