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Posted: 2 August 2008
Author: Leon Buraneri
Dubai is an amazingly well developed, technologically advanced metropolis well endowed with first world standards of infrastructure. Its population consisting of mainly expatriates and foreigners (80%), Dubai enjoys the privilege of culminating Western technology with European design, Eastern artistry and Middle Eastern architecture. Strategically located in the heart of the Arabian Gulf, this financial capital of the middle east is extremely welcoming to foreign interest, and to that extent is probably the least conservative Arab state. The Emirate enjoys millions of visitors from around the region and the world, and places of interest and tourist activities are plentiful.
Things to do in Dubai
For the young or young at heart, spend a few hours skiing- that’s right, in midst of the blazing desert heat, the Mall of the Emirates has a full blown indoor ski slope operating throughout the day. Besides skiing and snowboarding, the young ones have the option to enjoy tobogganing, sledding or tube slides.
- Desert safari is a real thrill – one would never expect the dunes to be that high or to drop that fast (they can reach 50-100m). Driven by local experts in well-equipped Land Cruisers (typically), the desert spree is sure to get the adrenalin pumping, gliding over peaks and the plummeting down the troughs repeatedly, a strong parallel to Six Flag’s worst roller coaster ride.
- For milder excitement levels, you could still have plenty o f fun in the sands; just bring along a piece of cardboard and try sand-boarding!
- Spending a day a one of the numerous beaches is probably time well spent. The waters are (not surprisingly) comfortable warm, crystal clear and extremely inviting. Note that due respect should be paid to the local dress code and custom; at beaches populated by locals the wearing of bikinis is frowned upon.
- Shop till you drop:
- Probably the world’s largest, most extensive and exclusive shopping malls can be found in and around Dubai, for instance the Burjuman centre downtown, Ibn Batutta, Marina Mall and the fabulous Dubai Mall (both just opened recently), the latter boasting an enormous indoor aquarium. Designer labels of every imaginable brand can be found here, and the prices are fairly reasonable.
- Visit the Gold Souq at Bur Dubai, a semi-enclosed mall consisting of dozens of local jewelers offering beautiful, intricately designed gold jewelry finished mostly in 22 carat. Prices are based on weight and are normally negotiable – you should offer about 60% of the asking price and be able to settle at around 70% and you should compare at least 3 vendors to get an idea of price variations. Popular with western tourists are Indian or Mogul styled gold bangles, and these abound from store to store.
- Karama shopping centre has an extensive array of quaint shops and street vendors where ‘genuine fake’ apparel can be bought including sunglasses, clothes, shoes, handbags and accessories. Bargaining is again the order of the day, however some shops do have prices marked and are non negotiable.
- If your kids wanted to spend a day at the park, then Dubai has quite a few pay-parks with manicured lawns, beautiful flora and well-equipped playgrounds. Of note are Jumeirah beach park (a good spot if you wanted to spend some time at the beach also), Safa park (also has a number of amusement rides including a carousel, ferris wheel; paddle-cars and motorized boats that can be rented), and Zabeel park.
- Driving – Despite the crazy drivers and choking traffic during peaks hours, Dubai roads are very extensive and usually a good condition. One can enjoy the stark contrast of towering skyscrapers to bare desert; pristine beaches to exotic hotels on the Palm. If you would like to venture out, most would recommend a 2 hour drive down to mountainous Hatta.
- For shorter stays, enjoy a dinner cruise on the serene Dubai creek; a number of operators offer a 2 hour cruise with a 3-course dinner for about US75$.
- You could spend a day at a theme park; another of Dubai’s latest impressive developments is that of DubaiLand, a (???) hectare park to be found on Emirates Road. Of course the video game centers in the larger malls boast thrilling rides and simulators also (try out the Magic Planet at Mall of the Emirates or Deira City Center Mall).
Taxi’s are available all over Dubai, are regulated, clean and safe. Rates are very cheap by western standards, wit a ride from downtown Dubai to Dubai Marina (bout 50km away) costing in the region of US25$. This is by far the most effective may to travel within Dubai. In the past Dubai taxi drivers have been notorious for unsafe and fast driving; fortunately due to the installation of sophisticated traffic monitoring systems installed all along the freeways, renegade driving has been reduced drastically; either way you have every right to instruct the driver to obey all speed limits.
Car rental is an option for visitors to Dubai and all major international car rental companies are represented. It is strongly recommended to get a GPS for first time visitors as the roads are extremely cryptic and you could literally spend hours trying to work your way out of puzzling streets and alleys, or worse still, get stuck in peak hour traffic. Mind you, driving in Dubai generally requires a bit of nerve – ‘cutting in’ is common, as is tailgating and the occasional vehicle traveling in the opposite direction….
- Public buses are available in Dubai but the intense heat makes waiting at bus stops quite an ordeal. The RTA is installing air conditioned bus stops at major locations but this may take some time to complete.
- The Metro rail is one of the biggest developments in Dubai, and the first phase is scheduled to be in operation by first quarter 2010. With space-age overland stations, the metro is set to relieve the extremely stressed freeways and urban roads. Stops are present at major developments such as Jumeirah Lakes Towers, Tecom, Barsha and JAFZA. How practical this will be for travelers seeking to get around remains to be seen.
This is the easiest part about Dubai. Being a melting pot of almost every nationality, global cuisine is readily available and for really high-end restaurants even the ingredients are flown in. Dinner at the Burj Al Arab is a must if you would really like to spoil yourself and your partner, and a sure fire way to win the deal if it’s a business dinner. Fast food outlets are plentiful consisting of almost all major international brands such as McDonalds, Burger King, KFC, Pizza Hut and Subway. As for restaurant chains, Dubai is probably one of the only places in the world where almost major names can be found such as TGI Fridays (US), Pastamania (Singapore), Nando’s (South Africa), and Gloria Jeans (Australia).