Under Construction

Trip Start Aug 14, 2007
Trip End May 23, 2008

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Flag of United Arab Emirates  ,
Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Dubai, United Arab Emirates
GMT +4:00hrs

"build it and they will come"
 - Kevin Costner, Field of Dreams

Under construction
Dubai, the jewel of the Arab world, is one of the 7 emirates that make up the oil-rich Persian Gulf country, The United Arab Emirates. The tiny emirate, twice the size of London, is a kingdom built on the profits of its oil reserves and so one shouldn't be surprised to learn (we weren't) that this is one of the richest places in the Arab world (one can positively smell the aroma of money wafting through the stifling air). But that hasn't always been the case. Nope, as little as 60 years ago Dubai was a small trading town built on a humble creek. But oh how things have changed. A complete turnabout face has totally transformed this place and today it is now famous for trade, gold and all things luxury. Oh, and of course it's also famous for its oil... famous for now that is becasue it's estimated that by 2016 the oil reserves will have run out, spelling disaster for the oil-dependent economy. With this knowledge Dubai has been forced to reinvent itself once again, and find new sources of income, and none other than the crown Prince himself is onto the task; he has a multibillion dollar plan to save his emirate, and thus the country, by rebranding it and transforming it into nothing less than the world's number one luxury tourist destination. Yep, just like that. And with a plan in place for well over a decade now the Arabs certainly can't be accused of not giving it their best shot. They have gone to some outrageous, almost superhuman lengths in an attempt to put Dubai on the high rolling tourist map: they have constructed, or are constructing, world class golf courses, race tracks, legions of luxury hotels, multimillion dollar apartment complexes, shopping malls, massive manmade islands and, for good measure, the world tallest building. The aim is to attract some 15 million people annually to spend their money here, 3 times the present figure. But that in itself causes problems, namely problems of space. With only 72km of coastline, there wouldn't be enough room for all the extra people. So what do the Arabs do to solve this issue? Well, they build islands of course, huge cities at sea with not only more space for all to enjoy but with yet more shopping malls, restaurants, exculsive multimillion dollar private beach villas, marinas, water theme parks, health spas & luxury hotels. And that's what they have been doing 24/7, 365 days a year since August 2001; reclaiming land at an almost impossible rate and building massive offshore archipelagos in the process, 3 of which are in the shape of palm trees and another being an island mock-up of the globe (not content with putting Dubai on the map, they put the map on Dubai). The result of all this madness means that Dubai can now boast of having over 1500km of sun-drenched, white sand coastline, manmade or otherwise. Problem solved. Yes, build it and they will come, or so the Arabs hope.

Dubai really is quite the place. Unless you like shopping or are the sort of person who gets off on viewing large scale construction projects (both on and offshore) then there isn't much to do here, apart from sweat and spend money (and the more of the latter that you have the better). As noted, the whole place has been built, or is being built, to attract tourists and the tourist dollar. Yes, the city can trace its origins to a small 1830's fishing village but today Dubai is all about development, air-conditioned duty free shopping centres, jewellery shops, palm trees lining manicured sprinkled lawns, 5 star hotels, celebrity chief restaurants and chauffeur driven Arabs. It's all bling bling, Arab style.

Dubai... but why?
We got off the bus from Muscat at 10pm two nights ago. We had no idea where in the city we were (the outskirts we assumed), we had no map, we had no information on the city other than a hotel name and we had no local currency (the UAE dirham). Somehow we made it to The Piccadilly Hotel on Nasser Square (actually, it was as a result of Pat finding an ATM, acquiring some cash and us hopping into a taxi) which, at 375AED a night (€66), is one of the cheapest places in town (but still a fortune to us two-days-removed-from-India penny pinchers). We didn't really have anything we wanted to do here, apart from just being here, but we have spent yesterday and this morning visiting the city gold and spice souqs (markets) and getting our picture in front of the 7-star Burj Al Arab hotel which, assuming your feet stay firmly on terra firma, is about the closest thing Dubai has to a recognisable landmark. We also found time to book our flights to our next stop, Cairo, get drunk in The Irish Village, the only Irish bar in the city, and do a bit of shopping in one of Dubai's legendary shopping centres, one we visited to escape the 36 degree plus temperatures (even if we did walk for hours in the baking sun to get there). All those 'activities' saw us spending not only two nights in the city but also a small fortune and brought to an end our 3 night stop-off on the Arabian Peninsula en route to Egypt. Later this afternoon we have our flight to Cairo which is good; we have got to get somewhere cheap to stop this financial haemorrhaging. Egypt, we need you, we think.

Day 237 to 239 Observations (April 6th to April 8th 2008)

A tip. Don't try so hard
Maybe it was my fault. Maybe I shouldn't have tipped so generously the Piccadilly Hotel porter who unnecessarily showed us to our room shortly after arriving. A few minutes later another porter knocked at the door of our room to know if everything was okay?

"Super , no bother. Cheers for asking," we answered.

He then noticed, shock horror, that everything with our room was anything but 'super'. The perfectly adequate TV sitting in the corner of our room had no remote control so he left to return minutes later with a replacement TV complete with remote control. This 'service' may have warranted a tip had we requested the TV be replaced but as we hadn't the porter left the room tip-less and no doubt grumbling that we weren't as generous as his mate had no doubt informed him we were. Don't these guys know we're backpackers? I mean, it's kind of obvious.

Rock Stars
"Last night Muscat, the night before Mumbai, tonight Dubai & in two night's time we'll be in Cairo. We're like a band on tour," Pat proclaimed shortly after settling into the Piccadilly Hotel and seeing off the latest tip-hunting porter.

"I suppose Lad, but I doubt any stars that do find themselves in Dubai frequent the Piccadilly Hotel."

Hard Hats Required
Look at a map, any map, of Dubai and you're likely to see 'U/C' printed all over it (ours do). It goes some way to highlight the scale of the construction going on over here (they should give everyone a hard hat upon arrival at the airport or border croissings). Another way to get an appreciation for the seemingly unbridled development is to take a taxi ride. You're never too far from a sea of cranes building the latest and greatest skyscraper, an army of earthmover's reclaiming more land from the Arabian Gulf or vast tracts of desert landscape been turned into the newest 'Pleasure Village' complete with platinum card shopping centres, must have condos & sea-view apartments. It all leaves no doubt in our minds that there is indeed a lot of money in oil (U.A.E. is, for now, the 5th largest oil producer in the world). We estimate that if they keep building off-shore islands at the rate they are building them then by 2020 they should succeed in building a land bridge across the Arabian Gulf to the shores of Iran, some 200km away. Check out the madness on Google Earth.

Heads up
A word of warning for the guys out there. Don't take your girlfriend or wife (assuming she hasn't already cheated on you) to Dubai. It's full of expensive hotels, duty free shopping centres and jewellery shops. She might love you for it but your credit card won't.

Jo Maxi
Taxis are quite cheap over here in Dubai, which is good considering you don't really want to be out in the sun for any longer than you absolutely have to, distances are vast and the chronic traffic means going from A to B will take a lot longer than it should. We spent 2 hours in a taxi earlier today going to and from the 7-star Burj Al Arab hotel, somewhere we naively thought we could walk to when we first opened a map of Dubai. The bad news? Getting a taxi in the first place might take time too. We had to walk for a few km's last night before we eventually hailed a taxi to take us the rest of the way to the Irish Village. Yep, we earned our night out. Cheers.
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Where I stayed
The Piccadilly Hotel
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