Postcard: 48 hours in Dubai

Last updated 05:00 21/08/2010
Travel postcard: Dubai
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FEELING HOT, HOT, HOT: Elevated view of the modern Dubai skyline.

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Got 48 hours to explore Dubai? Reuters correspondents help you to get the most out of a stay in one of the world's hottest cities - literally.

Temperatures soar above 40 degrees Celsius, day and night, in the summer months.

DAY ONE

10 am: The best place to start is at the top.

Take a taxi to Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building and a powerful symbol of Dubai's vertiginous rise from a flat desert expanse in a mere half a century.

Originally it was to be named Burj Dubai (Dubai Tower), but just before its fanfare opening on Jan. 4 this year as the emirate struggled with debt totalling billions of dollars, it was renamed Burj Khalifa after the president of the UAE and ruler of oil-rich Abu Dhabi, which has bailed out its fellow emirate.

The building stands 828 metres tall, although some of the upper levels are only finished on the outside.

Tickets to ascend in an extremely rapid lift cost 100 dirhams (NZ$38) if booked in advance or 400 dirhams if you just turn up. Depending on demand, 100 dirham tickets can be available, if you ask, even without booking.

From the observation deck on the 124th floor, visitors have the strange sensation of looking down on abnormally tall buildings in their own right and can begin to appreciate Dubai's very man-made achievement.

Not only has it built huge, luxurious buildings, Dubai has changed nature, with expanses of trees and parkland and artificial islands, the most ambitious of which to date is The World - an archipelago of man-made islands that replicate the continents and countries of the world.

You can also look down to the foot of the tower on to the Dubai Fountain as it bursts into one of its spectacular displays, an aquatic equivalent of fireworks.

11.30am: Back at ground level, a cooling drink on one of the many restaurant terraces allows you a closer encounter with the Dubai Fountain. Accompanying music and the boom of jets of water being forced high up into the air adds to the excitement. As a welcome side-effect, in the summer heat, the fountains lower the air temperature.

12-1pm: Venture into the Dubai Mall and be dazzled by the contrasts that sum up Dubai. Shoppers and shops display skimpy, designer fashions and perilously high heels, while traditional Arab women are concealed in flowing black robes, known as abayas.

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The Dubai Mall is also home to an aquarium and ice rink and you might want to visit Bateel (the store plans should guide you) for some succulent dates filled with stem ginger, citrus peel or almonds and lovingly wrapped in presentation boxes, tied with ribbon.

1.30-3pm: Dubai provides quality examples of virtually every cuisine, but you could join the fashionable, professional crowd for excellent sushi at Zuma in the nearby Dubai International Financial Centre.

4pm: Time to chill. Back to the hotel. One option that shouldn't break the bank is Media One in Media City, where the world's news organisations, Thomson Reuters included, have offices. Media One's boast that it's Dubai's newest hotel is not too much of a claim in a city where nothing is old, but it is one of the trendiest.

The foyer has ever changing coloured lights and the city's young fun-lovers assemble in the hotel's bars for happy hour.

It also has a pool where you can lie on your back and gaze up at the skyscrapers shimmering in the ever-blazing sun before hitting the town again.

6pm: Grab a taxi to the Deira district at the old commercial heart of the emirate, where you can buy spices by the sack-load in the Spice Souk and high quality 18 and 22 carat gold by the ounce in the gold souks.

Check the going rate for an ounce before heading there and prepare for some good-natured bargaining either in the air-conditioned, marble floored new Gold Souk or the old-style souk beneath a wooden roof, tucked away in the maze of streets behind it.

As souks go, both lack antiquity, so for a fix of the more traditional take an abra - a small, wooden 20-person craft - to cross over to Bur Dubai. The fare is a dirham, making abra crossings easily the cheapest thrill in all Dubai.

As you chug over the waters, you'll see dhows, the time-honoured trading vessel of the Gulf, and depending on the time of day, the call to prayer from a chorus of mosques will fill the air.

Some of the dhows offer evening cruises, complete with dinner. Otherwise, you could opt for a cheap and cheerful dinner every bit as delicious but rather less glitzy than lunch at Zuma.

8pm: Saravanaa Bhavan, for instance, serves up vegetarian Indian food in a simple cafe-style restaurant.

DAY TWO

10am: If the heat gets to you, Ski Dubai in the Mall of the Emirates is one way to cool down and take some exercise, which can be a challenge in a land where hardly anyone goes for a walk and taking a taxi or a car is the standard way to go anywhere.

Another epitome of Dubai's embrace of the implausible, Ski Dubai boasts the world's first indoor black run (the most difficult grade of ski piste) and expends huge amounts of energy to ensure sub-zero temperatures keep the snow fresh.

12.30pm: Head over to Bastakia for an insight into what Dubai was like before the boom. Heavily restored, but the closest Dubai has to genuinely old, Bastakia's traditional Arabic buildings have courtyards and wind towers - the earliest form of air conditioning - built to catch any breezes.

Before serious exploration, lunch options include the atmospheric Bastakia Nights, where menus are scrolls contained in ornate silver caskets, or the Local House Restaurant, which serves camel burgers and every other kind of camel meat.

3pm: The surrounding area includes art galleries, the Grand Mosque, small museums and the Dubai Museum for a powerful sense of the revolutionary pace of change, triggered by the discovery of oil in the 1960s, after millennia of gentle evolution.

The museum is housed in the Al Fahidi Fort, completed in the 18th century when the city was under threat from tribal invasion. It fell into disrepair and has been completely restored.

Once inside (for a mere three dirhams), exhibits span the third millennium BC to the present day. They include ancient skeletons, depictions of Bedouin desert life and of the community of traders operating from tiny shops and traditional Arabic homes.

It's all a world away from the ultra modern malls and designer labels that dominate Dubai.

But the buzz of trade in the labyrinthine souks near to Dubai Museum symbolises deep continuity. Textiles, spices and wreathes of jasmine flowers are bargained for as they have been for centuries.

6pm: Head back to some Dubai opulence with a drink/snack/dinner at the shamelessly opulent Burj Al-Arab, a self-styled seven star hotel.

Designed in the shape of a dhow's sail and set on its own private islet, reached by a private bridge, the Burj Al-Arab divides opinion. While many admire the exterior that has established it as a graceful Dubai landmark, some are appalled by its rococo interior, if they even manage to pass the barriers to entry.

Unless you're one of the guests paying thousands of dirham a night, you'll only be allowed in to inspect the giant aquariums and towering atrium with a bar reservation.

The Skyview Bar requires guests to spend a minimum of 225 dirhams on drinks/food as they gaze out on the skyline. There's also a smart casual dress code and the man in our party wearing flip-flops did not pass it.

Alternatively - or if you have time for both before a late-night flight home - take the monorail along Palm Jumeirah, one of Dubai's artificial islands formed in the shape of a giant palm.

As you travel along the trunk, you look out along palm fronds on which luxury housing is constructed and then at the very end, the Atlantis has for some outstripped the Burj Al-Arab as a statement hotel.

An enormous pink palace, with a huge key-hole arch-way, the Atlantis has it all: belly dancers, extraordinary glass sculptures and stone carvings, aquariums of rare fish, a water park, with exhilarating rides and specially cooled water, and a huge variety of bars and restaurants.

In July, it was chosen as the venue for one of the creditors' meetings of Dubai World, the massively indebted conglomerate that owns most of the emirate. The scores of bankers in attendance might have considered that this very, very grand asset is built on sand.

- Reuters

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