Dubai – the shiny, it hurts

Burj Khalifa from our hotel as we arrived.

I am not saying that the Burj Khalifa is an alien spaceship. But I am saying that if you were to try to hide an alien spaceship in plain sight, it would look like the Burj Khalifa.

If you are into modern big buildings and lights then Dubai is your sort of place. The Burj Khalifa is famous, but it is just one of a huge range of large and interesting buildings: from the enormous big-ben look-alike, to the enormous golfball, to the enormous picture frame. It’s all, well, enormous; and all surrounded by endless half-deserted highways. (Although the overall lack of cars doesn’t stop every driver from driving within inches of every other available driver.)

Old watchtower.

Anyway, being contrary, we started our day by trying to leave all that behind and headed out to the Northern part of Dubai which is the old part, or at least the less developed part. There isn’t really much of an old part as such because Dubai wasn’t much of anything until the oil started flowing in the second half of the 20th Century. We started our peregrinations at an old watchtower that was built in 1939 it was built to look over the surrounding area and it’s barely four or five meters tall – quite the contrast with the Burj Khalifa.

Still you can walk along the canal and catch a small ferry over to the other side for one dirham – which is about the cheapest thing it’s possible to do in Dubai. The boats are powered by a smelly, diesel engine in a central well, where the driver also stands – passengers sit on a ledge around the outside of the boat. The canal is home to pleasure cruisers and real working boats – coastal traders were loading bags of rice and boxes of fridges.


On the other side of the canal, we wandered through the souks selling materials, spices, and gold. The hawkers were pushy, especially in the materials section where they’d drape scarfs over you to snag you and get you engaged. Funnily, they don’t do the same in the gold section. The gold area, though, is filled with an obscene display of gold and precious jewels.

We took another ferry ride, then headed back to the hotel for a swim.

In the evening we walked over to Dubai Mall – the largest mall in the World. It’s just enormous, and huge, and filled with expensive shops, and jammed with people, so many people. The centre-piece of the Mall is a huge aquarium, or maybe it’s the four-storey fountain, or maybe it’s the lake. Take your pick, it’s all big and oh so shiny.

We came to the view you could pretty much spend your entire life in the Mall.

Fountains show at Dubai Mall.

On the half-hour there’s a fountain show at the edge of the Mall in front of the Burj Khalifa – but there are so many people holding their phones up, to see over the people in front of them, that the best way to see what’s going on is to watch the performance on the screens of the phones in front of you.

The cool thing in the Mall was watching the people. There are local men in flowing white robes, women with only their eyes showing, Indian families in saris, westerners in shiny suits and slinky dresses. The mix of people is extraordinary. We’re not going to love Dubai – it’s too much like Las Vegas for our taste; but there’s a vibrancy and brash style that it’s hard not to appreciate.

Leave a Reply