Hawaii, Bali, Thailand – they’re nice, sure. But what if you want beaches, shopping AND a desert safari? Look no further than Dubai!

Multicultural, materialistic and moving forward at a pace like no other city, Dubai is the little city-state that could. From sleepy trading port to skyscraper central, the city lives for attention and achieves it by being the very model of a tolerant Arab state in a rickety region.

Now led by the enigmatic Sheikh Mohammed, a hard taskmaster who isn’t fond of hearing la (no), this is a first-class tourist destination, known for its sun, sand and shopping.

While this leads many to either love or loathe Dubai, there’s a fair chance that those who disparage the place as being superficial haven’t left the bar of their beach resort.

Head to the Heritage Village, site of Dubai’s original fishing villages, where Emiratis enthusiastically practise their songs, dance and traditions, and you’ll see beyond the mall culture. Spend time by the Creek, watching the dhow (traditional sailing vessel) traffic and the abras (water taxis) weave along the waterway while smoking some sheesha (water pipe) and you’ll slip back in time. Wander the lanes of the Bastakiya Quarter or explore the multicultural neighbourhoods of Karama or Satwa and you’ll experience a pleasant change from the five-star foyers. Head to the desert to see Bedouin tents and traditional practices, and you’ll get a better idea of where this culture originated.

Whatever you decide to do, you’ll find Dubai a fascinating experiment and a city-state like no other on the planet.

This is an edited extract from “Dubai Encounter, 2nd edition” (c) Lonely Planet 2009.

“I went to Dubai about two years ago for two days and had a ball! It’s HOT HOT HOT but great shopping and they have fantastic desert tours there. Here are some of my pics.” Editor, Melissa xx

For more great travel advice click here!