Dubai Airport at 1am...the world's jet lagged come here to do shopping at midnight. Yep, people love buying gold at night (like you do!)!
Wedding cake and card given by Emirates airline cabin crew on flight to Dubai from London. Great flight...photos on their camera came out better (yes, hard to believe that a PHOTOGRAPHER could not take his own photo!)...never had 12 crew surrounding my seat...what a celebration!: Photo Copyright Navjot Singh
I first met James on an Emirates A380 flight from Dubai to London Heathrow (Callsign ‘EK003 heavy’- click here to view the review of that flight) in 2011. He was our Senior First Officer and was kind enough to take a few photos for me from the flight deck using my camera (my camera was allowed in, but not I!). We had an amazing crew on that flight, and the senior purser was a good bloke. Upon hearing that I was a photographer and journalist, he replied “Oh, our senior pilot is also a photographer and author- let me speak to him and see if he can lend you his book”. The guy gave me his book for the whole flight…best in-flight reading I have ever done! After we landed at a windy Heathrow, the senior purser (who somehow also doubled as a good salesman), asked me “So, what do you think? Would you like to buy it?” I burst into laughter….I thought it was a free gift from James!
Ever since that flight, we have been good mates. I can say that he comes across as a very friendly and customer-focused person- which is a rare to find in the aviation industry these days. Reading his blog posts and his Facebook posts, you get the feeling that he is a true aviator and not just a pilot- he calls his planes girlfriends…I mean, you can’t really get much more love out of your job than that! He makes you wish you were a pilot, even if you are not into aviation and even if you have no love for planes whatsoever! James has always provided me with great advice about flying and I have cherished that advice. We met again in Dubai in 2015. This time he was preparing for his simulator test for his command course on the Airbus A380. It was at that time that he told me of his retirement plans. I was quite sad and surprised to hear it.
James’ last flight, EK407, was on the 24th of September from Melbourne (MEL) to Dubai (DXB) on aircraft registration A6-EDY, arriving early in the morning in Dubai. I cannot begin to imagine what he must be going through at this time, knowing that he will never fly ever again. His career has been nothing short of an exemplary one for those who want to enter the challenging but rewarding world of aviation.
He will be writing books in his retirement on subjects related to aviation (while downing a few well-deserved daiquiris in Boracay, no doubt!). Click here to read a review I wrote for one of his books in sleeping for pilots and other insomniacs!
In his own words, just before this last commercial flight out of Melbourne for Dubai, the great Melbournian said on Facebook: “They say pilots only love the plane they're flying ... And they remember only two flights, the last one they did and their first solo. Thanks, Peter Nelson, for sending me solo in 1985 ... Will never forget it!”.
After a remarkable career of thirty-one and a half years that many can only dream of having, I am sure he will be yearning to fly again soon! Mate, you are really an inspiration to many and it has been an absolute pleasure to know you as a mate. Here’s cheers to a very well-deserved and happy retirement!
Below is a recording of James' interview on Melbourne's Radio 3AW with Darren James
On 3 August 2016, a Boeing 777-300 aircraft, registration A6-EMW, belonging to Emirates Airline, was operating a scheduled passenger flight, numbered EK521, and departed Trivandrum International Airport (VOTV), India at 0506am local time for Dubai International Airport (OMDB), the United Arab Emirates (UAE). At approximately 0837am local time, the aircraft impacted the runway during an attempted go-around at Dubai. There were a total of 300 people on-board the aircraft, comprising of 282 passengers, two flight crew members, and 16 cabin crew members. However, the UAE's General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) was very sad to announce that one of the firefighters lost his life while saving the lives of the others.
Jassim Isa Al Balushi managed to rescue 300 lives, but in doing so, he lost his own. The brave firefighter sustained fatal injuries after helping put out the flames during rescue operations, the report said. His valiant efforts, however, were not in vain, as everyone on board escaped from the burning jet alive—including 282 fliers and 12 cabin staff. Once everyone evacuated, the aircraft exploded and burst into flames and Al Balushi was unfortunately caught in the blaze.
The initial report into the incident has shown the pilot had tried to abandon the landing after the main wheels of the Boeing 777-300 had already touched down.
When such accidents happen, it is always best to wait for the investigators to do their job and publish the report, rather than listen to so many so-called 'aviation experts' on the TV and the internet because most of them are just guessing and have little or no idea on what the truth of the matter is.
The official Preliminary Report has been published by the GCAA of the UAE. Click here to get it from their official website.
Located 37 kilometres (23 mi) south west of Dubai, the Al Maktoum International Airport opened on 27 June 2010. It costs about 120 Dirhams and takes around 30 minutes by taxi to get to from the city centre. The airport is relatively underused by only a handful of airlines. I flew out of it with Qatar Airways to Doha: Photo Copyright Navjot SIngh
In the Middle East (Dubai World Airport here), even Falcons (the national bird of most of the ME countries) get to travel in First Class! These guys told me that each Falcon is prized at around US $1.5 million...they were carrying 4 falcons...not bad. They had the whole First Class cabin for themselves on that flight...all 18 seats booked for just 4 people and their birds: Photo Copyright Navjot Singh
When you have a tank containing over 10-million litres of water, you need a considerable amount of brave manpower willing to dive and maintain it. The Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo, located on the Ground Level of The Dubai Mall, is one of the world's largest suspended aquariums. Worth visiting for the Sharks alone (2 of 'em): Photo Copyright Navjot Singh
Situated at the 122nd floor of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the world’s tallest building, the At.mosphere Burj Khalifa, with its remarkable sleek & stylish interiors, is officially the world’s highest restaurant from the ground level. The chic venue has a seating capacity for 210 people, offering guests the option of dining at the Restaurant or at the Lounge, both offering stunning panoramic views across Dubai, Sharjah and beyond.
Unlike some other chic restaurants around the world, the At.mosphere has a few of its own unique formalities that set it apart from the rest. Firstly, there is a separate entrance for guests located next to the lobby of the Armani Hotel in the Burj Khalifa, and secondly you should book well in advance to guarantee a table as this is one of the most sought after eateries in town.
The elevator that propels the guests to the arrival lobby at the 122nd floor at a height of 442 metres from the ground takes exactly 44 seconds- that’s 10 metres per second to be precise. It’s not as fast as an aircraft taking off on rotation; nevertheless, it may still require you to swallow or even chew a candy to stop your ears popping. On a windy or rainy day, you can hear the wind whistling in the background as the lift goes up (or down).
To commence the culinary adventure, I was shown a fine selection of beverages. I opted for the Luc Belaire, Belaire Rose Champagne from France. I was presented with two lovely dishes - “Brittany Lobster salad with julienne vegetable and Asian dressing” and “battered prawns served with homemade chips and Tartar sauce”. The former was decorated with fresh leaves and vegetable shavings, with the delicious lobster meat hidden underneath. The latter is an alternative to the traditional fish & chips, with prawn replacing the cod or haddock that one may normally expect to have. It is highly recommended that you generously sprinkle fresh lemon provided with the dish onto the prawns and chips. The taste is priceless and exceedingly good for your health. Luxury food like this is a priceless gift for anyone that wants to just lose themselves into eating good food in the heart of Dubai. It’s the kind of dish that would fill you up, but one that you would want to eat again, and again.
Michelin-star chef, Jerome Lagarde and his team of talented culinary masterminds have definitely made a promise to put At.mosphere firmly on the map when it comes to providing high-quality international cuisine.
The dessert, a very unique style of cheesecake, was nothing short of a classic. The “cheese cake with passion fruit, Yuzu sorbet and crumble”, which looked more like a giant white chocolate lollipop, was nothing but a fabulous piece of art and a priceless invention by the chef. Just like an Easter egg, the ‘round ball cake’ had to be cut in half to reveal an explosion of sweetness, blending in the ice-cold Yuzu sorbet and 100% pure passion fruit pieces. It’s hard to argue about the taste when you are presented with a genius dish such as this in-house made spectacle. Food has always been taken exceedingly seriously in Dubai. Go there, and experience it!
Click here to find out more!
No pavilion, no crowds, no proper cricket balls, clothing or equipment...but these migrant workers from India and Pakistan (two cricket mad nations) have plenty of happiness, high moral and support from each other. Every Friday after prayers (Friday is a weekend in the UAE), the streets are filled with Indians and Pakistani migrant workers (who make up the majority of the 90% of expats in the country) playing cricket or taking a rest away from their work. The whole of the Middle East has been literally built by people from these two nations...almost every building you see in the UAE, Qatar, Saudi, Oman, Iraq and Yemen has been built by an Indian or a Pakistani. Many get FIVE times the salary they would back home, and their living conditions have improved in recent years. Would be a great photo project to work on ..something titled "They made Dubai". Over the 2 days I stayed in Dubai and Sharjah, I heard a lot of first-hand stories from migrant workers...also got to speak to a Syrian migrant (a professional Chartered Accountant who lost every member of his family in the civil war...but now works as a taxi driver in Dubai...amazing survival story). Photo Copyright Navjot Singh
Racing Camels and Horses are big business in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and despite the speed of a Horse (around 88 kph) compared with a Camel (40 kph), the winner of either race (Camel or Horse), get's the same amount of prize money. Camels can be seen loping along the desert at their maximum speed of 40 kph (Mo Farah can beat them any day).
Dubai-based Emirates Airline placed an order for 150 of Boeing's new 777 mini-jumbos (nicknamed 777-X), in a $76bn (£47bn) deal at the 2013 Dubai Air Show. These will be a combination of 35 Boeing 777-8Xs and 115 Boeing 777-9Xs; plus 50 purchase rights. It is the single largest aircraft order by value in the history of US commercial aviation, creating and supporting an estimated 436,000 jobs in the US. Emirates currently operates 131 Boeing 777s and has a further 214 Boeing 777s on order. The 777-X, which has FOLD-UP carbon fibre wing tips will be delivered in 2020 (without the bendy wings, the wingspan is about the same as the Airbus A380).
Emirates has also ordered FIFTY Airbus A380s, in a deal worth $23 billion. The airline is already the biggest customer of the A380.
So where will they be parked? Dubai is a tiny place, and indeed, so is it’s airport. The answer is going to be ‘Dubai World Central - Al Maktoum International Airport’. The airport is planned to become the world's largest passenger and cargo hub, ten times larger than the current Dubai International Airport which covers an area of 29 square kilometres (7,200 acres) and Dubai Cargo Village combined. One terminal is going to be for ALL THE OTHER AIRLINES except Emirates (& Qantas Airways two daily appearances). The latter two will enjoy having Terminals A, B & C to themselves. When they move to DXB World - it'll be in one hit, in about 2020 - when the first 777-X arrives.
Meanwhile, all the freight aircraft and the VIP aircraft will be sent to DXB World before the runway works next year (DXB World is going to have FIVE runways). So, now you know where they’re gonna park the 140 A380s, 150 777xs, 100 777s and 70 A350s as from 2020.
While the aviation industry is suffering financially in the Americas and Europe, it is booming in the Asia Pacific and Middle Eastern regions. Huge airport construction projects are well under way in cities such as Shenzhen (new airport terminal will open on 28th November), Doha, Dubai, Mumbai, Delhi, Kunming, and many others (mostly in China and the Middle East).
Since it's introduction 6 years ago, the Airbus A380-800 has become a regular visitor to Heathrow, with Emirates, Malaysia Airlines, Qantas, and Singapore Airlines all flying this beast into London. Soon British Airways will start flying the A380 from LHR.
She's not as beautiful as the Boeing 747, however two things do stick out about the A380....she is remarkably quiet, and her enormous size (wingspan and length of fuselage both just under 80 meters)...which means that while you may be having a chat with your friend in a cafe, she will surprise you while gilding past quietly in the background..it's gets me every-time...almost as if a huge whale is in the sky...
Wanna know what's she's like inside? Here, read THIS, and if you ARE flying First Class on her, then try the showers (can't beat a shower in the sky..)
Seen here, Dwayne Malone of Emirates takes her out of Heathrow...back to Dubai.
Indian and Pakistani laborers grab any chance to rest or cover themselves from the sheer heat. Working 13 hours a day, 6 days a week on two or three year contracts, they pay Labour Force companies about 1,500 USD for their initial visa and airline ticket and the chance to earn a minute 250 USD a month. There are about 200,000 Pakistani expats, and 300,000 Indian expats working in the construction industry in Dubai. Most work overtime to increase their monthly take by half or more. Their employers pay for their transportation to/from the construction site to their dormitory-style accommodation (NON air-conditioned buses). The accommodation has at least eight to a room, shared showers and toilets, no lap of luxury of any decent starred hotel - plus the food is not free. After their contract expires in two or three years, they get a return air ticket paid for, and at least 40 days home with their families.
The Ruler of the UAE has put in place strict laws to ensure they get proper medical and dental treatment, two hour breaks during the middle of the hot summer days, and to ensure they are not exploited. Next time you check into your five star hotel in the UAE, take a moment to reflect the hard work and the sheer effort put into making your stay comfortable...that someone who probably earns the same in a month as to what you may have spent in one night at your hotel stay...puts things into prospective.
Even though their wages are considered low in the UAE, they earn about FIVE times what they could back home. Working throughout the night, the cranes operated by an Indian or a Pakistani often are first ones to greet the morning sunrise over the Arabian Sea - in essence, they made Dubai and the UAE what it is today, and we must thank them for it.
The spanking new Ritz-Carlton at the Dubai International Finance Centre (DIFC) is located just minutes away from the world’s tallest man-made construction, the Burj Khalifa building, towering above the Dubai skyline and consisting of 162 floors above and two below ground. This delightful gem of a hotel with 341 elegantly appointed rooms and suites was opened on the 12th of January (alas 4 days shy of my birthday!), but hey, guess what? It has already gotten used to welcoming frequent visitors, namely those that have a serious business proposal in mind appointed in Dubai. Unlike the Ritz-Carlton at the Dubai Marina which caters for the leisure market, or those who want to be seen as the “Who’s who” of this world, this Ritz-Carlton at the Dubai IFC is more catered for the business community as it is conveniently located next to the major Sheikh Zyed Road, and only around a comfortable 20 minutes by car to Dubai airport.
Entering each of the rooms is a bit of an adventure. There is an air of contemporary design that blends in neatly with a strong Arabic ambience- you’ll be well pleased with a sweet smell of Arabic incense in the air.
Spacious bathroom attracting natural light with an open window looking right through to your bedroom form part of the excellent Feng Shui of the place. I have a feeling that the vast majority of the five star hotels are becoming more and more like boutique hotels- especially when it comes to providing the essentials of life. Loved the Nespresso in the room (attractively coloured Coffee cubes). All the rooms’ are equipped with the latest technology including fully integrated TV and internet system. It’s strongly Arabian yet very many international, traditional yet contemporary; with lush furniture and pampering bedrooms that add a vision to every angle that a guest looks into. Lovely hospitality and cuisine. Lovely detail to attention.
The sophisticated mini-bar includes wines by Cawarra (2008 Shiraz Cabernet) and Simonsig (Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz 2009). Almost everything at The Ritz-Carlton DIFC has lovely futuristic touches such as the electronic curtains and the trademark remote controlled TV in the bathroom.
The sleeping experience is just simply out of this world- an enormous bed awaits you upon your arrival. It’s so good that one may end up believing that they are somewhere in between Earth and Heaven. Pocket that thought with perhaps the best sleep you’ll have for ages! Fancy snuggling into a 400-thread count Frette linen?
All the rooms are strongly influenced by French art-deco have a clean, fresh and spacious feel with double exposure windows. Warm shimmering fabrics are used to create a fabulous effect that combines both eastern and western tastes. Each one of the rooms has their water temperature checked before a staff guest checks in. As standard with hotels’ in the Middle-East, a charming arrow points in the direction of Mecca so that Muslim guests have no trouble when praying.
At the Club levels (floor 13 and 14), the 38 rooms and the 27 Club suites are generously proportioned (42-61 square metres) and feature access to the 13th floor club lounge that has a continuous food and beverage presentations daily, and dedicated staff to assist at any time of the day. The best part of the experience is to have daily breakfast at the relatively calm Club lounge, which means that you do not have to deal with the hustle and bustle of the main dining area during this important meal of the day. Guests can also check-in and check-out with ease at the Club lounge.
Natural light also fills the marble floored bath and rain shower (love this creation!). Fantastic Feng Shui is exemplified by the use of superb symmetry. Lovely rich colours’ of Gold and Amber that portray the strong ethos of the Arab culture. Don’t be surprised to see Porsches, Ferraris and the abundance of Maserati cars’ stopping by in front of the foyer because Dubai is effectively a huge amusement playground for the wealthy. Then there are your usual Arab guests that come in from neighbouring Lebanon, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain or Saudi Arabia- and normally they leave Dubai with ten times more the amount of luggage that they initially intended to take away with them!
A unique and breath taking space, The Ritz-Carlton DIFC’s central foyer on the 4th floor, takes the super lounge concept to new heights. It’s a sophisticated yet chicly understated and relaxed venue bathed in a vibrant combination of warm colours of orange, red, yellow, beige and pink- all divided cleverly into the lounge and on-going into the nearby No. 5 Lounge and Bar. The bars and restaurants have outside verandas’ overlooking into the actual Dubai IFC mall- with all the more adds to the uniqueness of this fine accommodation.
The gorgeous backdrop of a waterfall view that guests can take pleasure in is very much tempting not just for business persons who want to while away their evenings after a long day at work but for those who want to hold meetings, hold weddings and conventions.
The “Centre Cut” provides the finest prime beef cuts in the city, and has a certain masculine touch to it complete with a furious red ambience and portraits of a raging bull providing a splendid backdrop. The whole experience should go down well with a lovely glass of fine red wine. For those who prefer some authentic French cuisine may want to dig their taste buds into the “Can Can” eatery that looks rather like a typical French bistro. Now if you adore food, like I do, then wait till you tuck into one of the dishes at the “Blue Rain” restaurant. It offers nothing but sheer authentic Thai cuisine. It’s so good that it will simply blow your mind, and taste buds’, away!
The Ritz-Carlton DIFC is the ultimate when it comes to gastronomical pleasure, lively conversation among busy city professionals who want to relax with, say a fine “2 Up Shiraz”, a classy Malt Whiskey, or one of the scrumptious culinary innovations, after a long day at the office, brightens up the place. This is the perfect place for captains of Industry to network as well as absorb the newly found chic atmosphere of 21st century Dubai. With all the glam, modernity and the glitter, it’s easy to forget that one is actually sitting in the middle of a desert!
The Spa features a temperature controlled swimming pool, a fully manned gymnasium and massage rooms’. The services of the club are extensive in line with the branded Ritz-Carlton treatments’ (refreshing turquoise colours illustrate the vibrant treatments and menus!). All the treatments are masterfully designed to ensure the highest level of relaxation and satisfaction, while a team of professional therapists pamper guests with the best natural products and international brands in the UAE.
Located on the 4th floor of the rather new Ritz-Carlton at the Dubai International Finance Centre (DIFC), the authentic Thai restaurant Blue Rain will leave your taste buds dancing for delight. Dining at the Blue Rain is meant to be an experience for each and every sense. All the staff are native Thai people especially bought in to the restaurant from Thailand. Fortunately the restaurant gets its wines from the hotel’s wine rack that is noted to be the largest in the world. Main courses can be humble and authentic while the dessert can be daringly modern. And because the food is prepared according to the philosophy of how an authentic Thai meal should be created, with only the best produce and ingredients dependant on seasonal availability, the menu changes on a regular basis.
With the lovely backdrop of a waterfall view as well as the restaurant floor containing a “canal” type stream running right through the middle of the restaurant (covered by a wonderful blue glass to give the effect of a “Blue Rain”), the restaurant is itself a work of constant art and not just a culinary adventure.
With a Thai identity on a regional platform, the chef has created an amazing cuisine that is open for local and international ingredients and influences (provided they have the authentic Thai touch to them). This creates a cuisine that is based on natural produce and natural taste with an acceptable level of healthy oil, salt and sugars in the meals’. It’s effectively an exotic culinary creativity in a vibrant, sophisticated atmosphere where you can just relax, enjoy and while away those evenings in good company and wine (perhaps a cigar too). The demand for first class eateries in the Middle-east is considerable. But the Blue Rain does a sensational job in matching up to the high expectations of its guests, whether they are locally based or from far away lands across the seas.
An extensive menu caters for all tastes including fresh fish dishes taken from the local waters around the Arabian Gulf. Must try dishes include tantalising appetisers such as “Popia Sot” and “Mieng Kham Kung”. The “Popia Sot” is a Thai style spring roll accompanied with a lovely meaty cut of chicken and generous portions of asparagus, mint and a dash of tamarind sauce. While the latter dish is made up of prawns wrapped in betel leaf and accompanied with a touch of ginger, chilli and coconut. The whole package is neatly sprinkled with a dash of lime. Dare I say priceless in Dubai?
Splendid main dishes that just cannot leave the Blue Rain without trying include “Gang Kiew Wan Pla Murk”, and “Panang Nua Wagyu”. The former is an extremely scrumptious seafood extravaganza consisting of squid with minced prawn, fish and a munificent plateful of pea eggplant. All of this is flavoured with Thai basil and surrounded with green curry. While the “Panang Nua Wagyu” is for those who prefer the meatier option because of its rich weight of wagyu beef surrounded in a Penang curry. The dish is simply out of this world for those who have a passion for beef and spicy food because it has the charming touch of red chillies and kaffir lime.
For a truly authentic Thai dessert opt for the “Khao Niew Mamuang” because it contains some of the most popular ingredients associated with Thai food and culture including mango, coconut and glutinous rice.
It wouldn’t be a bad idea to wash all of this down with a fine glass of “the Ritz-Carlton Martini”. A lovely dash of gin blends in neatly with fresh mint leaves, cucumber and lime juice to give it a simple yet addictive attraction for those who prefer to enjoy the high life.
The authentic Thai touch is provided even when the meal is finished when dinars are presented with the Thai ice-cream dessert containing the Thai greeting words “Khob Khun Krab” (Thai for “Thank You”).
Again, this is another story I would like to share-- one I wrote for in-flight magazines.
After the economic meltdown recently, Dubai is beginning to see a growth again. One of the most important aspects of this growth is the sheer determination and the vision that the local people who live and work here have to create a awesome city. To enjoy a true overall view of the city, it is strongly recommended that one takes a Sky Tour with Seawings. With Seawings (www.seawings.ae) you take off from the harbour in the seaplane from Jebel Ali terminal, on the border with Abu Dhabi, and go over all the main sights including Jebel Ali Palm, Jebel Ali Port, Dubai Marina, the world famous Palm Jumeirah and the “World Islands”. Unlike any other flying experience, this one is sure to give Dubai that “Wow!” factor. Nothing beats taking off from the beautiful turquoise waters of the Jebel Ali harbour, located in one of the most beautiful and expensive areas of the city. Guests are treated to a refreshing glass of fresh Orange Juice prior to take off, which is always a welcomed in the sheer heat. The views are stunning- there is absolutely no other word to describe the experience. Seawings is just about taking a simple flight over Dubai- this is about class, about luxury, about experiencing the true enjoyment of flying in a pre-historic seaplane (something which is of a rarity these days). This is what flying should be life and this is how Dubai should be enjoyed. So, sit back, relax and enjoy! Prices start from 995 AED for a 30-minute flight.
If Helicopters are more of your thing then take a 45-minute “HELIPLATNIUM” tour with Aerogulf Services (www.aerogulfservices.com). The flight, operated using a Bell 206 Helicopter, ride makes the flight experience a bit more thrilling because Helicopters are fast and dashing ways to fly. The scenic views from the helicopter will just blow your mind away! There is nothing quite like it. Don’t forget to take your Camera otherwise it would be a wasted opportunity. Helicopter tours depart from Dubai International Airport and people need to book at least 3 days in advance to complete the security checks.
While in Dubai recently, I decided to have dinner at the renowned Ronda Locatelli. It’s located in the ridiculously expensive, and rather fake, Palm Jumeirah- the multi billion dollar man-made real estate which, if seen from the sky, looks like a large Palm tree lying against the backdrop of the Arabian sea. If you are after the rare authenticity of the food (it’s not easy to find these days), I would highly opt for the Ronda Locatelli. If you think you have tried real Italian food, you are for sure missing something. Take one bite at the Ronda Locatelli- it will take you out of this world! The freshness of the ingredients’ as well as the smell and taste of the food is a key aspect to the success of this eatery. It actually feels very surreal...very un-Dubai. Maybe because it’s all westernised and modern.
I was just about to finish my dessert (a delicious Rhubarb Crumble to die for!) and head back to the Jumeirah Emirates Towers, when the manager of the hotel came over and invited me to join a certain “Beach Party” being held at the Atlantis. “What, a beach Party in Dubai?” I asked him in surprise. “Ahh, its not what you think, Sir”, explained the Manager.
Of course, Dubai is an Islamic country, and it is perhaps the last place on earth where you would expect a Beach Party to happen. I feared for the worst. Surely I am not going to come across loud and drunk immature teenagers (or adults) from Europe who are behaving like animals, and letting down their culture, and at the same time having no respect for the culture of the country in which are partying away in. However, I was wrong. This was not the kind of “Beach Party” you would expect to witness in somewhere like Ibiza or Greece and so on. And certainly blending in the fact that this is upmarket Dubai, slightly liberal yet still very much Islamic in culture, and equally upmarket Atlantis, so therefore this beach party was more like a barbecue get together at the beach. There was a friendly atmosphere where friends and family members can sit around in a circle on the beach and eat traditional Arabic food, Barbecued lamb chops and perhaps even smoke a Shisha at the same time. There was also a DJ playing some fusion modern Arabic and Western beats. People were sitting down, relaxed and enjoying the nice atmosphere with the blessing of the full moon shining on the white sandy beach.
Only a few things made one realise that this was Dubai- there was no alcohol being sold and the dress code was to cover the legs and arms. Yes, we have heard stories of some British people who have, either on purpose, through lack of knowledge of the local culture, or though their ignorance, done something silly things and have ended up being on the wrong side of the law. Dubai has this camouflaged image to the outside world, where people think that it is a very liberal place, and that they can go around as if they are back in the UK (or wherever), but in actual fact with all the luxury surroundings and the westernised atmosphere it is rather easy to forget that Dubai is no different to being an Islamic country than, say, neighbouring Iran or Saudi Arabia.
Usually I travel non-stop between the UK and Asia, which has prompted me to get to a stage in my life where I am fully aware of all the major air routes between Europe and the Greater China region. For example, the normal air route from London to mainland China and Hong Kong takes planes from London over to Brussels or Paris, then over Germany, Russia, and entering Mongolian airspace through Siberia, down towards Xi'an, and finally making its way towards the Chinese cities (Shanghai, Hong Kong or Guangzhou).
On my recent flight from London to China, I decided to fly with Emirates Airline. This effectively allowed me to blend in my press trip to Dubai and do an airline review for Emirates (my initial sponsors). For me, without a doubt, the most interesting part of the trip was taking the flight from Dubai to Shanghai- and what’s more, it happened to be a morning flight so the views provided along the way were just magical.
The Dubai to Shanghai route took us over the Dubai creek (flying towards the Arabian Gulf), and turning back towards Sharjah (which we went over), then making our way just below Afghanistan, then entering southern Pakistan (just around 100 miles west of Karachi), and heading north-east towards the Indo-Pakistan border somewhere in the Rajisthan Desert. Once the plane entered Indian air space, it made its way across the north of the country, passing Jaipur, Kanpur and then towards Varanasi before entering Bangladesh. As the plane went over Kanpur at around 39,000feet (FL390), we were welcomed by clear views of the Ganges river, and in the distance, a spectacular view of Mount Everest’s peak sticking out of the clouds. I could not resist taking the photo. It was just truly magical.
Equally stunning was the sunset in the horizon (eastern horizon) as the plane went over Kunming in Yunnan Province at around 38,000 feet and making its final hour approach into Shanghai. It was one of the most scenic flights I have taken ever, and truly memorable.
This article should have been posted well before my Shanghai articles, but I have been very busy and have had no time to upload the photos and articles since I set my foot in China. But better late than never...so here is my report from Dubai!
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.
Here are some photos I would like to share of Dubai:
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