Dubai With Its Guard Down

22 June 2015
Read Time: 2.4 mins

So you've stopped over in Dubai a couple of times and you think you've got the place sussed?

Got the selfie outside the Burj Al Arab? Tick! Been on a shopping binge in the Dubai Mall? Tick! Got a face full of snow at the indoor ski dome? Tick! Marvelled at the Dubai fountains? Tick! Checked out the old town? Tick!

If you reckon you've exhausted your options in this Emirati fantasy city by ticking off that little list, you're not really giving Dubai a chance to work its magic. It is easy to dismiss Dubai as a stop-over port with some spectacular man-made attractions but little else.

 The desert is never far away (images: Getty)

What holds true everywhere else holds true in this desert miracle ... if you look under the carpet, peek behind the curtains and look past the facades, you'll find a a multi-faceted community with plenty of interesting people and places to feed the curiosity of the seasoned traveller.

 This is not to dismiss the more obvious attractions for which Dubai is famous. It is truly a triumph of the human will to create something out of nothing on a breathtaking scale.

This places lives up to its claims. The Jumeirah Zabeel Saray Never Fails To Impress

The shopping's part of the experience. Take A Shopping Holiday In Dubai

The Beach Is Still Best

But my favourite day in Dubai was spent on a beach, and not one of the private resort beaches which cocoon you in opulence and exclusivity. It was a public stretch of sand called Kite Beach at Umm Suqueim.

Beaches have a habit of offering a glimpse into a society with its guard down, and Kite Beach is no different.

 Family fun on Kite Beach

Families from many nations and faiths mingled and relaxed by the gentle waters of the Persian Gulf. Expat kids were doing nippers, Emirati teenagers were playing beach volleyball, couples promenaded and mums gathered to gossip with their toddlers in tow.

The people-watching was superb. It was a multicultural soup of brown, black and white bodies enjoying the sun, the sea and each other's company in a way the privileged tourists sunning themselves on the private beaches would never get to experience.

Black Palace Beach in Al Sufouh is another good spot, and there are plenty of other public beaches. These are the places where Dubai reveals its playful nature.

The desert, though, is where Dubai keeps its soul, and you'd be mad not to venture into the sandy wilderness to glimpse it. There are safaris that will take you out into the dunes and throw in a camel ride and a bit of belly dancing to give you that Midnight at the Oasis feel, and if that's what floats your boat, well and good.

Desert Night Throws The Universe At You

But my recommendation would be to go deep into the vastness with little more than a couple of bottles of good red and some firewood, get a fire going and then marvel at the stars and the sounds of the desert as night throws the universe at you. It's safe if you hire a reputable guide with a good 4WD and a knack for storytelling. It will be a night you'll never forget.

 Speeding camels race for the finish line

For something a bit sobering, try visiting a labour camp to see how the men who built the 5-star hotels live. Talk about chalk and cheese!

Comparing your circumstances to others is one of the most interesting aspects of travel, and a look at life in one of these camps will make you realise that if you're having a bad-hair day, you're still going to be having more fun than the poor sods who call one of those camps home.

I know a couple of expats who live in Dubai, and I asked them if there was anything else a visitor might like to see. Their recommendations included the food and craft market on Friday mornings in Safa Park and not to miss seeing the camel races.

The important thing is that if you're going to Dubai, remember that the country is more than just a brilliant place for a spot of retail therapy while in transit to somewhere else.

Visit your local Flight Centre or call 131 600 for more advice and the latest deals on travelling to Dubai.

Rory Gibson

Rory Gibson somehow makes a modest living writing columns for newspapers and magazines on the subjects of beer, travel and dating advice for his three sons, and roams the world looking for material to fill them.