Sand skiing, a City of Gold and the fastest water rides outside the US. Damian Haarsma gives the lowdown on the best of Dubai
1 Dubai Creek
A great way to get a feel for Dubai, and to absorb the city state's ancient heritage, is to meander around the bustling docks of Dubai Creek as the sturdy dhows, or Arabian cargo ships, unload their imports from as far away as India and East Africa. Catch a taxi to Al Maktoum Bridge in the cool of early morning and wander north on the eastern side of the creek towards the old town of Deira. The piers are jam-packed with mini mountains of modern-day consumer goods, but the jostling mariners and creaking dhows still evoke a sense of Dubai's trading past dating back hundreds of years. Catch a water taxi across the river for another view of the heaving docks (50 fils, or HK$1, for a two-minute trip) or charter a small motorboat for an hour's cruise (about 50 dirham or HK$106) and photograph your reflection in the vast, curved, glass sail of the spectacular National Bank of Dubai building. Most hotels can organise a dinner cruise under the glittering skyscrapers of the creek (about 200 dirham for two hours).
2 Desert safari
As the temperature drops late in the afternoon, join one of the convoys of four-wheel drives that ferry passengers into the Arabian Desert for two hours of slipping and sliding over the monstrous dunes. The roller-coaster ride ends with a view of the sunset across the vast landscape from a Bedouin village, followed by a moonlit barbecue. Tours often include a belly dancing show or henna tattooing (the intricate designs fade after two weeks). Snowboarders might want to have a crack at sand skiing, from some of the highest dunes in the desert. It's a fast trip down, and a long trek back to the top in shin-deep sand, so be sure to have a four-wheel drive ready to ferry you. Overnight stays in the desert also can be arranged, with dinner under the stars and breakfast before returning to Dubai. Book through your hotel or contact Alpha Tours (tel:  4294 9888, www.alphatoursdubai.com).
3 Wafi City mall
As a city that prides itself on its tax-free status, Dubai is shopping heaven, with 44 malls at last count, and a zest for retail therapy that rivals Hong Kong's. If you have time for only one outing, head for the Wafi City mall on Al Qutaeyat Road (www.waficity.com). With a spectacular design inspired by the pyramids of Egypt and a stunning stained-glass pyramid canopy, the landmark touts itself as one of the Middle East's most elite shopping outlets. Its four floors include the usual smattering of designer boutiques such as Versace and Mont Blanc, Gianfranco Ferre and Calvin Klein. For a gift with a difference, head for the Abdul Samad Al Qurashi Company on the ground floor, a vast perfume and incense shop filled with ornate jars containing a mind-boggling array of heady fragrances for men and women. Some of the perfumes are made from prized Middle Eastern oils, such as oud, and aged for years to refine the aroma. Other options in the Wafi centre include the Tanagra department store, with its luxury home and lifestyle products, and Patchi, a high-end chocolate, silverware and tableware outlet that has expanded across the Middle East since starting in Beirut in the 1970s. When you're done shopping, have lunch on the rooftop terrace of Goodies Foodhall. The Lebanese outlet has a huge choice of exotic sweets, spices, sauces and herbs, as well as a great coffee bar serving local brews.
4 Hotel heaven
As a playground for mega-wealthy oil sheikhs, Dubai boasts a world-beating range of luxury hotels. So, when the desert heat bites, there are few finer places to kick back and be pampered without leaving your front door. On an island off Jumeirah Beach, the iconic Burj al Arab (www.burj-al-arab.com), with its much-photographed, billowing sail facade, carries the luxury mantle as the world's only seven-star lodging. But if the opulence bordering on gaudy and a double-room standard rate of 5,000 dirham plus 20 per cent tax doesn't appeal, there's plenty of competition. The stunningly decorated Mina A' Salam (www.minaasalam.com), also on popular Jumeirah Beach, has breath-taking views over the water and rich Arabic decor. Closer to the shops and business end of town is the swish new Shangri-La (www.shangri-la.com) on Sheikh Zayed Road. It has a spa boasting Asian healing therapies, and a 4,680sqft presidential suite (10,000 dirham a night) that recently tickled the fancy of celebrity couple Anna Kournikova and Enrique Iglesias.
5 City of Gold
Traders have been peddling their wares in Dubai's souks for hundreds of years. Soak up the mercantile atmosphere of the age-old gold souk, the lifeblood of Dubai for generations, by catching a taxi to the northern part of Old Deira, the heart of the Middle East's 'City of Gold'. There, more than 300 small, air-conditioned shops have windows glistening with gold and precious jewels. Gold jewellery is sold more by weight than design. Be prepared to bargain, with the aim of getting at least a third off the starting price. Cash gets a better price than credit cards in most shops. If you're still in the mood for souk-shopping, wander south through the labyrinth, cross Sikkat Al Khail Street and enter the narrow lanes of the spice souk, where multi-coloured tubs and baskets are brimming with exotic fragrances and seasonings. Haggle over the price of mabkhar, or burners, which range in size from a few centimetres to more than a metre high, and bargain over a take-home sample of frankincense or one of the other pungent scents. The souks normally close between 1pm and 4pm, so go in the early evening when there's more of a market atmosphere.
6 Aroma Garden Cafe
Shisha, or flavoured tobacco, is usually enjoyed by a group of friends lounging around with a hookah water pipe after a meal. One of the most popular haunts for a meal and a shisha, or maybe just a coffee and a shisha, is the lush Aroma Garden Cafe on Oud Metha Road (tel:  4336 8999). With its wide range of tobacco and cheap prices, the cafe has become an oasis for locals looking to unwind. Thick, wooden doors open onto an indoor greenhouse. Some of the windows even have plants as curtains. The western menu features good pizza as well as pasta, sandwiches, salads and a long list of coffees. The sweet smell of shisha wafts amid the greenery, and the sound of running water creates the atmosphere of a desert hideaway.
7 Muraqabat Street
There's a smorgasbord of high-end restaurants in Dubai serving top-notch cuisine from around the world, but if you want an authentic experience, rub shoulders with the locals at the no-frills Arabic eateries of Muraqabat Street. Once the sun goes down, there are plenty of options in the popular strip just east of the Dubai docks. A favourite is Al Shami's (tel:  4269 5558), which comes alive in the evening as workers drop in for a shawarma - the Middle Eastern equivalent of a hamburger, served in a pocket of Arabic bread with shavings of lamb, chicken or salad. Try the regional staples such as barbecued lamb, grilled fish, hummus, baba ghanoush and stuffed vine leaves in olive oil. Or for something more exotic go for grilled pigeon, sheep's liver or a plate of brains. You can eat your fill and still have plenty of change from 50 dirham. For those looking for upmarket dining, the ritzy hotels offer plenty of fine eateries. Hot spots include: Amwaj (tel:  4405 2703) in the Shangri-La hotel, which jets in fresh seafood from all corners of the globe; and the alfresco Boardwalk at the Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club (tel:  4295 6000).
8 Jumeirah Beach
Escape the heat at the carefully manicured Jumeirah Beach, one of Dubai's few stretches of public bathing space, a few kilometres west of the town centre. From Thursday to Sunday (especially on Fridays) it's crammed with Dubai workers cooling their heels, so try to visit at the start of the week (although there's no lifeguard on quieter days). The water is warm and crystal clear, although salty by Hong Kong standards. Remember to take an umbrella for shade. Alternatively, most hotels have free access to private beach clubs shared with other resorts, where you can sip cocktails until the sun sets over the Gulf. Shuttle services usually operate between hotels and the beaches, but be sure to grab a ticket from the lobby before departing, as outsiders can be charged more than 100 dirham for entry to the better private hang-outs.
9 Wild Wadi
Wild Wadi, behind the Burj-al-Arab at Jumeirah Beach, is a must for the kids. Parents can put their feet up on sun-loungers by the pools or creeks, while children run amok in the five-hectare complex fashioned after one of the desert's oasis-like canyons. Boasting the longest and fastest water rides outside the US, the park's 23 attractions include a 1.5-metre artificial wave machine, and the stomach-churning 80km/h Jumeirah Sceirah slide, where you feel as though you're about to be catapulted into a distant palm tree. The park has two restaurants, or you could take a picnic hamper. Opening hours vary through the year. Entry is 100 dirham for children up to 12, and 120 dirham for adults. For the few hours after 4pm, the rate drops to 90 dirham (tel:  4348 5625, www.wildwadi.com).
10 Old Dubai
For a fascinating step back in time, take a stroll through old Dubai, starting from the western mouth of the Dubai Creek. At the top of the outlet is Shindagha, where you can take in the 18th-century Islamic architecture of the former home of the ruling Maktoum family. Once the seat of government, the building has imposing wind towers (the ancient equivalent of air-conditioning) on each corner and views across the creek and city. The home was occupied by Sheik Saeed until his death in 1958, when Dubai was just emerging from its slumber as a trading and pearl-diving outpost. A few minutes' walk south is the Dubai Museum in the Al Fahidi fort. The site was renovated in the 1970s, but you can while away the hours looking at artefacts and old photos or wandering through an underground warren of shops and streets designed to look like old Dubai. Head towards the river from the fort and you'll stroll past traditional courtyard homes, before finishing at the striking Grand Mosque, with the tallest minaret in the city stretching 70 metres towards the sky.
Cathay Pacific flies non-stop to Dubai, six days a week (www.cathaypacific.com)