05.04.2014

DUBAI, THE RISING CITY

DUBAI, THE RISING CITY, Bahar Sinem Özkesici Ünal | 05.04.2014

Even though the first thing that may come to mind when you think of Dubai is that it’ll just be another Arab city, you quickly to begin to understand that it’s an amazingly modern and wealthy city that perfectly synthesizes the East and West. Dubai is proof of what mankind is capable of in such a short period of time, the speed of its development is astonishing. Up to 40 years ago, Dubai was just a small desert town of Arab Emiratis and their families. Even as recently as 5 years ago it looked like just a large construction site but now it can compete with all the great cities of the world with its glittering giant skyscrapers. Every day you hear about another architectural wonder that’s just been completed.

Dubai houses the world’s first 7 star hotel the “Burj Al Arab”, or “the world’s tallest building” which as of today is the Burj Khalifa, or man-made artificial islands… It is a city created by great wealth that displays all the glamour money can buy. Of course, the reason for such great development in such a short period of time is the oil and the investors it inevitably leads to that flock to the city.

The United Arab Emirates consists of 7 emirates, of which Dubai is one. You see posters, books, and buildings belonging to the popular Sheikh Zayed Al Maktoum wherever you go. Although Sharia law is in operation, Dubai is very modern and nobody pries into anyone else’s personal life. There is a relatively large foreign population, and Emiratis account for at most 10% of the general population. Usually they walk around in traditional clothing and don’t fraternize that much with the rest of the population. You can see them more often in luxury venues where people of lesser means wouldn’t go anyway. Emiratis have exclusive rights with special privileges almost everywhere. They even have a Gold Class zone in the subway. They don’t like their photos to be taken especially if they are with female family members, so do what you can not to take photos with them! 

Why go to Dubai? 

You can go to Dubai for business, shopping (it’s tax-free so electronics and high-end products are cheaper), desert safari rides or to go to the sea… If you’re looking for history and nature, Dubai may not be the right place. Interested in the desert, sea or shopping? You are definitely in the right place. :)

The district I found most interesting in Dubai is “Deira” along the “Creek,” which is the local part of town. Deira has many markets in the “souk” such as the Gold Souk, Perfume Souk, Textile Souk and Spice Souk. And so on. Each one has a world of merchandise on its many varied streets, shops and stores. Choose whichever one you like most… Deira has a lot to offer. Visit Bastakiya’s Wind Towers and the Dubai Museum, Sheikh Zayed Al Maktoum’s House and Heritage Village also known as Little Arabia. Taste the local dishes, and have your photo taken in an Arab tent. You can find all kinds of souvenirs such as hookahs, wooden frames of all sizes, mirrors, silk/cashmere fabric, special rosaries made of precious stones and much more. Take a stroll around the Dubai Marina or discover local shops along the canal at the Old Souk only to find thousands of silk fabric, textile and local products. You can spend your day on a traditional boat called abra” at the Creek too.

What to do in Dubai?

Of course don’t miss the desert safari (Desert Tour). It is a must to see the desert in Dubai, which is of course itself built on the desert. You can’t miss it. Almost all travel agencies organize several safari tours. We got ours at a travel agency at the Dubai Mall.

There are two desert tours. One is the long and the other is the short one. I recommend the long desert tour for the real experience. They run these tours on 4x4 jeeps. The price differs if you choose Toyota jeeps or Hummers or ATVs.

They picked us up for the tour around noon. When got near the desert they deflated the tires so that we could travel more easily. The jeeps put on quite a show, going up and down the sand dunes so fast they were almost racing. You find yourself at the top of the desert one moment only to go down to its very bottom the next. You may get a little carsick but you’ll love it if you are after a touch of adrenaline.

In the evening we arrived at a large camp site in the middle of the desert which had old Arab tents all around it. You can sit back and enjoy hookah, get a henna tattoo, shop for local souvenirs and food was available too with a dance floor in the middle. We went on a camel ride, got henna tattoos on our hands, had tea and coffee on the house, smoked the hookah, and did our shopping. Food was ready by nightfall with a rich selection of salads, barbecues, deserts and fruits.

Then the dancing began as a show of oriental belly dancing, with “Tandoori” dance by whirling Indian men dressed in colorful lit up long robes and traditional local dance styles. It was very interesting and we had a great time. We were driven back to our hotel at the end and we had to spend a long time to get all the sand off our clothes! :)

Another potential activity is a boat dinner on Dubai Creek. You can buy this tour from any travel agency. We picked the ‘’Dubai Dhow Dinner Cruise Tour’ offered at reasonable prices and lasting 2-3 hours on a boat with unlimited food (they served Arab and Indian food). It is a fun boat ride with Indian tandoori dancing and a cruise along the Creek. It is sheer bliss to enjoy the shore glittering at night.

Another wonderful dinner venue is the Madinat Jumairah Souk. We loved it there. It is on the shore a little further down from Burj Al Arab. This well designed souk has a shopping mall, a small canal, restaurants, and an entertainment center almost like resort on its own. It goes without saying that everywhere around here is busy with young people at night. You can also enjoy the view of Burj Al Arap a little further down the souk and the Jumeirah Hotel with its unique architecture.

You can’t just barge into the Burj Al Arab Hotel anytime you like. This building is like a giant sail and has ultra-luxurious interior decoration. You either have to stay there or attend tea tours for a stroll in it. You pay 100 USD per person for a tea tour to see the hotel and enjoy your cup of tea at the end. I haven’t taken the tour since it’s for people who appreciate the fanciest life has to offer a little bit more than I do.

We went regularly to the world’s largest shopping mall, Dubai Mall. It has a large pool behind it offering music and a laser show every day. They also call it Souk Al-Bahar. The Dubai Mall all kinds of restaurants around it where you can enjoy fine dining. We really enjoyed the light show at night with some great food. Texas Steakhouse comes highly recommended. They offer peanuts in wooden bowls until they bring your food order. In addition, you’ve the opportunity to visit the giant aquarium in the mall which is also visible behind a giant glass wall when you are in the mall. It is heaven for shoppers during daytime too where you can meet Emiratis shopping at the high end stores. Your children can enjoy several of the activities offered at Kidzania in the shopping mall.

Emirates Mall is another option for a large shopping mall. It is easily accessible from the subway since it is a little far away from the center. It is a special mall because it has a ski run inside of it with artificial snow. It’s probably most interesting to come here when it is 40° C outside.

Right next to Dubai Mall is Burj Khalifa which is the tallest building in the world. Don’t forget to make your reservation online a couple days ahead of your visit if you want to go up onto the observation deck to get a view of all Dubai. Otherwise you pay three times more than the regular fee. We only had a chance to make a reservation for 06:00 AM. Even then, we had to queue for a long time. You are not allowed to the very top of the building but it is higher than anywhere else when you are on the deck. You can see famous artificial islands of Dubai (Palm Island and The World to be completed soon) and everywhere else.

You will see Emirates Towers and the World Trade Centre when you are driving through the city. Try the fully organic hamburger and special fries at the Elevation Burger on the main street on your way to the Emirates Towers.  This is a favorite with the locals who queue up in front of it especially in the evening.

Other great places for you to wander around and shop at include Festival Centre and Wafi City Mall.

Festival Center is a little bit away from the city center but you can take the subway or a taxi there. It is a very large shopping mall with an entertainment center where you can have good time with your children and take a gondola ride in its channels as if you’re in Venice.  

Wafi City Mall is a pyramid with Pharoah statues and Egyptian objects in it to create a small Egyptian venue. It is elegant and stylish in this shopping mall and entertainment center. We had the chance to watch the laser light and music show in the garden since we were there in the evening.

For sea lovers, Jumeirah Beach is a giant long heavenly beach with its very fine sand and deep blue clear sea. The beach has everything like cafes, restaurants, dressing cabins etc. They also have a section available on special days where service is for women only. It’s a tradition to have your photo taken at the beach with Burj Al-Arab and Jumeirah Hotel in the background. :)

Leaving Jumeirah Beach on your way to Dubai Creek, you can pay a visit to Jumeirah Mosque to see many artifacts including Turkish ones at the Miraj Islamic Art Centre.

Last but not least there is Palm Jumeirah Island which is the first and largest of the Islands. Each branch of the palm tree is a modern and luxurious residence… When you are on top of the palm, you arrive at the Palm Atlantis Hotel surrounded with real palm trees looking like a tropical, large attractive holiday resort, which you can around. It has an underwater aquarium called Aquaventure, a large water park called Aquaventure Waterpark, private beach,  Poseidon Tower and Neptune Tower. Currently they are building other smaller sized palm islands too.

They were still building The World while we were there, which are islands in the middle of the sea shaped like the world map. It is really hard to believe what manpower, technology, architecture and construction can accomplish. I would love to see it when finished.

Out of and around Dubai

Visit Sharjah Emirate close to Dubai for shopping at various outlet centers. It takes a half hour car ride to get there. It’s not as big and developed as Dubai but it has a more naturally Arab feeling and is much cheaper. You can visit Sharjah Tower Museum, Museum of Islam, Art Museum, Souk Al Arsah and the Blue Market. Or just take in your entire surroundings and take a ride on the Ferris wheel called Eye of the Emirates.

If you have time you should go to Abu Dhabi for a day or two just like we did to see the other city of the Arab Emirates. Oil is cheap here so renting a car with a driver is cheap too. We rented a car with a driver to go there. Don’t miss out on the world’s largest mosque, the Grand Mosque. This mosque is also the built with the highest cost in the world. There is marble, gold leaf decoration, precious stones, chandeliers and carpets everywhere. The marble is imported from Italy as the world’s rarest white marble. Then there is the Ferrari World. You can see the famous Formula 1 race tracks. If you are brave enough you can also ride on the largest rollercoaster in the world shaped like Ferrari logo in Ferrari World, which is even visible on Google maps. Abu Dhabi is nothing less than Dubai in terms of architecture and is full of very interesting buildings designed by world-famous architects.    

Enjoy your travels. :)

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