Friday, Oct. 10, 2008

5. Burj Al Arab

Truth is, there's no such thing as a seven-star establishment; you can't officially go higher than five. The Burj Al Arab's seven-star rating may be an urban myth that got out of hand, but nothing dominates the Dubai skyline and tourists' imagination quite like it. It's the world's tallest hotel, and probably its least subtle — gold-leaf is applied as liberally as undercoat, there's a fleet of white Rolls Royces on the forecourt and dancing fountains in the foyer, and fireworks launch from the bridge to announce the arrival of VVIPs (very important doesn't cut it here) — but nobody ever came to Dubai in search of understatement. The only way to get inside without paying for a room is to book a table at one of the hotel's costly eateries. Al Muntaha is on the top floor but its bafflingly bright interior prevents you from seeing the views outside; Al Mahara is an expensive fish restaurant with an aquarium larger than most people's apartments; and Sahn Eddar serves afternoon tea. Best of the lot is the beach-based Majlis Al Bahar. From here you can admire the Burj's impressive exterior (the hotel's beauty is on the outside) before instructing the maître d' that you'll be taking your nightcap in the top-floor cocktail bar, where you can gaze at the city's garishness.