On the last morning of a three-day stopover in Dubai, I wake up in an enormous king bed in a lavish Arabian-style room. My arm is flung across a mountain of white pillows and I notice the henna tattoo adorning my left hand and forearm. Intricate winding patterns. Memories of the night before come flooding back almost like a scene from The Hangover.
On this ultimate girls' trip to the exotic Middle East and beyond we have packed everything into these marvellous memory-making days and nights. We arrived in the early afternoon and are whisked away to the Madinat Jumeirah the Arabian Resort - Dubai, built to resemble an ancient citadel in a dazzling blend of historic old Arabia and modern luxury.
There are two grand boutique hotels at the resort - Al Qasr and Mina A'Salam, where we stay. My ocean deluxe room with spacious private terrace overlooks the Arabian Gulf and the iconic Burj Al Arab in a striking juxtaposition of old meets new.
The two hotels, traditional souk, 44 restaurants, bars and lounges and 29 courtyard summer houses are all reached by a boat ride through waterways and lagoons brimming with fish and turtles, linking the whole stunning complex. I chose this destination because I wanted to be in a place where everything was at my fingertips with no need to leave the resort unless I really wanted to.
Of course, there was a to-do list for this caftanista extravaganza in Dubai. Opulent and luxurious five-star accommodation. A trip to the desert. Star-gazing. Camel riding. Shopping for caftans and jewellery. Night life. Dancing. Lazing on a beach. Middle Eastern feasts. Champagne.
Day one: high tea in the elegant and stylish Al Samar Lounge in the Lobby of the Mina A'Salam. A piano tinkles. A central pond, bordered by the ubiquitous plump velvet pillows, is filled with deep pink and yellow rose petals. The air is perfumed with an exotic scent that fills you with a sense of wellbeing as soon as you enter.
My Moroccan mint tea is served in a coloured glass from an intricately designed silver pot. Delicate sandwiches, pretty cakes, warm raisin scones, jams and Devonshire clotted cream are set on tiered platters.
After high tea we take a boat to the souk, where the hours slip away as we rummage through the myriad shops filled with treasures from antiques to colourful beaded caftans, jewellery and trinkets.
We stumble on a brilliant Lebanese restaurant where we feast on hummus, warm flatbread, grilled chicken, spicy lamb koftas and salad before calling it a night. It will be the first memorable dinner here followed by a succession of meze including meat kibbeh, cheese kakarat, spinach fatayer and more.
Breakfast at Mina A'Salam is a grand affair with buffet tables overflowing with Eastern and Western fare.
The Mall of the Emirates, with the biggest indoor ski centre in the world, is just five minutes from the resort. Here we trawl the shops - designer, high street, shoes, jewellery, Arabian bazaars - before returning to the hotel weighed down by shopping bags.
It's 44C by now, so a dip in the warm waters of the Arabian Sea is a must before kicking back on sun lounges with a bird's-eye view of the towering Burj Al Arab hotel rising from the beachfront.
Around 4pm we are picked up for our Sundowner Dune Dinner Safari organised by Arabian Adventures. I'm resplendent in a Camilla caftan and beaded snakeskin sandals while my friend does her version of Sex and the City 2 in a white catsuit with tribal beading and a white Chanel handbag.
Obviously, we could not have predicted getting stuck at the top of a sand dune in the desert.
"Get out, please," says the driver of our 4WD vehicle, which was part of a convoy heading to the Dubai Desert Conservation reserve spread over 225sqkm south-east of Dubai.
Perched precariously atop the crest of a high rippling dune, my fashionably attired feet sink into burning sand, wind howls through my hair and I cling to the last vestiges of modesty as my oh-so-stylish caftan is whipped up to reveal legs and, God help me, panties. Sand sticks to my skin as a spectacular desert sunset unfolds.
Finally, our car is freed and as the sun casts an orange glow we continue on our journey to a traditional Bedouin camp. Carpets underfoot, lanterns flickering and comfortable cushions beckon from Bedu tents. And fancy this: they serve Australian De Bortoli wines with a barbecue of grilled meats, salads and Arabic sweets.
Belly dancing, aromatic shisha pipes and names written in bottles of coloured sand add to the allure. A camel ride under a black desert sky is a highlight, before all lights are turned off, leaving the camp in complete darkness.
I lie back on cushions, take a deep breath and look up at this star-filled Arabian sky. And then, a falling star. Magic.
Day three: I head back to the souk where I buy a beautiful antique 1890 Bedouin neckpiece. Bejewelled camels, which will sit on a coffee table at home as a constant reminder of these days. I haggle with a trader over the price of Moroccan chokers and rings.
Back to the beach where there is no relief from the heat so we retire to the pool. At sunset, a beautiful Nepalese girl adorns my skin in Arabic and Indian henna tattoos.
Later we sink into gold velvet chairs to sip champagne in the stunning Al Bahri bar against a backdrop of pink facades and the Burj Al Arab.
A great band entertains us over dinner at the Jambase Supper Club, where we dine on delicious crab cakes, crayfish cocktails and okra and bean cassoulet washed down with a crisp pinot grigio.
After dinner we wander around the souk after closing time, find ourselves in Trilogy nightclub and then head to the buzzing waterfront bars and restaurants. At Trader Vic's, a fantastic band dishes out sexy Latino beats to an eclectic crowd.
All too soon, it's time to leave this exotic place. It's been a soul journey. A time for heart songs and memories. On the afternoon of our departure a sandstorm in the desert creates a thick haze blanketing Dubai. The atmosphere is surreal - much like these past few dreamlike days.
- fact file *
·For more about Madinat Jumeirah Resort, Souk Madinat Jumeirah, Jambase - The Supper Club and Al Bahri Bar, see jumeirah.com.
·The Mall of the Emirates has hundreds of shops, a 14-screen cinema and more than 85 coffee shops and restaurants. malloftheemirates.com
·For times and prices of Arabian Adventures' Sundowner Dune Dinner Safari and other tours, see arabian-adventures.com
·Emirates has an extensive UK and Ireland network with direct flights between Dubai and London Heathrow, London Gatwick, Manchester, Newcastle, Glasgow, Dublin and Birmingham, from where Steve McKenna writes on page 6.
It's 44C by now, so a dip in the warm waters of the Arabian Sea is a must . . .Di Bauwens travelled to Dubai at her own expense