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This is the first travel photo essay from new TPG Contributor (and professional photographer) Patrick T. Fallon, who in future posts hopes to provide useful guides to destinations that include tips on exploring, redeeming miles, gaining status and improving your own photography while traveling. Between TPG posts, follow his work and travels on Instagram. (All photos by the author.)

People look through the glass at the Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo inside of the Mall of the Emirates on Monday, January 20, 2014 in , United Arab Emirates. © 2014 Patrick T. Fallon - All Rights Reserved, No Use Without Permission
Through the looking glass at the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo inside of the Mall of the Emirates.

My first visit to the United Arab Emirates hotspot of Dubai was the result of a (successful) attempt at my first status challenge, in which I managed to attain American Airlines AAdvantage Platinum status with a single flight — LAX-LHR-DXB in British Airways’ version of premium economy, World Traveller Plus. Upon arriving, jet lag hit hard and I wasn’t up for much, but I needed to get a SIM card for my iPhone and I’d heard that shopping malls in Dubai are tourist attractions unto themselves.

My first stop was The Dubai Mall, home to the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo. When’s the last time you went to an aquarium and/or a zoo … in a shopping mall?

People at Ski Dubai inside of the Mall of the Emirates on Monday, January 20, 2014 in , United Arab Emirates. © 2014 Patrick T. Fallon - All Rights Reserved, No Use Without Permission
Ski Dubai — inside of the Mall of the Emirates — was something I wanted to at least peek at so I could cross it off my list of Dubai extravagances.

Or for that matter, a ski resort? I had to see the Ski Dubai attraction inside Mall of the Emirates for myself.

The shadow of the Burj Khalifa is cast over the city of Dubai, as seen from the "At The Top" experience of the Burj Khalifa on Tuesday, January 21, 2014 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. If you want to save money, buy tour tickets a few days in advance, otherwise you'll have to pay a premium for a same day ticket. © 2014 Patrick T. Fallon - All Rights Reserved, No Use Without Permission
The shadow of the Burj Khalifa is cast over the city of Dubai, as seen from the “At The Top” experience on the 124th floor of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

For my first real day of sightseeing, I headed straight to the Burj Khalifa, the tallest man-made structure in the world.

If you want to save money, buy tour tickets a few days in advance online, otherwise you’ll have to pay a premium for a same-day “fast track” ticket. While I had looked online beforehand to buy a ticket, the time and day I wanted was already sold out when I searched.

Tourists admire the view and as others pray during the "At The Top" experience on the observation deck of the Burj Khalifa on Tuesday, January 21, 2014 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. A pretty cool elevator ride builds anticipation as you feel your ears pressurize. © 2014 Patrick T. Fallon - All Rights Reserved, No Use Without Permission
Tourists admire the view and as others pray during the “At The Top” experience on the observation deck of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. The elevator ride builds anticipation as you feel the change of pressure in your ears.

Luckily I was able to use my American Express Platinum card with zero foreign transaction fees to pay for the 300 AED (about $82) ticket to the 124th floor. This is fairly expensive, but at least I didn’t have to wait in line and was able to get up and down and utilize more of my limited time in the city that day to explore rather than standing in a queue. There is now an even more premium option to the “At The Top: SKY” experience that will take you to the 148th floor.

Tourists ride the Abra water taxis, quite possibly the least expensive attraction in all of Dubai, at sunset at the Old Souk on Dubai Creek on Tuesday, January 21, 2014 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. © 2014 Patrick T. Fallon - All Rights Reserved, No Use Without Permission
Tourists ride the Abra water taxis, quite possibly the least expensive attraction in all of Dubai, at sunset at the Old Souk on Dubai Creek.

After the Burj Khalifa I wanted to explore more around the city, using the modern Dubai Metro rail system to visit Dubai Creek and the Old Souk. With a few coins in hand, I hopped on an Abra water taxi; a stark difference to the expensive Burj elevator, the Abra cost just 1 AED (about 27 cents).

A man feeds birds near the Abra water taxis at sunset by the Old Souk on Dubai Creek on Tuesday, January 21, 2014 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. © 2014 Patrick T. Fallon - All Rights Reserved, No Use Without Permission
A man feeds birds near the Abra water taxis by the Old Souk on Dubai Creek.

The souks are great if you’re looking to buy some gifts for friends back home. Remember that cash is still king for many things, including taxis and souks.

Workers load washing machines on their backs onto boats at Dubai Creek near the Old Souk TKTKTKTKTKTK on Tuesday, January 21, 2014 in , United Arab Emirates. © 2014 Patrick T. Fallon - All Rights Reserved, No Use Without Permission
Workers load washing machines with their backs onto Dhow cargo boats at Dubai Creek near the Old Souk.

It’s easier to negotiate if you have a good assortment of Dirhams (AEDs) and US dollars in hand. For ATM withdrawals when I travel, I use the Capital One 360 debit card, which also waives foreign transaction fees.

People walk on the beach at the Atlantis, The Palm resort during brunch on Saturday, January 25, 2014 in , United Arab Emirates. © 2014 Patrick T. Fallon - All Rights Reserved, No Use Without Permission
People walk on the beach at the Atlantis, The Palm resort Saturday in Dubai.

During my trip to Dubai I stayed with local friends, so I didn’t have to bother with finding lodging. We only briefly left Dubai for two of the six other United Arab Emirates — Abu Dhabi and Fujairah; the latter has a Gulf of Oman coastline popular for scuba diving, which is what lured us there.

We we returned, we hit up the Barasti Beach Bar on a Friday night, then enjoyed a relaxing Saturday on the beach with food, hookah, and drinks at Marriott’s Atlantis, The Palm Dubai [room rates starting at 1,475 AED (about $402) per night].

Sun sets on the Atlantis, The Palm resort during brunch on Saturday, January 25, 2014 in , United Arab Emirates. © 2014 Patrick T. Fallon - All Rights Reserved, No Use Without Permission
Sun sets on the Atlantis, The Palm resort. Leave time to have a look around the hotel and see some the beautiful aquariums inside.

As an aside, if you hope to visit Jumeirah’s over-the-top Burj Al Arab Hotel and aren’t a hotel guest [room rates start at a whopping 3,630 AED (about $988], you’ll need to have confirmed reservations for one of their restaurants. The hotel offers a lavish afternoon tea service in their Skyview Bar, as well as a few more options that are more economical but don’t have the Skyview’s amazing, well, sky views.

The Burj Khalifa is seen in the very early morning as I head back to the DXB airport to catch my British Airways flight to London on Saturday, January 25, 2014 in , United Arab Emirates. © 2014 Patrick T. Fallon - All Rights Reserved, No Use Without Permission
The Burj Khalifa is seen late Saturday night as I head back to the DXB airport to catch my early Sunday morning British Airways flight to London.

Once my whirlwind trip was over and I arrived at Dubai Airport (DXB) for my departure, I was able to use the business-class check-in and the British Airways Galleries lounge, a nice perk of my then-new AAdvantage Platinum status. Not too shabby.

For more on where to go, eat and stay in Dubai, be sure to see Nicholas du Pont’s Mistake-Fare Guide to Dubai. On my next trip to Dubai I plan to venture beyond the main attractions, and simply wander the souks and streets to experience a local’s version of Dubai — what cool, off-the-beaten-path places have you found inside and outside the city?

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