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Dubai - a Desert Classic

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Dubai is well known to travellers as a transit stop for flights to south east Asia, New Zealand and Australia, and as a shopping centre for rich footballers' wives.

But this tiny state within a state is well worth a visit for its own attractions, from the high tech trade haven of Dubai city, to the desert wastes beyond.

Dubai is one of seven autonomous emirates that constitute the United Arab Emirates, situated on the coast just inside the Persian Gulf.

It is certainly a curiosity: firstly, unlike all of its neighbouring states, and the other six emirates in the UAE, Dubai owes only a small proportion of its wealth to oil.

Secondly, it is one of the only places in the world where the majority of the population are expatriates. The biggest groups are south east Asians, notably Philippinos. Nearly all of Dubai's businesses are run by expatriates – there are no provisions for naturalisation at all.

Dubai owes its position to trade. Located at a strategic point on the global trade routes, Dubai developed throughout the 20th century as a major hub for traders of all nations – much like Singapore.

Today, it is dotted with industry-specific free trade zones, which generate the bulk of Dubai's wealth. Dubai city is also one of the world's leading container ports, while Dubai International Airport – home of Emirates – sees flights from 70 airlines to over 110 destinations worldwide.

The result of this is one of the most opulent and luxurious cities in the world. Ultra-modern and rapidly expanding – Dubai is home to 15 per cent of all of the world's cranes – Dubai city is home to some of the most extravagant and iconic hotels in the world.

The Burj al-Arab hotel is the tallest hotel in the world, and rates a mind-boggling seven stars.

Earlier this year, the government announced plans to develop a massive new waterfront, combining canals, hotels and other tourist facilities, which will be the size of Manhattan.

Naturally, the city has everything anyone could want of a modern city break – food, shopping and luxury in equal measures.

But this is a city at the edge of one of the most severe and majestic deserts in the world – and that fact has not gone ignored by the enterprising locals.

The desert outside Dubai city plays host to a wide range of sports: from mountain climbing, sky diving and go karting, to more unusual pursuits such as "wadi bashing".

Wadis are dry river beds that follow the course of seasonal streams through the desert. Wadi bashing is off-road driving in a 4x4 through the desert and rock. October is the start of the best season for wadi bashing, and conditions remains as favourable as one can expect rallying in a desert to be until April.

Or perhaps you would prefer sand skiing – which is pretty much as it sounds, using dunes instead of snowy slopes.

Of course, no modern resort would be complete without extensive golfing and water sports facilities – and Dubai is no exception in that regard either.

So, if you are looking for a modern cosmopolitan destination, steeped in Arabian history and colour, in a clean, safe and liberal environment with plenty of unusual things to do, then maybe Dubai is the place for you.


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