A friend of mine came to visit last month and I was able to tour around Dubai with her. Here are some things I have learned, found useful knowing and just some bits of information for people wanting to visit.
1. Choosing the season is everything – Temperatures in Dubai ranges from lows of about 50 F/10 C in winter to a high of 118 F/ 48 C in summer. Peak tourist season starts from the end of October, where the extreme heat of summer has somewhat cooled off ‘a bit’. A bit because it is still warm and balmy in the noon and even at night.
November is when the tourism season really kicks off and we residents start to turn our a/c’s OFF and enjoy a smaller electric bill. You can swim in the beach until about the 3rd week of November but beyond that, forget it, unless you have reptile cold blood.
My daughter enjoying the warm sun but cold water of the beach in December
** The Shopping Festival from Jan.15 to Feb.15 each year is any shoppers annual pilgrimage. **
By saying that, I will never discourage anyone wanting to travel in the summer months of June-September. Why not? The hotels are slashing their prices to up to 50%, there’s the Dubai Summer Surprises, a celebration of shopping and entertainment inside the temperature-controlled malls. Just watch out when you go out, though, the almost 50C and 90% humidity is not a joke but hey, I have survived for two summers here and so will you.
2. Take a map with you – It is not uncommon to hear taxi drivers saying, “This is my first day at work, Madam” or “Do you know the way, Sir?” after you tell them your destination. It is safer and more time saving to bring a map and point to them where you want to go. Of course, arriving at your desired destination will depend on your map and the ability of the driver to read the map. Don’t be shocked when they actually rotate it upside down over and over again with a very curious look on their face!
3. Bring smaller denominations– Unless you want to give more than half of your money as tip, it would be wise to have some coins and small dirham (UAE currency) denominations in your wallet. Taxis in Dubai are cheap at 3 dirhams (USD80 cents) for the first few kilometers and if you are a touris and taking taxi and realize that the place you asked to be taken to is just two blocks down the street which required you very small amount of taxi fare but you only have a hundred dirhams and the driver says, “No change, Sir” (whew that was a loong sentence). What would you do, then?
4. A bottled water can be a life saver – Buses and taxis won’t come as you wish them to and you’re probably stucked in the road sweating and dehydrated, even on December.
Sometimes for me, a bottled water makes a huge difference. I tend to have migraine attacks when out in the heat for too long without water.
5. Be aware of the cars! – and the overall traffic, really. Although the quality of driving have improved since we relocated here two years ago, mental drivers still do exist here in Dubai.
If you are coming from a country that drives on the left side of the road (like me, in Japan), don’t forget that Dubai drives on the opposite, that is, on the right-hand side of the road. This is a warning not only to people driving but also to pedestrians.
6. Electricity – Dubai is operating on a 220 V, 50Hz electric source. Check your gadget’s voltage before traveling. The worst that can happen is taking your precious vacation time traveling to the other side of the world and knowing you can’t charge your camera!
7. Respect of culture and tradition – During the month of Ramadan, you should refrain from eating, drinking or smoking in public places between sunrise and sunset. No questions asked!
However, hotels and some restaurants are open for diners but with the windows covered. The food courts in the malls are closed too.
8. No Camels in the city – don’t expect camels to roam freely in the city of Dubai. If you had high hopes to see a real, live camel for the first time in your life, don’t be disappointed if you won’t find any in the city.
Dubai is modern hi-tech Arabia. The streets are clean and futuristic skyscrapers dominate the city landscape, not camels. If you go however to the outskirts, in Nad Al Sheba or go on a desert safari, or visit the camel race course, just outside the city, then you will find the humped, long-lashed creatures waiting for you.
Jockeys practice the camels for the daily races
** Camel racing is held twice a week in winter and during public holidays. **
9. Dress code– There is no dress code in Dubai and you can wear anything you want. Bikinis are very popular in the beaches. Dubai is the most liberal of all the emirates, and as of date there is no enforced dress code; still, modesty will win you more respect. Just because every kind of clothing is allowed doesn’t mean it is ok to wear shorts intended for five year olds when walking in the streets.
Speaking of clothing, be sure to bring some light jacket, cardigans or long sleeved shirts when visiting Dubai From December to February. It gets chilly in the mornings and nights, no matter how you perceive this place as eternally hot. If you’re not convinced and prefer to bring only t-shirts, then bring your favorite cold medicines too.
10. Be Flexible – The buses have NO timings. Sure there are timetables posted in each bus stop but they are meaningless. Not one single bus follows any of those timings written there. The least you can do is wake up early and head to the nearest bus stop. (If you’ve decided to take the bus, that is)
The long queue to get on the bus on a weekend at Bur Dubai bus station
If you know where you are going by asking a few other passengers waiting at the stop, then you can get on the bus. If you are tired to wait for the bus to come for what seems like eternity, you can flag down a taxi in the bus stop, it is much easier and safer for the taxis to stop in the bus stop space.
11. Be Alert – Just be extra alert though, during my first days in Dubai, I have been beaten to a taxi ride by people around me. What happens, is that you call a cab, the cab stops near you and ANOTHER human being from out of nowhere suddenly appears, grabs the door open and gets on YOUR taxi and they speed off before you can even bat your eyelashes. And you can’t do anything now, can you.
12. Don’t do drugs – Dubai has a zero tolerance on drugs so don’t even think about it. Sometimes, this rule had been taken into absurd lengths when they jailed a visitor who had some powder residue in his SHOES.
13. 999 – God forbid, you get into trouble, call 999. The number is so easy to remember, so memorize it. You don’t have to speak Arabic when talking to the police.