Dubai – The Las Vegas of the Middle East

My last meal in Dubai at Trader Vic’s

It been over three weeks since I left the metropolis in the desert that had its beginnings as a small fishing village on the shores of the Persian Gulf. I look back at the pictures of all the things I tried to stuff into just a few days and I think about what someone on the ship told me when I said I was going to spend a few days in Dubai before flying home, “don’t bother, they have big malls, save your money and go to the Mall when you get back to the US”. I can’t stand people who live their life with that attitude. If I am already on the other side of the earth I plan to see, eat and drink everything I can and that’s exactly what I did (not necessarily in that order). I put in a good effort but did not even come close to seeing everything Dubai had to offer. I can blame this on the fact that there was just too much to see and hangover recovery time in the mornings didn’t help either.

Dhows ready for trade at the Dubai Creek


One thing that stuck out to me in Dubai is the constant contradictions.  On the Dubai creek,  small merchant vessel’s called dhows dock and trade or sell fish, spices, fabrics and food just as they have for centuries. The small boats are made of wood and look like old pirate ships without the mast, construction of these vessels has not changed over the years. All of this old world commerce takes place with the backdrop of one of the worlds most impressive skylines and not far from one of the worlds largest commercial shipping ports.

Dubai perpetuates a class based society and its very clear when in the port and walking the streets. The roads are littered with the most expensive cars  the world has to offer from money that has flowed into this financial hub over the years. Vanity plates are auctioned off for millions with the goal to have the lowest number on your plate down to the number one. Skyscrapers and malls adorned with high-end vendors, ice rinks, roller coaster, and even a ski slope. All of this built on the backs of what many would consider slave labor of men brought in from countries like, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka to name a few.

The tallest building in the world, Burj Khalifa


The Burj Khalif had just opened a few days before my arrival and it was amazing to see the city from that height. Amid all the glitz and glamour Dubai was suffering economic hardships and was recently bailed out by its oil rich neighbor Abu Dhabi. Part of the bailout was to have the name changed from Burj Dubai to Burj Khalifa after Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan  (now say it fast three times) the ruler of Abu Dhabi. It would seem that Dubai had fallen victim to the Skyscraper Index which shows that the worlds largest skyscrapers are completed on the eve of severe economic downturns. Think Panic of 1907 and the Singer Building and Met Life Tower in New York; 1973-74 Stock market crash and the World Trade Center and Sears Tower; Petronas Twin Towers and the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis and now Dubai and Khalifa.

In the malls you can see women in groups wearing black burkas with only their faces exposed (eyes covered by Fendi, Gucci or Prada) and walking right behind them you can see a scantily dressed group of women wearing something tight enough to be featured in a Christina Aguilera video.  Dubai has a reputation for being the Las Vegas of the Middle East and if you are looking to party you can find it here (listed as a travel choice for partying in 2008 by the New York Times). There are plenty of clubs and bars but they must be located inside a hotel due to liquor laws. To buy alcohol outside a hotel, bar or nightclub you must have a permit, I tried and found no way around this one.

While prostitution is illegal in the United Arab Emerits is its ignored in Dubai and there are thousands from all corners of the world. Dubai is no longer able to rely solely on oil profits and cater’s to wealthy, Arab, European and Western business men and tourists. All of these things take place right in the face of a highly Muslim culture that finds these activities offensive. Dubai is constantly caught in the balance of keeping its econimic base happy and not upsetting the muslim world. Despite its wild and loose reputation censorship is common and the topics of homosexuality, drugs and theory are considered taboo.

There is evidence of falconry dating back to 722BC and the sport is still alive in Dubai.


Dubai is an amazing place with a lot to take in. The food, people and activities are diverse and the nightlife is extraordinary. I don’t know if there will ever be a time in my life where I can say I sandboarded and snowboarded in the same weekend. Dubai is full of contradictions but the sparkle of the place just tells you to enjoy whatever side of it you may be standing on.

If you haven’t already, take a look back at my last two posts about Dubai to see what else I got into:

Dubai – Day One in the City of Gold

Dubai Day 2 – From the Desert to the Skyscraper

“The city of Dubai has banned the movie Charlie’s Angles because it’s “offensive to the religion of Islam.” Apparently the religion of Islam is offended by anything without a plot” – Jon Stewart

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Categories: Travel


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3 Comments on “Dubai – The Las Vegas of the Middle East”

  1. February 15, 2010 at 9:32 am #

    Women make up half of the population, more than any other political group; it is no doubt that if we start moving, we will cause a stir! Supporting each others businesses will directly affect the development in the Arab region and their economical standings.

  2. February 18, 2010 at 7:49 am #

    there is no doubt that dubai is the las vagas of Gulf. Dubai is rocking

  3. July 10, 2014 at 8:33 am #

    Reblogged this on La Buena Vida and commented:


    Here is a look back of my time in United Arab Emirates City of Dubai. After being back home in the States for a few weeks, I had a chance to fully digest the contradictions and contrasts in the few days I spent in the city. Its been a full four years since my visit to Dubai and I wonder what has changed? What I do know is that the city
    continues to grab headlines for its continued extravagant man-made islands and skyscrapers. The cities use of cheap labor under questionable conditions (largely from Asians countries) has also been a focus for many human rights organizations. Recently, the city was rated 22nd of the most expensive cities to live in the world, while also being rated the Best City to Live in the Middle East. Dubai seems like a great place to live…..if you have lots and lots of money

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