Dubai is growing at an incredible rate and has much to offer both those wanting to visit and those wanting something more permanent. MEGAN WYNES has some advice.
Expatriates who have lived in Dubai for more than 10 years will never stop telling you how much the emirate has changed, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse. When they arrived, many of the ‘attractions’ – the raft of five-star hotels, expanding business districts and the mammoth shopping malls – were still on the drawing board and Dubai was still a fairly sleepy, laidback fishing port with none of the traffic problems, construction chaos and hectic pace of life that have become synonymous with the city.
But while Dubai may seem like a large building site at times, it is also a pretty exciting place to be right now. Few other cities in the world are home to such a cross-section of nationalities: Indian, Pakistani, Filipino, Lebanese, British, Australian, South African, Kiwi, Russian, Bulgarian, Iraqi and Emirati (to name a few) live alongside each other, making for an eclectic culture. The developments and influx of labour mean that there are amazing opportunities here for those who are ready to grab them. And, let’s face it, you’re never more than a short drive away from beautiful white sand beaches or jaw-dropping desert landscapes. Oh, and it’s sunny all the time!
Projects and development
On the wall of almost every office in Dubai are ‘before and after’ photographs of the city’s rapid development. In 1966 oil was discovered in the emirate, and since then the developers haven’t stopped.
Dubai is poised for further growth with the development of more multi-billion dollar coastal extension projects within the next five years. The government is also investing huge amounts of capital in major ventures, and new developments are constantly on the horizon.
At a cost of $900 million, Burj Dubai will eventually be the tallest building in the world at around 700 metres (the exact height is a secret), going up at a rate of an entire floor a week. Dubai International Airport, a $1.1 billion project, will accommodate 100 airlines flying to more than 140 destinations. Investments in Dubailand, proclaiming to be the biggest tourism, leisure and entertainment attraction on the planet with no fewer than six separate themed worlds, have exceeded $17.7 billion in the first 18 months. Hydropolis, due to open soon, will be the world’s first underwater hotel, 20 metres below the Arabian Gulf.
Someone somewhere must be doing something right, as the number of tourists coming to Dubai in the past few years has skyrocketed. Whether this is due to healthy competition among airlines or because people are catching on to the fact that Dubai’s year-round sunshine and white sand beaches are a winning combination is anyone’s guess, but Dubai International Airport recorded 21 million passengers in the first nine months of 2006 alone.
And it’s not just your average tourists either. In the past few months there have been reports of the likes of David Beckham, Richard Branson and even Michael Jackson showing interest in the latest offshore developments. The Beckhams are rumoured to have bought themselves a property on the Palm Jumeirah while Branson has been busy bidding for the United Kingdom – that’s the island on The World.
The lobbies of Dubai’s five-star hotels are fast becoming the stomping ground of eager paparazzi awaiting the next visiting celebrity – whether that’s phone-throwing supermodel Naomi Campbell, in Dubai this year to celebrate her birthday, or famous Brazilian footballers like Ronaldo, who was seen recently hiding out in Dubai’s exclusive Kasbah club when he was supposed to be in training. If you want to join them – short or long-term – here’s some advice.
For a weekend
If you’re in Dubai for only a few days, what you do will largely depend on whether you’re interested in exploring or just want to get as much sun as possible. To see the real Dubai, make your way down to the waterfront of Dubai Creek in Bur Dubai and take in the mixture of modern and traditional architecture, before enjoying an abra ride to the old quarter of Deira to explore the gold, spice and textile souqs.
A trip to any of Dubai’s beach parks is always a good idea if you’re more concerned with taking things slowly. Try Jumeirah Beach Park, just a stone’s throw from the Burj Al Arab, where you can enjoy your own stretch of white sand for just Dhs5 (about 75p). If you’ve had too much sun, head to the Lime Tree Café on Jumeirah Beach Road for a slice of carrot cake and then hit the Mall of the Emirates (also famous for its indoor ski slope) for a spot of retail therapy.
Fed up with shopping? Head to the Jumeirah Beach Hotel and take a ride out to the 360 Bar. This is a great place to grab a ‘sundowner’ and sample a spot of shisha and is the perfect vantage point for a few photos of the Burj (as you are right next to it). Then jump in a cab to The Madinat where you can enjoy anything from a traditional Arabic meal under the stars to a handmade burger with fat chips and a pint of Stella.
For a week
Don’t worry if you plan to stay longer than a weekend, you won’t run out of things to do. There’s Ski Dubai – an indoor ski slope covered in real snow – in the middle of the desert. You can ski or snowboard down the slopes for the day for around Dhs230 (£33) but this includes all of your equipment, so it’s pretty good value.
Alternatively, you can head out on a desert safari, which usually involves a bit of dune bashing (not for the fainthearted or hungover). Most of the companies that arrange these trips also offer quad biking, sand boarding and desert buggy racing.
Shopping? Dubai has several enormous malls with everything from Saks of Fifth Avenue and Harvey Nichols, to Peacocks, Claire’s Accessories and BHS. The best malls are Mall of the Emirates and Ibn Battuta, just for the range of stores but BurJuman is great if you fancy treating yourself.
Or, if you are dreaming of a day of watery fun, try Wild Wadi. Overlooking the Burj Al Arab, it is worth the Dhs150 (£21) entrance fee. You can get blasted around all the water slides or find yourself a rubber ring and just float around the Lazy River.
For a while
When you ask people, particularly Western expats, what advice they would give people thinking of moving to Dubai, the answer is usually do your research”. Life in the UAE is often more complicated than it needs to be and plans you may be making to move out here, live in the sun and save lots of money due to the tax benefits, might be a little unrealistic.
According to one group of Australian and Kiwi Dubai residents, here are some pros and cons to consider.
• The people, the opportunities and desert
• The multicultural nature of the society
• The shopping
• The price of petrol
• The clear, blue (very warm) seawater
• High-rise buildings and five-star resorts mixed with souqs where the taste and smells take you back 500 years
• The heat in the summer can be unbearable
• Traffic with a capital T. You’ll never see traffic jams like those in Dubai!
• The high rents. Prices are comparable to central London.
• Feeling like you’re living on a construction site
• The extortionate price of alcohol in bars
• The fact that everything seems to take twice as long to get done here”