Dubai is very clean and sleek, with new buildings and roads like how Singapore was in the 80s. In the two days that we were there, I was awed by the scale of the development and the high standards in design and structure. If we thought Petronas Twin Towers are great, there are hundreds of grander, more majestic buildings in Dubai. All I knew about Dubai was the Burj Al Arab, the Burj Al Khalifa and the man-made palm islands.
Even if you're not into modern buildings, Dubai is a must visit. I was amazed by what they have achieved and I can't think of any other city, not even Shanghai or New York, that has such unbelievably modern and magnificent buildings. If Rome is the prime example of the skills and craftsmanship of men thousands of years ago, Dubai's buildings are testimonies to modern man's architectural and engineering skills. And financial prowess. Dubai shows that money can buy anything, at least materially. There's no lack of water even though it's a desert. There are trees and flowers and the malls have man-made lakes and one mall even has a 'ski resort', complete with ski lifts and snow. With a population of about 2.2 million, of which more than half are foreign workers mainly from India and The Philippines, the number of buildings in the city is unjustified as most buildings are unoccupied. The metro just opened about 9 months ago and is the sleekest, most classy metro I've ever seen. It's also the world's first unmanned metro. From Dubai, we went to London and I was totally shocked and disgusted by London's metro. I was certain, at many of the stops, that Sherlock Holmes or Charles Dickens or Jack The Ripper would appear.
We only had two days and 3 nights in Dubai so we set off exploring the city immediately. Our hotel, The Dusit Princess, is a small 150-room modern hotel in the 'old' area of the city, Deira. I thought old meant ancient but most parts of Deira are newly built with buildings not taller than 10 stories, unlike the new part of Dubai where all the mega malls and sky scrapers are.
The gold souks and spice souks were the first places we went, and I was disappointed because I thought they were open markets. I guess there are no more real souks left, since there are so many classy buildings in Dubai where these businesses can move to. The amount of gold jewelry was astounding. Most of the jewelry looked like they were made for Arab princesses or Pharoah's girls; the design and workmanship were gorgeous. I failed to get a couple of gold bangles because they weren't cheap (and I don't like 22K gold; too yellow for me) and we were rushing to get back to the hotel for the safari tour. As for the spice souk, forget searching for it. It's nothing like what you see in photos of the spice souks in Marrakech. Dubai's spice market is very small but the spices are plentiful and very fresh. I did buy some sumac and green cardamons (the best cardamons are green, I read somewhere) but was mindful about our baggage limit.
We thoroughly enjoyed the desert safari. For US$55 per pax (google for Hormuz Tours), we were driven in a convoy of five 4 wheel drives into the desert, less than an hour from the city. I hate coaster roller rides but wanted to experience sand dune bashing, which is a terror ride up and down and along the ridges of the dunes. The driver was definitely crazy and sadistic, bringing the 4-wheel up sharp dunes and plunging down, sending the car flying off the dunes. I hated it most when he drove along the side of the dunes, tilting the car to a 45 degree. We all stayed still in the car (I held my breath) just in case any shift of our weights would overturn the car. I thought I would die in the Hatta Desert. After a while though, it got less scary.
After the sand bashing, we were brought to a camp in the desert where we snacked on shawarma, had our hands and feet henna-painted, rode the camels, watched the desert sunset, wore bedouin costumes, smoked shisha and feasted on a delicious Arabian buffet. The highlight of the evening was belly dancing and guess who were the first couple to be lead to the dance floor? We did a lousy job of course, with the belly dancer grabbing my shoulders in a frustrated effort to loosen them up. I felt like I let down the whole Asian community with my clumsy awkward shaking, until two Filipino girls joined the belly dancer and gave her a run for her belly, er, money.
I didn't realise that the camel is much taller than the horse.
I enjoyed the buffet. Dubaian cuisine seemed quite veggie-based. The green salad (tabbouleh?) in the middle of the plate was chopped parsley in a vinegar dressing, very refreshing and tasty.
She not only balanced the rod on her boobs, she could make the rod jump even when she wasn't moving. Her skills in controlling her muscles were most impressive when she did the same on the side of her hips, contracting her hip muscles which gave tiny vibrations that made the rod jump; you don't see any movement but the rod was jumping. Not only was she skillful, she was also graceful, blithe and funny and sexy. Everytime she pranced by, I got a waft of her perfume. I think it was frankincense or myrhh, and during the rest of the time in Dubai, I caught the same exotic scent here and there.
The desert cooled instantly when the sun went down. I laid on the throw pillows on the red desert sand (the desert sand is red in some parts and paler in others) and looked up at the sky, clear and full of stars, in disbelief. I'm in a desert. The henna lady painted a beautiful motif on my ankle (included in the tour package) which lasted for more than a week. I skipped to the waiting 4-wheel (the henna hadn't dried yet), very happy.