Discovering Dubai

Trip Start Aug 12, 2009
Trip End Jan 30, 2010

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Flag of United Arab Emirates  ,
Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Dubai was an unforgettable experience.  With just a two-day layover, we covered a lot of ground.

Ramadan, the month of fasting for Muslims, had just started.  Most restaurants are closed from sunrise to sunset, and it is illegal to partake in food or drink in public.  In 40 degree + Celsius hazy desert heat (which used to be more like 50+ in years past) it would be a challenge to hang out by the pool or beach for long. 

Our half-day city tour was led by a Pakistani driver-cum-tour guide.  Dubai, as with much of the UAE, depends on its foreign labour, comprising about 80% of the population.  The other 20% is made up of native Arabs, who are so inherently wealthy they do not have to work; if they do work, it's usually holding government positions.  They were a rare breed to spot, especially during the daylight and early evening hours of Ramadan.

The landmark hotel Burj Al Arab, unofficially known as the world's only 7-star, was taller than the Eiffel Tower, at 321m.  We took several photos at different angles, but our favorite is the one we took from a beautiful hotel close by.   The Burj Dubai, not yet completed, stands at over 800 meters, with 167 floors- the world's tallest building.   It seems this is not tall enough for Dubai, with plans already underway for a 1200+meter building- it will have an elevator that travels at 8m/s, and reaches the top in 2 minutes.  The Palms/Atlantis of the Palms hotel are other-worldly, and reach out about 4km on reclaimed land over the ocean.  

Everywhere you look, there are construction cranes, but our tour guide told us the recession has affected Dubai, and projects are either slowed or halted altogether.   The World islands are under construction at the moment, and there is a planned underwater hotel, called Hydropolis.  Knowledge village is to contain all the the top universities of the world, so if you want to go to Harvard, Boston won't be the only option.

Shopping in Dubai is an experience you can't miss, from the endless maze of Gold "Souk" stores, to 1200+ stores in the Dubai Mall (currently the largest mall in the world), and entertainment adventures including a full size ice rink; an aquarium with sharks, leopard-skin stingrays, scuba divers; the famed ski slope; and more.  Mall of the Emirates is over 20 years old but looks just as new, just as impressive, with plenty of retail therapy to be had.  Outside of these malls, we were taken to outstanding high street stores selling the most expensive Arab and Indian silks and pashminas, unique pieces of fashion, silver, gold, etc.  It was great window shopping since we have no desire to carry anything extra in our backpacks.

The Dubai museum was once a fort, protecting Dubai against invasion.  The mostly underground museum now protects its plenty of interactive exhibits and explicit history from the dust and heat.  Our driver pointed out 18th century wooden boats in the marina along our route, a refreshing example of older architecture still in use.  Cars in Dubai are retired after 20 years by law, and sent to other countries for resale.  Speed limits are strictly enforced, every car is equipped with an alarm that beeps once you hit 120km/h. 

We took a desert sand safari tour, led by another foreign guide-- still no Arabs!  Roller coasting the 4X4 through the sand dunes for an hour was either exhilarating or nauseating, depending on your stomach.  We managed to get in a bit of dune surfing too. After that adventure, we arrived at an open fort in the desert, had a camel ride, mehndi style henna tattoo, and barbeque.  In lieu of belly dancers due to Ramadan, we were entertained by a male dancer who twirled continuously in one direction, eventually waving a fully illuminated skirt above his head.  It was dizzying just looking at him.  Our night cap was smoking shisha from a hooka, before heading back along the well-lit highways to Dubai.

Once again, it was just a snapshot of a journey as we head to India.  Next stop, Delhi.
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Wil Becker on

I have admit I am more envious now than when you started this trip!

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