Dubai

The Jewel Of The Arab World, Sprung From The Desert & Reinvented As The World’s Premier Luxury 5-Star Destination


In the infinity pool of the Oceania Beach Club on Palm Jumeirah, Dubai. April 19, 2014

Regrettably my time in Dubai has come to an end. I’ve been here a while. Eleven nights all in, good for 10 days of sweating. I rarely spend 11 nights anywhere. I tend to get restless, bored, and anxious to experience what’s next. But even after 10 days/11 nights I’m sad to be (reluctantly) leaving Dubai, one of the 7 Emirates that make up the oil-rich Persian Gulf country of The United Arab Emirates (UAE). The tiny emirate, twice the size of London, is a kingdom built on the profits of its (almost depleted) oil reserves and so one shouldn’t be surprised to learn that this is one of the richest places in the Arab world. Actually scratch that – it’s one of the richest places in the world. But the Dubai oil is running out (it’s supposed to be gone by 2016) so the Emirate has been forced to reinvent itself to keep the money flowing. And that’s what it’s doing – and has been doing for over 15 years now – by going to some outrageous, almost superhuman lengths to rebrand itself as nothing short of the world’s premier 5-star, luxury tourist destination: it has constructed, and is in the process of constructing more, massive man-made islands to increase the Mother Nature-supplied white sand coastline by over 500 kilometres; it has built an already iconic 7-star hotel; an indoor ski resort; gravity-defying water parks; floating bridges; an abundance of mega huge, mega shiny shopping malls; & it’s sprouting towers galore from the desert sand, including the tallest ever made by man. Oh, and everything being built is striving to be the biggest, best, & shiniest. So I guess it’s maybe not surprising that the Dubai plan of ‘Build it and they will come (& we’ll ensure they have lots of fun while spending lots of money in the process)’ worked on me just like it would work on anyone giving themselves & their credit card over to the Dubai program for 11 nights. Yep, they got me alright, hook, line & sinker.

V sign at the base of the 829.8-metre Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. Dubai, UAE. April 14th, 2014.

Giving the V sign at the base of the 829.8 metre Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world (of course it is; anything less would be a failure for Dubai). I initially wasn’t too happy that this guy kind of subtly photo-bombed my pic (I waited in the scorching heat for a while for him to walk by, inconspicuous enough I thought) but upon review I actually like his V sign. Downtown Dubai (map-pointer-icon), UAE. April 14, 2014

Glitzy, glam, over-the-top and a little over exposed. Dubai lives for attention. On the surface it’s materialistic beyond anyone’s wildest dreams and by treating every visitor like a VIP, visitors respond by spending like VIPs, only to need resuscitating when next month’s credit card bill arrives. But that’s the whole idea.

– Lonely Planet Dubai

Dubai || The Second Coming
I was here before, almost exactly 6 years ago, when I blogged on the Dubai rebranding effort as I saw it then. I wasn’t much of a tourist back then (or photographer for that matter) spending only two nights as I (very briefly) passed through the region en route from India to Egypt. But two nights was/is more than enough time to get a good appreciation for the ersatz, Disneyesque road that ostentatious Dubai has chosen to hurtle itself down, all horns blaring & with headlights on dazzle. I was here for a lot longer this time, enjoyed it like I never thought I would enjoy somewhere I was already familiar with, & of course took a few pictures in the process. Here’s a day-by-day pictorial look at my second, but by no means last, visit to Dubai, the so-called Jewel of the Arab world.

Read all postings from this visit to Dubai in chronological order or jump to specific areas of interest using these links.

DAY 3 – The Burj Al Arab & Dubai Shopping Centres || DAY 4 – Deira, The Spice Souk & Dubai Creek || DAY 5 – Pool Day || DAY 6 – Desert Safari || DAY 7 – Dubai Hotels & Getting High – Burj Khalifa || DAY 7 – Palm Jumeirah, Pool Day 2 || DAY 8 – Nighttime Dubai – Burj Khalifa

Day 3 || Big Bus Tour

April 14, 2014

It wasn’t until day 3 in Dubai that I switched into tourist mode, taking myself & my camera out in the high 30 degree Celsius temperatures. And when I did I was a guest of Big Bus Tours Dubai who showed me around what present-day Dubai has to offer. And I’m glad they did. Dubai is very spread out and even though the surgically clean metro – which was under construction the last time I was in town – is awesome for getting around, there was something pretty neat about being driven around from one fantastical, overly flamboyant Dubai highlight to another, the latest mega this or newest over-the-top that. The first stop was at the iconic Burj Al Arab, or more precisely, at the for-the-commoners public beach beside it.

Burj Al Arab

Fabulous, hideous, and the very pinnacle of tackiness – like Vegas after a serious, no-expense-spared, sheik-over

– Sam Wollaston, The Guardian, describing the Burj Al Arab

Pictures in front of the 7-star Burj Al Arab from Jumeirah Beach Park, Dubai, UAE. April 14th, 2014.

Pictures in front of the 7-star Burj Al Arab as seen from the public Jumeirah Beach Park. It may boast the world’s tallest building but this, the 7-star Burj Al Arab hotel, is still Dubai’s most iconic structure, maybe because it has been around now for so long – mid-1990s is ancient for Dubai. Built at a cost of $650 million on a private island 280 metres into the sea, it is designed in the shape of a sail of a dhow, a lateen-rigged sailing vessel used by Arabs & still seen today plying the water down at Dubai Creek & from where modern, glitzy Dubai grew (see later pictures). Upon completion it was the tallest hotel in the world but now is only fourth tallest. Tut tut Dubai. No rumblings (yet) of plans to increase its height. The tiny shadow/spec to the extreme right of the above image is the Atlantis Resort, occupying the very tip of the man-made Palm Jumeira Island, Dubai’s very first large-scale dabble at adding land far out into the Arabian Gulf, something God himself chose not to do. Dubai, UAE. April 14, 2014

Shopping || Shopping Malls

Try as you may but you simply can’t avoid visiting shopping malls when in Dubai, if only to escape the heat for a bit. Malls in Dubai are not simply places to shop but full-blown attractions in their own right.

Mall Of The Emirates, Dubai. April 14th, 2014.

This is the Mall of The Emirates, the world’s first shopping resort (whatever that is). The mulit-level mammoth currently features more than 560 international brands & is also home to that ultimate Dubai excess, world-renowned Ski Dubai, the – surprise surprise – Middle East’s first indoor ski resort and snow park. I stood with my flip-flops on the gleaming marble floors of the mall peering through the windows into Ski Dubai watching Arabs deal with the ice, snow & -3 Degree Celsius temperatures. Now that’s a travel memory. The mall itself, only one of over 30 such shopping nirvanas found in Dubai alone & all of which are wide-angle heaven, attracts over 33 million visitors a year which is still less than half the amount the nearby Dubai Mall attracts. Mall Of The Emirates, Dubai. April 14, 2014

The viewing window of Dubai Aquarium in The Dubai Mall, Dubai, UAE. April 14th, 2014.

The acrylic viewing panel of the Dubai Aquarium in the Dubai Mall, the world’s largest shopping mall based on total area. It’s also the busiest of its kind in the world, pulling in some 70 million visitors a year – New York City – CITY – only manages a little over 50 million. But that’s not good enough for the powers that be. The 5-year-old mall is presently being expanded after which it is hoped that over 100 million visitors a year will stop by (& there’ll be plenty of room for everyone else if they don’t). Housing over 1200 shops, the mall is part of the 20-billion-dollar Downtown Dubai complex, the centrepiece of which is the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. One of the main attractions of the mall itself, aside from people watching, is the above acrylic viewing panel of the Dubai Aquarium. Weighing in at 250 tons, the panel, which – whoops – sprung a leak in 2010, measures 33 metres long, is almost 9 metres high & three quarters of a metre thick. And yes of course it’s the largest of its kind in the world (and when it is eventually superseded in size all bets say it’ll be superseded by a panel somewhere else in Dubai). The Dubai Mall, Downtown Dubai, UAE. April 14, 2014

davidMbyrne.com Regional Partners

Big Bus Tours

DEIRA || THE SPICE SOUK & DUBAI CREEK

Day 4 || Deira – Traditional Dubai

April 15, 2014

Outwardly Dubai is all about man-made islands, multimillionaires & iconic mega projects. But it’s not like that here in Deira, the city’s grittiest & most colourful area lining Dubai Creek & from where present-day Dubai grew. Deira is a remnant of the past, it’s what Dubai isn’t supposed to look like these days, an area a million miles removed from the credit card frenzy of the rest of the city. Getting lost in the tight lanes, trading banter with the jovial souq (market) vendors & getting a glimpse of Dubai’s trading heritage by watching cargo being loaded & unloaded from the traditional wooden dhows lining Dubai Creek are all essential parts of any visit to Dubai.

Spice Souk (market), Deira, Dubai, UAE. April 15th, 2014.

Spices from the rest of Arabia, East Africa & the Indian Subcontinent being pointed out in the Spice Souk (market), Deira, Dubai, UAE. April 15, 2014

Loading a traditional wooden dhow, a lateen-rigged sailing vessel, by the Creek in Deira, Dubai, UAE. April 15th, 2014.

Loading a traditional blue wooden dhow, a lateen-rigged sailing vessel, by the Creek in Deira. The creek, a natural inlet from the gulf that bisects the city in two, was the site of the 1830s fishing village that modern day Dubai grew from. Here dhows are load up with goods and set sail for ports in India, the Gulf and East Africa just like they have done for generations. Dubai, UAE. April 15, 2014

Day 5 || Pool Day

April 16, 2014

Enough of being a tourist. Day 5 was a laze by the pool day.

Cooling down by the rooftop pool of the Metropolitan Palace, Deira, Dubai, UAE. April 16th, 2014.

Cooling down by the rooftop pool of the Metropolitan Palace. Alcohol is expensive in Dubai because of taxes, a sin tax given its forbidden status by Islamic law. Only hotels or tourist-related restaurants are licensed to serve the daemon booze – in Dubai, or the UAE for that matter, there’s no such thing as an off-licence, an out-of-the-way bar or a local watering hole. And at AED35-40 (€7-8) a pop for a beer, & AED40-50 (€8-10) a pop for cocktails, the tab your credit card guarantees will be paid has the potential to get out of control. But for some reason when relaxing beside pool in a 5-star hotel and cooling down over icy Coronas you forget about all of that. And I guess that’s the whole idea. Metropolitan Palace, Deira, Dubai, UAE. April 16, 2014

It’s mid-April here in Dubai. Best not come here in the height of the summer months.

DESERT SAFARI

Day 6 || Desert Safari

April 17, 2014

Day 6 was overnight desert safari day & I was back on the tourist horse, or camel to be more apt. Popular overnight desert safaris from Dubai give visitors the chance to experience the barely-alive-these-days UAE Bedouin heritage – off-road 4×4 dune bashing, camel rides, desert sunsets, traditional Arabian dance performances & sleeping under the desert stars. Yes, it’s plastic, touristy & highly choreographed but it’s also great fun.

4x4 off-road dune bashing convoy in the expansive desert outside Dubai, UAE. April 17th, 2014.

4×4 off-road dune bashing convoy in the expansive desert outside Dubai. It’s a popular outing so you won’t be alone. It can get a bit hairy & motion sickness can be a problem. Flipping a 4×4 isn’t – seemingly it’s almost impossible to do, or so said my ‘I’m-gonna-make-you-spew’ driver. Still, roll bars come as standard, just in case. Oh, and doggie bags too, again just in case. In the desert outside Dubai, UAE. April 17, 2014

The sand dunes of the Dubai desert are unique in colour & pattern. Near the sea the sand is grey and white where it has blended with powered white sea shells. Further inland, iron ore from the mountains has given a red tinge to the gold grains of sand. The north-west wind has formed the dunes into a wave-like shape and they grow higher nearer to the mountains, reaching their zenith with a crescent shape on the road to Hatta. There are two main seasons in the Dubai desert. In winter rain comes, covering the valleys and plains with grass and plants, and attracting the Bedouin. The burning heat of the summer makes the desert dry and empty, with only a few plants capable of withstanding the heat. Here animals, birds, reptiles & insects have adapted to the difficult climatic conditions. Oases of date palm tree are scattered throughout the desert, giving the Emirate vital water and food and a beautiful environment.

– Reproduced from a panel The Desert on display in the Dubai Museum

Day 7 || Desert Safari, 5-Star Shuffle & (Finally) Getting High

April 18, 2014

Probably the best part of a desert safari is getting the opportunity to sleep under the stars. However, rising before the sun creeps over you is well recommended – it gets mighty hot mightily quick around here.

North Tours Desert Camp outside Dubai, UAE. April 18th, 2014.

Sleeping under the stars. No air-con needed here, at least not in the early morning shade. North Tours Desert Camp in the desert outside Dubai, UAE. April 18, 2014

Camels on an early morning stroll in the desert outside Dubai, UAE. April 18th, 2014.

Oh, just out for an early morning stroll. The staged camel rides offered by the overnight safari camp weren’t up to much but seeing a herd of camels meander over the dunes early the next morning just, you know, doing what wild camels do, was awesome. This definitely wasn’t staged. In the desert outside Dubai, UAE. April 18, 2014

The camel was, and in many ways still is, the most important animal to the traditional desert-dwelling Bedouin, providing him with essentials of life such as meat, milk & hair (used to make household necessities) and their dung was often used as fuel. The camel was also a unit of measurement in financial transactions, for example payment of dowry, ransom & legal compensation. The camel carried the Bedouin and his possessions across the desert in the summer heat and in the cold winter. It can go without water for over two weeks in the summer heat and up to three months in the cooler winter. It is an intelligent animal and is able to smell water up to 2 kilometres away. It can walk continuously for 18 hours and follow the direction of lightening and clouds. It is a faithful companion in peace and war and is known as the ship of the desert. The Arabian camel is still famous for its speed and endurance. Annual camel races are organised with valuable prizes for the winners. A good racing camel can sell for more than a million dirhams (€200,000).

– Reproduced from a panel The Camel on display in the Dubai Museum

Hotels || The 5-Star Shuffle

After returning from the desert it was time to check out of one 5-star hotel…

The main foyer of the 5-star Metropolitan Palace in Deira, Dubai, UAE. April 18th, 2014.

The main foyer of the 5-star Metropolitan Palace, home for 6 nights. Deira, Dubai, UAE. April 18, 2014.

… and check in to another.

Hotel Ibn Battuta Gate, Dubai, UAE. April 18th, 2014.

Some of the 80 lanterns that dominate the main promenade of the 5-star Movenpick Hotel Ibn Battuta Gate, home for 2 nights. Named after Ibn Battuta, the 14th century Moroccan explorer and utterer of my favourite travel-related quote, the hotel has an adjacent mall with different areas themed to resemble the regions of the planet Batutta travelled – Russia, Egypt, Persia, Andalucía, China etc. Again it’s all very over-the-top but tastefully ersatz at the same time. Very modern-day Dubai. Hotel Ibn Battuta Gate, Dubai, UAE. April 18, 2014

Travelling. It leaves you speechless & then turns you into a storyteller.

– Ibn Batutta

Dubai Hotels
From the iconic sail-shaped Burj Al Arab to the pyramid-shaped Raffles, Dubai is home to some of the world’s most instantly recognisable hotels. The city’s hotels can mostly be split into two types – city hotels and the beach resort hotel, self-contained compounds that guests rarely have reason to leave. Reputable hotels are nearly all 5-star with service levels, amenities, & prices to match. They offer nicely appointed rooms & marble bathrooms with rainfall showerheads – ablutions are a cornerstone of Arab culture & Emiratis love their bathrooms (tourists do, too). New 5-star hotels seem to open daily, each with its own set of attractions and serving to accommodate the vast amounts of wealth flooding into the city, one that boasts the highest hotel occupancy rates in the world (86%) even accounting for the 50 Degree Celsius summer months.

The Burj Khalifa || Getting High

The last time I visited Dubai, in April 2008, this wasn’t completed (but even so, it was still the tallest man-made structure on earth at the time, just as it is today) and it was known as the Burj Dubai. Now, & exactly 6 years later, it’s fully open for business and is called the Burj Khalifa.

At the foot of the Burj Khalifa in Downtown Dubai, UAE. April 18th, 2014.

At the foot of the Burj Khalifa. If cranking your neck & ogling at the world’s tallest building from the ground isn’t sufficient for you then you’ll need to book in advance (approximately 7-10 days in advance) to get one of the AED150 (€30) timed tickets to visit At The Top, the ingeniously named 124th floor viewing deck. Or you can do as I did – realise you don’t have 10 days to wait & pony up AED400 (€80) to go up whenever the hell you like. For that price you get to skip the €30 queues & feel all VIP like with your ‘fast-track’ ticket. But that’s about it; you still get to share the 10-metre-a-second lift with the unwashed & the €80 view is no better than the cheapo €30 one; both are equally impressive. Downtown Dubai, UAE. April 18, 2014

The 829.8 metre Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building, casts a shadow over The Dubai Mall, the world's biggest & busiest shopping mall, as seen from At The Top, the 124th floor viewing deck. Dubai, UAE. April 18th, 2014.

The 829.8-metre high Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, casts a shadow over the Dubai Mall, the world’s biggest & busiest shopping mall, as seen from At The Top, the Burj Khalifa’s 124th floor viewing deck. Dubai, UAE. April 18, 2014

The Burj Khalifa
At 829.8 metres (2,722 ft) the Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world & the tallest man-made structure ever made – certificates, dated January 4, 2010, from Guinness World Records Ltd. stating such are proudly on display in the At The Top 124th floor viewing deck. The tower was constructed by Samsung C&T of South Korea (who also made the Petronas Towers in KL, Malaysia, & Taipei 101 in Taipei, Taiwan) with work beginning in September 2004. The exterior was completed in October 2009 & the structure was officially opened on January 4, 2010. It houses mainly office space, residential apartments and The Armani Hotel, Giorgio’s first foray into the hotel business (it’s 5-star, of course). The tower, which itself cost $1.5 billion to build, is the centrepiece the $20-billion-dollar Downtown Dubai, a large-scale mixed-use complex boasting the aforementioned Dubai Mall, 30,000 homes, nine hotels & a huge 30-acre man-made lake with dancing fountain (the green pool in the above picture). The Burj Khalifa was built solely to wow and it was never, ever going to be anything less than the tallest structure on earth – according to officials it is necessary for projects like Burj Khalifa to be built in the city to garner more international recognition and hence investment. Well take a bow guys because it seems to be working. And you got €80 out of me.

Viewing Dubai from At The Top, the 124th floor viewing deck of the 829.8 metre Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building. Dubai, UAE. April 18th, 2014.

Viewing Dubai from At The Top, the 124th floor viewing deck of the Burj Khalifa which opened to the public on January 5th, 2012. Dubai, UAE. April 18, 2014

The towers along Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai's main artery, as seen from At The Top, the 124th floor viewing deck of the 829.8-metre Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building. Dubai, UAE. April 18th, 2014.

Towers along Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai’s main artery, as seen from At The Top. The architects of Burj Khalifa incorporated Islamic traditional patterns and modern sophistication to design a structure that they hope will stand the test of time. The desert flower Hymemocallis was the main source of inspiration for the design one that not only reduces wind forces on the building but also means there is an incredible view of the surroundings from every angle. Dubai, UAE. April 18, 2014

The distant towers of Dubai Marina, the man-made Palm Jumeirah island & the 7-star Burj Al Arab as seen from the At The Top, the 124th floor viewing deck of the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building. Dubai, UAE. April 18th, 2014.

The distant towers of Dubai Marina, the man-made Palm Jumeirah Island & the 7-star Burj Al Arab as seen from the At The Top, the 124th floor viewing deck of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. Dubai, UAE. April 18, 2014

PALM JUMEIRAH

Day 8 || Pool Day, Take 2

April 19, 2014

Day 8 was another pool day. There probably should have been more.

The towers of Dubai Marina as seen from the infinity pool of the Oceania Beach Club, Palm Jumeirah, Dubai, UAE. April 19th, 2014.

The towers of Dubai Marina as seen from the infinity pool of the Oceania Beach Club on Palm Jumeirah. Dubai Marina, another development to have sprouted from the desert sands in recent years, boasts the tallest collection of residential tower blocks in the world. My favourite building of the lot is the distinctive 80-story Cayan Tower, a.k.a. the 90-degree building. Designed by the same people who designed the Burj Khalifa, it definitely stands out from the high rise crowd & is needless to say the tallest 90-degree high rise on the planet (because the competition in that particular category is fierce). Dubai, UAE. April 19, 2014

Building Islands In The Sun
Just like the Burj Khalifa, the Palm Jumeirah, a 16-frond palm tree-shaped man-made archipelago in the Persian Gulf, also wasn’t fully completed when I was last in ‘Under Construction’ Dubai back in 2008. Six years on and it is now open for business, seeing me as a customer on this day. The 5 km² Palm Jumeirah, construction on which started in 2001, may have been the first of its kind in Dubai but it won’t be the last as the reclamation madness goes on unabated. Much bigger & much more ambitious land reclamation projects are ongoing one of which is The World, an outrageous archipelago mimicking a map of the globe – not content with putting Dubai on the map they are putting the map on Dubai. Constructed with sand dredged from the bottom of the Persian Gulf and rock quarried in various parts of The United Arab Emirates, the islands are, not surprisingly, the largest land reclamation projects in the world the aim being to increase the sun-drenched Dubai shoreline by over 500 kilometres. Why? To providing more space to house more people and to provide more options for them to part with their cash. Yes, build it and they will come, or so the Arabs hope.

Build it and they will come.

– Kevin Costner, Field of Dreams

NIGHTTIME DUBAI - BURJ KHALIFA

Day 9 || Nighttime Dubai

April 20, 2014

I paid one final visit to Downtown Dubai last night to see the Burj Khalifa illuminated & the fountains dancing.

The Dancing Fountain Show at the foot of the Burj Khalifa in Downtown Dubai, UAE. April 20th, 2014.

The Dancing Fountain Show at the foot of the Burj Khalifa in Downtown Dubai. The 30-acre man-made lake with dancing fountain fronting the Burj Khalifa performs nightly every 30 minutes from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. The 275 metre-long fountain system, costing a reputed AED800 million (€160 million), puts on a nice show illuminated as it is by 6,600 lights and 50 coloured projectors. It shoots water over 150 metres into the air with each 3-4 minute performance choreographed to music just like the Bellagio in Las Vegas. But with the Burj Khalifa not too far off a kilometre high you’ll need to stand well back – well back, even with a wide-angle lens – to get it all in the one frame. Luckily the area offers plenty of space to work with. Downtown Dubai, Dubai, UAE. April 20, 2014

Enjoying the Dancing Fountain Show at the foot of the Burj Khalifa in Downtown Dubai, UAE. April 20th, 2014.

Enjoying the Dancing Fountain Show at the foot of the Burj Khalifa in Downtown Dubai, UAE. April 20, 2014

And that is that from Dubai, take II. I’m heading to the UAE capital of Abu Dhabi tomorrow. The chance of scene will be nice but I’ll miss Dubai.

Pin It on Pinterest

Shares
Share This