It’s the city that boasts many firsts. The world’s first seven-star hotel. The biggest man-made port. The tallest sky-scraper… the list goes on.
For a first-time visitor, Dubai definitely lived up to its reputation of being a prime destination for work and play.
After orienting myself with the scorching temperatures – it was 25ºC when our plane landed just after 5am – and contending with the fact that a huge chunk of my savings would evaporate, I settled into the sampling the emirate’s main tourist attractions pretty comfortably.
Our tour operator, Shirley Karunaratne – whom you could ask anything about the emirate and he’d dish out the stats, date and time – often referred to Dubai as a country with no history.
What the emirate is now famous for – the glistening sky-scrapers, the luxurious hotels, the man-made islands and the spectacular shopping hubs – didn’t exist 30 years ago.
After oil was discovered in the late 1960s, it took some time for the locals to decide what to do with it. Construction started just after the late 1970s and has not stopped since.
A drive along the emirate’s already bustling business and residential hubs reveals construction work at every other turn. It’s said that every three to five months a new hotel opens in Dubai.
The Rose Rayhaan (by Rotana), a four-star hotel, was the first one we checked into.
Because the initial plan was to use the hotel as an apartment building, the rooms look more like homes to settle into than a hotel to pass through.
Now here’s the trick with larney hotels, and this proved to be very useful for me at the second hotel we stayed at, the Intercontinental Dubai Festival City: when the porter brings in your luggage don’t let him go without asking him to orient you about where everything is.
I spent what seemed like hours looking for the TV remote control, which turned out to be right where it was supposed to be – on the bedside table. I missed it because it was stored in a leather box. The container, which looked like a fancy tissue box, threw me off completely.
I spent another two lifetimes looking for a socket for my phone charger before the porter came and flicked open a cover that hid a row of sockets on a panel beside the study desk.
So with those small details taken care of, all that’s left is for you to indulge in the opulence.
The common architectural style with Dubai’s modern buildings is that they’re mostly made of glass, so whether you’re getting out of bed or taking a shower you are always enjoying a stunning view of majestic buildings, swirling road networks, occasional patches of undisturbed light brown sand and, by the edges, the glistening water.
Speaking of which, even if you’re not a water fanatic the emirate’s hot weather is bound to propel you into becoming one, and a great place to enjoy water rides – or just to strut around in your bikini – is the Wild Wadi water park.
Apart from the water rides, both extreme and easy, the park also has restaurants and stores.
The shops came in handy for me because I didn’t have a swimming costume and needed to buy one. Buying anything I needed for the trip before leaving seemed absurd.
“You’re going to Dubai,” my mom had said. “You’ll do all the shopping you need there.”
And boy, did I shop.
Apart from the international brands you’d find at places like the Mall of the Emirates and Dubai Mall – the world’s biggest mall with more than 1 200 retail outlets and 160 restaurants – there are also local markets known as souks.
Sometimes you’ll get souks that sell only spices, jewellery, shoes, bags and so on. It’s at the souks where your skills as a shopper are honed and put to the test.
Here prices are always up for negotiation and if you spend the time and walk through the stalls, there’s a soft silk scarf, a pair of beautifully beaded pumps and stunning accessories waiting for you to unearth.
The rule is that whatever price the shop owner puts on the table, you halve it and proceed from there. Oh, and try not to look like a tourist – a camera slung around your neck won’t help. Put your straight game-face on and look like you know exactly what you’re doing.
And of course you can’t leave the emirate without experiencing the dune dinner safari. Here you’ll go camel riding – it’s amazing to see just how tall those animals are – and enjoy an exhilarating, at times scary, extreme dune drive in a Toyota Landcruiser.
After regaining your equilibrium you’ll settle down for a scrumptious Arabic dinner, be entertained with some belly dancing and even get yourself a henna tattoos.
For me, the dune dinner was the perfect way to end off a truly spectacular trip.
Dubai really is a tourist paradise. The great service, the over-the-top facilities and the perfect beauty of place made the experience a hard one to beat. - Saturday Star