The desert playground of Dubai is a bit of an enigma. It’s part of the Muslim world, yet has a nightlife that rivals Sin City. It’s dripping with money, yet is built by impoverished slave labor. Middle-east and western values collide in this eclectic city of extremes. Many foreigners who visit are impressed by its modern beauty and enchanted by its vestiges of old world charm. Others are are offended by its culture of excess and overwhelmed by its striking contrasts. Dubai is certainly not for everyone, but for adventurous travelers who thrill at stepping out of their comfort zone, it presents a luxurious cosmopolitan hub like no other. Here are a few mind-blowing facts about Dubai that will either intrigue you to go there or compel you to stay away.
1. It’s Not All About Oil
You may be surprised to learn that oil industry comprises only 6% of Dubai’s economy. Tourism and real estate are the real money drivers here.
2. They Don’t Call it the “City of Gold” for Nothing
In 2013, almost 40% of the world’s physical gold traded in Dubai, almost $75 billion worth weighing 2,250 tonnes. The city has over 800 jewelry retailers, the dazzling Gold Souq being a major center for this. The seven-star luxury Burj Al Arab hotel has 1,790 square meters of 24-carat gold leaf covering its interior. The Raffles Dubai spa offers gold-leaf facial treatments. You can even buy gold bars from vending machines in Dubai. What’s next, streets paved with gold? Not quite, but a $7.5 million solid gold Lamborghini Aventado was showcased at the Dubai Auto Show a few years back.
3. Tennis Anyone?
You’ve probably heard about the indoor ski hill and snow park in the Mall of the Emirates, but did you know the world’s highest tennis court is located in Dubai? The circular roof of the uber-luxurious Burj Al Arab hotel, usually used as a helipad, has also been used as a crazy sky-high tennis court. In fact, Andre Agassi and Roger Federer once played an edgy exhibition match on its vertigo-inducing surface. Glad neither of them went for that long shot.
4.Golfing in the Desert Takes a Ridiculous Amount of Water
Even though its located in an infernally hot desert, Dubai boasts over 20 golf courses. Some are considered among the world’s best, including the Majlis at the Emirates Club and the Greg Norman designed links at Jumeirah Golf Estates. Apparently, it takes about 4,000,000 gallons of water a day to keep the Majlis’ greens green. Makes you think, maybe golf shouldn’t be encouraged as a desert sport.
5. Their Camel Races Have Robot Jockeys!
A more appropriate desert sport is camel racing. Traditionally, the animals were ridden by small children, as camel backs can only support so much weight. However, human rights activists rightly kicked up a fuss about the dangers of camel racing for exploited youngsters. So, Dubai’s ingenious solution was to develop kid-sized robots to ride in their multi-million dollar camel racing tournaments. Each robot can cost anywhere from US$300 to $10,000.
6. Maybe He Should Wear a Burka
A man from Dubai was deported from Saudia Arabia in 2013. His crime? Being “too handsome”. Yep, he was just deemed too sexy for the local women to handle, so they sent him back to where he came from for their own good. The authorities thought Omar Borkan Al Gala might corrupt local women with his smouldering hotness when he was spotted attending the Janadriyah Festival. Could “bro-kas” be the next big thing in Islamic fashion?
7. Exotic Pets are a Status Symbol Here
It’s not unheard of to see a cheetah in the front seat of a passing car in Dubai. The UAE is cracking down on this due to pressure from animal rights activists, but owning creatures like white lions, white tigers, black jaguars and cheetahs is a sure indicator of extreme wealth, bravery and bragging rights, so it’s an ongoing issue.
8. Don’t Try to Mail a Letter to Dubai
Dubai has no standard address system, no zip codes and no area codes. Its rapid growth has occurred faster than a postal system could be established. People draw maps and write out instructions like “turn left at the white mosque, look for a blue door” to explain where they live. Most correspondence is sent to office PO boxes. Even tourists should ensure they have a detailed map, unless they’re staying at one of the well-known landmark hotels.
9. There Aren’t Too Many Locals Here
There are over 2 million people residing in Dubai, but Emirati citizens make up less than 15% of the population. The majority are expats and migrant workers from all corners of the world. Most of them are Asians, primarily from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and the Philippines, many of them brought in for temporary construction labor and live in squalid conditions. Western nationals make up about a tenth of the local population, many of them living the good life in high-paying tax-free jobs. The class divide among these various factions is extreme.
10. The Crime Rate Is Supposedly Zero
Well, some petty and white collar crimes do happen, but because of the strict penalties of Muslim law, people watch their step here. Violent crime is extremely rare, and the zero-tolerance policy on drugs keeps that element (mostly) out the equation. Foreign residents and tourists know they’ll be deported or imprisoned for committing any crime in Dubai. For that reason, it’s considered one of the safest cities in the world, a fact they like to promote. True to their over-the-top style, Dubai police cars include Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Aston Martins and Bentleys in their fleet. Don’t even think about speeding here, as you can’t outrun these supercars.
11. They Know How to Chill Out in Dubai
Life in this desert hotspot couldn’t sustain without significant engineering feats to cool things down. Millions of liters of water are pumped around the building and skyscrapers to work their cooling systems. With outdoor temperatures that can soar to 120 degrees, consider these essential life support systems. The bus stops are air conditioned pods, and there’s even a beach with refrigerated sand to keep their guests comfortable. There are plans to build a 45 million square foot indoor temperature controlled city-within-a-city in Dubai. The state-of-the-art project aims to be sustainable, efficient and environmentally friendly. Sounds like a colossal feat, but if anyone has the deep pockets to do it, its the UAE.
12. It’s a City of Superlatives
Dubai spares no extravagance or expense to achieve its superlative status. It boasts the world’s tallest man made structure, the Burj Khalifa. At a height of 2,717 feet, this skyscraper also lays claim to the world’s highest restaurant, highest outdoor observation deck, highest nightclub and highest mosque. Dubai’s Terminal 3 is the largest airport terminal anywhere. The Dubai Mall is the biggest mall in the world, and inside is the largest aquarium ever. The JW Marriott Marquis Dubai is the tallest hotel on the planet. One gets the feeling that if any other country tries to outdo Dubai, they will find a way to make something bigger, better and more badass just to top them.
13. There’s a Whole Lot of Construction Going On
The global recession hit Dubai a few years back, but the construction boom seems to be back on. It is estimated that 20% of the world’s cranes are operating in Dubai. It’s hard to snap a good shot of the city’s stunning skyline without a clutter of cranes in there.
14. Dubai Loves Crazy Theme Parks
Dubai has a new 20th Century Fox theme park opening in 2018 with attractions based on a diverse array of popular entertainment like Sons of Anarchy, Aliens, Ice Age, The Simpsons, Planet of the Apes and Titanic. It will offer motion theater simulators to create immersive experiences so you, too, can feel like you’re about to die on a sinking ship. Can’t even imagine what the Sons of Anarchy thrill will entail.