Dubai is one of the last bastions of anything - goes capitalism - a city whose wealth is based on trade, not oil - and there's no place quite like it in the Gulf.
It's well worth spending a few days wandering through the souks (markets) and along the waterfront to take in the city's atmosphere, but don't expect to find anything 'old' in Dubai.

Fortunately it's the one place in the Gulf where that hardly seems to matter. Of the UAE's seven emirates, Dubai boasts the highest international profile of all the Gulf cities, hosting world-class golf and tennis tournaments, horse racing and desert rallies.

It even brought the Miss World pageant to the Gulf in 1995. Dubai's wealth comes from the re-export trade: its merchants import goods and then re-export them rather than peddling them at home.

Dubai's trade is now boosting, and the gold has been replaced by consumer goods, which are trans-shipped to the Indian Subcontinent and the rest of the Arabian Peninsula; it also has its own oil reserves.

Dubai is really two towns: Deira to the north-east, and Dubai to the south-west. They are separated by the Creek (al-khor), an inlet of the Gulf.
The city centre is actually in Deira, and most of the budget hotels are located in Deira's souk. The best way to start exploring Dubai is to hire an abra, for a boat ride along the Creek. It's also interesting to walk along the docks on the Deira side of the Creek, where shows bound for ports ranging from Aden to Mumbai (Bombay) load and unload their cargo.

The Dubai Museum occupies the Al-Fahaidi Fort, built in the early 19th century on the Dubai side of the Creek. The fort is thought to be the oldest building in Dubai and for many years it was both the residence of Dubai's rulers and the seat of government.
The museum contains displays on the history of Dubai, Bedouin life, seafaring, flora and fauna, weaponry, Emirati dances, musical instruments and local archaeology. The slick multimedia presentation on the city is well worth catching and includes a re-creation of the Dubai souk as it looked in the 1950s. If you want to see what the city looks like today, head 4km south to the viewing gallery on the 37th floor of the World Trade Centre. Beyond the multimedia displays, not much remains of the city's old covered souks, though there are remnants just east of Dubai's and just north of Deira's abra docks; both have wind towers (the Gulf's unique architectural form of non-electrical air-conditioning) nearby. The highlight of the city's markets is Deira's gold souk, just north-west of the abra dock. It's a fitting testament to the city's smuggling past, and even seasoned veterans of Middle Eastern gold markets are blown away by the scale of the souk, the largest such market in Arabia.

If you're in Dubai to indulge in some serious shopping, you're in mall heaven. One of these beasts opens every year and it's always bigger and flashier than the last. Cheap electronics can be found in the Beniyas Square area of Deira, not far from the covered souk. Nightlife is centred around the restaurants, bars and discos in the upmarket hotels.

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