Gleaming towers of steel and glass, mega shopping malls as well as traditional marketplaces and unique attractions await visitors to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.
It’s a fascinating mix of traditional culture (Muslim men in traditional white robes and women covered head to toe in black), ultra-modern design in everything from buildings to median walls and signage and an international resident population that outnumbers the Arabs who were born there.
Dubai is experiencing a building boom and it seems that each architect is attempting to outdo the competition with buildings of unusual shapes and stunning design features. On my trip there in early April, I spent a good deal of time looking upward at skyscrapers and construction cranes.
Opulence is taken to a new level in this part of the world, thanks to the discovery of oil that led to the building of infrastructure, ultra-modern hotels and residences.
Forty years ago, Dubai was known for pearl diving and fishing but when oil was discovered in the 1960s all that changed. Emiratis, citizens of the UAE, are well taken care of by their government which provides free education and healthcare. Oil wealth also provides Emiratis with a range of stipends—allowances equal to several hundred dollars for each child in a family, housewives and several thousand dollars for those planning to wed.
With average summer high temperatures of 106 degrees F, it’s no wonder that visitors and locals flock to indoor spaces to while away their time and spend their money. (My tour guide noted that Dubai is pronounced “do buy”).
Shopping is big here and malls are popular hangout spots for visitors and locals. Malls in Dubai are on steroids with one more lavish than the next. The Dubai Mall, for example, is the largest mall in the world with more than 1,200 stores including brands ranging from Tiffany, Gucci, Chanel to H&M, Claires and Gap. While many come to the malls to shop, others come to these complexes to play and have one-of-a-kind experiences. At the Dubai Mall, one can visit mind-blowing skyscraper Burg Khalif, and for a fee, take an express elevator to the 124th floor or the 148th floor, for exceptional views from the tallest building in the world.
The Mall of the Emirates is another mega-mall with an amazing attraction—an indoor snow playground called Ski Dubai where one can ski, snowboard, toboggan and interact with penguins.
For a more traditional shopping experience, head to souks—traditional Arabian marketplaces that specialize in particular goods. The gold souk is a haven of jewelry stores offering 24-karat gold baubles and creations with other precious and semi-precious metals and stones. At the spice souk, the eye is dazzled with an array of intense colors of spices such as turmeric, saffron and curry. There are also textile and perfume souks. An assortment of souvenirs can be found at any of the indoor/outdoor shops, many of which are crammed together on one street or several streets. Expect to haggle for the best deals.
For those seeking a closer-to-nature experience, head outside the city to play in the sand. A desert safari in a four-wheel-drive vehicle, sandboarding and quad biking on the sand dunes are sure to excite thrill seekers. Camel rides and desert dinner shows complete with belly dancers and fire artists also are available.
Dubai is one of the seven emirates (similar to states) that make up the UAE. The country’s leadership is prepping to keep its revenue flowing after the oil runs out with green energy and tourism. Dubai attracts approximately 15 million visitors annually and my tour guide Amir said that it has been estimated that number will increase to 30 million by 2020.
Those interested in venturing to Dubai should be prepared for a stamina-draining travel experience. I went there for the first time a few weeks ago. It took 18 hours on two flights to get there and 29 hours (including a 12-hour layover in Doha, Qatar) on two flights to get back home. It was totally worth it.
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