Late Nov 2016, I arrived at Abu Dhabi Airport via Etihad Airlines, to begin an interesting trip. My first time in UAE, it was an eye-opening trip for a glimpse of life in UAE’s capital city!
First impressions visiting Abu Dhabi!
The city’s very advanced!
When you arrive at the airport, you’ll have to go through eye scans at the immigration counter. Eye scans! Singapore hasn’t even implemented eye-scans as airport security. The eye-scans at Abu Dhabi’s airport was a pole with a tiny camera attached, so you’re supposed to stand in front of it and keep your eyes open. Easy-peasy. Not sure what happens if you’re wearing eye-enlarging, coloured contact lenses though.
Lifts with no floor buttons
Inside the lifts of my friend’s serviced apartment, there’re no floor buttons, just Open & Close and alarm buttons. Residents need to scan access cards outside the lifts and the system will allocate one to bring them to the desired floor. Which means you can’t visit your friend who lives on a different floor unless he’s with you. I was so curious, wondering if it’s an exclusive lift ride thing since I shouldn’t be too surprised at what UAE is capable of. Turned out, the lift does stop for others going up or down at the same time as you. Still!
Abu Dhabi’s really rich.
One of the richest cities in the world, with more than 9% of the world’s oil reserves, Abu Dhabi is rich beyond.. EXTREMELY RICH.
According to my day tour’s guide, Abu Dhabi’s citizens enjoy a lot of benefits and welfare from the government, and they can be described in two ways:
i) rich, or
ii) very rich.
Little-known fact: The tallest building in the world — Burj Khalifa– was supposed to be named Burj Dubai, but renamed to its current name to honour UAE’s then-president, Abu Dhabi’s then-emir — Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nayan. It was because Abu Dhabi took out $10 billion to bail Dubai out as Dubai was close to going bankrupt at that time.
At the serviced apartment we stayed at in Abu Dhabi, there were at least 2 swimming pools. At one pool, there can be more than 1 lifeguard on duty at any one time. It’s like.. a resort!
The people are so rich, they just discard their Porsches and cars at carparks.
The truth is, in UAE, bankruptcy is a crime. You’re not allowed to default on payments to banks etc. If you do, you’ll get arrested. Which means you’ll go to jail. Before that happens, the people abandon their possessions and flee the country. These cars were at the airport’s carpark!
People are well-mannered.
There’re less than 2.8 million people living in Abu Dhabi, of which only 20% are locals while the rest are foreigners, just to give you a sampling of Abu Dhabi’s inhabitants. Everyone was pretty much respectful and civilized.
You don’t have to worry about food.
There’s a good selection of international cuisine! Fast food, Asian food, Western food, Middle Eastern food, they’re all available. So are supermarkets and malls. In fact, food delivery is well-used here.
Though restaurants can get expensive.
At a normal restaurant (The Noodle House) in a random mall, my plate of Thai chicken rice with cashew nuts was more than S$20. A glass of Iced Tea cost more than S$6, a can of Coke almost S$5. Partly the reason why I settled many meals with Popeyes Chicken whahaha. At Popeyes, for less than S$10, I got 2 or 3 pieces of fried chicken, fries and a drink.
So guess who put on weight from a short trip to UAE? Yes, me!
Fast-food chains come with Arabic counterparts of their logo.
Interesting to note this as a designer!
Malls are in need of humans!
Granted, I only stepped into two shopping malls: Yas Mall (which is connected to Ferrari World theme park) and The Galleria. Yas Mall was still ok, there were people milling around, but The Galleria was just e-m-p-t-y. Where’s everyone?
Ferrari World theme park needs more visitors too!
Ferrari World theme park was the most empty theme park I’ve ever been, seriously. It means, you don’t really have to queue for rides! A little weird seeing such a crowd-devoid theme park though.
There’s so much land and space.
Abu Dhabi’s constantly developing the islands and building bridges to connect them. There’s so much space here, you can take a long time to drive from place to place.
Perhaps because there’s so much land, it isn’t exactly optimized.
Just a simple example. At our expat friend’s apartment, he will drop us at the foyer, and then drive one hugeeee round to the back of the building because that’s where the entrance to the apartment’s carpark is.
Cars are monsters.
Look, I took these photos at just one carpark.
At Abu Dhabi, there’re plenty of jeeps and SUVs everywhere. Cars on the road are fast (though not as furious as Dubai). Even though the malls are empty, you might be surprised to find lots of traffic on the road. Because everyone drives so fast, SUVs and jeeps make safer choices as cars.
There’s plenty of wide roads. If you’re a pedestrian, definitely don’t jaywalk, other than for the fact that you should not endanger your life. It’s also an offence to jaywalk, by the way!
Buildings are tall and shiny.... and dusty.
And buildings come in all sorts of shapes.
Slim and sleek..
As if it’s jiggling..
Circular! Like a ferris wheel!
Abu Dhabi really likes Singapore 😆
😆 Haha I hope I don’t get into trouble for this point. Abu Dhabi has a building that really reminded me of Marina Bay Sands! Called Gate Towers, it’s a mixed-used development consisting of residential and retail units. According to this article, Gate Towers was largely influenced by Stonehenge. Oh well.
Abu Dhabi’s Grand Mosque is really, really beautiful.
I’ll gladly fly back to Abu Dhabi to visit the Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque again. You have to see it with your own eyes! If you really can’t make it there, well, you can always relish it through my blogpost)
The desert safari was super fun!
Definitely my favorite memory about Abu Dhabi! Sand-dunes, camels, dune-bashing and stars. Read all about the desert safari on my post!
There’s really not a lot that you can do in Abu Dhabi
Other than a half-day city tour (read my review here) including going to Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, visiting Ferrari World for a few hours, and a 6-hour desert safari tour, most of the time, I was just chilling at the swimming pool.
Abu Dhabi’s very quiet, in a good way.
My itinerary was like this: Abu Dhabi > Dubai > Abu Dhabi. After leaving Dubai, I was glad to be back in Abu Dhabi. Abu Dhabi is so quiet and subtle, I really love the peace I felt just being there.
What to know before visiting Abu Dhabi!
You should dress modestly in Abu Dhabi.
Although the capital, Abu Dhabi’s more conservative compared to Dubai. The culture in Abu Dhabi is generally more traditional and reserved. It’s important to be covered up modestly, as well as refrain from any public display of affection, and not insult or indicate rude gestures especially to the locals. There’s also dress-codes that you should follow if you’re visiting malls and especially the Grand Mosque.
Abu Dhabi consists of islands.
Abu Dhabi has various islands, such as Al Maryah Island, Yas Island, Al Reem Island, etc.
There’s no train system in this city.
Your only mode of public transport is by bus, taxi or Uber.
There are no proper addresses.
You don’t get a “27 Some Road Name”. Addresses are marked by buildings. So your address could just be “Sky Tower, [unit number], Al Reem Island.”. Cool huh?
It’s possible to drive over to Dubai to stay for a few nights.
Dubai is less than 2 hours by car away. If you’re in Abu Dhabi, I’ll encourage you to drop by Dubai since it’s so near!
Have you been to Abu Dhabi? How was it to you?
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Visited: Nov 2016
Photo credits: “Sliced building” and trapezoidal photos were snapped by Sam K., editted by me.
Information credits: Abu Dhabi’s population information | Burj Khalifa fun fact is via NYTimes
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