Thursday, 23 March 2017

Destination Dubai, United Arab Emirates



It is a land where nothing is never knowingly underplayed and superlatives litter every sentence that comes out of a tour guide’s mouth. So you would expect Dubai to resemble Las Vegas.

Yet this Emirate has no neon signs lighting up the sky. What was once a small fishing settlement on the Gulf now has stunning skyscrapers piercing through the clouds and elegant hotels, all constructed with style and panache. Dubai seems to have taken the best designs from the rest of the world and made them better. 



Dubai landscape
Courtesy of Dubai Tourism
  



Dubai boasts the world’s highest skyscraper, the Burj Khalifa, the largest shopping mall, Dubai Mall, the most enormous indoor ski resort at the Mall of the Emirates and the largest man-made marina and, reputedly, it also has the longest driverless rail system in the world as well as the tallest hotel on the planet, the JW Marriott Marquis Dubai.

Regarded by many as the most luxurious hotel in the world, the sail-shaped Burj Al Arab is one of the region's most renowned landmarks. The sea is littered with man-made islands. Yes, Dubai is the place where self-indulgence knows no bounds. From extravagant restaurants to absolutely amazing shopping malls, if you want to immerse yourself in luxury you will find it hard to beat this place. So you can see why it has gained favour with those with bulging pockets who want to be cocooned in grandeur looking for sun, sand and retail therapy.



Palm Jumeirah
Courtesy of Dubai Tourism



It may be the building projects that make the news but the real story about Dubai is that, like its neighbour Abu Dhabi, it is a peaceful oasis in a problematic region because of its political stability and promotion of religious tolerance.

Dubai has a population of about 2 million which is predominately male. Emiratis, Arabs, Indians, Filipinos, Iranians as well as Europeans live in harmony and give this young city a wonderful cosmopolitan flavour. Everything is clean and spotless – even the Metro. You feel so safe here. Crime is almost unknown. People are warm and friendly and readily go out of their way to help tourists. What you do have to remember is that Dubai is one of the seven Emirates that form the United Arab Emirates. It is a Muslim country and the laws and customs are different from ours. So when in Rome, as they say….



Dubai at night
Courtesy of Dubai Tourism



Dubai is not only about glitz and glamour. Dig underneath the surface of this sprawling desert city and you will discover it has a heart and soul. The city started its life at the Dubai Creek. You can take a boat trip cross to the old town of Deira. It is a far cry from Palm Jumeirah, the world’s largest artificial island, home to some of the most astounding hotels in the UAE. This district has an authentic charm about it.

Here you can see old Arab traditional houses, slotted between souks where you can haggle for spices or whatever else takes your fancy in the shops that flank the chaotic alleyways and streets. 

The Gold Souk is - you guessed, another record - the world’s largest gold market. Shop windows full of glittering gold and diamonds try to grab your attention. And you can buy with the assurance that the quality of the merchandise is regulated by the government so what you buy is the genuine article. It is said to be one of the best places on the planet to buy gold.



 Dubai at night
Courtesy of Dubai Tourism


Close by is the Spice Souk. Exotic fragrances waft through the air and every imaginable spice can be found here. I was also given the chance to try chocolate made from goat’s milk. 

If you thought Dubai lacked culture you are wrong. A crop of cool art galleries have sprung up in Al Quoz. The Dubai Opera, designed to resemble a dhow, pays homage to Dubai’s maritime past. Floating above the lake next to the Dubai Mall, it hosts only the best productions from around the globe. 

The snow-white Jumeirah Mosque, is one of Dubai’s most stand-out sights. Unlike most of the mosques in Dubai, which non-muslims are not allowed to enter, this one opens its doors to all. The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU) organises tours so you can have an insight into the religion of the Emirates. Whatever your own beliefs, you will be glad you made the effort.

If you want to get a feel for the simple pleasures of the region’s Bedouin past you can experience falconry, ride camels in the desert, and see folk dancing. You can also take a trip to find out about pearl diving. Before the heady days of discovering liquid gold, that is oil, pearls were the mainstay of the Dubai economy. Now, they are distant memory.

I was worried that Dubai would be a city of bling. How wrong I was. It may have the biggest and the best. It may also be constantly changing. But what really wins you over is its rather endearing personality.

By Daralyn Danns 



Getting there

Fly with Emirates. For more information and best fares visit emirates.com

Stay at One&Only Royal Mirage. For more details and best rates visit oneandonlyresorts.com

For more information about Dubai go to visitdubai.com/en-uk