If you build it... they will come!
Dubai was a city high on our 'must visit' list. We have watched countless TV programs on its hyper growth and brilliant mega structures and skyscrapers. We were intrigued by this truly innovative and incomparable city.
Dubai has one goal - growth at any cost. And it is achieving its lofty ambitions.
Vancouver has had a major facelift in the past ten years with its downtown core adding numerous new buildings. At times it felt like a new project was breaking ground every week. It seemed implausible that a city could grow so fast. Obviously we hadn't yet visited the United Arab Emirates!
Dubai is in a constant state of construction. We're not talking about a few apartment towers either. It's building the biggest, baddest, tallest, craziest, most far-fetched, mind-boggling structures on the planet… and it's doing it fast.
It is said to have the highest concentration of cranes in operation in the world. This is an understatement! It has built, and continues to build, the most extravagant shopping malls, luxurious hotels, glitzy amusement parks and innovative skyscrapers. It's seems to be a competition... "How can I build it bigger and better!?"
Dubai can even temporarily boast that it has the world's tallest building with the recent construction of the gigantic new Burj al Dubai (it was not open yet during our trip - but soon). It is so freaking tall!
The city is filled with expats, we're told more than 80 percent. It has a foreign bank on every corner, a metaphor that illustrates the nation's current philosophy.
It was a drastic and welcomed change from India… we were very impressed.
We intended to spend a week in Dubai and knew that it was going to be expensive so we decided to get a hotel apartment. Food and beverages always make or break our budget so a fridge and stove in a pricey city would help us stay on track. Nicole did her usual rigorous online research and managed to score us a fantastic place for 30% less than our budget ($60 CDN per night). We had an outdoor swimming pool, a full loaded gym, an en suite washer/dryer, air-conditioning, cable television and a decent kitchen… we instantly felt at home!
It was a good thing we had a pool and A/C because Dubai is hot… unbelievably hot. That thick and heavy kind of hot that a fan just isn't strong enough to compete with. Good thing all of Dubai is air-conditioned, including the outdoor bus stations!
Traveling around the globe in one calendar year can sometimes have us visiting countries at inopportune times. Arriving in the Middle East during Ramadan was one of them. Nothing was open, which meant we couldn't even enjoy a cup of Starbucks coffee during the day. It really wasn't a big deal, but we were very grateful to have had our comfortable apartment (we like eating and drinking during daylight hours - what can I say, we're just not religious people).
On the flipside, Ramadan kept many people indoors which meant the beaches were virtually empty… and they were some of the most incredible beaches we've visited. The crystal clear, turquoise water was undeniably the warmest we've ever swam… it was like swimming in a hot salty bath. We couldn't get enough of Dubai's amazing beaches; they are now the new standard that future beaches will be judged against.
We were lucky to have arrived in Dubai a week after the brand new Dubai Metro rail system opened. The rail system is a first in the Gulf and a landmark moment for the booming city. Riding the rail allowed us to see the city from a different perspective, and for a fraction of the cost (taxi's are pricey and traffic is heavy).
It was one of most modern and advanced metro's we've been on, similar to Japan. It is the new benchmark for the region. Now imagine that… Dubai setting a benchmark!
When we arrive in a new city we look for the skyscrapers and assume that is the city centre. Dubai's a little different. While riding the train we realized that there are actually three major sections. The financial district (where the Burj al Dubai is located), the older section along the river and the area close to the Burj al Arab and The Palm Jumeirah. The distance separating the three is quite large and the afternoon haze over city makes it virtually impossible to see all of them at once.
Translation - the city is big. And getting bigger by the day.
How could a trip to Dubai be complete without a visit to the self proclaimed '8th Wonder of the World'? The Palm Jumeirah is a group of artificial islands that were built using reclaimed land. It's called the Palm Islands because when you look down at it from an aerial view it looks identical to a palm tree.
What an idea. If beautiful waterfront property is running out… just build more! It is quite an extraordinary manmade spectacle.
Of course we had to make a visit to the world famous Atlantis, The Palms. Similar to the Atlantis Paradise Island that we visited in the Bahamas about four years ago, this brilliant resort is a tourist attraction on its own. The colossal aquarium inside the hotel even had eagle rays and a young whale shark!
We left Atlantis on the new Palm Monorail. It gave a great perspective of the Palms and the stretches of private white sandy beach in front of each house, hotel and condominium. It is such a fascinating place!
But it's not all good times in Dubai. Even the world's fast growing city is not immune to the global financial crisis. We spoke to a few people that said that many expats have lost jobs and had to return home for work. The grand metropolis is said to be reporting a population decline for the first time in several years. Many projects are running over schedule and budget, and developers are realizing that there is actually a bottom to the Dubai money jar.
Although the city is cosmopolitan and progressive it is still a Muslim state that is quite conservative. It does not tolerate many of the things that Westerners find normal. Though we didn't have a negative experience, we get the sense that acting out of line has some serious consequences in Dubai. Foreigners are welcome... but they must adapt to the UAE culture, not the other way around.
Our time in Dubai was brief but filled with good times. It is an incredible city that lives up to its hype. I doubt we'll ever visit another place in such a hyper-growth state during our lifetime.
Get over there and check it out!
September 20th, 2009