Dubai | Utopia
In the history of civilisation, it is fair to say there has never been as much economic and structural growth as has occurred in the United Arab Emirates in the past 40-odd years. From virtual villages, Emirs such as Abu Dhabi, and in particular, Dubai, have become the new business centres of the world, the must visit stop-over destination for global travellers and with that, a new mecca for food.
Just a century ago, Dubai was a small community of a few thousand, who survived by fishing and pearling Dubai Creek, a 14 kilometre inlet of the Arabian Sea. The discovery of oil in the region in the 1960s saw unprecedented wealth f lood the seven emirs of the UAE. But it has been how these finances have been spent that has set the Emirates apart and facilitated its amazing transformation.
It was the foresight of Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Prime Minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai from 1958 until his death in 1990, to develop the region’s economy to prosper once the oil has dried up. The Dubai of today is testimony to the fact his vision has been realised. These days oil production accounts for just six per cent of GDP, with business, trade and tourism raking in over half the Emirates income.
One of the biggest incentives for business is its centre point in world trade, between east and west, north and south, and for the businessman looking to make a fortune, the fact that there is no income tax, is a massive lure. Quite simply, what you earn is what you get! And with many companies providing accommodation and expenses, you can see why Dubai has such a large ex-pat community.
City of Ests
Dubai is the city of ‘ests’ – the bigg-est such as the massive Dubai Mall, the tall-est – Burj Khalifa, at 830 metres the world’s tallest man-made structure, and whose viewing platform on 124th f loor is the highest anywhere, and a must-visit in this city of stunning architecture.
While Dubai sits on the edge of the mystical Arabian Desert, it has been transformed into an oasis with meticulously maintained luscious parks and gardens throughout the city. Ninety-three percent of the water is from massive desalination plants, irrigation is recycled sewerage. The city is fastidiously clean and organised with a modern railway system, cheap and reliable taxis, whose drivers all speak English and, most noticeable of all, it is extremely safe. Due to the fact there are severe punishments for breaking the law, crime rates are low (less than 1%). In fact, Interpol has rated Dubai as the safest city in the world for the past decade. All this means it is ideal for the discerning tourist.
STAYING IN DUBAI
The recent decision for Qantas to partner with Emirates airlines means Dubai is now the designated stop-over spot for many Australian travellers. And this is a city that is custom-made to accommodate and entertain everyone from young families to grey nomads. First of all, it must be remembered that the UAE is a Muslim nation and with that there are rules to be followed and respected. But for the most part, Dubai is far more liberal than one might think.
You should dress conservatively, but women don’t have to wear a burka or hijab, they can wear dresses. Men should be fully clothed in public, but all can wear swim wear on the beach or around hotel pools. And you can drink alcohol. Ex-pats working in Dubai can apply to get a licence to buy alcohol to drink at home, while tourists are restricted to drinking in hotels.
For this very reason, hotels host nearly all of the city’s bars, restaurants and niteclubs. To this end, there are some amazingly lavish digs around Dubai, from the ostentatious to the stupendous, and with the competition to attract the hungry and thirsty tourist supreme, it makes for some amazing culinary adventures.
Like Las Vegas in the 2000s, Dubai is bringing in top notch celebrity chefs from around the globe, such as American Wolfgang Puck, French Michelin-starred chef Pierre Gagnaire and Australia’s own Greg Malouf, who has just opened up Cle Dubai, a glamorous 250-seat restaurant in Dubai’s bustling financial district.
Dubai has every cuisine you desire, with everything from Japanese to Italian to French. In 2014 Dubai hosted its first annual food festival with pop-up restaurants and food-themed events across the city and world media flown in to enjoy delightful customs such as Friday afternoon brunch where the city shuts down and hotel restaurants put on amazing degustation dinners with accompanying wine matches. The award for Dubai’s best brunch is currently held by JW Marriott Hotel’s Prime 68 Restaurant. With impeccable service and an eagle-like perch on the 68th f loor, it offers delicious fare with breath-taking views.
A TASTE OF HISTORY
Of course, you may want to get away from the hotels and bars, to explore the ‘real’ Dubai. Catch an abras (wooden boat) across Dubai Creek to visit the city’s famous gold, food and spice souks, and fill your bags with saffron, the tastiest dates ever, and camels’ milk chocolate – one of Dubai’s newest exports.
And if you want to try some authentic Emirati food, head over to Deira, the old town on the eastern side of the Dubai Creek. There are no skyscrapers, no bling, but here, sisters Arva and Farida Ahmed from Frying Pan Adventures can show you the old Dubai, exploring everything from a Philippine supermarket to Iranian food and traditional Bedouin fare. It will show you that the Dubai of old is still thriving alongside the glitz and glamour of the new.