Mayang and Will's Travels - Dubai, United Arab Emirates, March 2007.

In March 2007, on the way back to UK from Malaysia, we stopped in Dubai, one of the United Arab Emirates, for several days.  Dubai is a city of incredible growth, second only to Shanghai for the pace of development (the city will be about 3x bigger by 2015).  There's tall buildings popping up everywhere, half of them still under construction, with many more planned.

Some of the buildings look like they were designed by Science fiction artists rather than architects!

With the availability of cheap petrol comes a lot of big vehicles in Dubai.  This truck is not especially big for Dubai, but it's paint job is rather unusual!

There are some more traditional areas, such as the 'creek' which is the heart of the old city.  You can cross the creek quickly and efficiently on one of these boats, they leave every 2 or 3 minutes to the other side.

In the older areas you can eat Indian food very cheaply, because there are a large number of Indians living in Dubai (as well as a lot of Westerners, in fact Arabs are now in the minority).  We got a drink each, a snack, and a takeaway to eat the next day at the "Karachi Darbar" for only about DH24 (£3).  Elsewhere you can easily pay the same for just a coffee at Starbucks or Costa Coffee.

We visited the various souks (traditional markets), although we arrived a bit early for the gold and silver souk.  This shop doesn't look very fantastic to me, maybe it is inside though!

We wanted to get out of the city and see the desert.  Where better to see the desert than from a hot air balloon?  We arrived very early (just before sunrise) to our starting point, about 90 minutes' drive from Dubai.  At first they were just inflating the balloons with giants fans.

Then it was time to add some gas to warm up the air.

Soon we were taking off in our balloon, with the second balloon just about to follow us.

We rose quickly over some large sand dunes.  These sand dunes are a favourite place for the locals to come and test their 4-wheel-drives!

The desert is not completely empty.  There a few people who still prefer to live in the desert living a more traditional way of life.  They still grow their own food, but they do enjoy the modern convenience of air conditioning, useful in the summer when the daytime temperature rises to 40 or even 45 degrees C, and the night-time only goes down to 30 degrees.

A small herd of goats ran from the balloon as we came down lower towards our landing.

The wind speed was quite high so we had a bumpy landing, with the balloon basket ending up on its side.  Everybody laughed with relief as we clambered out safely.

I went to investigate the landing point, and it was clear that the balloon basket had bounced and dragged for a long way before coming to a halt near the top of a small sand dune.

Next day we went to a shopping mall and found that we had arrived at Dubai's famous indoor skiing centre.  Locals and expats alike love to ski in Dubai.  It may be 30 degrees outside (it's still only early spring) but it's minus 5 in the ski hall.

In the mall but outside the ski area, you can eat a nice dinner in the food hall whilst watching the action inside!  The ski slope is actually 400m long, what looks like the top of the slope from this picture is only a corner, the slope continues much higher around the corner!  As if this were not enough, a ski complex about 7 times bigger is planned to open around 2012.

We decided that learning to ski without the trouble of a full skiing holiday was too good to miss, so very soon we had signed up for a beginners' lesson and had got our skis and warm clothing.

Then, it was time to ski.  We only had a brief lesson so we didn't get very good, but we did learn to control our speed and some basic turns.

Next day we decided to have a walk along the coastal road.  We didn't find the giant palm shaped islands being constructed way out into the sea, but we did see the world's most luxurious hotel, the "7 star" Burj-Al-Arab.  We didn't stay there - £1000 per night for a room was a bit above our budget, and besides, we're saving money for our next trip skydiving in April!

Luckily sitting on the beach and watching the sun go down is free.  Dubai, you are a lot of fun, we'll be back soon.

All pictures are Copyright ©2007 William Owen Smith and Mayang Adnin.