Heading to Dubai for the kingdom of bling’s shopping festival? Hit the malls by all means but be sure to get yourself to Global Village, where you can shop and eat your way around the world…

Shopping is big business in Dubai – as much a daily event as dinner and there’s a plethora of super-sized shiny malls all dedicated to the joys of retail therapy. Take your pick from Festival City, the Mall of the Emirates (which boasts the surreal Ski Dubai) and Dubai Mall (the largest in the world with its Olympic sized ice rink and huge aquarium), to name but a few.

But while these glittering malls are some of the best in the world (and you might not even have to leave your hotel to reach them since many malls and hotels are connected), there’s more – so much more – to Dubai’s shopping scene than merely it’s mega malls. For a quintessential Arabian experience seek out the souks, but for a wonderfully quirky shopping experience, a trip to the kitsch Global Village (which coincides with the annual Dubai Shopping Festival) can’t be beaten… Now in its 15th year, Global Village ­– a treasure trove of shopping pavilions brimming with goods from all corners of the globe – continues to go from strength to strength with seemingly every country and continent desperate to be a part of the action. It’s a little off the beaten track over in Dubailand, but don’t let the distance put you off; taxis are cheap and plentiful as is parking, and any extra effort involved in getting to Global Village will be repaid…

As you stand in front of the main gates, the trick lies in deciding where to start shopping – there’s simply too much…We found ourselves gravitating towards the China pavilion. All the eyes of the world are on China right but if you can’t travel to the Middle Kingdom, rest assured that the China pavilion at Global Village more than captures the essence of the Orient. It’s a lively, buzzy place to stroll overflowing with Chinese medicines and beautiful silks. We bought several yards of gorgeous green fabric (a snip at Dhs10 per yard) from Mary which we plan on taking to the tailors and having a dress made for March’s Dubai World Cup. Mary’s work ethic is admirable – she splits her time between Global Village and her store in Satwa (a suburb in Dubai) – and hasn’t been home for nine years. We couldn’t help but wonder if Mary would recognize her homeland in the Chinese government’s ruthless drive to modernize the country and become the largest economy in the world. Talk to Mary and the other Chinese sellers though, and you won’t find anyone who’d say anything bad about Beijing. Mary’s at Global Village of course to make money, but by being part of the China pavilion, she’s simultaneously reconnecting with her roots.

After exiting China, we headed for the India pavilion. On entry, you’ll feel as though you have stumbled onto the back streets of Mumbai. An Aladdin’s cave of delights, the stalls here are dripping with vivid bags, cushion covers, and wall hangings, statues of Indian gods, CDs and DVDs so cheap it won’t hurt to take a chance on them – plus a staggering array of fabrics and silks. Mairaj, a vendor from New Delhi, informed us that saris are a popular buy – especially silk saris – and also recommended that we purchase a pashmina or two to help combat the arctic air conditioning found in most of Dubai’s lavish hotels. The rainbow-colored selection on offer – guaranteed to lift even the darkest of spirits – is soft, silky and the best bit – blissfully affordable. But it was the sparkly Aladdinesque slippers that exerted the strongest fascination for us…

Other pavilions to watch out for include Sri Lanka for spices such as cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom and black pepper. Such spices are integral to Sri Lanka cuisine and Ayurvedic tradition and are sold out of large open sacks which makes for sensory overload. The Philippines pavilion is a good bet for pretty shell chandeliers, while those looking for leather goods should make for Nepal. We rifled through Mohammad Irshad’s collection of leather belts, bags, stylish jackets and wallets like feral beasts before snapping up a dapper black wallet for less than the price of a cup of coffee in Starbucks. The Pakistan pavilion is also the place to head if you’re in the market for a carpet. We learned from Mohammed that the more knots per square inch, the greater the quality while the more intricate the detail, the more expensive it will be.

To read the second part of this story, be sure to log on to the CD-Traveller website tomorrow.

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Travel Destinations

As Beijing’s Olympic glow shows no sign of fading, CD-Traveller spoke to Sarah Keenlyside – a long-term resident in the Chinese capital – about one of the 21st century’s most exciting destinations

Name: Sarah Keenlyside
Age: 28
Occupation: Founder & CEO of Bespoke Beijing Ltd

Are you a local girl?
In the sense that I enjoy eating duck neck snacks and browsing luxury brand malls on weekends? No. But otherwise yes!

What’s it like to live in Beijing?
Wonderful at first, then it takes a bit of getting used to, then it’s wonderful again. Put simply: there’s nowhere else quite like it.

What is your favourite thing about Beijing?
The fabulous food. And the views from the top of Coal Hill in Jingshan Park – you can sit next to the huge Buddha that’s up there and contemplate the whole city stretched out before you.

Why should we visit Beijing?
Because it’s an amazing cultural experience you may only get to do once. And because you’ll be very pleasantly surprised in so many ways.

How long do we, ideally, need?
A week in Beijing is good enough, though ten days means you can really enjoy it without rushing from place to place – the city’s pretty spread out.

How can you tell locals apart from our readers?
I suspect it’s much easier to distinguish locals from tourists here than in other parts of the world. However, if all else fails, listen for the accent: the Beijing dialect is a very distinct one. People sound like they’re arguing all the time when in actual fact they’re just having a normal conversation.

Best sites?
Too many to mention! The Great Wall really is as fantastic as you hope it would be, while the 798 Art district is a relatively new must-see. It’s got a little too touristy recently but is still worth visiting to see first-hand evidence of the ‘new China’. The 1950s German Bauhaus factory buildings also make amazingly effective art galleries.

Best bites?
My personal favorites probably remain the local restaurants. Crescent Moon is a restaurant offering food from China’s far western Xinjiang province (on the border with Afghanistan and India). The owner looks a bit like Robert De Niro and they do amazing mutton kebabs, naan bread and spicy stir-fried cabbage. I didn’t realize vegetables could be so darn tasty until I tried that dish. Oh, and Peking duck at Duck de Chine – it’s the most stylish place in town to sample the famous local bird.

Top shops?
There are some great boutiques popping up all over the place. One of my current favorites is D-SATA, which sells gorgeous clutch bags and jewelry – totally glamorous but ethical as well. And Lost & Found near the Confucius Temple is a furniture freak’s paradise. It sells restored and reproduced chairs and furniture from Beijing back in the day.

Where should we stay?
Hotel G is a very sexy little hotel right now with very reasonable rates and a great location. The Opposite House is also a good bet if you want to splash out a bit – all of their rooms have their own coffee makers, unlimited free mini bar access and great Tibetan roseroot bath products. There are also a couple of new ones opening soon which we’re excited about: one’s called the Temple Hotel – set in, you guessed it, an old temple!

Any insider tips for our readers?
They’ll have to use Bespoke Beijing for that! Just kidding. Visit Jingshan Park on a Sunday morning for a wonderful cultural experience – I won’t tell you why, just go and be surprised! Also be prepared for the fact that taxi drivers don’t speak a word of English. Oh, and if you find yourself confronted with a particularly disgusting squat toilet while sightseeing, look for the nearest five-star hotel…

Anything else you want to add?
If you think China won’t be your sort of place, prepare to be wrong. Even the wimpiest friends who came to visit me have gone away raving about the country.

Thanks Sarah! To find out more about Bespoke Beijing – a Beijing based travel service offering travelers up to date insider information about Beijing’s best sights and bites – visit www.bespoke-beijing.com

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