Saturday, August 8, 2009

Dubai’s glamour doesn’t have to come at an exorbitant cost

Dubai has earned itself an unlikely spot amid the world’s ritziest — and priciest — beachside hot spots. Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and David Beckham have all been spotted partying in this opulent Arabian playground, where one hotel boasts rooms starting at $1,000 a night.

That doesn’t mean you need to be a rich oil tycoon to afford this sunny desert boomtown, however. Here are some tips to get you started. And yes, despite the tough neighborhood (across from Iran and down the coast from Iraq), it’s totally safe.

Getting around

The blast-furnace heat and humidity make long daytime strolls unrealistic in summer, when the mercury can approach 120 degrees. Even during the pleasant period from October through May, you’ll likely need some sort of transport.

Until the Dubai Metro opens in September, your best bet is one of the ubiquitous sand-colored taxis. All are metered and cheap by Western standards. Fares start at 82 cents (3 dirhams), but beware the $5.48 (20-dirham) surcharge from the airport. Drivers are generally honest and, like most people you’ll meet, speak good English.

Another option is a seat on the double-decker buses operated by Big Bus Tours. The hop-on, hop-off tickets are not cheap — a one-day pass costs $60 (220 dirhams) for adults and $27 (99 dirhams) for kids — but the tours are an efficient way to see the sprawling city’s highlights.

Historical sites and museums

Dubai is rightly known as an unabashedly modern city of gleaming high-rises and extravagant shopping malls. That makes its rare historical sites all the more special.

Start your visit at the Dubai Museum, housed in the renovated Al Fahidi Fort in the Bur Dubai district. Exhibits depict activities such as pearl diving and date farming that shaped life in the region before the discovery of oil. Tickets are a bargain at 82 cents (3 dirhams) for adults and 27 cents (1 dirham) for kids.

On the Deira side, head to the colorful old souk (market). Follow your nose first to the spice market, where you’ll find great deals on saffron as well as non-edible aromatics like frankincense. Continue to the covered gold souk. It’s worth a visit just to ogle the wares. If you are buying, ignore the touts at the market’s entrance and be sure to haggle hard once inside. For more read here.

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