This is a little cartoon story I wrote for my daughter when we were living in Dubai over a decade ago. As you can see, my drawing skills leave room for improvement.
While in Dubai this week I spotted some unusual graffiti.
This educated vandal is seemingly torn between becoming a graffiti artist or a financial consultant. Perhaps he/she should stick to the latter as this investment advice could turn out to be a good tip in the current economic environment, at least as far as gold, the most famous of the heavy metals, is concerned.
Gold prices are determined mainly by sentiment and prices tend to rise when there are concerns about global financial stability, wars or political turbulence and when the returns on other investments are declining. Currently, warning lights are flashing on a number of indicators. Many people are commenting that ‘the world has gone bonkers’.
With bank deposits and bonds earning nothing and stock markets looking toppy, investors are searching for safe havens for their savings. Hoarding some gold as part of a balanced portfolio might be the way to go.
If so, Dubai remains a good place to buy some. The Gold Souk never fails to impress with everything on sale from gold wedding jewellery to solid gold bars.
Or, for the person who has everything and likes to flaunt, plated 24K gold limited edition i-Pads, i-Phones and other show-off accessories can be purchased from a shop in the arcade of the Radisson Blu Hotel in Deira, Dubai. They don’t contain much precious metal but may have rarity value in the future.
The VIP tickets (stands for Very ‘igh Price) cost a jaw-dropping AED500 but give fast track access to the observation deck on Level 148 where there is a very elegant lounge staffed by Guest Ambassadors serving fresh juices and canapés.
The high speed lift whisks visitors to Level 124, ears popping along the way. An audio visual show is displayed on the walls of the darkened lift during the brief journey.
At Level 124 (called At The Top) guests transfer to another lift up to 148 (At The Top Sky).
The lift buttons go all the way up to Level 154 but these upper levels are private offices or residences. (There is a penthouse on the market at the moment for AED102 million if you are interested.) There is also an Armani Hotel in Burj Khalifa.
At a height of 555m above the ground you would expect to see spectacular and far reaching views. Unfortunately Dubai does suffer from hazy, dusty or sand storm conditions for much of the year and this week was no exception.
The most impressive views were straight down and the buildings below looked like a town planner’s model.
Here are a few pictures of the view.
Visitors who don’t wish to fork out AED 500 for the experience can obtain standard tickets for AED125-200 (depending on the time of day) giving access to Level 124 only, where the view is nearly as good. By booking online for a fixed time and date you can minimise queuing too.
The final place of interest on my list of Top 10 Dubai Attractions is yet another mall, though this is special as it contains a 22,500 square metre indoor ski slope covered with real snow all year round.
Here you can ski, snowboard, encounter penguins or just mess around in the frigid conditions. For snow-starved Emiratis this place is quite a novelty. No doubt some of the locals are becoming accomplished skiers and snowboarders though I note there is no UAE team competing in the Sochi Winter Olympics which get under way today.
Elsewhere in the mall, apart from the usual shops (about 560 of them!) there are two adjoining 5 star hotels, 14 cinema screens, kiddies indoor amusement park and the Dubai Community Theatre and Arts Centre (DUCTAC). Worth a visit.
The luxurious Atlantis hotel draws coachloads of day-trippers who come to gawp at its striking design and use its facilities, even if most cannot afford to stay there.
It is special for 3 reasons:
1. Location. It is situated on the outer rim of Dubai’s famous Palm Island (Palm Jumeirah), the artificial island in the shape of a palm tree. Tourists who are not on a coach tour can reach the Atlantis via the Palm Island monorail which provides an elevated view of the expensive villas and apartments which are crammed onto the individual fronds making up the island. There are some nice looking villas but they are rather close together. and while they all have their own beachfront access, there must always be the concern that the island might one day slip back under the sea.
2. Rooms. The Atlantis’ normal rooms have all the standard 5 star amenities but the hotel does offer some extra special suites. There are two Underwater Suites with floor to ceiling glass windows into the lagoon aquarium allowing passing fish to get a good look of you in your bath. Even more decadent, for the sheikh who has everything, is the Royal Bridge Suite which occupies the entire bridge spanning the two wings above the arch in the top photo. This 3 bedroom suite is a massive 924 sq. metres and the master bedroom comes with his and hers ensuite bathrooms. The hotel’s website does not quote the room rate for this suite but, as they say, ‘if you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it’. (That’s a silly expression really. Rich people not only ask the price, they also ask for a discount – that’s how they got rich in the first place!)
3. Marine & Waterpark. The main attractions at Atlantis are its water theme park facilities and you don’t have to stay at the hotel to use them.
- The Lost Chambers Aquarium is the top aquarium attraction in Dubai and is said to be home to 65,000 marine animals.
- Dolphin Bay and Sea Lion Point provide guests the chance to swim with dolphins and get kissed by the hairy muzzle of a fishy-smelling sea lion.
- Aquaventure Waterpark includes a giant waterslide where adrenaline addicts can plummet 9 storeys into a clear acrylic tube inside a shark infested lagoon.
Yes, at Atlantis there is no shortage of ways to separate tourists from their money. Typically my daughter wants us to stay at this hotel on our next holiday but I don’t think they cater for thrifty travellers like me.
Next Post: Top Dubai Attraction No.10, Mall of the Emirates & Ski Dubai
Madinat Jumeirah Resort describes itself as ‘an authentic recreation of ancient Arabia, capturing the natural beauty of the region’. I’m not sure about the ‘authentic’ part – it’s more like an Arabian themed Disneyland – but the owners, Jumeirah Group, have certainly created an outstanding resort which deserves to be included among Dubai’s top attractions.
The resort comprises two first class hotels, a traditional souq, some 40 restaurants and bars, a mini-waterway complete with abras, a private beach and a number of beachside luxury holiday villas all designed in stunning Arabian style architecture incorporating Dubai’s trademark wind-towers.
The famous Burj Al Arab hotel overlooks the resort which is also next door to the excellent Wild Wadi Waterpark. If I had money to burn I would probably have chosen to stay in one of their exquisite private villas. Since I don’t, I had to make do with a meal at one of the nice restaurants and watched the world go by.
Perhaps the Jumeirah Group would like to invite me and my family back for a complimentary stay in exchange for this extremely flattering write-up!
Next Post: Top Dubai Attraction No.9, Atlantis & Palm Island
Few people could fail to be impressed by Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. Naturally its height is enormous – at 828m, it dwarfs the second tallest building in the world, Taipei 101 (509m).
Its design is clean and elegant and it is very photogenic, provided you can manage to squeeze it all into your camera’s viewfinder.
I have a theory that when any city announces it is starting to build the world’s tallest building, that is usually a signal to get out of the property market because a crash is coming. It certainly was the case in Dubai. There is some logic behind this assertion. Such towers are so phenomenally expensive to build that the only way their construction costs can be financially justified is to assume that completed units can be sold for staggering amounts and that is a sign of an over-heated property market. When property prices in Dubai took a tumble, this project, and many others, started to look in peril.
Of course there was no way Dubai would allow this flagship venture to fail and fortunately for Dubai, its oil-rich big brother down the road, Abu Dhabi, has some of the world’s deepest pockets and was willing to give whatever support was necessary. In recognition of Abu Dhabi’s help, the tower was renamed Burj Khalifa (in honour of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, Abu Dhabi’s Ruler and President of the UAE) – originally it was to have been called Burj Dubai.
The Burj has 1,292,500 square feet of glass and employs a team of 36 intrepid window cleaners who brave high winds, blinding glare, dust storms and searing heat to keep the tower spanking clean. I hope they get well paid! It’s a long way down to retrieve their squeegees if they drop them.
Visitors can buy tickets to the observatory called At the Top on the 124th floor. The cost is Dh125 per adult and Dh95 for kids. It was all sold out on the day of my visit so best to book online in advance to avoid disappointment. Immediate Entry tickets for Dh400 are possible subject to availability which avoid the queues.
Burj Khalifa forms the centrepiece of a much larger development which includes Dubai Mall, a few hotels, apartments and office blocks and an attractive 30 acre lake where the impressive Dubai Fountain display, the world’s largest dancing fountain, is staged nightly.
Dubai Mall has all the famous brands and up–market stores that you would expect. Some expansion work is in progress as the Mall tries to hang on to the coveted title of … you guessed it, the ‘world’s largest shopping mall’.
The Mall has its own Gold Souq which in summer, is far more comfortable than the traditional outdoor Gold Souq in Deira.
The Mall is also home to Dubai Aquarium which includes a walkthrough tunnel, underwater zoo and glass bottom boat ride. If you don’t fancy splashing out Dh110 on the tickets you can get a free sneak preview through the viewing panel in the Mall.
I suppose if I had to rank my Top 10 Dubai Attractions, Burj Khalifa and Dubai Mall would have to come top.
Next Post: Top Dubai Attraction No.8, Madinat Jumeirah
No holiday in Dubai would be complete without spending time on one of the emirate’s lovely sandy beaches. Sea temperatures range from bracingly cool in winter to hot bath-like in summer. A trip to the beach is definitely one of the Top 10 Dubai Attractions, but which beach?
Dubai’s coastline is fairly short – measuring just 75km from the border with Sharjah up to the border with Abu Dhabi. Not only that, but long stretches of coastline are used for industrial purposes such as Port Rashid, Dubai Dry Dock, the electricity and desalination plants, Dubai Aluminium and Jebel Ali Port and Free Zone. This strategic industrial infrastructure was put in place at a time when it was never envisaged that tourism would become so important to Dubai.
Fortunately there are enough attractive beaches left over to accommodate the city’s 10 million tourist arrivals per year and 2 million residents.
There are over 600 hotels in Dubai, most of which are not located on a beach. Many of them offer a free shuttle bus to the beach and nearly always drop off guests at Jumeirah Beach Park. This is probably one of the best stretches of beach in Dubai with trees for shade, chairs and umbrellas to rent, food stalls, toilets, showers and a park but it gets pretty busy so this is probably not the best beach to go to unless you enjoy crowded places.
Dubai Open Beach (or Jumeirah Open Beach) is an alternative beach near the Jumeirah Mosque. They have cute changing cabins, lockers, showers, toilets, drinks stalls and a life guard. They also have policemen to enforce the ‘Strictly no Photography on the Beach’ rule which I didn’t realise until I had been merrily snapping away.
Other good beaches can be found at Umm Suqeim Public Beach (probably my favourite with nice views of the Burj Al Arab hotel) and another stretch in front of the Dubai Marina area.
But actually you don’t need to go to one of the recognised public beach areas since the whole coastline from the Open Beach up until Umm Suqeim Public Beach is more or less one continuous beach and you can sit and swim anywhere, especially now that beach reclamation work has restored many of the previously eroded beaches.
This beach for example is in front of Mercato Mall and as you can see it is not too busy.
Dubai has made up for its lack of natural coastline by creating its own artificial coast. At the peak of Dubai’s exuberant property bubble, around 2005-2007, there were plans to increase its coastline by more than tenfold through its hugely ambitious Palm Jumeirah, Palm Jebel Ali, Palm Deira, The World, Dubai Waterfront and Arabian Canal mega-projects.
Of these projects, only Palm Jumeirah has more or less been completed. The others were shelved or scrapped from mid-2008 following Dubai’s property price collapse and financial crisis. The basic reclamation work for Palm Jebel Ali is done but the project is on hold. Only the stump of Palm Deira was reclaimed before work stopped. The 300 man-made islands of The World were created and mostly sold off but only two have so far been developed. Dubai Waterfront and Arabian Canal are on hold.
Now that Dubai’s economy has recovered and the property market is hotting up again we should not be surprised to see some of these plans revived.
Next Post: Top Dubai Attraction No.7, Burj Khalifa & Dubai Mall
Ibn Battuta Shopping Mall claims to be the world’s largest themed shopping mall. It is named after the famed Moroccan traveller and scholar Ibn Battuta who, over a 30 year period starting in 1325, toured extensively throughout the Islamic world and beyond. He wrote up his odyssey in an account called Rihla (The Journey), which perhaps makes him the first ever travel blogger!
The mall is divided into six themed courts reflecting regions visited by Ibn Battuta – China, India, Persia, Egypt, Tunisia and Andalusia with decor and architecture to match. Dotted around the mall are various exhibits detailing Ibn Battuta’s travels and achievements. Of course 99.9% of shoppers completely ignore these and focus entirely on the shops but at least the management have made a good effort to differentiate this mall from all the others in Dubai. I think it has been very nicely done.
The Mall is built on one level and is a massive 1.3km long. If you walk from one end to the other you’ll probably be in need of some refreshment. Adjacent to the Mall is the Mövenpick Hotel whose cavernous interior contains 8 watering holes and restaurants to choose from.
The Mövenpick has been designed and decorated, inside and out, to fit in with the Mall’s concept and very smart it looks too.
Ibn Battuta Mall is definitely worth a visit and easily accessible by Metro.
Next Post: Top Dubai Attraction No.6, The Beach
I was keen to try out the Metro on my recent visit to Dubai as it was still under construction when I left there in 2009. I have included it as a Top Attraction since it was the first train network to be completed in the Arabian Peninsula since the Ottoman-built Hejaz railway which was blown up by Lawrence of Arabia a century ago.
The network comprises two lines – the Red line from Jebel Ali to Rashidiya (via the Airport) and the Green line from Creek to Etisalat in Al Qusais. The route runs partly underground but mostly on elevated tracks above ground, providing travellers with a fresh view of the city.
The Red line stops at the Airport (terminals 1 and 3) so in theory tourists could take the Metro on arrival if their hotel is located near a station though probably not if they have a lot of baggage.
As you would expect from Dubai, the stations are very clean, smart and glitzy. The above-ground ones are shaped like golden armadillos.
When construction of the Metro first began many thought that it would be a white elephant knowing that Arabs are so devoted to their cars that they would never use a train. Once again, Dubai has proved the doubters wrong. The trains seem to be very busy and on my three trips I was unable to get a seat in the crowded carriages. True I didn’t see many UAE Nationals on the trains but in a country where foreigners make up over 80% of the total population there are plenty of potential Metro customers.
Next Post: Top Attraction No.5, Ibn Battuta Mall