As the air conditioned SUV sped down the urban highways from the
airport into ways from the airport into the city, heat shimmered up
from the desert between towering, mirrored skyscrapers that whizzed
past outside, like one long, glittering mirage. I couldn't help but
think -- Dubai is a cross between Singapore and Las Vegas, on
steroids. This city is all about superlatives -- the world's tallest
building, the largest indoor shopping mall, one of the world's
fastest growing airlines. A shiny new destination, constantly
evolving at break-neck speed.
It's hard to imagine that less than 50 years ago, Dubai was a sleepy
country on the Persian Gulf, home to fishermen and traders. But
thanks to the discovery of a modest amount of oil, and under the
vision of the then ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Dubai
has since transformed into a popular holiday destination.
Dubai is a melting pot of nationalities and a city in transition,
some say it's one enormous resort. Many of the traditional homes and
architecture have been lost, bulldozed to make way for yet another
five star hotel or shopping mall. It's often difficult to find true
So I'm not going to wax lyrical about the glamour of the Hotel Burj
al Arab or the sheer scale of the indoor snow park, Ski Dubai.
Let me take you beyond the bling, where there are cultural treasures
to be found and extraordinary experiences to be had.
So much to do
Jump on board an abra and cross the creek between Deira and Bur
Dubai. These traditional wooden boats have long been part of the
seafaring tradition in Dubai. Formerly row boats, these rustic
vessels are now powered by diesel and it's by far the quickest way to
cross the creek.
A majority of abras are still used in daily life here and it's
interesting to watch the boats load and unload at the docks.
Alight on the Bur Dubai side of the creek and you'll stumble across
the Dubai Museum, housed inside the Al-Fahidi Fort. Built in the late
1790s, this is believed to be the oldest building in the city. Bur
Dubai is where you'll find what's left of traditional architecture
here. You can wander through the narrow streets of the Bastakiya
District and marvel at the tall wind towers and gypsum decorations
and woodwork. Tucked away in the back streets is the XVA -- an art
gallerycum-boutique hotel. This is possibly one of the very few
small, unique establishments, hidden away from the five-star
establishments that dominate Dubai's tourist scene.
Deira is on the other side of the creek and is home to the celebrated
gold souk. Buyers from all around the world visit this treasure trove
to sift through the dazzling mounds of jewellery. If nothing suits
your particular taste, you can get your own piece exclusively
Craftsmen can alter the composition of alloys in the gold to create
pink, white, yellow or green hues.
Nearby is the spice souk, with perfumes and incense piled in stacks.
Wildlife in Dubai!
Many tourists wouldn't expect to find a wilderness park in the middle
of this glittering city. But Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary
represents an enclave of relative wilderness amidst swirling traffic
and sprawling urban infrastructure. Ras Al Khor means `head of the
creek', in Arabic, and that's exactly where you'll find it. This is
among the few urban protected areas of the world.
The sanctuary is a 6.2 sq km protected zone that's home to 266
species of fauna and 47 of flora. But the star attraction is the
majestic flamingo. There are around 1,000 flamingos here throughout
the year, but this number swells to almost 2,500 during the winter.
January is the best time to visit if you want to catch migratory
If you are after something a little more high energy, then why not
try quad biking by `Big Red' -- the gian sand dune on the road to
Most Thursday and Friday afternoons during November to March, anyone
can go along and have a go.
And forget indoor snow skiing at the Mall of the Emirates. Instead,
head for the great outdoors and try your hand at sand skiing, a sport
that's hard to find anywhere else in the world. There are full day
tours, and of course, special ski hire is available.
Camel racing is also another sport not to be missed. Races are held
during November to April, usually on Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays
with one race at 7.30 am and another at 4.00 pm.
Dubai is a shopaholic's dream. In fact, shopping is the number one
tourist attraction, according to government figures.
But you can find big name, branded goods almost anywhere these days,
so why not venture out to the rustic shops and markets to pick up a
different type of souvenir?
The Bur Dubai Souk is a group of shops under wooden arcades and
traditional wind towers. Here you t can find textiles, clothes and
the quintessential mosque alarm clock.
The souks in Dubai might lack the gravitas of those in say, Syria,
but it still makes for a fun day out.
Sampling the local cuisine is part and parcel of any holiday. But
when I asked where I could find `local fare' most people were a
You can find almost any other type of gourmet delicacy under the sun
here -- from Turkish, Indian, French, Italian, Chinese, there's even
sushi. But offerings of local Emirati cuisine are a rare find.
In fact many guide books point to restaurants in hotels, which to me
doesn't really constitute authentic dining. tute authentic dining.
However, you can try Bastakiya Nights -- a restaurant situated in a
traditional Arabian house, overlook ing the creek. You'll be
entertained by belly dancers and there's also henna painting. Some
might think it a little contrived, but great fun nev ertheless.
The packed Lebanese fast food chain Zaatar w Zeit, is a genuine
outpost of Beirut in Dubai. Their baked goods are to die for, but
it's the manakeesh, or Lebanese pizza, that they're best known for.
Take a stroll down the palm-studded Al Dhiyafah Street in Satwa. Here
you'll find an embarrassment of Beirut-style cafes, all with pleasant
roadside terraces built for late-night mezze consumption.