By Jeremy Khalil on January 20, 2020
Among the travelling fraternity, Dubai almost needs no introduction, especially when it is the home base of Emirates, an international airline with extensive global network. Globetrotting travellers are bound to transit in Dubai at least once in their lives when flying with the carrier.
Sitting at the halfway point between Asia, Europe and Africa, Dubai is the fourth most visited city globally, rooted in tradesman culture and natives who are hospitable in nature. The Dubai Government promotes inclusiveness, while its society upholds tolerance towards people from various backgrounds. As a matter of fact, there are 200 different nationalities in Dubai who call the city home, making it diverse and multi-faceted. Besides, the city is run efficiently and now regarded as one of the safest cities on earth.
As travellers embrace Dubai, they would soon realise that the city is more than just an oeuvre of man-made wonders. Underneath the opulence and plugged-in exterior, Dubai is also enterprising, industrious, driven, agile and nimble in finding ways to remain relevant, innovative, constantly changing and reinventing, and eager to introduce something new. No wonder Dubai is rated as one of the easiest places to do business and functions as a major trading hub in the Arabian Gulf.
Dubai’s downtown glitters effortlessly, giving the impression that the city has been built from scratch. But the truth is Dubai started from humble beginnings, a fishing village situated along a creek, surrounded by enigmatic desert wilderness and vast borderless outdoors, which is where Emiratis still feel connected to and belonged, shaping their psyche and culture. As such, embarking on a Desert Safari provided by destination management companies like Travco Travel Company to bash picturesque sand dunes on a four-wheel drive and spend time in the desert whenever travellers come to Dubai is a must.
Speaking of Emirati culture, those who have questions about it should head to Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding or SMCCU, where they can listen to educational talks about local customs and dine in traditional Emirati fashion. It is here where travellers learn that in spite of the breakneck speed of economic development undertaken by the Dabawis (which means ‘people from Dubai’ in Arabic), it is inspiring to know that modernisation hardly changes their true essence.
Travellers should take the time venturing out to the city’s various neighbourhoods, where they can savour local and international cuisines. Scratching more than Dubai’s surface, foodies and culture enthusiasts should give Frying Pan Adventures tours a go, which bring them to certain spots where the grassroots convene for meals. Another option is to dine at Al Fanar Restaurant that serves authentic Emirati cuisine amidst cosy setting, transporting diners back in time. For more Arabian choices, there are many restaurants serving mandi (‘dewy’ and moist-textured) dishes. As travellers fork out their money, they would be delighted to find out that dining, and even staying, in Dubai is actually not prohibitively expensive as many people thought because value-for-money joints do exist in this city, for example Nur Malaysia, Dapoer Kita, and Fuchsia. The number of one- to three-star hotel and serviced residences available in the city are increasing too.
When putting together an itinerary to explore Dubai, be sure to cover the superlative aspects of Dubai in one day such as climbing up the tallest free-standing building in the world, Burj Khalifa; spending time and money at the largest shopping centre in the world Dubai Mall, which claim to fame is its 1,200 stores, two anchor stores and hundreds of food and beverage outlets, spanning over 1 million metres squared, including the Fashion Avenue wing, deemed as the city’s most luxurious shopping experience with deluxe facilities; touring around the world-class dhow-shaped performing arts centre called Dubai Opera, a stone’s throw away from Burj Khalifa and Dubai Mall; then in the evening walking around the sprawling Global Village, a family-friendly open-air theme park that retail goods and wares from various parts of the world through its 3,500 shopping outlets, 20 multi-cultural restaurants and 140 kiosks.
Continue the next day by ascending the Dubai Frame, then in late afternoon head out for Desert Safari, take your dinner at a camp in the desert, and immerse yourself in the Bedouin lifestyle way into the night.
While enjoying the sweeping views of Dubai from Dubai Frame‘s state-of-the-art bridge – including the chance to walk over the vertigo-inducing triple-glazed, laminated glass panel flooring that transparently show the ground 150 metres below – travellers are able to understand the city’s mindboggling transformation from a sleepy village to a shining cosmopolis we know today through informative exhibits. From the outside, Dubai Frame impressively gleams in the sun because it is covered with 15,000 metres of gold-coloured cladding. Since Dubai Frame is situated right between old and new Dubai, this landmark has now become one of the best spots for travellers to directly feast upon Dubai’s iconic skyline that dominates the southern (read: new) part, crowned by Burj Khalifah. When travellers face north, they are greeted by the view of the older, lower-rise Bur Dubai district, which spreads out towards the Dubai Creek.
The following day should be filled with discovering Dubai’s art and design hubs, notably Jameel Arts Centre, Dubai Design District, and Alserkal Avenue in particular, a contemporary art and cultural district located in Dubai’s Al Quoz area that is positioning itself as one of the city’s cultural and lifestyle hubs. Founded in 2008, this 500,000-foot squared industrial plot currently contains over 90 retail outlets, cinema, food and beverage outlets, gym, and 13 galleries. Emphasising on inclusivity, Al Serkal Avenue management does not refer to the enterprises occupying the space as tenants but more as ‘community members’. Among them, travellers might be drawn to Kave, which occupies Warehouse No. 2 and sells upcycled items and organic food and beverage; Mirzam Chocolate Makers for its delectable bespoke chocolate-based homemade confections in Warehouse 70; and Cinema Akil for showing arthouse movies in Warehouse 68, adding colour and sophistication to the place.
Concrete – a multi-disciplinary and multi-functional venue designed by OMA with starchitect Rem Koolhaas at the helm – opened here beginning 2017. Beginning 6 November 2019, the venue stages an exhibition in collaboration with the internationally renowned London-based Whitechapel Gallery.
The busiest months for Alserkal Avenue are March and November, when the space bursts with mostly arts-related events. Public should keep an eye out for the vibrant Quoz Arts Fest, held at the end of every January, showcasing both arts- and non-arts-related events, attracting large crowds with diverse interests. Usage of single-use plastic straws and cutleries are avoided and glass bottles replace plastic ones during these events.
On your last day in Dubai, take it easy by soaking in Al Fahidi neighbourhood’s historical atmosphere by the Dubai Creek, which is distinctively defined by countless iconic windtowers or windcatchers called malqaf in Arabic that functioned as ventilators or air-conditioners. Take a peek inside the Coffee Museum and Dubai Museum, then have a deliciously hearty lunch served in majlis style seating at SMCCU while listening to the volunteers explaining about Emirati culture and interacting with them. Afterwards, proceed to the bustling souqs (markets) in Bur Dubai and Deira, including taking a ride on the abra (traditional boats ferrying commuters from one jetty to the next around the Dubai Creek). You can buy souvenirs like spices, textiles or gold at these souqs. All merchandise sold is regulated by the Dubai Government, and the gold sold at the Gold Souq is guaranteed to be 100% authentic. End your day with a dinner at any of the establishments along the waterfront promenade stretching from the Al Seef Heritage Souq all the way to Hampton by Hilton Dubai Al Seef, a low-rise, design-savvy, funky, stylishly quirky and whimsical yet homely and practical hotel, amalgamated with a rooftop pool.
Honestly, I simply love my quiet evening stroll from Dubai Museum back to Al Seef district, passing by softly lit heritage structures, turning the whole area dreamy. I do hope to return and spend more time in Dubai by staying around Al Seef and explore more of Deira, including the surrounding neighbourhoods close to the creek, which I think is where the city’s soul can be found. Little did I expect that the city, with its shining skyscrapers, cosmopolitan ambitions and eyes fixed on the future, is made up of neighbourhoods filled with communal verve and heady diversity, resulting in a Dubai that is admirably global yet at the same time hearteningly local…
Gaya Travel Magazine team expresses its heartfelt gratitude to Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing for ensuring the writer’s trip to Dubai smooth sailing.