Dubai is an incredible oasis of excess. A haven for the nouveau riche, showing your wealth in Dubai is not only accepted, it’s expected. My first impressions of Dubai were those of endless parking structures filled with red Lamborghinis and Bentleys, gilded skyscrapers rising high up into the clouds, lively beach clubs and rooftop bars on top of lavish luxury hotels and sumptuous buffet brunches with free-flowing champagne and lobster. Just like the extravagant displays of wealth, Dubai’s true nature is always on display, right on the shiny surface.
Dubai Marina is one of the city’s most beautiful areas and also one of it’s most superficial. 15 years ago this was all just a patch of desert, but out of the dirt and dust has arisen a glitzy and lively area. Six-story luxury yachts glide through the marina with people dancing on the decks while others frolic in the pools and hot tubs of the various rooftop terraces. The man-made marina is circled by Marina Walk, one of the only places in the city where you can actually walk.
A limitless playground for those who have, Dubai also has a flip side to all that glamour. Nearly 90% of the city’s inhabitants are expatriates. While many of these expats inhabit luxury condos and drive around in luxury sports cars, most are here to make all this possible – cheap labor from Asia and India, manning the 24/7 construction sites, scaling the high-rises to wash the windows, mothers working as nannies to expat kids while sending money back home to their own children.
While others sit on the rooftops, sipping a glass of champagne and admiring the incredible arabian sunsets, thousands and thousands of workers, all dressed in identical overalls, wait in line for buses that take them to their modest dwellings on the outskirts of the city.
The shark tank at Dubai Mall
Dubai Shopping Festival
Every January the city embraces a month-long festival devoted to that national pastime, shopping. The vast array of malls in the city all have incredible offers and events, including celebrities and gold raffles as well as 75% discounts on luxury goods.
The malls don’t just offer shopping deals, though. Veritable mini countries, the malls have ski slopes, skating rinks, shark tanks and many other activities.
My favorite mall is Dubai Mall – in fact the world’s largest mall – which also offers great views of the legendary Burj Khalifa, the worlds tallest building, at least for a while.
Roadside advertising on Sheikh Zayed Road
Another gilded sunset in Dubai
Lights in the night in Dubai Marina
Most of Dubai’s beaches are lined by skyscrapers
Burj Al Arab, the self-proclaimed seven star hotel
Champagne in paper cups, a classic staple of yachting
Plastic is Fantastic
Many words can be used to describe Dubai. Hedonism. Opulence. Fake. It’s clear that the city embraces it’s most obvious feature – that everything is brand new and man-made. An actual city doesn’t come into being quite as easily as new skyscrapers, though. Unique culture and identity take time to be born. For now, Dubai’s identity relies for the most part on all that glitz and all that plastic. Bastakiya, the charming so-called old town of Dubai is one of the only quarters that offers a glimpse into the old and forgotten lifestyle of the area.
An adult playground, Dubai offers an endless array of frivolous adventures for the young, the beautiful and the wealthy. As the sun sets and darkness falls, the city’s rooftops fill up with happy revelers looking for a fun night. The city gets especially wild for New Year’s Eve, with incredibly extravagant fireworks displays continuing almost until sunrise on the first day of the year. Actually fireworks are a great parable for the city itself – loud and showy, superficial and ephemeral, pointless but fun.