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Why There's Much More to Dubai Than Just a Pretty Skyline

01/04/2015 12:28 BST | Updated 31/05/2015 10:59 BST

Racing against the sunset, we bundled into a clanging classic jeep desperate to make it to camp before sundown.

As we took the sea of sand dunes one by one, we desperately clung to the sides while trying to stop the sand flying into our eyes, as we rushed at the speed of the gazelles that were giving us chase in the desert.

Forget the opulent luxury you'd imagine when you hit Dubai, we were going back to where it all began. When Dubai was just a fishing village, before their oil was discovered.

It was do or die as our charismatic driver Eric navigated us to our camp in the middle of the Dubai desert not far from Oman.

Once there we bundled out and made it in the nick of time for sundown where we sampled sparkling apple and date juice, while a ceremonial falcon was set free into the sky to welcome us. What no booze? It wasn't that kind of gig, a clear head was needed for the adventure Platinum Heritage had planned for us, and there was no time for slackers.

At the camp we were entertained by two Arabian dance performances before we fell asleep under the stars.

Forget about Nandos, it was camel on the menu, which was interesting considering I had just ridden one for the first time.

It was a 5am start the following morning, no sooner had we wiped the sleep from our eyes we were bundled back into our jeeps and off to meet the charismatic Petr from Balloon adventures - who was to fly us 400 ft above the desert. 'If you don't lean back and bend your knees when you land, you will die. It's as simple as that,' he informs us. We quickly gained height as Petr energetically fired up the balloon. It was incredible to look down on the desert beneath us as we caught the sunrise.

As we descended, surfing above the grazing camels, oryxes, and gazelles it was time for our landing.

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Desert life

Copyright Sarah Tetteh

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An air-raising ride

Copyright Sarah Tetteh

Back to earth with a bump, it was time to join Arabian adventures and our fab tour guide Chubby to visit old Dubai.

His story is inspirational - coming from India he has been grafting in the sweltering heat to build up tourism, just to put his children through school. ' I will retire in two years and go to heaven! 'he smiled. 'I've worked hard.'

Incredibly the Emirates only make up 3 percent of the Dubai population.There's 175 different nationalities in Dubai, the highest number in the United Nations.

Steeped in history, with the scents of cumin and delicious rainbow coloured spices wafting through the air, the gold souk is one of my fave places.

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Spice of life

Copyright Sarah Tetteh

Crossing a creek in a wooden boat, we alight to the street vendors charming us by calling 'Acuanamatata, come to my shop,' and if you're fair they'll cry out 'Shakira.' Certainly memorable!

Making our transition from old Dubai to new was easy when visiting the vast madinat jumeirah. The theme of the spectacular and sprawling land is old Dubai, steeped in Arabic history with a modern twist, the Al Qasr brunch was like a catwalk show mixed with a candy shop - with an entire room dedicated to decadent desserts.

Also popular was their homemade Mexican dishes at Tortuga including the chef's own grandma's cheesy quesadilla recipe.

The party girl in me just couldn't resist checking out the venue's Pacha nightclub too, a celeb favourite just like Garden On 8, Pacha had that Ibiza vibe with it's all white rooftop decor.

The most impressive building was the Sheik Mohammed's favourite and Dubai's most famous residence Burg Al Arab.

Their Al Mahara restaurant, Oyster Shell in Arabic, had a full on floor to ceiling aquarium where beautiful sealife dances around your table, and you can propose in a special proposal room too.

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Sheik-ing things up - at Al Mahara

Copyright Sarah Tetteh

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Copyright Sarah Tetteh

On the plane home I was on full-on mummy mode watching the new Penguins of Madagascar movie which is out on dvd now. Fresh from attending the energetic launch of the Penguins Live show at Chessington world of adventures, I lapped up the vibrant tale which gives Happy Feet a run for it's money in the adventure stakes! Great Easter fun.

While Dubai offers luxury and extravagance on tap, it's worthwhile to scratch beneath the surface to explore the natural beauty of this historical land. It's good to see at the heart of what they treasure is not just a pretty skyline, but old tradition, culture and great hospitality. That's the real gem.

Getting to Dubai:

Return economy flights from Glasgow start from £466 per person with Emirates

www.emirates.com

Exploring Dubai:

Arabian Adventures city tour experience - http://www.arabian-adventures.com or visit www.visitdubai.com.