A couple years ago (before jetting off to the Persian Gulf was trendy, if we may) @LauritaCambios and @CobraEscobar booked a Thanksgiving trip to the largest city in the United Arab Emirates (UAE)—the extravagant cosmopolitan mecca known as Dubai. Here is what they knew:
- Dubai is the capital of Dubai Emirate, one of the seven emirates which constitute the United Arab Emirates. It’s also the UAE’s largest city.
- Dubai is in the Middle East, so obviously Islam is the official religion of the city and the UAE. But, it’s pretty liberal as far as the Middle East and Islam standards go. People from surrounding Islamic countries and other cities in the UAE come to Dubai to let loose.
- Everything in Dubai is over the top, it’s like Vegas on steroids. Dubai is home to the world’s tallest building with the highest observation deck, the Burj Khalifa; the world’s only 7-star hotel, the Burj Al Arab, the world’s longest indoor ski slope, and the world’s largest shopping centre comprised of 1,200 retail stores.
What they didn’t know, and wished they had beforehand, is what we would like to impart on you now—our dear readers and Dubai-traveling hopefuls out there:
- Polish off your bargaining skills. Don’t miss the gold marketplaces, called souks, in Deira, Dubai’s commercial business district (which were a dream come true for @cobraescobar). You can find 21+ karat gold and at a pretty penny, depending on your apt for bartering. While you’re in Deira eat shawarma from one of the street food vendors. It was the best food we had the entire trip, believe it or not.
- Pack strategically. If you’re a woman and you want to check out the mosques, you need to be covered head to toe and in loosely fitted clothing (you also need to take of your shoes and keep quiet). However, the rules on attire outside the mosques are more flexible and although it can be easy to pack nothing but skivvies (given that the average temperature is in the 100 degrees Fahrenheit range), don’t. Be sure to inquire on how to dress for each occasion. You’re still in a Muslim country and should respect the culture.
- Be prepared to spend a lot of money. Otherwise, don’t go. We’re big fans of traveling on a budget, but Dubai simply isn’t the place to do it.
- Don’t bother with Arabic classes. Put your Duolingo app away, almost 90% of the population in Dubai is made up of expats and almost everyone speaks English. It’s a melting pot of different nationalities and cultures.
- Arrive to the airport early upon leaving the UAE. The Dubai airport has some of the most stringent screening processes we’ve ever encountered, nothing short of a full cavity search. You wouldn’t want to miss your flight home after this experience.
- Keep your hands to yourself. Public displays of affection are highly frowned upon and in some cases punishable by law, so no kissing or holding hands in public. (Our extra snuggly @lauritacambios really struggled with this one!)
- Avoid the month of Ramadan. Unless you hate fun, that is. During this holy month all restaurants are closed during the day and no eating, smoking, or drinking is allowed in public places, including hotel lobbies (this means you’d only be able to eat in your room). Timing varies based on the Islamic calendar but the next few years out we’re looking at April, May and June, so do your research before booking your trip.
- Exercise self-control. Alcohol is only allowed in designated restaurants, hotels and other touristy areas. So don’t go all everybody in the club gettin’ tipsy unless you want to be locked up abroad.
- Be aware that the week starts on a Sunday. Weekends in Dubai are Friday and Saturday, so take note when planning any excursions or activities.
- Visa. And we don’t mean the credit card. If your passport is from a country such as USA, Canada, New Zealand, no advance visa arrangements are required and your passport will be stamped upon arrival for 30 days, free of charge. Find out more here.
So now that you’re well-informed and have your flights booked, make sure to book Friday Brunch at Al Qasr Madinat Jumeriah. It’s unmissable, the apex of culinary savagery, and the most amazing $250 you’ll ever spend (on a brunch or otherwise). Also excellent coffee and Shisha bars (a cultural experience in which you must partake) are ubiquitous, so no matter what your poison is, you will not be upset with what Dubai has to offer.
See you out there, Inshallah!