Mathis Bailey Image Credit: Supplied

Transported to the future

Mathis Bailey, American

My first trip to Dubai was a stopover on the way to India. My spouse has close friends living there and we decided to stay a few days. I was extremely excited. When I thought of Dubai, I pictured panoramic views of sandy dunes, camels and whitewashed quaint buildings — something straight out of Lawrence of Arabia.

As the aeroplane made its final approach, I was surprised. The skyline was as impressive as any North American city and Palm Island was spectacular. The desert surrounding Dubai was a beautiful orange brown against the city, which to my surprise was incredibly green. The weather was pleasant (we visited during spring), which was unexpected; I thought it would be blisteringly hot. The city was dripping with opulence. It almost felt like being transported to the future. The infrastructure was stunning, and everywhere we looked there was beautiful landscaping. The buildings were sleek.

I didn’t know what to do first. Thankfully, our friend acted as a tour guide and suggested we start with the Burj Khalifa. It sports a superb vantage point with breathtaking views of the Burj Khalifa lake, the city against the backdrop of the desert, and the Arabian Sea. Simply spectacular.

The Dubai Mall is insanely huge. It has an ice rink, an aquarium, as well as a copious amount of fine dining and shopping options.

The next three days packed a punch with explorations of the souq markets in Deira, a desert safari and a whirlwind of incredible dining. I can’t wait to go back for more of the razzle dazzle.

Diamond in the desert sun

By Sharon Abraham, Canadian

The city is paved with gold. Well, figuratively speaking anyway.

Growing up, my impressions of Dubai were based on a myriad of experiences recounted to me by family and friends that had already made the trip. I was told it is a shopper’s paradise. My first chance to experience it came much later, when a friend invited me for a visit.

Dubai has been in the news quite a bit, making a splash for breaking the record for the tallest building in the world, as well as the audacious plan to build islands off the coast — one in the shape of a palm tree, the other a world map.

So I was reservedly optimistic. The city surpassed all my expectations. The architecture in the newer parts of Dubai is impressive, even for those accustomed to the bold designs seen in North America. The Burj Khalifa is the crown jewel. Visible from any part of the city, this building is a marvel, sparking like a diamond in the desert sun.

The palaces and mosques are beautiful and opulent, the infrastructure world class, and wherever you look the wealth of the city is apparent — luxury sports cars such as Ferraris, Maybachs and Lamborghinis are ubiquitous.

The shopping experience is extravagant with supersized malls showcasing every designer in the world; one even has its own ski slope. The city has a variety of dining options at every price point. Las Vegas, step aside, anything you can do, Dubai can do better — and trimmed with gold.

Political stability

Madhuri Sen, Indian

Dubai was that vague place in my head that people went to shop every year. Not being a great shopping enthusiast, the destination passed me by — until my best friend moved there. Even then, I resisted stopping by until I needed to catch up with another friend from Pakistan.

Voila! what better place to hop over to than the salad bowl of the subcontinent. My first impression of Dubai was that it was another Indian state. I could only hear Malayalam and Hindi being thrown around. It was a disorienting, but comforting feeling. Was it just another Indian state that needed

a visa? I quickly discovered it was not quite that.

Never having visited an Islamic country before, despite everyone’s protests that it was the most liberal of places, I could feel the soft pressure to conform to being more modestly covered up than I am used to in Mumbai. Thankfully, the weather in March was surprisingly pleasant, so staying dressed in jeans and well covered tees was not much of a hardship.

Beyond its political stability, Dubai proved to be a city of many layers — combining the height of modernity with the Burjs, metros and swanky cars with more than just a hint of its Arabian heritage in its food, spices and souqs, abaya-clad beauties and more.

The experience was charming, with its melee of malls, belly dancing molls and meatballs in the midst of enthralling desert dunescapes.

Princess Jasmine on a camel

Michiko Ono Amsden, Japanese

This March, I visited Dubai for the first time working as a Japanese food journalist. When I arrived at the airport, I was impressed by its expansive space and high ceiling. I was especially surprised to find taxis for women, driven by women. In Japan, we have women drivers, but no such special taxis. In the city along the highway, there are rows of buildings including luxury hotels such as the Park Hyatt and Burj Khalifa. But still more under construction.

I visited the financial district. It wasn’t too big, but reminded me of New York, and Tokyo. One of the restaurants, Zuma, is a Japanese eatery — we enjoyed sushi on par with the best in Tokyo. Restaurants in Dubai are expensive — much pricier than Tokyo. There are many shops in Dubai Mall that are open until late at night and a large number of shoppers.

I felt like eating traditional Middle Eastern food, so I joined a tour called Frying Pan Adventures in Deira. The portions were huge.

On my last day, I joined a desert tour. During the camel ride, one guest was dressed like Princess Jasmine in Disney’s Aladdin. She was Japanese. While aware that Dubai is modernised, she retained a romantic image of Arabia. Upon seeing this, I wondered what people living in Dubai think about Japan. Do they imagine samurai, geisha and sushi? I hope as we travel more we reach a deeper understanding of each others cultures.

City of contrasts

By Raoul J. Chee Kee, Filipino

I was part of a media group from the Philippines visiting Dubai late last year. I remember being told during the pre-departure briefing to pack light cotton clothing as it could get pretty hot during the day. Since we hail from a tropical country, we are familiar with heat and humidity. What we were unprepared for, however, was the dry heat that can reach as high as 50° C.

We quickly grew accustomed to the oven-like tempurature though, whipping out umbrellas to get from our coach to the towering buildings we visited. That’s when I began to notice how Dubai was a city of contrasts. Where else can you spend one afternoon dune bashing in the desert followed the next day by freezing temperatures at a ski loft inside a mall?

A video presented by the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM) chronicled the rise of what was once a slow-moving emirate. It’s hard to imagine that this city of overall excess used to be a undeveloped village, but according to our guide most Emiratis grew up [when?] on a diet of dates, fish and camel’s milk.

That’s Dubai — a city of contrasts and superlatives. Hot desert sand and fake snow; the highest tower in the world, the Burj Khalifa; and a slide with the longest vertical drop in the world at the Atlantis Aquaventure waterpark.