A relatively new tourist destination, Dubai has undergone a rapid transformation in which it has been renovated from a simple pearl diving center into a tourism, trade and logistics hub earning itself the reputation of being the “gateway between the east and the west.” Home to just over 2 million people from more than 200 nationalities, Dubai is one of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates. It is an independent city-state and the most modern and progressive emirate in the UAE.
Dubai has a lot to offer to visitors and locals alike. It is safe, politically stable, centrally located, has a good education system and healthcare facilities, modern infrastructure, the sun shines almost every day, the shopping and leisure facilities are impressive, and the salaries are tax-free. Just 5 hours away from Europe and 3 hours away from most parts of the Middle East, the Near East, and the subcontinent of India, Dubai has attracted thousands of migrants from all over the world in search of jobs and they have left their influences on the emirate. Dubai is also a great destination for a short trip incorporating any or all of the following: shopping, partying, sunbathing, fine dining, and sporting events. If you are looking for the fastest, biggest, tallest, largest and highest, Dubai is the place.
Most tourists have heard of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest structure. The observation deck at the 124th floor is the 2nd highest in the world after the Shanghai World Financial center and the highest open deck in the world. But do note that the observation deck is only halfway up the tower itself! The remainder of the tower consists of service areas and are not open to visitors. Tickets can sell out several days in advance so it is advisable to book them online ahead of your visit. The visitors’ entrance is located at the lower ground floor of the Dubai Mall.
The Dubai Mall right next door to the Burj Khalifah, is Dubai’s largest mall. It was opened in November 2008 and houses over 1200 shops from all over the world. It is currently the largest mall in the world with an indoor ice rink and aquarium.
Dubai has the best public transportation system in the Middle East yet it remains a very car-oriented city. Most visitors end up using taxis to get from place to place.
Although many of the American fast food chains have set up shop in Dubai, including KFC, Chillis, TGI Fridays, Starbucks, and McDonalds chances are you will probably opt for the shawarma, the Arabic equivalent of the burger (meat that has been cooked on a skewer and then cut into thin strips and placed into a pita bread with vegetables and dressing) available on almost every street corner and relatively cheap! Or you may fill up on another local snack, falafel, also available at about the same cost as the shawarma.
Dubai boasts a bustling nightlife scene and most 3 to 5 star hotels have bars and nightclubs. However, it strictly follows Islamic laws and there are several laws regarding alcohol which tourists should be aware of:
- Alcohol is available only at licensed establishments, usually attached to hotels with separate entrances.
- Alcohol is not sold on religious holidays, nor during daylight hours in Ramadan (even to non-Muslims).
- It is illegal to drink alcohol in public places, and there is a zero-tolerance policy on drunk driving. Anyone involved in a collision with alcohol in their blood will typically receive a jail sentence of one month and a fine.
- Alcohol can be purchased only for home consumption at certain outlets in Dubai, and an alcohol license is required. Supermarkets only stock non-alcoholic beers.
In addition to laws pertaining to alcohol, visitors should be aware that eating in public during the holy month of Ramadan is prohibited from sunrise until sunset. Tourists are encouraged to consume meals in the confines of their hotel or residence.
Public displays of affection are frowned upon and public sexual acts can lead to jail time followed by deportation.
The United Arab Emirates might seem to have more relaxed laws than their other Arab counterparts, but the laws are still very different from most Western countries, and their laws are strictly enforced. Please exercise caution and common sense when visiting and make sure you are aware of all their laws, or expect severe consequences that could seriously ruin your vacation and/or life.
Photo credits: Rocky Andoh