Dubai! This city has always fascinated me and I’d read up everything that was written about it. I’d read up on how the glitter of gold from the gold souqs can be seen from afar. I’d read up on how Dubai’s gastronomic excellence has given rise to an annual Food Festival. I’d read up on the country’s unique past and its overnight metamorphosis into a leading tourist destination.

Zero Gravity Dubai

To me, Dubai is all about fabulous manmade marvels, wealth, glamour, gold and food. Then there came the time when just reading up on Dubai was no longer enough. I just had to experience this amazing city for myself. So I gathered up my few pennies and pounds and flew there. I loved my trip. And I learned a lot of stuff I wish I’d known earlier. Here they are.

Dubai Isn’t All That Tolerant – Despite Appearances

Let’s put the bare facts out on the table. Dubai is an Islamic nation and therefore very conservative. Don’t be fooled by pictures of half-naked tourists. There are very clear dos and don’ts, as I learned to my expense.

  • No, you don’t need to purchase a burkini – your bikini or tiny shorts will do, but only at the beach.
  • When you’re at the mall or a similar public place, be sure to cover your shoulders decently.
  • Public Displays of Affection are a no-no, NO matter where you are. So hands off.
  • Don’t mouth off while in Dubai. Don’t drop the F-bomb, or any expletive for that matter, while in public. Hell, you could get a detention for a year or even be fined about 10,000 AED. Now that’s way too much to pay for cussing. Seriously. Be careful never to insult a public official, coz you’ll be paying up a lot more. Be careful not to use expletives when you’re online, either. While you’re at it, don’t mouth off about Islam or the ruling family.
  • Don’t touch someone’s Qur’an if you are not Muslim. Yes I know, you just wanted to feel that expensive leather. Just don’t.
  • Don’t make any rude gestures – keep your hands by your side, if you’re the digitally-voluble kind. A friend of mine was herded off to the police station because he made a rude gesture. He was let off with a warning, but he could have been imprisoned.
  1. Don’t Visit Dubai During Ramadan
Dubai during Ramadan

Ramadan is the holy month; no one eats or drinks anything, not even water, between dawn and dusk. And that goes for you too, tourist. You want to eat, sneak some snacks in advance into your hotel room and much noiselessly, please. I found a couple of dedicated restaurants, behind covered walls and partitions that served during the day. Don’t even chew gum in public during Ramadan. When in Rome and all that, you know…..

  • You Don’t Have To Be Wealthy To Enjoy Dubai
Rove Downtown Dubai

Yes, you can Dubai on a budget. I did. That’s one of the things to know before visiting Dubai. It’s like this – the city’s gearing up to host Expo 2020. Several mid-market hotel chains are coming up, totally millennial-friendly and all that. There’s the Hilton Garden Inn and Rove for examples. Also, Dubai hostels and Airbnb accommodations are quite good. I stayed at an apartment in Deira, rooming up with a couple more tourists. It was cool, fairly cheap and honestly, I spent more on food. Now I know better, of course. Next time I visit Dubai, I’ll stick to cheap eateries in Deira, especially the ones on Al Muraqqabat Road and Al Rigga Road.

There’s just one thing that really stumped me, in terms of cost – the attractions. But I found a way around that too. I just looked up Groupon for coupons and discounts, and hit pay dirt more than once. I stayed in Dubai for a month, so I made good use of The Entertainer App. Here’s something else – I didn’t enjoy Dubai any less because I avoided expensive attractions. I chose rather to traipse through Old Dubai, took abra cruises and window shopped. I explored Souq Madinat and the Global Village, and a host of other free attractions.

  • Dubai Isn’t Just All Glamour – There’s A Deep-Seated Culture Too!
Burj Khalifa, Dubai

From the outside, it looks as though Dubai was about the Burj al Arab, Burj Khalifa, the Palm Islands or the immense shopping malls. No. Dubai is so much more than that. An Arab friend showed me a rich culture, a beautiful blend of Arab, Islamic and Bedouin cultures. I was spellbound by the narrow cobbled streets and old homes built of black coral in Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood – real black coral!



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I found the Etihad Museum and Dubai Museum true delights – learned so much about Dubai’s past as a fishing and pearl-diving village. I participated in a no-holds-barred Q & A at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre of Cultural Understanding as well. You won’t believe the kind of questions some people asked on the Emirati culture!

Of course, I just had to browse the fragrant spice souqs of Bur Dubai, and man was it a learning experience or what! They expected me to bargain, and I realized bargaining is a way of life here. I had some cool fun haggling, shaking my head and throwing up my hands like a native and finally paying much less than I thought I should. Dubai is a heck of a cool city – absolutely worth your tourist visa Dubai.

  • You Don’t Have To Suffer A Dry Vacation!

Yep, Dubai is not dry! And yes, there are strict rules with regard to alcohol. If you have a fender bender after a single glass of wine, you’ll still go to jail. It’s like – you shouldn’t drink, you’re not encouraged to drink, and yet drink is available. There’s plenty of alcohol at licensed bars and restaurants attached to hotels. Dubai bars do have happy hours – thank the good Lord. Most bars have Ladies Nights on Tuesdays as well, when women get free drinks. Plus, there’s that very reliable Dubai institution – the Friday all-you-can-eat-and-drink brunches. Note though – you cannot buy alcohol in Dubai unless you have a licensed resident. Best tip (and I am terribly grateful to that friendly guy at the airport for this) is that you can buy any amount of alcohol at the airport duty- free and drink in your hotel room. NO issues. What happens in your room stays in your room.

Conclusion

Burj Al Arab, Dubai

And those are my 5 things to know before you visit Dubai. There’s one bonus point born out of my experiences though – Dubai is a real foodie’s haunt! The Food Festival in February simply rocks. Dubai’s multicultural mix means you get to try every cuisine known to the world. There are budget-friendly ethnic eateries, fine dining French restaurants and all the way to bespoke Michelin-starred high-flying restaurants. Of course, you can always rob a bank and dine at the Burj al Arab. That’s something for the grandkids!

Neha Singh, a full-time travel blogger by profession, loves to share her experiences in an article about her travels.