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Dubai on a budget

Thursday, April 24, 2008
Flashy, fun and surreal, Dubai is certainly the most ostentatious of the seven-city states of the United Arab Emirates. The once-tranquil place of coral and gypsum houses built by Persian traders and the palm-frond houses of the Bedouin, is now a place of extravagant skyscrapers.

Dubai is over the top. It offers seven-star hotels, indoor snow skiing and artificial palm tree-shaped islands. It has sun, sand, fabulous shopping and an award-winning international airline. If it runs out of coastline for new hotels, they just build vast artificial islands with brand new beachfronts. It's breathtaking.

Despite all this, you don't have to have the wealth of a sheikh to enjoy Dubai. Away from the glitzy hotels and shopping malls crammed with designer clothing and gold, there is another world. In-the-know locals and expats have their fun in cheap cafés, bars and bargain bazaars.

The Basta Art Café has a shady courtyard and is an enjoyable place to eat and linger. Décor is in earthy shades and food is served on locally made chunky plates. The café is a delightful oasis in an 80 year-old-building, surrounded by fast-food outlets, banks, shiny shops and neon lights.

Diners enjoy jacket potatoes with delicious fillings, baguettes, sandwiches, soup and salad for very reasonable prices. It has a gift shop selling locally created items.

Karama Shopping Centre is a colourful, noisy treasure-trove of fantastic bargains, dubious designer products and a lot of tat. It's an experience not to be missed, with something for everyone at unbeatable prices: clothing, accessories, furniture, toys and souvenirs. A shisha — a popular local water pipe — makes an interesting holiday purchase.

For evening entertainment, visit the upmarket Boudoir Club in the Dubai Marine Beach Resort. It has been decorated in the French Renaissance style and is bursting with solid furnishings, oil paintings and lots of velvet. Very Moulin Rouge! There are bowls of magnificent roses everywhere and there is not a squeak of Dubai-influenced décor to be seen.

The dinner menu leans towards fish and spicy Oriental food, exquisitely prepared. And when that ends at 11pm, the club turns into a lounge serving exotic cocktails and people hit the dance floor. Ladies receive free cocktails on Wednesday and Thursday nights and on Tuesdays, free champagne flows.

Forty years ago, Dubai had just three hotels. Now it has more than 400. The sudden growth resulted in a flurry of accommodation aimed at the top end of the market but developers realised there was a large gap for more affordable hotels, and the Ibis fills that hole.

Hotel Ibis World Trade Centre Dubai is a funky and stylish hotel on the Sheikh Zayed strip and offers great value. It has 210 comfortable rooms, two restaurants and bars and offers an airport shuttle service.

The hotel is linked to the International Exhibition Centre and Convention Centre of Dubai and is the biggest international complex in the Middle East.

To comply with religious law, UAE hotels may require that couples sharing a room present a marriage certificate upon check-in. To prevent any problems, we suggest you take along a copy of your marriage certificate.

Taxis are the most convenient way to get around Dubai and since the meter system was introduced, they are surprisingly cheap. Always try to hop into a ''normal'' taxi — rather than one that operate from big hotels with no meter. They are more expensive.

Drivers enjoy a tip, of course, but it's a good idea to have coins and small notes with you if you don't wish to tip.

Don't forget to visit one of the many souks for an authentic kaftan!


United Arab Emirates


Basta Art Café breakfast or lunch can cost under $10. Jacket potatoes are around $15 and sandwich, salad and coffee is around $12.

Boudoir Club serves dinner between 7:30pm and 11pm.

Ibis Hotel rooms start at $120 a night.

A 20-minute taxi ride will cost around $5. City Taxi Service vans pick up and drop off for a flat fee of around $1.55.

Emirates has flights to Dubai.

Fares from:

  • Perth $2396
  • Melbourne $2671
  • Brisbane $2680
  • Sydney $2689
  • Adelaide $3255
  • Darwin $3688

Valid for travel until March 31, 2009. Conditions apply.

Prices correct at April 24, 2008

For further information

Basta Art Café
Bur Dubai
Ph: +971 4 353 5071

Karama Shopping Centre
P.O Box 15709
Ph: +971 4 337 4499

Boudoir Club
Dubai Marine Beach Resort & Spa
Ph: +971 1 4345 5995

Hotel Ibis World Trade Centre Dubai
PO Box 9544
Sheikh Zayed Road
Ph: +971 4/3324444

Dubai taxi companies:
Cars Taxis Ph: +971 269 3344
Dubai Transport Company
Ph: +971 208 0808
Metro Taxis Ph: +971 267 3222
National Taxis Ph: +971 339 0002

Ph: 1300 303 777 Basta Art Café’s secret recipe The owner of the café divulged the ingredients of this delicious and refreshing drink for the very first time. Natalie loved it — you might too!

Cut three lemons and two limes into small pieces, throw in some torn mint leaves, a little sugar syrup and crushed ice.

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