The sail-shaped Burj Al Arab Hotel in Dubai. Pictures: Yusuf Moolla

Dubai is as authentic as a Pakistani man dressed up as an Arab, offering dates (the fruit, that is) and speaking to me in Urdu. It’s a cosmopolitan, multicultural city, but one which appears to have lost its local culture in the grander scheme of building Utopia.

It is city to marvel at, and there are times when your jaw drops when faced with the tallest of buildings – the Burj Khalifa, the tallest man-made building in the world at 830m – man-made islands, dancing fountains, green parks and snow, all situated in a desert.

There are aquariums in shopping malls and theme parks that push the boundaries of the imagination. The architects working in Dubai seem to follow a code – design something thought to be impossible and make it a reality.

Dubai is an emirate within the United Arab Emirates. A city within the emirate is of the same name, and located south-east of the Persian Gulf on the Arabian Peninsula.

The Dubai experience starts at the airport with its eye-catching design, sending a strong message that this is the land where the word “impossible” doesn’t feature. Even with an objective mind, it is easy to forget that the city was built thanks to the booming oil industry and that it suffered major deterioration, especially in the property market in 2008 and 2009. Then there was international attention on labour rights and human rights issues concerning its massive South Asian workforce.

As a tourist, one of the highlights was taking a desert safari trip. Strapped in a 4x4, an exhilarating ride through the dunes, sliding off the unsteady terrain while passing wild camels, is a culturally rich experience. The ride stops at a desert base where flamed foods, belly dancing and other activities keep visitors enthralled through the night – once they’ve savoured the desert sunset.

The water parks, namely Wild Wadi, are a treat, but I would still recommend our local uShaka Marine World as a better option. Ski Dubai is also a magnificent site – experiencing a winter wonderland in the middle of the desert boggles the mind.

If you are a shopaholic, Dubai is a dream come true. Dubai Mall, situated at the foot of the Burj Khalifa, has virtually unlimited choices in food and clothing brands. The dancing fountain at night is splendid, as is the sight of the water shooting and twirling to the tunes of Arabian instruments.

I would also add a visit to Jumeriah beach, with the stunning sail-shaped Burj Al Arab hotel in the background. The man-made Palm Jumeriah is also a sublime experience.

I had a delightful experience exploring some of the many markets and souks within the city, a chance to connect with the man on the street and try to bargain.

Another great experience was taking the small barge across the creek. For a fee equivalent to R2.10, the 15-minute ride in the company of local labourers gave me a small insight into a day in the life of a poor man living in the city.

Everything about the tourist Dubai is bigger and better – including prices, so your wallet takes a massive pounding.

The laws are strict, the sheikhs are wealthy and powerful, and the rich play in the clouds. It can be a lifestyle, that seems limitless – if you have the wealth to support it.