This is a guest post from Olivia Rose. A visit to Dubai, for the first-time traveler, is a bit like a trip “through the looking glass.” This storied city on the Persian Gulf, the largest city of the United Arab Emirates, is the urban model of the future, to be sure. It is also, in many ways, a step into fantasy, with a juxtaposition of the future onto the dusty past of hundreds, if not thousands, of years ago. The remarkable part is that the two halves of its personality seem to exist in perfect harmony.
Dubai is a mystical, mythical and totally enchanting land. It has the same type of appeal once exhibited by Hong Kong: A thoroughly modern, slightly ostentatious world capital with a barely hidden, slightly seedy and sometimes misunderstood history. Holidaying in Dubai is an exceedingly popular tourist destination, even for a short visit – but it is well worth it.
Dubai, both the city and the emirate, did not spring fully developed on the world scene. Dubai has labored to grow into its current image — that of the richest and the best, the most forward-thinking, glamorous and glitzy. It has earned its status through hard work and an ability to shift with the times, and to build upon setbacks. Its modern development begins with the sheikhdom that separated itself from its neighbours in 1833. The city became the second to join the fledging United Arab Emirates as it was forming in 1971.
It is a diverse city: Its population is less than 20 percent Emerati, and overwhelmingly male, and young. Seventy-one percent of residents are expatriates, mostly Asian. Islam is the official state religion, but practice of other religions is protected. It is Western in thought and development, yet very traditional regarding relationships, actions and dress.
As a traveller, there are certain things you must do:
- Dress conservatively. Women, in particular, are cautioned to respect Arab traditions and cover up. Even on the beach, modesty is favoured, and beach attire should never be worn elsewhere. Covering shoulders and knees, even in the stifling heat of the summer, is appropriate. But high style, combined with high heels, is also favoured; and “dressing up,” even at breakfast, is encouraged. Emeratis, both men and women, are often seen in the traditional flowing robes (white for men, black for women), but Western attire is becoming more common, even among locals.
- Act properly. Public displays, whether of affection, drunkenness or other unacceptable behaviours, are not tolerated in Dubai. While drinking alcohol is not illegal, limit your consumption. Sample local beverages, such as tea or minted fruit drinks; you will find also that in the heat they are much more refreshing than alcohol. Drug use is likewise banned. Even common prescription drugs and OTC medications may be controlled in Dubai. Check with your physician or with consular officials before bringing any drugs to Dubai. Demonstrative affection is also not tolerated in public, especially between same-sex couples.
- Prepare for sun. This is a desert climate. It is hot. It is humid. The sun is very strong, and bright. Use sunscreen. Wear sunglasses. Wear a hat with a brim, or at least a visor. Cover up.
- Explore the old. In addition to marvelling at the World’s tallest building, the world’s most expensive shopping mall, the “artificial” man-made stunning harbour, the newly-built “islands” and the only seven-star hotel in the world, take the time to visit the traditional souks, perhaps the gold and spice markets (and don’t forget to haggle over the prices), or enjoy a delicious and cheap shwarma, a kebab sold by a street vendor.
- Be open to the culture. This is a fascinating and foreign land. Appreciate the new, but explore the traditions. The Bastikiya Quarter of old-town Dubai will let you experience life here in the 19th century. Tour the Jumeirah Mosque; it’s not only beautiful, but fascinating. Perhaps even get away from the city to ride a camel.
Finally, be careful not to snap pictures of people without their permission. Remember what you learned as a child: Always mind your manners.
Author Bio: Olivia Rose loves traveling, and she had a wonderful time in Dubai with her friends. She loves the fascinating difference in culture.