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Dubai – Progressive Arabian Oasis Rising from the Desert Sands
For far too many travellers, Dubai means little more than “DXB”, the airport code for Dubai International Airport, where they change planes and maybe do a spot of duty free shopping before quickly heading off to their actual destination. But, grand as it is, the city is much more than its airport, having developed over the last 40 years or so from a sleepy trading port to the Middle East’s Alpha City, with a skyline to rival New York’s and a range of attractions and tourist facilities that would impress even Walt Disney World’s CEO.
From Clocktower to Creek
In a city as modern and forward looking as Dubai, visitors would nonetheless do well to start their exploration in its historic centre. The Deira Clocktower is as good a place to start as any. It is situated in the heart of Deira and is just minutes from the airport. While the tower itself, like almost everything else in Dubai, is unabashedly modern, it is situated at a historic crossroads near the first bridge to span across the Dubai Creek. A short walk to the creek itself will bring into view the dhows and other commercial vessels that have been unloading precious cargo here for hundreds of years. It is possible to board a dhow day-cruise here and escape the hubbub of the city for a short sojourn in the Gulf.
Souks, both Grand and Routine
Deira is also by far the best place in Dubai, and possibly the best place in the UAE, to experience an authentic Arabian souk. The Naif Souk is one of the city’s oldest, and originally traded mostly camels. It has been completely modernised and visitors will now find everything from knock-off handbags to high-tech electronics. But of all the souks in Deira it is the Gold Souk that draws the most attention, and for good reason. Aside from Fort Knox and a couple of other central bank vaults, it has to hold the greatest amount of gold in one place in the world. Most of the traders specialise in jewellery, rather than bars or gold coins, but serious buyers should research the current London Fix gold price in order to make sure they do not over pay.
The Burj Khalifa and the Glittering Modern City
Head over the Dubai Creek from Deira and one enters the futuristic districts and developments that have come to define the modern city. Avid shoppers and those looking for a bird’s eye view over Dubai, and parts of the rest of the UAE, should head for Downtown Dubai. This fully developed area contains all the shopping one could possibly need in the massive Dubai Mall, a variety of entertainment, popular musical water fountains and the Burj Khalifa. Until very recently this striking tower was the tallest building in the world. It contains an incredible eight hotels, private residences and an open air observation tower on its 124th floor. Like many of the city’s major attractions, this area is accessible via the new, and thankfully fully air conditioned, Dubai Metro. Another area that attracts both visitors and residents alike is the Dubai Marina. Not only does it house watercrafts from mega-yachts to modest sailboats, it also features a gorgeous sandy beach lined with glitzy hotels and resorts. An incredible number of high-rises crowd the marina, giving it an urban buzz that draws cosmopolitan visitors to its waterfront cafes and restaurants. Families should not miss out on a trip to Wild Wadi Water Park. The park offers incredible slides, private cabanas and a welcome chance to cool off - all within view of Dubai’s iconic Burj Al Arab.
Beyond the City’s Edge
The UAE, and even the Emirate of Dubai itself, is much more than just a glittering post-modern city. After spending a while in the city some visitors yearn for a different and perhaps more authentic experience. They dream of the silence, endless landscapes and traditional Bedouin hospitality to be found in the desert just beyond the city limits. A safari is the perfect way to satisfy this yearning, and there are several outfits that will transport their guests deep into the desert to experience the hospitality that is the hallmark of desert communities everywhere. Sometimes the trip to the accommodation is half the fun, with off-road vehicles cresting the dunes found along the way. Dinner is typically a feast fit for a sheikh and often includes entertainment like belly dancing and live music. A popular daytime activity in the desert is sandboarding – just as much fun as snowboarding, but requiring good fitness to walk back up the dune after each run. The safari companies that arrange these trips typically collect guests from hotels in the city before heading off.