If Dubai were a woman, she’d be a Penthouse Pet: utterly stunning on first appearances, expensive as hell to maintain, craving constant attention and boasting more than her fair share of cosmetic enhancements. Seriously…there would not be many men on earth who could afford to date her. But luckily, the utterly opulent desert oasis of Dubai can be your mistress, a fleeting lover if you will; one which may leave your bank balance a little drained yet also one who could satisfy your every whim. For a price of course.
Some consider Dubai to be immensely overstated, tacky and perhaps even a little fake, but we think that, in a few rare instances, natural beauty is overrated. Think Las Vegas with a generous sprinkling of Middle Eastern spices and you start to get the picture of what Dubai is all about: opulent, over the top splendour in a stunningly unique setting. Sure, there may not be anything subtle about Dubai, and people argue that one needs to dig hard to find the authentic side of the Arab Emirate; yet if ‘authentic’ means unique, one-of-a kind and unmistakable, then be assured that Dubai is very authentic indeed. There’s no-where one earth which could ever possibly compete with this immensely vibrant city. After all…how many insanely rich visionary Sheiks could there be in this world?
Dubai Guide – What can Dubai offer?
In short: everything! There’s really not much you can’t do in this desert haven: from superlative haute couture shopping to skiing, sand dune bashing, shopping, desert camel riding, sunbathing, shopping, swimming, feasting on the best oriental food in the region, and not to mention the shopping. When it comes to superlatives, Dubai’s got them all: the tallest, best, biggest, fastest and most expensive, meaning a Dubai vacation can be as varied, exciting, relaxing, and as expensive as you’d like it to be.
Originally planned and designed to be the holiday destination of the world’s rich and famous, it initially looked as if Dubai would be out of reach of most people’s holiday budget. Yet the global financial crisis (and common sense) has revealed Sheik Mohammed’s plans to be a tad over-zealous. While you’ll still find plenty of 5* hotel rooms going at a mind-boggling US$5,000 a night, there are now plenty of ‘Holiday Inns’, and youth hostels offering rooms for under $100 a night in off season. So, hurray for us common folks who need not sell off their first-born child to afford a short-break here!
The ins and outs
Dubai is fairly spread out yet most tourist activity concentrates on just a few areas. It’s not so much that they are overly-touristy, is just that the other parts hold very little interest for anyone not here on business. When looking for accommodation these are the areas you should concentrate your search on:
The most favoured of all the hubs here, Jumeirah is where most of the ex-pats live due to its close proximity to the major malls, great beach and lots of seaside restaurants and cafes. The public beach access can be somewhat dodgy, this is where hordes of Pakistani and Philippine construction workers spend their lunchtime ogling at bikini-clad tourists, so do yourself a favour and pay $10 for private beach access at one of the many resorts, it’ll make for a much more relaxing day of sun-worshipping. Plus you’ll get a sundeck chair and an umbrella, which are quite invaluable in the sometime oppressing heat! Check out Jumeirah Beach and Park, it’s probably the best choice here; lots of shaded nooks under palm trees.
This incredible seaside hood is home to luxury skyscrapers, a great mall, wonderful boardwalks and an outdoor souk which makes for a sanitised bazaar shopping experience.
The centre of town is home to the Burj Khalifa (the tallest building in the world), as well as Dubai mall (the largest in the world), the famous Dubai Fountain and a plethora of ultra-modern malls, hotels and restaurants.
The do’s and dont’s
At first glance, Dubai doesn’t even appear to be an Arab, or Muslim, country; but do be warned…it is. Islamic Law is still very much de rigeur here and the police’s tolerance for foreign ignorance is rather spent. Follow these simple guidelines and you won’t end up offending anyone or getting into some serious grief.
-Use common sense and don’t talk politics or religion with locals, do not criticise the ruling family or Allah forbid, Islam, and you won’t spend a month in jail!
-Dress sensibly: women should always have their shoulders covered when out in public, and wear skirts which cover the knees. Super-tiny bikinis are also not acceptable in private hotel beaches, so leave those for the next trip to Rio.
-Absolutely no eating out in public during the month of Ramadam, only consume your meals within the confines of your hotel/resort.
-No public displays of affections are allowed here (again, keep it to within the walls of your hotel room), and no public drunkenness allowed. Combine the two (ie. get drunk and opt for a shag on a public beach), and you may well end up being flogged, fine and deported. In that order.
-Drugs are a major no-no here, and smuggling a joint into Dubai can see you face the firing squad…so do beware. If you must carry prescription medication on your visit, then make sure it is accompanied by a doctor’s letter.
Dubai’s International Airport is by far the busiest in the UAE, and stiff competition means it’s not difficult to snag a real bargain. Emirates is the Dubai’ main carrier, yet Etihad (which flies in and out of Abu Dhabi) is also a great choice as connections between the two cities are varied, convenient and effortless. Budget carriers are also on the rise here, so check out FlyDubai and AirArabia for last minute deals on flights to Dubai.
Dubai’s airport is as modern and top-notch as one would expect, so you’ll definitely have no problems finding your way around. The whole complex is bursting with duty-free shops, but do keep in mind that anything you can find here, you’ll find cheaper in town. To reach your hotel, either grab a cab outside the front doors (all metered, cheap and perfectly safe), or connect with the superlative Dubai metro from Terminals 1 and 3.
Getting out and about:
Taxis are plenty-some in Dubai and, considering they are also cheap, these are by far the best and easiest way to get around town; yet the sparkling new Dubai Metro is insanely efficient and very convenient too. The whole system is still being added to, with lines and times extended and new destinations reached almost monthly. Check out the Dubai Metro website for all the latest info.
The local ferry boats, or abras, are a great way to cross creeks and save on valuable eating/shopping/sightseeing time. They ply the routes along all of Dubai’s creeks, gift amazing city views (especially at sunset), and rides cost but a few cents. More expensive boat rides are also available on air-conditioned ferries, yet they lack the charm (and the smells!) of the abras so give them a miss if you can.
Photos by Author