Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Dubai: The Superlative City

Dubai's slogan should be: "Anything you can do, I can do better, taller, larger, grander, and bigger." Who would have guessed that some 50 years ago, Dubai was a sleepy trading port in the desert, but today, there's no shortage of luxury here in Dubai. Take for example, the Burj Al Arab, the world's only 7 uber luxury hotel; or the Palm Island, the largest man-made island; or the extravagant Dubai Mall, the world biggest shopping mall equipped with an aquarium, theme park, and indoor skating ring and no less than 1,200 shops; or the glitzy Burj Al Khalifa, the world's tallest building nearly 828m -- that's almost as high as England's tallest "mountain" (Scafell Pike at 978 metres). The list goes on... but you get the point -- Dubai is a superlative city. 

I must admit, Dubai was never on top of my travel list. But, as we had to fly via Dubai to get to Kathmandu, we thought it would be worth spending a few days in Gulf. Plus, Keenan's ex-coworker just relocated to Dubai with Deloitte and kindly offered to host us at his new house in Sports City, which was great as we got to experience a bit of the expat life in Dubai. There are loads of American, Aussie, British, and French families, many come on a sweet relocation package which includes a housing and car allowance, subsidized education for the kids, and tax free. However that said, the cost of living in Dubai (as is elsewhere in the Gulf) is high. Everything is expensive, except for petrol where you fill up a Ford Explorer for 25 GBP (and the Explorer is standard in Dubai). 

Ski Dubai
Dubai is  the most bizarre place I've visited, a place of contradictions and extremes with stark division between wealthy Emiratis, well-to-do expats, and the migrant workers from South Asia. In fact, our entire flight from Kathmandu to Dubai was carrying migrant workers, all whom work as domestic helpers, construction workers, or in the hospitality sector. 

If I had to describe Dubai -- it would be a hodgepodge of American cities: Dallas (read: car culture with 7 lane highways) meets Las Vegas (read: glitzy, out-of-this-world, over-the-top) meets Miami (read: urban beach, cool hotel bars). You can drink freely here provided that alcohol is consumed within a hotel or a restaurant with a liquor licenses, and bottomless Friday brunch is all the rage in Dubai. If you wish to consume alcohol in your home, you have to apply for a liquor license and married women must get permission from their husband to buy and drink alcohol (?!!?). Otherwise, count on making a stop at Duty Free whenever you fly into Dubai. 

Favourite past time in Dubai: you've guessed right - shopping. Our short time in Dubai, we visited both the Mall of the Emirates where our friend had a tough mudder race inside SkiDubai, an indoor ski resort, and Dubai Mall. Every American and British chain store you can think of has an outpost in Dubai including IHOP which is apparently quite popular. 

We also spent some time on Jumeriah Beach which was surprisingly clean with clear, shallow water. Great for kids and interesting place for people-watching. We capped off the evening with sunset drinks at the 360 Bar at the Jumeriah Beach Hotel, which had a fantastic view of Burj Al Arab and the Persian Gulf. 

In need of a dose of culture, Keenan and I went to explore the Gold Souk and Fish Market in Old Dubai. Whilst the souks were nothing compared to the grand bazaars of Cairo, Istanbul, Damascus, or Marrakesh, it is worth having a look if you are bored sitting on the beach. You'll get a taste of what Dubai was like before the oil bonanza in the 1960s. Our last evening in Dubai was spent with our friend and his lovely wife at the Mango Tree at the Souk Al Bahar for some delicious Thai food. Mango Tree has prime seating overlooking Dubai Fountain, which has a dazzling Las Vegas-style light and water show every half hour in the evening to delight the crowd. 

If you're looking for guaranteed sun, luxurious resorts, top-notched dining, trendy bars, and shopping, Dubai is your destination. Otherwise if you're looking for culture and history, you're better off in Turkey, Morocco, or perhaps neighboring Oman. We'll get to that in the next post...well at least a few lazy day of diving on the Musandum peninsula. 

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