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Dubai: Land of Gold

Text Lin Zixin Photo L.H. Lim

Rising from what used to the nothingness of the shimmering Arabian Desert, Dubai, bustling heart of Middle East today, will have you thinking of gold in more ways than one. Dive headfirst into the magic and energy of Dubai and experience the miracle story of this east-meets-west city for yourself.

Looking at Dubai’s urbanscape, it might be hard to imagine the city as anything else besides its cosmopolitan and prosperous self today. After all, this is a place with many of the world’s firsts – the tallest building, the largest fountain, the biggest mall… and the list goes on. However, do not be intimidated by the hubbub before your eyes. Lying beneath that sleek and modern demeanour is a city that is equal parts traditional and contemporary, waiting to be discovered by the traveller who looks just hard enough.

The Contemporary

The modern face of Dubai is absolutely indiscreet and unabashedly flamboyant. And this much you’ll expect from a city that has too often created something from nothing, embarking on one ambitious project after another; from the entirely man-made Palm Islands to the currently on-hold man-made archipelago The World, it is evident that subtlety is not a trait that is highly valued in Dubai.

Thrust in the heart of Downtown Dubai, it won’t take you more than a few minutes to understand this. Looking up, soaring skyscrapers paint a dramatic skyline of daring asymmetrical lines against the cloudless sky, screaming “look at me!” All around you, the air is charged and the crowd is energetic as they stream in and out of the countless buildings lining the streets.

Wander into any of them, and you’ll probably find yourself in one of Dubai’s many mega shopping malls. Dubbed the “shopping capital of Middle East”, Dubai’s world-class shopping experience is definitely every shopaholic’s dream come true. Apart from more Louis Vuittons, Pradas and other high-end luxury goods than needed to satisfy your material girl within, Dubai’s malls also boast extravagant entertainment facilities including the likes of an Olympic sized ice rink, the world’s largest indoor ski park and a jaw-dropping 21-screen Cineplex that will be sure to occupy you for hours on end.

For buys that are more local than international, comb through traditional souks for pashmina shawls, spices, ethnic ornaments and other exotic trinkets. No matter what you are looking for, Dubai will be unlikely to leave you disappointed.

Dubai has no lack of world-class dining experiences as well. Fork out a whooping S$160 for a luxurious lunch at the 7-star Burj Al Arab. The hotel’s location on an artificial island off Jumeirah Beach guarantees fabulous sea views unparalleled by any other in Dubai. For dinner, indulge in a pampering meal while taking in the city’s night lights on the 122th storey of the 828-metre Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. After which, take a leisurely stroll to the nearby Dubai Fountain, the largest fountain in the world, and admire the magnificent musical fountain performances that happen every half an hour starting from 6pm in the evening.

Listening to the exotic repertoire and looking at the blinking lights in the distance, you’ll be forgiven for thinking that the scene channels Las Vegas of the Arabic night. You know what? You’re probably not that far off anyway.

The Traditional

For an experience of the traditional Arabian charm, book yourself on one of those desert safari tours that can be easily arranged for through your hotel. Departing in the evening around dusk, be prepared to be transported to another realm of rolling sand dunes and mysterious velvet black, all in the comfort of your guide’s trusty Land Cruiser.

Joining tens of other vehicles at the desert in an impressive procession of Land Cruisers, the air hangs with anticipation for the exhilarating experience that is about to come – dune bashing. At first slow and steady, sit tight as your vehicle suddenly plunges and rises, twists and turns with unbelievable dexterity on the soft sand dunes under the skilful manoeuvres of your guide, a feat that will be sure to evoke gasps and exclamations all around. Before you know it, the thrilling experience is over in a flash, but the memory of it will definitely send your adrenaline rushing for a long time to come.

Calm your palpitating heart by admiring the breathtaking beauty of the desert twilight. Relish the moment as the sun dips slowly beneath the horizon and bathes the golden sand in the day’s last rays. Just don’t forget your camera for this picture-perfect moment because before you know it, the darkness will already have crept in.

By the time all light is gone, you will also have arrived at the final stop of the tour – the campsite for the dinner programme. In the still of the desert and the dark, the orange lights of the campsite from afar are an inviting sight. Walking in, a waft of the mouth-watering aroma of succulent barbecued meats is enough to tantalise your taste buds and whip up your appetite. With just the carpet beneath you, settle down on one of the plush cushions and low tables that have been casually placed around the campsite and enjoy your dinner under the twinkling constellation.

After the filling dinner, take a few moments to experience the activities that are unique to the region. First, hop on the back of one of the many camels at the campsite. Bobbing and swaying on the humped creature’s back with the trainer patiently leading the animal around the grounds, we bet you’ll be feeling like Arabian royalty in no time. Otherwise, you could ink yourself with exquisite lattices through henna or try a few puffs of shisha, which is actually pretty like smoking a water pipe.

The raucous programme for the evening begins just as you are starting to get comfortable around the campsite. To the compelling beats of Middle Eastern music, be captivated by the passionate movements of the buxom belly dancer clad in vivid jewel tones in front of you. When she is done with her routine, gracefully oblige her invitations to join her in dancing up a storm! Do not be too worried if you barely know how to belly dance – chances are your neighbour doesn’t too! Pull someone along with you to share in the fun (and the initial embarrassment) and round up the evening in the desert with claps, laughter and heaps of good spirit.

Having experienced the best of Dubai and its different faces, we’re betting that you’ll be raring to come back to this sparkling land of gold in no time.

Getting There

You can choose from a large variety of airlines to get to Dubai from Singapore. Emirates operates daily flights with fares starting from S$1065. Total flight time is about 7 hours. Local transport is convenient as well as buses or prepaid taxis to the city centre are easily accessible from the airport.