Friday, November 09, 2007

Dubai keeps growing and growing

On the way back from Tehran we stopped off in Dubai for three nights to attend a conference and some meetings. The conference was at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel, right next to the imposing Burj Al Arab, a magnificent building shaped like a billowing sail. The picture below was taken from the terrace coffee shop at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel.


We couldn’t afford to stay at the Burj Al Arab (billed as the world’s most luxurious hotel - cheapest rooms US$1,500 a night) or even the Jumeirah Beach Hotel (cheapest rooms US$950 a night), so ended up at the Arabian Park Hotel, a three-star hotel on the edge of the desert at Al Jaddaf, not far from the airport. The room was only 20 sq m but even that cost us US$250 a night. Dubai is getting so expensive these days. I remember when I first started going to Dubai about five years ago, I could stay at the five-star Sheraton on Dubai Creek for that price, but alas no more. The view from our room at the Arabian Park Hotel (below) was not quite as impressive as that from the Jumeirah Beach Hotel.


On the way back from the second day of the conference, the taxi took me via the new Dubai Marina which is under construction. It is a massive development with skyscrapers shooting up everywhere around a 3 kilometre long marina on the other side of Palm Jumeirah. It is almost like they are rebuilding Dubai again (in fact some of the maps call the area ‘New Dubai’). None of the buildings in the picture below are occupied yet – they are all under construction simultaneously – and this is only a fraction of the construction that is going on in Dubai because not far away they are building Dubai World Central, Dubai Sports City, Dubai Golf City, Dubai Studio City, Dubai Silicon Oasis, City of Arabia, Falcon City of Wonders, the Mall of Arabia (which will be the largest shopping mall in the world) and a 20 sq km extension to the Jebel Ali Free Zone. Dubai just seems to keep growing and growing at a pace I haven't seen anywhere else in the world.


The amount of construction going on is breathtaking, and wherever you look in Dubai, you can’t avoid seeing the world’s tallest building slowly rising over half a kilometre into the sky and dwarfing all the other skyscrapers on the horizon. The final height of Burj Dubai (on the right in the picture below) is a secret, but most believe it will be over three-quarters of a kilometre high. Currently it is up to floor 156 and at 585 metres high it is already taller than any other building in the world. I guess after Burj Dubai is finished in 2009, someone will try to build a skyscraper a kilometre high – I wonder if I will live long enough to see it.


On our first night in Dubai we took the free hotel mini-bus to Wafi City – a nearby shopping mall to have dinner. It was quite new and constructed like an ancient Greek temple.


The mall was almost deserted and we asked the Filipina waitress at the restaurant where we had dinner why it was so quiet. She replied matter-of-factly: “Oh, only sheiks and rich foreigners come here.” As we were neither sheiks nor rich, we worried about what the meal would cost us, but it wasn’t too bad – about double the price of eating out in Malaysia – and probably cheap by European standards. The food was excellent, and I had a large freshly squeezed pomegranate juice for 20 dirhams (about US$5) which was good value given the price of pomegranates. As we walked back through the almost empty mall, we wondered how all the upmarket designer stores could survive with such a scarcity of customers.


On our last day in Dubai, we had a few hours to spare after my last meeting, so we took a taxi down to the textile souk in Bur Dubai, and then an abra across Deira Creek to the Gold Souk, to check that there was still something of the old town there and they hadn’t been replaced by new skyscrapers and shopping malls. We discovered that was where all the people were – like any Middle Eastern souk, they were jam-packed with locals and tourists alike, who obviously knew they could get a better deal in the souk than in the Versace and Gucci stores in Wafi City. We’d heard that the abras (the wooden boats that provide the ferry services across the creek) were going to put their fares up to 3 dirhams a trip, but the boatman asked only for one dirham from us. So obviously the fares haven’t gone up yet.


On our abra trip across the creek I sat over the engine cowling and watched the boatman deftly steer the boat with his bare feet. Maybe when the fares go up he’ll be able to afford to buy a pair of shoes.

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