Everytime I have been to Dubai, it's always been for a short stopover for a few days- though I suppose that this enough to see a city which once used to be known as a village! In the past, Dubai looked like a construction site, with high rise building being erected all around the place. Even today it feels like a construction site, though on a much smaller scale. The large amount of construction that has made Dubai what it is today is not apparent- there is a sense of silence in most parts of the city. Yes, building work is going on, however you are bound to come across high rise buildings that have been half completed, and the rest are still being constructed- or put on hold because no one has any money to complete the project. The helicopter pilot who took me on a VIP city tour explained to me that the only people who have the money at the moment are either the pilots or the locals (who have not spent much- or more like they do not need to spend much!).
The amazing story about this vibrant and colourful city is that twenty years ago, especially in the early 1980s, this was not a tourist city. In actual fact there were only a handful of basic stared hotels, lots of old souks (markets) selling fish, produce and other local bargains (including trading of Camels and Animals), and just a vast land consisting of nothing else but sand dunes disappearing into the horizon. Hollywood stars who have decided to make Dubai their second home, would have laughed at the idea of even coming here for a holiday all those years ago- that has all changed. Dubai is a place which apart from being firmly on the map, is a place that full of competition from property developers, hotels and other sectors that make up its thriving finance and tourist industry.
In a recent meeting with the British Travel Broadcaster and Actor, Michael Palin, I exchanged some viewpoints about the Dubai of the past and now. Mr. Palin first went to Dubai in the early 1980s during the filming of his well acclaimed “Around the World in 80 days”, and he recalls that in those days the hotel facilities were not lavish, there was hardly any building that even had, say, 10 floors, and there was a very small airport. So much has changed since then. Dubai has one of the most modern and biggest airports in the world, one of the best airline’s in the world, Emirates, and of course, all the rich and wealth that has surrounded this tiny city in the Arabian Gulf. 21st Century Dubai is seen as a centre of luxury for the rich and famous to come and while away their time- a place where they can escape away from the pressures of life in their home country. Russians (and now the Chinese), tend to be the major number of rich visitors to this city, as well as Hollywood stars- some of whom even have Vilas on the beach front or on the artificial “Palm Beach” (A manmade Island that looks like a Palm Tree from the sky). The catch line of “You ain’t seen nothing yet!” certainly applies to Dubai, because essentially, despite the economic downturn, this place is still booming, and there are a lot of new things that will be introduced in the coming years. In actual fact tourism is expected to over take oil exports as an important source of revenue in the near future. For the moment the people of Dubai are enjoying all the attention that they can get.
Don’t leave without seeing...
Burj Al Arab
Consistently voted the world’s most expensive hotel, and specifically going with the enjoyment of being known as the world’s only seven star hotel, the Burj Al Arab (meaning “Arab Sail”) is the ultimate in luxury. Officially the 2nd largest hotel in the world at 321 meters, the Burj Al Arab is the only one in the world that has gold plated wallpaper evident in all the rooms as well a glass ceiling in every suite (The Burj Al Arab does not have room, but every suite is two floors). If staying here is too expensive, then dine at either the Al Muntaha, offering spectacular views across the Arabian Gulf, or at the Al Mahara (below the sea) which was voted one of the ten best restaurants in the world by Conde Nest Traveler. It costs around USD$40 to go to the top of the Hotel and enjoy the views, along with a complimentary drink of your choice. Recommended to spend around an hour to get a true taste of the place.
Opened against the backdrop of a spectacular firework display on the 4th January 2010, at 828 m (2,717 ft), the Burj Khalifa is the tallest manmade building in the world. Developed by the Emaar Property Group and costing around about US$1.5 billion, the Burj Khalifa must be one of the world’s amazing wonders. You’ll get a stiff neck just by looking upwards when you are below. The Burj Khalifa is home to the 3rd highest observation deck and the highest outdoor observation deck at 442 meters- it’s located on the 124th floor. It is highly recommended to book in advance. Located at the base of the Burj Khalifa, the Dubai Fountain provides a stunning show of “dancing water”. Costing a total of Dh 800 million (US$217 million), a record-setting fountain system offered by the tallest dancing fountain in the world, was designed and constructed to go side by side with the Burk Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. The fountain is illuminated by over 6,600 lights and 50 colored projectors.
City Old Tours
For those visitors who are coming to Dubai for the first time, you may just end up seeing the modern Dubai- for sure you are missing something great. Take a tour of the old Dubai, especially around the Deira area. This is home to a number of souks (traditional Arab markets) including the Covered Souk, the Gold Souk & the Spice Souk. The Gold Souk has nothing else except less than hundreds of shops trading in Gold. Likewise the same for the Spice souk, while the Covered Souk sells all kinds of brik-brac- some of which are being sold just as they were in the old days before all these high rise sky scrapers came into effect.
The Big Bus Company (www.bigbustours.com) has been in operation in Dubai for over 7 years now. It used to operate creamy and red coloured London Double Decker Buses (the tradtionals ones'). However with the change of the times and with improvement, the Big Bus Company has two types of tours- the Red Tour (for the Old Dubai) and the Blue Tour (For the new Dubai and the beach side areas). With their distinctive open-top tours, they reveal Dubai’s landmarks while showcasing the city’s rapid development from a small fishing village to a modern, vibrant city.
Its well worth taking Day Tours' by making full use of the the hop-on, hop-off facilities to visit all the places that interest you, or join the Night Tour with a live-guided commentary which showcases the spectacular night lights of Dubai. It really is awesome. Nothing beats the feeling of seeing Dubai in all its glory at day or night- watch out for the wind from the Arabian sea though!
For another alternative, if you wish to go desert safari or to if you wish to hire your own driver yourself then it is also highly recommended to book half a day with Arabian Explorers: www.arabian-explorers.com
Hatta is a 200 years old village that is only an hour’s drive from downtown Dubai city. The ancient fortress and the famous Juna Mosque, which are both located amid palm groves, draw visitors all year round. But one thing that really fascinates the visitors is the authentic drive along the burnished sand dunes & mountains varied in colour- you only get to experience this in Dubai, and Hatta. The locals are very welcoming and friendly. They may even offer you some local Arabic tea. Make sure you greet them with a gentle “Islamalikum!”.
Built in 1787, and later renovated in both 1971 and then in 1995. The museum is perhaps one of the oldest buildings in the whole of the middle east, the Dubai Museum located in the Al Fahidi Fort is a must see attraction. The attraction gives a true sense of what life was like well before the commencement of the high rise buildings came into existence. It looks and feels a bit like being in a typical “Arabian Nights” movie. Unlike the modern Dubai which everyone sees nowadays, coming to the Dubai Museum conjures up that authentic Arabic feeling.
Area: 4,114 km2
Population (2009): Approx. 2,262,000
Time zone: +4 Hours from GMT
Telephone code: +971
Official Language: Arabic, English
Official Website: www.dubaitourism.ae
Dubai Airport: www.dubaiairport.com
Here are some photos I would like to share of Dubai: