DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, May 1 (UPI) -- Travelers to the Middle East, much less the Persian Gulf, will be pleasantly surprised by this waterfront urban oasis surrounded by puritanical desert boredom.
In stark contrast to its conservative neighbors Saudi Arabia, Oman and Iran, Dubai represents an Arabic anomaly, or maybe a slice of what the future holds in store for Gulf State urbanity. Whichever holds to be true, in 2002, Dubai is the Hong Kong of the Middle East -- the only hipster stopover between Beirut, Lebanon, and Bangkok, Thailand.
Expat workers from Europe and around the world are the spice of Dubai's cosmopolitan mix. Many young people, from Cornwall, England, to Bucharest, Romania, flock there; they work hard and make tax-free money.
After a few years, they return home with a pocketful of cash and lots of good times to remember.
Try doing that in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, or Tehran, Iran.
Microsoft, Siemens, Cisco and Sun have all based regional headquarters in this burgeoning hub of free trade. The United Arab Emirate government has pumped hundreds of millions of dollars toward the creation of Dubai Internet City on Sheikh Zahed Road. Future projects include the world's first Internet University.
Yesterday oil, today the Web, tomorrow the world.
Country Code: 971
City Code: 4
Exchange Rate: $1US = 3.67 AED (Dirhams)
1. Timeout Dubai Magazine
2. What's On Magazine
WHERE TO SLEEP
1. Hilton Creek Dubai
Baniyas Rd. (next to the Etisalat Building and the National Bank of Dubai)
This new minimalist sleek hotspot is very much the boutique hotel of the moment. The atmosphere oozes cool chic while still retaining a laid back unpretentious feel.
2. Burj Al Arab
301 7777 (www.jumeirahinternational.com)
The well-known image of this shark-fin shaped hotel is often photographed and claims to be the world's first seven-star hotel. This seaside luxury accommodation has state-of-the-art facilities and a beachfront location complete with a shark tank lobby and an underwater restaurant.
Other good beachfront stays can be had at the Hilton Dubai Jumeirah (Jumeirah Beach strip, next to the Burj Al Arab/399 1111) or the Royal Mirage (Mina Seyahi Road 399 9999).
Dubai is the ultimate shoppers' paradise. What other city has an annual shopping festival that draws more than a million tourists?
Dubai's shopping is largely based in the mega-malls that would be considered cheesy in other cities but work in Dubai. After all, when the weather is too hot, these air-conditioned venues are a welcome refuge.
The Deira City Center is the largest shopping mall in Dubai and includes an Ikea store. Bur Juman Center has such upscale international fashion shops as Louis Vuitton. Wafi Center is more Vegas style, with a large Sphinx outside next to a Planet Hollywood. Goodies, on the second floor of the Wafi Center, makes for a gourmet pit stop between shopping where one can enjoy fresh Lebanese delicacies and smoke fruit-flavored tobacco from shisha pipes.
In addition to the latest high street fashion, Dubai is a great place to buy electronic gadgetry. Not only are the prices cheaper, but it is also possible to score the latest tech-setting cell phones that can be found nowhere else, including London. For example, the Sony Ericsson T68i cell phone debuted in Debut nearly two months ago and has still yet to hit London shops, which usually stock tomorrow's tech gear today. Jumbo Electronics (Wafi Center, new link, level one www.jumbocorp.com) stocks the latest in cutting-edge gadgetry from the likes of Sony.
For old-school bartering, check out the gold, spice and perfume souqs, or venture to the nearby town of Sharjah to soak in authentic 19th century atmosphere in the Sharjah Central Souq.
Lebanese cooking provides the prevalent influence over Arabic cuisine, which also borrows from Iran (Persian).
Al Iwan (Burj Al Arab Hotel) offers incredible cuisine with exotic ambience.
Al Khayma (Dubai Marine Beach Resort), overlooking a seaside cove, is a good place to smoke shisha and enjoy belly-dancing music.
Excellent views and 1970s kitsch charm make Mazazeek (37th Floor, Dubai World Trade Center) a perfect retrofit for smoking shisha.
Shahrzad (Hyatt Regency Deira) offers excellent Persian cuisine in an authentic atmosphere, as does Shabestan (Hotel Intercontinental), considered by many to be the best Persian restaurant in town.
British chef Gordon Ramsay, of Claridges fame, is the brain behind Verre (Hilton Dubai Creek). From the carpaccio of pigeon to the loin of venison in chocolate sauce, the fresh creative cuisine at this chic dining spot adds a new spin to cutting-edge gourmet.
Disneyland meets Las Vegas works here, in its own glitzy glam desert oasis way.
Sure, the happy hour specials that dictate much of Dubai bar life caste a cheesy aura to this otherwise chic city, but the European DJ talent is more than respectable. From mid-sized clubs to swanky chill out lounges, Dubai has it all.
Planetarium (Wafi City) is a popular club that attracts top name European DJs. This serious mini-club has a great sound system, a circular dance floor, bamboo retro decor and loungy chill out area upstairs.
Sho Chos (Dubai Marine Beach Resort) is a stylish sushi bar/hipster Mecca that is one of the chicest in Dubai. Great deep house mixes from able DJ Kennedy top this as the scenesters' choice. DJ Kennedy also spins deep loungecore, trip hop, and downtempo on Mondays and Saturdays at Vu Bar (51st Floor, Emirates Tower Hotel, Sheikh Zayed Road), an elegant lounge with fabulous views.
Ginseng (Wafi City, Bur Dubai) is a recently opened fusion restaurant/bar that has a laid back, Buddha Bar vibe to it. Sticky Fingers spins Acid Jazz, loungecore, blues and funk Tuesdays through Fridays.
Other cool parties circa Spring/Summer 2002 include:
1. Fridissential at Dubai Ski Club (Fridays from sunset to 3 a.m.) with DJ talent provided by Sound Factory mixing it up with funky house grooves.
2. Funky Brunch (Fridays) at The Bunker (Henry Africa's) where DJ Chris Fisher tops off this bohemian meets tiki bar venue.
Other DJ bar venues to check out include Kasbar (Royal Mirage Hotel) and The Apartment (Jumeirah Beach Hotel).
By day, enjoy beautiful beaches like Jumeirah Beach (Al Jumeirah Road), or go scuba diving in the pristine waters of the Gulf (Al Boom Diving, Al Wasl Road 342 2993). Wild Wadi Water Park (next to the Burj Al Arab and the Jumeirah Beach Hotel) packs a lot of fun as well.
For the real adventurous spirits, follow the Bedouin beat to camel navigation, desert treks, sand surfing, and falconry (Arabian Adventures, 1st Floor, Emirates Holidays Bldg., Sheikh Zayed Road 303 4888).
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