To choose Dubai as leisure destination was not a priority, nor was it in my top ten favorite cities. However I was pleasantly surprised upon arrival with the excellent service provided by the hotel I was going to stay at: the Dhow Palace Hotel (Best Western Premier brand), who had booked Marhaba Service to welcome me at the Dubai International airport. After flying 10 hours from Seoul in a cramped airplane (well distracted by the in-flight entertainment) and with a late night arrival; it was a relief to get on an express buggy, pass the long immigration waiting line and go to a dedicated VIP counter where my passport was stamped in less than 2 minutes. Then while I was buying alcohol at duty free shops located before exiting, a porter was collecting my luggage. It was true bliss to save precious time after a long journey.
Dubai’s dreams have come true; with its incredible location, perched between the sparkling waters of the Arabian Gulf and champagne-coloured dunes of the desert, lies an improbable paradise. It has burst onto the world stage, going from sleepy to sizzling in an incredible short time. Dubai is a beacon of stability and prosperity in the Middle East, and one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities; 80 per cent of its population is made up of expatriates, with people from more than 200 countries living and working together in the pursuit of excellence.
Dubai by night looked like a giant illuminated question mark as I wondered what this newly built city would be like by day.
I was gently driven to the Bur Dubai area in a chauffeured limousine where the Dhow Palace hotel is conveniently located; an active district where numerous international hotels, residential apartments and offices have been built on both sides of the Creek.
On my first day, I wanted to see local souks and had a quick tour to get a feel of the city. Everywhere construction reminded me that much of Dubai was made in just a few decades and the most audacious projects are still created here, in front of your eyes. The World; a project to construct 300 islands based on a world map where you can purchase your ‘country’ (for between 10 to 45 million dollars), Dubailand; the world biggest amusement park costing more than 4.5 billion dollars (twice the size of Walt Disney World Resort) will be completed in 2020. Other amazing human made ‘wonders’ include The Palm; visible from outer space, with 5,000 villas and luxurious apartments that have proven popular with celebrities.
Back in the day, Bur Dubai was the heart of Dubai’s business district. Today it’s still a pulsating epicenter, just older and with more edge than nearby Sheikh Zayed Road. A clashing combination of Mankhool’s quiet concrete blocks, and the brash, neon commotion of Bank Street, Bur Dubai is popular with new European arrivals looking for some verve.
On my first night, I went to brace some of Bur Dubai’s backstreet bars, followed the next day by a debauched Friday brunch at the famed Al Qasr hotel(Fridays 12h30pm-4pm Cost: Dhs 495).
Time for shopping as I was excited to visit the souks, traditional markets with ‘a genuine flavor of Arabia,’ where the prices are significantly lower than at the malls and the atmosphere more local.
For local products, Bur Dubai Souk and Souk Al Bahar are where you should try your bargaining skills for discounts at ‘kitsch’ shops where fabrics, Arabic furniture, souvenirs and carpets are sold along trendsetting new shops such as 50 C and fashionable designer Roccobarocco
After some energetic bargaining, I regained some composure and boarded a dhow creek cruise, which was an idyllic way to watch the sun set over the Creek and visit the Waterfront Heritage area. After a 10-minute stroll along its winding, cobbled streets and charming alleyways I found fascinating artisan studios and galleries. There, I took in the latest exhibition at Basta Art and XVA gallery were I could soothe my tired feet (and ‘feed’ myself with artwork and excellent salads). Both are located in Bastakiya, one of Dubai’s only pedestrian areas devoted to culture and tradition: a place where 100-year-old wind towers rise above galleries showing the latest modern art.
Deira area in the north can be reached by ‘abra’, traditional water taxis that have been ferrying passengers to and fro for years. Deira was settled early in Dubai’s career as a trading port, and while it can appear rather run-down and chaotic in comparison with the gleaming shopping malls of exclusive Jumeirah, its many souks have more authentic charm. The most atmospheric of them is the Spice Souk, an exotic showcase of commodities. You can see trays of frankincense, saffron, rose petals, cardamom and nuts. The traders come from Africa, India, Iran and throughout Arabia, and the hum of many dialects fills the air as buyers come and deals are made.
Just down the street, the seductive scents of traditional Arabian perfumes, oud (scented wood burned as incense) and attar (fragrant oils, often made from petal roses) waft through the air at the Perfume Souk. Try one of the popular Arabic perfume brands, like Ajmal, or have a perfume mixed especially for you.
The biggest and flashiest of all the markets is the Gold Souk, which attracts thousands of bargain-hunters to its glittering interior. It’s an Aladdin’s Cave of treasures, with every sort of gold jewellery imaginable. It is always busy and can get crowded, but the Gold Souk is one of Dubai’s most popular sights, and a must for anyone who likes jewelry.
The heart of Dubai’s downtown runs along the arterial Sheikh Zayed Road between Trade Center Roundabout and Interchange One (soon to be renamed Burj Dubai Interchange). The area is easily recognizable with one of Dubai’s most famous landmarks; the soaring twin blades of Jumeirah Emirates Towers. Downtown Dubai is a glittering showplace of dramatic architecture as each new building vies for supremacy through style, scale or sheer splendour. Downtown is where the money is made, the epicenter of Dubai’s skyrocketing success as a player in the world’s financial markets.
Once upon a time, Jumeirah was a quiet sandy stretch along the Dubai coast where palm frond shacks housed pearl divers, fishermen and their families. There were no proper roads, no public transport, no shopping malls, hospitals, schools or electricity. Today, as a result of Dubai’s economic miracle, Jumeirah is a fashionable area of five-star resorts, designer shopping malls, high-rise developments and expat villas that meander along the coast between Dubai Marina and Port Rashid.
The main street of Jumeirah is Jumeirah Road, often referred to as Beach Road. I decided to go to the heart of the action and visit beachfront hotels which are among the best in the world. The most famous is the Burj Al Arab, which resides in solitary splendour on its own island. Designed to resemble the billowing sail of a dhow, the hotel soars to an impressive height of 321m, dominating the coastline. With so many top hotels in Jumeirah, the nightlife is so good, I didn’t need to go anywhere else to drink, dine and dance in style.
In Jumeirah, the beautiful people meet and mingle under the starry skies and serene seas, enjoying the quintessential Dubai mix of sun, fun, shopping and relaxation.
HOW TO GET THERE:
Emirates airlines operates daily direct flights from Bangkok. There are connecting flights from Dubai to destinations throughout the Middle East and Europe at competitive rates.
WHERE TO STAY:
Dhow Palace Hotel (Best Western Premier)
This cosy five-star hotel is very well located in the heart of Bur Dubai’s commercial district, close to the airport, World Trade Center and Burjuman Shopping Mall. A striking landmark with dynamic style and a dhow-shaped exterior, timeless Arabian hospitality makes this Best Western Premier hotel an excellent choice for families and business travellers. Superb dining venues with exquisite settings from stylish to informal offer an extensive selection of delightful cuisines from Indian to Italian. The service is very attentive and goes even beyond your stay as in this case gifts sent by Emirates post were delivered to Korea without a glitch with the kind help of hotel’s concierge staff. www.dhowpalacehoteldubai.com www.bestwestern.co.th
XVA Boutique hotel
Housed in a beautifully renovated 70-year-old-coral stone and adobe home in Bastakiya, XVA is unique. Not only does it does offer guests the chance to experience an upscale version of life in a Dubai that actually no longer exists, but the tasteful way the nine rooms, such as the Deluxe, have been decorated with dark wood furniture, curtained bedsteads and mother-of-pearl inlaid furnishings by Lebanese designer Nada Debs, makes them a pleasure to experience. The hotel is the work of American owner and long-time Dubai resident Mona Hauser, an erudite guide to all things Emirati. The breezy rooftop terrace is refreshing on hot summer nights, while the courtyard is the place to relax in winter. A book filled ‘TV room’ is a cosy place to make new friends.
WHAT TO SEE:
XVA is a pioneering gallery at the epicenter of the Dubai arts movement. XVA is considered unique because it is a gathering place where artists from the Middle East and beyond meet, sleep, work and exhibit. It has been hugely influential, a hotbed of ideas and inspiration, with various exciting exhibitions. Along with the gallery, there is a delightful courtyard cafe as well as a shop and a boutique hotel. www.xvagallery.com
WHERE TO EAT:
Dhow Ka Aangan – Indian restaurant
Aangan is an authentic Indian restaurant that ‘refreshes the sweet memories of India’ with live entertainment by in-house musicians who enthrall guests with their melodious voices. It is packed with wealthy Indian families who flock here almost every night, as the food is excellent. Anything can be ordered from the menu safely as this place doesn’t make missteps. I recommend a starter of tandoori lamb which is always rich, juicy and intricately spicy. One of the house specialties, lamb shank cooked in a tomato curry, was so good it had me in a trance, helped by the traditional music. Special live kitchens where chefs create delicacies that savor palates and recreate Indian culinary cultures can be watched to learn some Indian cooking secrets.
Average price of a meal for two with a glass of house wine each Dhs 300~400 @Dhow Palace hotel
Ushna restaurant & bar http://www.royainternational.com
WHERE TO DRINK:
Burj Al Arab – Al Muntaha bar & restaurant
Sitting atop the world’s most talked about hotel is Al Muntaha, a restaurant & bar with a setting so spectacular that I was not sure where to look next. With views over the near-complete Palm Jumeirah and the World Islands beyond, it was hard to be dragged away from the windows and back to my prized seat. The mostly Mediterranean cuisine comes a la carte, and is presented with flair to match the Burj Al Arab’s lauded luxury. The restaurant’s Friday brunch, served buffet style, is one of Dubai’s most opulent. With fine dining comes the option of wine pairing, thanks to Al Muntaha’s dedicated sommelier. And what better place to share a good bottle than perched 1,000 meters above a glittering Dubai?
Burj Al Arab hotel, Jumeirah. Tel. +971(0)4 301 7777 www.jumeirah.com
WHERE TO SHOP:
Sauce is a cute fashion and lifestyle boutique carrying an eclectic mix of international designer ready wear and accessories, as well as lifestyle, art and design objects.
It is a one-stop-shop for the collections of the funkiest Vogue-accredited young fashion designers such as Tata Naka, Mira, Ashish, La Petite Salope, Antoni and Alison, Studd, Third Millenium, Willow Sass and Bide, and Dice Kayek ready-to-wear. Also well-known European brands can be found, such as Cacharel, Vanessa Bruno, See by Chloe and Jean Charles de Castelbajac.
Up-to-the-minute and must-have fashion items are sourced all through the year from various parts of the world, making Sauce deserve its reputation as the fashion mecca for the hip and trendy.
Rumors are spreading that decorative items for designers such as Karim Rashid and Yoshimoto Nara will be sold among the huge selection of lifestyle accessories such as Diptyque scented candles, Suki notebooks and Dishya cushions.
The Village Mall, Jumeirah Beach road, P.O. Box 74015, Dubai, UAE
Tel. +971(0)4 344 7270 www.shopatsauce.com
Produced and Photographs by Vincent Sung
With the kind support of Best Western International – Asia