Dubai is one of seven emirates that make up the UAE, United Arab Emirates, a country that only came into existence forty one years ago. The discovery of vast oil reserves soon after rapidly created a millionaires’ paradise. Twenty five years ago Dubai was a small desert town famed for pearl diving, but with the help of oil revenue the city many love to loathe erupted from the desert. Gleaming skyscrapers, obscene luxury and extravagant mod cons, Dubai presents itself as one of the financial and tourism capitals of the world, and with over 80% of the population expatriates (the majority from India, Pakistan and the Philippines), the city certainly has a global feel… but there a dark side if you choose to look.
Following America’s lead, the UAE certainly believes bigger is better. The record breaking Downtown Dubai boasts the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, Dubai Mall, the world’s largest shopping mall and The Dubai Fountain – yep, you guessed it, the world’s largest fountain… built right here in a water-starved desert. Can I get drunk, I hear you ask? There are some of the world’s best restaurants, bars and clubs where you can drink to your heart’s content. No women don’t need to cover up but it is recommended to dress demurely in public.
The city runs along the coastline and is easily navigated by the 14 lane behemoth known as Sheikh Zayed Road. Starting in Deira, known as old Dubai you can see how Dubai used to be. Next is Downtown Dubai where most tourists spend all their money and time shopping. Further on is the man-made Palm Jumeriah Island and the Marina. The metro runs along the road all the way and is the budget way to get around although taxis are numerous and remarkably cheap, $15 for an hour long trip! Unless you enjoy sweating profusely from every pore in your body do not attempt a visit between June and September, the season the locals call hell, as it can get to 55C.
Best of the Beaten Track
For most Downtown Dubai, the home of all the brand new mega attractions, is the obvious place to start exploring. Although impressive some say it lacks soul… and of course it’s designed to sap your cash reserves. My favourite part of town is the souks. The traditional marketplaces of yesteryear have been renovated, in true Dubai style, to make them bigger and better and are definitely worth getting lost in. There are gold, spice, garment and tourist tat areas and a dishevelled Hindu temple. Be prepared to haggle as they will always give you at least 50% off if you have the bartering skills.