Delving into Dubai, UAE
May 5, 2013
I had the great opportunity to go to India for two weeks this March. The country is fascinating, frustrating, colorful, intense and full of great wealth and great poverty. It was a total assault on the senses! I totally enjoyed it and was going to write about it (because besides the Taj Mahal, I did get to see tigers in Ranthambore National Park, making me one of the lucky few to do so and a great highlight for me). But when I told people where I had been and that I had two nights and one day in Dubai on the way back, across the board the reaction was 'wow, India sounds great but how was Dubai?'
So this article is on Dubai, which also was fascinating and offered a teeny glimpse into the Arab culture. It has been rated by Interpol as one of the safest cities in the world, and people of more than 200 nationalities live there harmoniously. It is one of the seven Emirates that make up the Islamic country of United Arab Emirates and is the most liberal, modern and fast-moving of the seven. Sheikh Mohammed Zayed was instrumental in bringing Dubai into the UAE in 1971 to further stabilize its currency and strength, but his main purpose was for peace. Four other Emirates had already joined Abu Dhabi, and one more joined in 1972.
His name is everywhere, and the Sheikh Zayed Road goes all the way to Abu Dhabi and on to Europe.
Most of Dubai's revenues are generated from trade and manufacturing. Recently, financial services have also contributed to the Emirate's economy. And contrary to popular belief, oil, energy and gas revenues make up less than 10 percent of Dubai's gross revenues. Oh, and how would you like to live somewhere that gives you free health care and education, is tax free and offers you a $20,000 bonus to get married!
With only one day to explore, we certainly could not see everything, so we opted for the very popular $60 Big Bus hop-on, hop-off tour. As touristy as this sounds, it was the perfect way to get around and see most of the highlights. We started by getting off and exploring the Dubai Old Souk (market) to buy a few souvenirs, which were very affordable in this city of conspicuous wealth. Though I am not sure my husband was totally thrilled with his complete Arab outfit! We checked out the gold and spice markets, also in this same area near Dubai Creek. We didn't get to the Sheikh Mohammed Centere for Cultural Understanding, but this would have been a great way to start a tour of Dubai, and to get a feeling for the Arab culture before getting tied up in the "futuristic" side of Dubai. We drove by the gorgeous Jumeirah Mosque, which is the only mosque that can be toured, and the Mall of the Emirates, one of the many mega-malls in Dubai. No time to take a quick run at the indoor ski slope!
We had lunch in the Souk Madinat Jumeirah and sat outside with a fabulous view of the Burj Al Arab. We couldn't go to this fabulous seven-star hotel even if we wanted to, unless we were staying there (maybe next time if I win the lottery!). Though it is possible to visit by either having dinner or enjoying high tea. The Al Mahara restaurant has a stunning floor-to-ceiling aquarium, and all of the tables have great views of the colorful sea life swimming by. High tea can be part of the modern Dubai day tour, and it costs about $75 per person. Incidentally, if women are traveling alone, then they have the option of riding in a woman-driven taxi.
Our next stop was the Atlantis on the Palm, where the rooms have views of the aquarium. This is on Jumeriah Palm Island, where the aerial view shows the shape of a palm tree. The other amazing aerial view is the new hotel development called "The World"
We ended our day at the Dubai Mall, to see the wonderful sound and light show set around the Dubai Fountain and to gaze at the Burj Khalifa. This is the tallest building in the world at a staggering 2,700 feet. It costs about $50 to go up and needs to be pre booked. This is the building Tom Cruise scaled in "Mission Impossible." You can have a drink at the on-site bar Atmosphere, but do note that the minimum order for men is around $110!
If I go back, and I would like to, I would love to get out into the desert, stay in a safari-style camp, smoke a hookah pipe (well, maybe not) and go on a camel safari, go to a camel race (they are now sans jockeys) or attend the Dubai World Cup, the largest horse race in the world.
So if I ever have a "forced" layover on the way to Africa or elsewhere, I may do this, as Emirates Airlines offers a hotel, transfers and meals if you have a layover of eight hours or more, which sounds good to me.
Rosie Holliday is an ex-pat Aussie and longtime local travel agent who owns Holiday Adventures, an affiliate of Andavo travel-A Virtuoso Agency. While she can and does book the world, her specialties are Australia, New Zealand, Africa and any kind of active travel. You can reach her at 970-748-9818, firstname.lastname@example.org or http://www.hollidayadventures.com.