HIGH, in a good, all natural way, it's that state I get into when traveling, most especially in a place I haven't been before. So when Pinky Pineda of Philippine Airlines extended to join a team of Davao travel agents to a familiarization trip to the United Arab Emirates, I nodded to it. It would be good to get high in Dubai.

One of the most important factors I consider when traveling is the connectivity, if there is a need for it at all, to reach my destination. With Philippine Airlines, getting to anywhere in the globe, at least where PAL flies, from my point of origin, which is Davao, connectivity is not a problem. With a good number of flights flying out of Davao daily, I can get a check-thru, hop on the plane to Manila, catch the connecting flight to any international and regional destination the airline flies to on the same day, without leaving Terminal 2, PAL's designated terminal. PAL offers the same service is applicable via Cebu.

The connecting flight service totally eliminates the hassle of changing terminals and the apprehensions brought about by it. Tell me, do you really want to wait to claim and lug your heavy luggage across terminals, catch the airport bus praying traffic will be light so you can make it on time to check in for the next leg of your journey? Why not spend that time relaxing at the Mabuhay Lounge while waiting to connect?

That is what the Davao team did on the way to Dubai via PAL Express, spent time at the Mabuhay Lounge in between flights. By noon on the same day, we were off to the UAE.

Dubai has emerged as a popular tourist destination in the Persian Gulf region. Tourism, along with aviation, real estate and financial services, is what drives this emirate's economy today, after oil accelerated its development in the earlier years. The place makes sure they lure in more tourists by the year with its daring feats of creating everything in a grand scale-the biggest mall, the tallest building, the most expensive hotel rooms, creating islands of shaped as desired, etc.-enough to make any visitor gape in wonder what man can create on a barren dessert.

As more skyscrapers pop out like mushrooms across the Dubai skyline luring our gazes towards the heavens or inviting us up to look down below its man-made wonder, there are still enough sites and activities on the ground that can give us the "high" we need. Here's a few of what Dubai can offer.

Go for a Dessert Safari. This tops my list. I am not a big fan of theme park rides but this rollercoaster ride over sand dunes across the dessert is a winner. The drive to the starting point takes close to an hour, the crazy ride takes about the same time but the highlight is at the end of the journey-when you are asked to go up hard-to-scale dune for a most dramatic sunset. Goosebumps! It's going to be one breathtaking moment for you. It was for me.

To cap the ride, how about having dinner in the middle of the dessert? It's an all-Arabic experience at a make-shift Bedouin camp-a camel ride, dates and Arabic coffee, sheesha, henna tattoos, roasted and baked fare, dining on low tables and belly dancing and the very impressive Tanora (aka whirling Dirvish) for entertainment. Temperature drops in the evening, better bring something to keep you warm.

Visit the Dubai Museum. This will give you a glimpse of what Dubai was before the advent of oil leading to what it is today. This museum resides in the AL Fahidi Fort built in 1787 making it the oldest existing building in Dubai. The artifacts and life-sized dioramas are impressive and the descriptions very comprehensive. It's a short tour but your newfound knowledge will help you appreciate more what's on the Dubai landscape today.

Take a city tour and go for that photo-op, especially when you have limited time on your hands. It's the best way to see much of the city even if it's just gazing at the exterior. Include these on your list-the Jumeirah Mosque, the most photographed structure in Dubai; the Madinat Jumeirah, a replica of the old Arabic city; the historic district of Al Bastakiya, the locality's construction dates back to the 1890s. In its prime, the locality was capable of supporting 60 housing units, most of which were separated by narrow, winding lanes; the open beach with amazingly crystal blue waters, this is where a perfect shot with the Burj Al Arab can be taken; the Burj Khalifa, currently the world's tallest structure; and drive around the amazing artificial archipelago of Palm Jumeirah and check out the Atlantis hotel; and take a stroll around fields and structures made of flowers at the Miracle Garden, which is closed during summer because of high heat. Every angle in this garden may appear like a pre-nuptial shoot.

A photo-op will be good, for bragging rights maybe, or something to remember the visit by. Of course, if you can get the chance to go further and tour the place, scale the tall buildings and have a hearty meal in the famed hotels, go for it. If not, the time saved can be allotted to what you really want to do-shop!

Head for the souks and the biggest mall. The textile souk is at the historic district of Bur Dubai, and take a short ride on the traditional water taxi known as the abra to cross the creek to get to the spice and gold souks at Deira on the opposite bank. The spices are so aromatic but the gold? Dubai won't be dubbed as the City of Gold for nothing. Haggling in the souks is acceptable and credit cards are accepted.

For a new world feel, head to the Dubai Mall, it is feted as the biggest mall in the world housing 1,200 shops that includes luxury brands plus an indoor aquarium and a dancing fountain. It's a one-stop Dubai shopping free of taxes. Shop away!

Take a side trip to the UAE capital city. While you're in the touring mood, head to the Dubai's twin city, Abu Dhabi. The road trip will take an hour and a half and the day's tour will take you to the magnificent Sheikh Zayed Mosque, the largest mosque in the UAE and the 8th in the globe, and the resting place of the Sheik Zayed bin Sultan AL Nahyan, the driving force of the emirates' union. It took artisans of different nationalities to create this structure that used marble, semi-precious stones, crystals, ceramics and gold. The interior holds the world's biggest carpet made by 1,300 knotters, three crystal chandeliers with the biggest the third largest in the world, 96 columns in the main prayer hall clad with marble and inlaid with mother of pearl, a many more interesting features; drive by the Emirates Hotel and the Presidential Palace; take a short tour of the Heritage Village; and if you have the time, take more than a photo-op at the Ferrari World on Yas Island. This first Ferrari theme park claims to be the largest indoor theme park in the world. You may want to ride the fastest roller coaster in the globe.

Take a Dhow night cruise at Deira Creek. It's the perfect way to slow down after a fast paced touring of the cities. The evening cruise aboard the Dhow, an Arabic sailing vessel, across the Deira Creek, which played a vital role in the economic development of the city, is a relaxing way to see the city from a different point of view. Enjoy a sumptuous Arabic cuisine and the local sights as it fires up the dark skyline with its lights.

Here are a few tips: 1. Visit Dubai on the cooler the months as dessert summer heat can be blistering; 2. Have a travel agency arrange for a more leisurely tour. The local transportation system of Dubai will not take you to the must-see spots unless you take the taxi, which can be expensive with the recent fare increase, or the hop-on-hop-off bus, which can use up your time waiting for the next bus to come; 3. Have an open mind. Dubai maybe a man-made city but its charm lies in the unexpected. The city is very dynamic and the city's skyline changes year to year, especially with the coming 2020 World Expo coming which Dubai will be hosting. With that in mind, each and every visit to Dubai will give you that "high."

PAL Express flies daily to Dubai. PR2658 departs Manila at 12:25 p.m. and arrives in Dubai at 6:15 p.m. (Dubai time) on the same day. PR2659 departs Dubai at 7:45 p.m. and arrives in Manila at 8:55 a.m. (Manila time) the next day.

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