First Thoughts on Dubai

Dubai Skyline from my hotel room
Dubai Skyline from my hotel room

Other than higher than normal amounts of turbulence, my flight from Bangkok was pretty uneventful. I few on Etihad Airlines, the official airlines of the UAE. I had never heard of it before until I booked the flight. It was good flight. The flight attendants had a very unique uniform which is probably the most elegant I’ve ever seen on flight attendants. It was a light white scarf which had half of it tucked under their 60’s pillbox like hat.

I flew into Abu Dhabi not Dubai, so I had to take a bus between the cities. The road between Abu Dhabi was the best road I’ve been on since my trip started. 10 lanes, good condition, and new construction everywhere along the road. New construction is a theme which will pop up again.

Here are my first impressions of Dubai and the UAE:

  • The city it reminds me most of is Las Vegas. A brand new city in the desert. Not as glitzy as Vegas, however. More like a cross between Vegas and an office park on the edge of town.
  • Everything here is under construction. The city has a very unfinished feel to it. Even buildings not under construction will have sand where there you think there ought to be landscaping.
  • The buildings here are not just buildings. Every high rise building seems to have some flair to it that would make it the architectural high point in a smaller city.
  • Outside of immigration and customs officials at the airport, every person I’ve had contact with has been either Indian or Filipino. I walked down the street and I would have thought I was in India. Saw a game a sandlot cricket, which I don’t think is really a popular Arab sport.
  • There is a giant firewall that filters all the internet traffic in the UAE. Flickr is blocked from Dubai. I tried to use Hotspot Shield as a VPN to stream video from, and it was blocked.
  • I get two contradictory impressions of Dubai: 1) This is a giant construction bubble which will all collapse because so much money is being spent on useless projects. 2) Dubai is wisely investing in non-oil related industries and positioning itself for a day when they will not have to rely on oil, and making itself the leading economic center of the Middle East. I think both of them may be true.
  • I have read that 25% of all the construction cranes in the world are in Dubai. I don’t know if that’s true, but there are a lot of them. Throw in Abu Dhabi, and I might believe it. Looking out the window where I’m writing this I counted 25 cranes. Construction has to be the biggest industry in the UAE.

I’m sure I’ll have more to say in the upcoming days as I explore the area more. So put it mildly, there is probably no place quite like Dubai on Earth.

20 thoughts on “First Thoughts on Dubai”

  1. Dubai is still a great place to go vacation if you want good service. The fact of the matter is that, they know that their business is tourism and they need to want to make you come back. I don’t really care about the construction to be honest. If you find a good hotel, you should be fine. Just use somebody who knows Dubai and not some random website.

  2. I think Garys bubble theory about Dubai economy is right. The whole thing is collapsing faster than a JENGA puzzle when the last block is out.

  3. It’s always pleasure to have a trip to Dubai, its amazing that city like Dubai in a desert.
    Defiantly my next trip is Dubai

  4. But how can you see the REAL Dubai from a cheap hotel room. You have to be in a 7-star hotel with a 1400 sq ft room and you have to go SHOPPING! Just e-mail me and I’ll send you my address in case you pick up too many diamond necklaces on your shopping expedition.

  5. Enduring Wanderlust, from my experience in Dubai it and the word “green” have very little in common, unless of course you are talking about the amazingly green grass on the golf courses.

    Maybe there is a movement to make the city more efficient, and thus environmentally friendly, but if there is I didn’t see it in my five trips there.

  6. Dubai is a fascinating city. It could become a real leader in green development. Then again, they tend to build some monstrosities

  7. That could be. I think the most exposure we had to local population of Dubai was when we visited the Gold Souk. With out a doubt, it was the most wealth I’ve seen in one area in my life. I remember looking through store front after store front window with millions upon millions of dollars worth of gold and jewels on the other side.

    Sights like this, , are common in that part of town.

  8. @John,

    I’m guessing it is because I’m not staying in the heart of town. I’m a bit further out where most of the workers stay. It’s cheaper and I can keep it real….although I’m not sure what that even means in Dubai.

  9. One other comment. Just about every person that my friends and I came into contact with was European, at least in the major commerce areas. I wonder if there has been a major population shift over the last 4 years or if there is some other reason for the difference in experiences?

  10. Just wanted to suggest a few things for you to check out while in Dubai.

    The first is Wafi City (I think that is what the actual name is), or the “pyramid mall” as my navy friend’s and I called it when we visited there about 5 times back in 2005. It’s a fairly hard place to miss, since there is one giant and two small stain glass pyramids on top of it. It’s worth checking out if for no other reason than the amazing restaurants that are attached to it.

    I also highly recommend checking out the either Hyatt or Hilton hotel (It was about 4 years ago so I can’t remember which it was off the top of my head) that is right by Wafi City. You’ll know it is the right hotel when you see a water fall cascading off of the overhang above the entrance to the hotel. While we never actually stayed there, we visited on several occasions because of the amazing Jazz club that is in the hotel (the singer was from Montreal and the pianist was from New York) and because of what is, more or less, a jungle without the animals built within the middle of the hotel.

  11. If the construction cranes are anything like in China then it must be just incredible! I live in a little city no one has ever heard of in China and I see 25 cranes out of just one window! Between China and UAE, are there any left at all?

  12. Honestly, I don’t know the name. I was going to stay at a place on Rolla Square, and the taxi driver couldn’t find it. I ended up at some random hotel not too far away.

    I will probably stay 5 days minimum. Maybe longer. If I go to Oman, I might come back to get my next flight.

  13. Regarding internet blockage, it is true that some websites are blocked and it does get annoying specially in case of flickr, but those who live here know how to bypass the firewall and access those websites anyway. But things are getting better and they are unblocking some websites. For example twitter was blocked until few months ago but now it is accessible.

  14. Got a few mates living there, have heard many stories about the place, good and bad. Would like to get there one day. Will be interesting to see how many $$ you chew through here for the basics.

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