Middle East

What it's really like to live in Dubai

Dubai, by far the best known of the United Arab Emirates’ seven states, is a popular destination for Brits dreaming of a fresh start and an escape from dark dreary winter days. And for good reason: year round sunshine, tax-free salaries – as job adverts go, it’s an attractive one.

But what is it really like to live in the ‘sandpit’? Our former expat spills the beans…

Read the article here: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/expat/before-you-go/really-like-live-dubai-expat-westerner/

Dubai is an Islamic state, even if it isn’t quite how you’d envisage Arabia

Dubai is often described as Las Vegas without the casinos but, scratch beneath the surface, and you’ll find it’s nothing like that other world-famous desert-city destination. For while the emirate may outwardly seem as ‘western’ as anywhere, it’s also a police state where a hard-line interpretation of Shariah law can land expats in jail for acts that few would even dream were illegal.
I was out in Dubai during the Michelle Palmer and Vince Accor furore (the British duo who discovered that sex on the beach isn't a cocktail, but a way to end up in jail). Perhaps you’d expect sex in public to lead to arrest but acts as innocous as kissing or simply holding hands outside of your home, can land you in jail in Dubai.
Elsewhere too many former colleagues and comrades to mention had brushes with the law for dancing in public, swearing (the F-word “disgraces the honour or the modesty” of a person, according to Article 373 of the UAE Penal Code), being inebriated, promoting a charity, posting anything anti-government on social media, being gay or living with a member of the opposite sex. Case in point? I flat-shared with a Kiwi chap called Guy who had no choice but to pass me off as his ‘cousin’ during my tenancy,  because the Dubai authorities couldn’t comprehend that was possible for different sexes to live together if they weren’t family.

Change is the only constant
Change is the only constant in Dubai and this commitment to change is reflected in the dazzling skyline. The world’s current tallest building, the needle thin Burj Khalifa, was still being built during my Dubai days. Fast forward to 2019 and it soars 2,716m into the sky, not that the emirate’s leader Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum is content to rest on his laurels: construction is well underway on the Dubai Creek Tower which will become the world’s tallest tower and tallest man-made structure upon completion in 2020.
Factor in the world’s second largest shopping mall, the $20 billion Dubai Mall that’s home to an Olympic-size ice-skating rink, a virtual-reality theme park and an aquarium, and you’ll need to be prepared to hear the phrase “the world's biggest” on a daily basis.
“If you build it, they will come” is a line that works just as well for the horseracing-mad Sheikh Mo as it did for Kevin Costner's character in Field of Dreams.

Living your best life
I touched down in Dubai having grown tired of the daily grind of London life – of cramming myself onto the tube to get to work, of sharing a bathroom with four strangers, of being permanently skint and stressed – to discover that living in the desert city is incredibly easy.
Friendly petrol pump attendants filled up my car, supermarket assistants bagged my shopping with a smile and, instead of waiting for a night bus home in the cold, I’d hop in a ridiculously cheap taxi after a night on the town. Weekends meanwhile were spent brunching or beachin’ it with friends who knew what it was like to start over.
Dubai isn’t only a convenient destination, it’s also an incredibly safe one – so much so that my housemates and I would happily leave the door to the rented villa we shared unlocked, reassured (and alarmed in equal measure) by the presence of closed circuit TVs on every corner of the city.

The city has a traditional side
You’d be forgiven for thinking Dubai is all about skyscrapers and super-sized shopping malls but you’d be wrong. Dig underneath all the glitz, glamour and gold and you’ll discover historical sites such as Al Bastakia and the creek – arguably the heartbeat of Dubai. Here I used to watch dhows (traditional Arab sailing boats) weave their way across the water, as they have done for centuries.
I also enjoyed strolling through the souks (Arabic market places) browsing and bartering for everything from juicy dates and Indian sweets to Moroccan slippers, silver trinkets and colourful scarves (shopping malls and cinemas are cold owing to Arctic air conditioning levels, so you’ll need a cover-up).

Dubai also has a dark face
The world’s image of Dubai is of five- star hotels and indoor ski resorts, a place where – as Sheikh Mo once said – “the word impossible doesn't exist”. That’s all very admirable but less laudable is the way in which the migrant workers, who helped transform Dubai from a sleepy fishing village into a futuristic city, are treated.
A large percentage typically arrive in the UAE deep in debt, having paid employment recruiters (who promised them the Dubai dream of great jobs and accomodation) substantial fees for work visas and plane tickets. On arrival, their passports are confiscated (despite this being illegal) by the construction company they are working for and they are forced to toil 14 hour days in the desert heat – which can hit 55 degrees in summer (when western tourists are advised to stay inside). At the end of their shift, the workers who build Dubai are then bussed to cramped labour camps on the edge of town, out of sight of the tourists. For the foreign migrants who are conned into coming and unable – without their passports and promised wage – to leave, Dubai isn’t heaven: it’s hell.

Money matters
Yes the words “tax-free salary” sound appealing on paper to most westerners but, if you work in a mid level job, you won’t have as much spare money as you think. As a writer on Time Out, I earned approximately 12,000 dirhams (£2,645) a month which is more than a similar position pays in the UK but certainly not life changing – especially when you consider that rent has to be paid annually (and not monthly) and you’ll probably want/need to fly back to the Motherland once a year. All of which means it’s not unusual for expats to start their Dubai days in debt (a criminal offence).
That’s not to say Dubai isn’t an attractive place to work for sun-starved Brits but the days of lucrative British expat contracts – when companies offered annual return flights home, all expenses paid accommodation and covered shipping costs etc – are long gone.

It’s a proper melting pot
Dubai might be a favourite holiday haunt of footballers and their wives but happily the city’s residents are a much more diverse crew.
Dubai prides itself on its “melting pot” of cultures and it’s not a myth. At various stages I lived with Antipodeans, Egyptians and Filipinos before being taken, by a Bangladeshi born taxi driver, to work – where I’d mix with colleagues from Lebanon, South Africa, Syria, Jordan, Canada and more. Make no mistake: nearly all nationalities are represented in Dubai making it one of the world's most culturally diverse destinations. Very few places on the planet open their arms to so many.

But you can’t stay
If I had a dirham for every time I met a newbie western expat who insisted that they were “only staying for a year”, I’d be a rich woman. The 24/7 sunshine (nobody ever misses the dismal British weather) and sheer convenience ensures that one year turns into two and so it begins… A caveat: don’t get too comfortable. If you lose your job (as many of my friends did during the financial crash of 2008), you’ll have to exit the emirate within 30 days. Reaching retirement age? The government recently announced a visa programme for people aged 55 and over whereby applicants can be granted a five-year residency with the possibility of renewal – providing that is, you’re able to prove you have savings of at least one million dirham (£220,409) or Dubai properties worth at least 2,000,000 dirham (£440,819). There’s no alternative but to leave which is what my friends the D’Souza family, who had called the emirate home for some 30 years, were forced to do.
Now back in India, Mark D’Souza tells me that he enjoyed certain parts of his Dubai expat experience and will always be grateful for the employment opportunities that didn’t exist at the time back home, he is in no rush to return to the “adult Disneyland that’s riddled with double standards.”
Having escaped the emirate’s claws myself, I know exactly what Mark means. In Dubai, not everything is as it seems.

The dark side of Dubai

There’s another side to the City of Gold, says Kaye Holland

The festive season is upon us and apparently an ever growing number of Brits are opting to spend Christmas abroad in Dubai, the UAE emirate that enjoys temperatures in the mid 20s during December.

I can understand the desire to spend Christmas cutting lose in the kingdom of bling but would exercise caution: Dubai is after all an Islamic state, even if it isn’t quite how you’d envisage Arabia.

And this writer should know, having moved to Dubai for a couple of years back in 2005: I was 25, craving adventure – and an escape from dark, dreary winters. I was out there when Brits, Michelle Palmer and Vince Accor, found themselves facing jail after police caught the pair bonking on a beach following a boozy Friday brunch but, as sex on the beach most definitely wasn’t on my agenda, assumed I’d be absolutely fine.

It didn’t take me long to discover that while on the one hand the emirate is as urban and western as anywhere (not for nothing is Dubai described as the ‘Las Vegas of the Middle East’), it was (and is) simultaneously nothing short of a police state where a hard-line interpretation of Shariah law often lands tourists and expats alike in jail for acts that few would even dream were illegal.

Case in point? I refer to Mathew Hedges, the 31 year old PHD student who was jailed for life for “spying on the UAE” after a hearing lasting less than five minutes (fortunately this was over turned last week). Then there’s the case of British dentist Ellie Hollman who, together with her four year old daughter Bibi, was detained in an airport detention centre for three days during summer 2018 for having had the audacity to drink a glass of wine on an Emirates flight.

Or, from my own experience, the boozy brunches that take place in Dubai’s swanky hotel each and every Friday and are positively encouraged (Fridays are all about one thing in Dubai: brunch). Just, afterwards, when inebriated, don’t attempt to walk or take a taxi home for it’s a crime to be drunk in public in the emirate.

The sun kissed state (and indeed the other six emirates that make up the UAE) also deem homosexual acts unlawful. Even seemingly innocuous films such as the Adam Sandler vehicle I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry were banned by censors (censorship is alive and well) while I was living in in the desert.

Meanwhile I flat-shared–first with a British chap called James and later with a Kiwi, Guy, both of whom had to pass me off as their cousin during my tenancy because the authorities  could’t comprehend that it was possible for different sexes to live together if they weren’t family.

Posting anything anti-UAE or anti-government on social media, swearing in public, protesting or dancing (yes really) in public, buying, taking or selling drugs, writing a cheque that bounces, smoking electronic cigarettes and kissing or holding hands in public can also all land you in (scalding) hot water in contradictory Dubai.

Bottom line? Scratch beneath the shiny surface – the skyscrapers, colossal shopping malls and sumptuous hotels and you’ll find that, in reality, Dubai is nothing like that other world-famous desert city destination.

Dubai and Las Vegas may both extend a welcome as warm as the weather to tourists but, unlike the latter, gambling is frowned upon in Sheikh Mo’s strict Muslim state.

Brits looking for a looking for a hedonistic week away would do well to remember that, when booking their Christmas holiday.

Ras Al Khaimah’s best hotel villas

Sumptuous spas, first class restaurants, bedrooms bigger than your London flat, conscientious concierges – yes, there’s a lot to love about luxury hotels.

However if you want to be able to wander to the kitchen for a midnight snack, connect your iPods to the central sound system or relax by a pool without being bothered by the chatter and splash of other guests, then a hotel villa is invariably the answer.

Happily for anyone headed to Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) to make the most of the mountains, deserts, pristine white-sand beaches and some of the best hiking in the Middle East, the UAE’s northern most emirate is home to a handful of hotel villas just begging to be booked.

And fortunately for you, dear reader, Best in Travel has done the hard-work. Here we round up RAK’s best hotel villas – just don’t forget to send us a postcard…


Ras Al Khaimah, Al Hamra Beach Villas
The Ritz-Carlton Ras Al Khaimah, Al Hamra Beach – the second luxury resort for The Ritz-Carlton brand in Ras Al Khaimah – features 32 luxurious tented villas, each with its own pool and direct beach access, offering comfort and privacy complemented by breathtaking views and indulgent amenities.
Guests can choose from two types of villas. The Al Naseem Villas feature local design elements inspired by traditional Bedouin architecture and offer an elevated level of seclusion, while the Al Bahar Villas include open views and private beachfront access. Both are a tonic for trammelled travellers.

The Ritz-Carlton Ras Al Khaimah, Al Wadi Desert
Set in the midst of 500 acres of desert in the northern part of Ras Al Khaimah, the resort has 101 villas, spread across the protected Al Wadi Nature reserve.
Each of the stand-alone villas features a large outdoor furnished terrace with private infinity pool, some with steps directly down to the dunes, while others are more enclosed for those seeking extra privacy.
Inside, guests can hunker down in front of the huge television in the living room, snuggle up in a spacious bed or take a bath with Asprey amenities in a stand alone tub so large you’ll never want to get out.
Anyone opting for a tented villa, should expect Ia glass-enclosed rain shower,  free-standing tub with views out to the pool and desert dunes and a dressing room with double wardrobes. Tempted? You should be.

The Cove Rotana
Welcome to The Cove Rotana – Rotana’s first property in the emirate that everyone is talking about.
The resort – which is located on an idyllic water inlet on the Ras Al Khaimah beachfront overlooking the Arabian Gulf with 600m of pristine beach – offers  78 one, two and three bedroom villas that are perfect for those who want to enjoy all the privacy and intimacy of a villa experience while still being able to take advantage of the hotel service. 
All villas are furnished in contemporary Arabic styles and offer every comfort and amenity that a discerning traveller would expect.https://www.rotana.com/rotanahotelandresorts/unitedarabemirates/rasalkhaimah/thecoverotanaresort/accommodation/villas

Jannah Resort & Villas Ras Al Khaimah
Ideally located in Al Mina, Ras Al Khaimah, just a 45-minute drive from Dubai International Airport, Jannah’s villas consists of 4 four-bedroom beachfront villas boasting temperature-controlled private pools and private gardens that are only steps away from the beach.
No need for four rooms? There’s also 15 three-bedroom garden-view villas and 5 three-bedroom pool-view villas, situated a stone’s throw from the shoreline, with 348 square meters of space. Stay a little while and you may never want to leave…


Anantara Mina Al Arab Ras Al Khaimah Resort
RAK’s hotel villa scene has never been shinier, smarter or more exciting than it is right now, thanks to a slew of stylish openings that have dramatically changed the hitherto forgotten emirate.
But the upcoming opening we’re most excited about is Anantara Mina Al Arab Ras Al Khaimah Resort. Set to open in 2020 – just two short years, people – the resort will feature the first Maldives-inspired overwater villas of their kind in the emirate and embrace guests in authentic luxury. We can’t wait.

What to see and do in Ras Al Khaimah

Tucked away away at the northern tip of the UAE lies the country’s most underrated emirate, Ras Al Khaimah.

You won’t find the gargantuan skyscrapers, shopping malls and bars that dominate Dubai and Abu Dhabi but you will be struck by a cultural authenticity that is hard to find in the other emirates.

Make no mistake: Ras Al Khaimah abounds in archaeological sites, historical structures and natural beauty – from mountains to deserts and pristine white-sand beaches.

Factor in year-round sunshine, first class resorts and friendly locals –  and you have an up and coming UAE holiday destination.

Discover the top 10 things to do and see in Ras Al-Khaimah with our handy guide…

The National Museum of Ras Al Khaimah
Located in the western part of Ras Al Khaimah city in a fort that was the residence of the ruling family until the early 1960s, The National Museum houses a collection of archaeological and ethnological artefacts. Visitors will learn about architecture, pearl diving, date agriculture, farming and fishing in the various galleries. 


Scaling the Hajar Heights
The spectacular Hajar Mountains in the eastern part of the emirate, were formed over 70 million years ago and stand nearly 2,000 metres above sea level. 
The mountain range offers breath-taking scenery and a welcome respite from the heat of the beach resorts, with temperatures around 10 degrees cooler than sea level. For those who wish to spend the night under the stars, there are a number of established camping spots or, to really get into the Arabian spirit, why not camp Bedouin-style in some remote wadis?


Just desert
No visit to Ras Al Khaimah is complete without taking a trip into the desert – the true heart of Arabia.
Virtually every tour operator offers a half or full day desert safari tour: after dune driving you can have your hands henna’ed, then make like Lawrence of Arabia and ride a camel, before enjoying a desert sunset, Arabic barbecue and a bit of belly dancing.

Get wet
Seven tenths of the world is covered in water and as satirist Dave Barry once quipped: “Staying on top of the water is like standing outside the circus tent.”
As enjoyable as activities above the water are, it’s what lies beneath that is of real interest – particularly in Ras Al Khaimah, arguably the finest emirate in the UAE for snorkelling, diving and exploring the marine life.
Adrenaline junkies will also be in seventh heaven:  jet-skiing, fly-boarding, wake-boarding, parasailing and banana boat rides are all on offer along the 64km coastline.

Explore Jazirat Al Hamra Fishing Village
This abandoned fishing village, just outside of Ras Al Khaimah, is one of the oldest and best preserved coastal villages in the UAE (with roots dating back to the 16th century) and serves as a reminder of life before the oil boom. One caveat: watch out for ghosts – some of the abandoned buildings are believed to be haunted.

Al Marjan Island
Al Marjan, a series of four connected man-made islands, is located in the west of Ras Al Khaimah. Extending a vast 4.5km into the sea, the island covers an area of 2.7 million square metres. With waterfront homes, quality hotels and resorts, marinas, private resident beaches, leisure, retail and recreational facilities, this ambitious development represents the direction in which RAK is headed.

Tee time
Most visitors flock to Ras Al Khaimah to fly and flop but the underrated emirate is also a great destination for golfers, thanks its enviable climate and world class golf courses including Al Hamra Golf Club. Designed by renowned golf course architect, Peter Harradine, the course incorporates both open water lagoons and desert landscapes resulting in a stunning par 72 championship course – measuring 7,325 yards at full length

Discover Dhayah Fort
This 16th-century mud-brick fort was built in a strategic hilltop position facing the Gulf to defend the region from attack by the British and was the last holdout, before eventually falling in December 1819.
More recently it housed the royal family until 1964 when, following a very short period as a local prison, it opened to the general public as a place to celebrate Emirati history.

Zip lining
A world record-breaking zip line measuring 2.83km – equivalent to over 28 football pitches – and reaching speeds close to 150km per hour is the latest addition to Ras Al Khaimah’s claim to be the adventure capital of the Middle East.
Via Ferrata – which means iron street/path in Italian –  includes three courses along the rocky facades of Jebel Jais, aka the UAE’s highest mountain.
If you think you have what it take, secure your spot at www.jebeljais.ae/book-now/

Park life
Opened in the 1990s, Saqr Park  is the largest public park in Ras Al Khaimah, and is known for its vast areas of greenery. It is the perfect spot for big kids and little kids alike to relax and unwind featuring, as it does, green spaces, playgrounds and other facilities.

The worldwide voting window for the Middle East is now open!

2 February 2018, London, UK

Industry insiders, consumers and stakeholders from around the world are invited to cast their votes for the organisations in the Middle East that they consider the very best in the business, ahead of World Travel Awards Middle East Gala Ceremony 

Ras Al Khaimah – one of the seven emirates that make up the UAE – will host World Travel Awards’ much anticipated Middle East Gala Ceremony on 19th April 2018.

It will be the first time that World Travel Awards has visited the UAE’s most northerly emirate which recently entered the global spotlight with the launch of the World’s Longest Zipline, Jebel Jais Flight, on the UAE’s highest mountain.

World Travel Awards Founder and President, Graham Cooke, said: “It will be an absolute pleasure to visit Ras Al Khaimah for the very first time. Fringed by the majestic Al Hajar Mountains amid swathes of terracotta coloured dunes, Ras Al Khaimah promises an authentic Arabian experience.

“With voting now open for our Middle East region, it’s time to make your voice heard. Recognition by World Travel Awards is rightly seen as the highest accolade in the industry, and your vote can really make a difference.

“Register for your chance to vote now.”

As part of the Grand Tour 2018, World Travel Awards will also visit Greek capital Athens, Jamaica, Hong Kong, Guayaquil in Ecuador, the South African city of Durban, and Portuguese tourism hotspot Lisbon.

For more information on World Travel Awards, please visit the official website www.worldtravelawards.com

View the post here: https://www.worldtravelawards.com/press-344