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Nov 18, 2005 - Dubai, United Arab Emirates - A modern hub in the Arab World
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Abra Docks Burj Al Arab - One of the World's Highest Rated Hotels Helicopter landing at the Burj Al Arab 
Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Dubai - a modern and rapidly growing hub of anything goes capitalism where modern, bold architecture is popping as fast as they can recruit enough labourers to help build it. One of seven Emirates in the United Arab Emirates, Dubai has been likened to Singapore for the modern world it offers in the midst of the Arab Middle East, Hong Kong for its capitalism and shopping, and what I see as a potential future Las Vegas of the East minus the gambling for some of its audacious new hotel complexes. No matter how you look at it, Dubai is unique and a one of a kind.

Arriving in Dubai from Egypt was like going from night to day - from dirty, overcrowded and overpopulated Cairo, we land in Dubai that is clean, modern and spread out with a rapidly growing population to help staff the abundance of construction and growth taking place within the city. Dubai has only about 25% of its population as nationals from the United Arab Emirates and the other 75% are foreigners working there to earn a living with wages that are often considerably more than what they can make back home. Western workers enjoy a high, tax free standard of living in professional positions while many workers from India, Pakistan, Iran and other Asian and Arab countries leave their families to work in Dubai and send their earners back home. Their living is not so easy as often the husband leaves his wife and children behind. The wages earned for their unskilled labour positions, although much better than in their home countries, are significantly lower than that of the Western professionals and do not afford them such a high standard of living. They work to earn money for their families back home and save to make a visit perhaps once per year.

Although Dubai is an Arab country it is very modern and liberal with its social policies compared to neighbouring Arab countries and Emirates. This is largely due to their economy that is based around tourism and fuelling the immense growth of Dubai. Colossal constructions projects abound everywhere you look - from new shopping malls, office complexes, complete neighbourhood projects and even man made islands that when viewed from the air will form a map of the world. When you look at where Dubai has come from, and what they are still planning to do, it is absolutely mind-boggling!

So why go to Dubai if you are not seeking a tax free income? What are the tourist attractions? Shopping is the biggest - with strip malls and shopping malls everywhere you turn you won't have a shortage of stores to check out. The Gold Market or Gold Souq is one of the largest in the world and a must see for every visitor to Dubai. Wander through Deira and experience the Spice Souq with spices on display for bulk purchases or the covered Souq that sells just about anything you can imagine including all the fake watches and sunglasses one would need to dress yourself up like any Hollywood star. We enjoyed our time wondering through all these Souqs and taking in the old world atmosphere of the commercialism. On contrast, we spent one evening visiting their newest and largest shopping mall, the Emirates Mall that comes complete with Dubai's newest attraction - Ski Dubai - an indoor ski resort with a chair lift taking you up 25 stories so you can hit the snow even when the temperatures outside could be topping 40 degrees.

Additional attractions in Dubai include beaches, desert safaris, golfing, taking in the sights of the architecturally unique skyscrapers or spending a day splashing around in their massive water park called Wild Wadi. This was an attraction we decided looked like great fun despite the expense so off we went to spend a day at Wild Wadi! With stunning views of one of the world's highest rated hotels, the Burj Al Arab, we took to the high speed water slides, lazy river, boogie board fun and enjoyed our day in the theme park.

As modern as Dubai is, beer and alcohol are not readily available unless you are at an international hotel or one of the few bars around that cater to the western travellers and expatriates. One warm evening, in a quest for an icy cold beer we ventured out with a fellow traveller, Mark who was in Dubai with the British Embassy on a trade mission to find that elusive cold pint. Of course, leave it to the Irish to have an incredible pub where we sat outside, under the stars enjoying an chilled brew listening to a live band..

As much as we enjoyed the cold beer (even Eric has taken up and appreciation for it now!) our greatest pleasures in Dubai, as odd as this may sound, was having a washing machine in our apartment to do laundry! Since we are travelling for a year we have limited attire and the majority of time we are washing our clothes by hand in hotel room sinks. Suddenly to have a washing machine and the dry heat of Dubai that seemed to dry our clothes almost instantly we literally washed everything we had with us including our shoes, sandals and sleeping bags. I think if we could have jammed our backpacks into the machine we would have done that too!

At the end of our relaxing stay in Dubai we hit our first flight glitch of our travels. Heading to the airport for our 2:30 AM flight out to the Seychelles we arrived to find the flight had been cancelled over 5 months ago and rescheduled for the following day without ever providing us notification of this change or the change being reflected on our online itinerary. In the end we got it all sorted out but the surly supervisor with Emirates Airlines and the lack of notifying us of the flight change certainly has left us with a very poor impression on their customer service for what is supposed to be one of the world's leading airlines. Nevertheless, our flight left the day after our original plans and we were off to explore the beach paradise of the Seychelles islands!

Carl's 10 Travel Tips for Dubai

1. The biggest danger in Dubai is the drivers. If you choose to rent a car be very, very cautious in your driving and be prepared to be cut off regularly by the Dubai drivers. Worse than many countries, the taxi drivers are notorious for trying to take the long way around to wherever you are going. They get paid a commission of their fares and try to make each ride as long as possible. Try to be aware of where you are going and the approximate costs.

2. Dubai is very spread out and not a compact city at all. Different areas have different sites and attractions to offer but be prepared to pay for taxis or rent a vehicle (if you dare drive) to get around. Public transportation is not very efficient or helpful for tourists.

3. If you are coming to Dubai to shop where most (if not all) of their items are duty free, do a bit of homework ahead of time so you understand what is the best deal compared to the costs back home. Gold and electronics seem to be 2 of the hottest ticket items for travellers to purchase.

4. Experience a taste of old Dubai by taking the Abra (water taxi) across the creek from Bur Dubai to Al Deira. It is a short ride costing you less than a dollar but a unique experience. If you are interested in seeing more you can hire an Abra to take you on a scenic ride of the creek.

5. The Bastakia Quarter is a section of the city that has original Arabian architecture in the process of being restored to its original glory Take a stroll through this section near the Dubai museum for a dramatic comparison of the architecture of the past versus the bold buildings being constructed in Dubai today.

6. The Emirates Mall is the latest and largest mall in Dubai featuring all the upscale shops you would find on Rodeo Drive or any other world class shopping area. If you are a shopper don't miss this mega mall.

7. Theme parks are fun anywhere in the world and Dubai is no exception. If you like summer or winter activities they now have a park for you. Check Wild Wadi for the waterslides, wavepool, lazy river, boogie boarding and more. If you are more of a winter lover Ski Dubai now offers you an indoor ski slope complete with a chair lift, small bobsled track, snowball fun and more!

8. Whether you are a fan of architecture and urban planning or not you need to at least have a drive down Sheikh Zayed Road that is lined with some of the most modern skyscraper architecture in the world with plans for so much more to come.

9. Finally, do not forget to make it out to Jumeira Beach where the incredible 6 star Burj al Arab hotel is located along with a growing number of other resort and beachside hotels. If your budget allows it dinner at the Burj gets you in to one of the most famous hotels in the world. Better yet would be a stay complete with a helicopter transfer from the Dubai airport...unfortunately that was not in our budget.

10. Take a trip out to the desert to experience the sand dunes and desert landscapes that are so different than anything in Canada. If you are active and adventurous you can even ski the dunes!


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