Dubai is a playground for the rich, synonymous with shopping, 5-star beach hotels & sprawling duty-free shopping malls. Every high-end brand is on offer.
Even though we have some of the world's largest & most beautiful malls with hundreds of stores, I find that the motto seems to be "Quantity, not quality".
Many friends that have visited me over the years were at first impressed with the sheer size of the malls & selection of clothes, shoes, bags, etc. But look a little closer and you'll notice that the selection is not so varied at all: sometimes 20-30 different shops will have pretty much the same stuff on their hangers. The selection is quite limited & you'll see many people (especially women's wear) walking around Dubai with the same outfit.
One of the most untrue things people say about Dubai is that it's "good" for shopping: designer gear and also High Street brands generally tend to be more expensive than in Europe and a lot of the times high-end stores are actually selling last year's collections. Each shopping mall has a mixture of expensive and cheaper clothes, but quality is definitely not consistent.
Some well-known international brands such a Mango, ZARA, NEXT, etc. are quite clever about sending their season's rejects to Dubai... "somebody will buy it, just make the label nice & pretty and say it's on sale." But beware, don't be blinded by the sparkling facades and lured by the fancy decor & those magic 4 letters "SALE": some branded items are more expensive than elsewhere. I've bought clothes from Western stores that were of good quality, and in the same store I've bought clothes that require "hand-washing" and promptly fell apart in my hands as soon as they touched the luke-warm water. There's no guarantee what you may end up with, even if you by from a well-known store.
--> Click here for a 2012 new article on Dubai's rip off prices: http://www.thenational.ae/thenationalconversation/industry-insights/retail/fashion-brands-charge-shoppers-more-in-uae
Unique Suggestions: In the traditional souks prices can drop dramatically and bargaining is expected, but increasingly major outlets in shopping malls quote "fixed prices" and bargaining is not possible. Nevertheless, it is still worth asking for the "best price" or "last price", as some outlets will offer discount without hesitation - keep in mind: "Don't ask, don't get."
Comparing prices often shows how much profit the distributors of certain brands in the UAE actually make and consequently, how much more you're paying. For example: IKEA is generally 30% more expensive than in countries such as Germany, UK, France, etc.
Most malls seem to be in "SALE" season for the entire year. The most famous sales-seaon is the Dubai Shopping Festival. But beware: many retailers will increase their prices by around 40-50% a month or so before the festival begins, simply to then proudly proclaim a "30-40% Sale!" during the shopping festival. Simple math tells us that you'll actually be spending at least 10% more during this time-period.... sneaky, I know!
Something you also may want to remember in order to avoid "Changing Room Panic" when buying clothes is that there are no standard sizes - they can be UK, European, USA or Italian. Many stores also produce their wares in Asian countries, so a nice European size 10/38-40 may suddenly feel like an extra-small & leave you feeling like a hippopotamus with water retention.
And beware: Dubai is no longer the "electronics nirvana" that it used to be. It seems that most electronics are now actually MORE expensive in Dubai than in the UK and other Western countries! So don't buy blindly... really compare prices & check whether your purchase is covered by a service/warranty at all.
Fun Alternatives: Don't come to Dubai with your life's savings in your pocket, expecting to spend a fraction of what you're used to at home and walk away with suitcases full of goodies.
--> Be realistic, compare prices, compare quality, and most importantly: convert the prices into your local currency as accurately as you can! A decimal point of even 0.3 can make a big difference for some items when converting from UAE Dirhams.
--> Instead of looking for bargains in the large shopping malls, purchase souvenirs, traditional items, fake designer goods, etc. away from retail-hell and visit the Karama shopping street, Satwa high street and the tradition Gold Souk, Textile Souk & Perfume Souk.
- Budget Travel
- Family Travel
- Women's Travel
Remember that old saying? "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is..."
One of the main items that visitors to Dubai buy for themselves or as gifts are Pashmina Shawls. Numerous styles and colours are available in the Textile Souk in Bur Dubai, Karama Shopping Street or Satwa High Street.
If you resemble something like a tourist (don't we all...) when walking in these areas, hundreds of shop attendants will be flocking towards you, eagerly asking "Pashmina? Sir? Madam? Best Quality! Best Price! Pashmina Shawl!"
Unique Suggestions: You need to be aware of the fact that there are many different kinds of quality when it comes to buying Pashmina Shawls. Ask yourself: do you want a shawl that you can just cover yourself up with? Or one that looks pretty with an evening gown? Or as a simple souvenir for someone at the office? Or a proper Pashmina that will keep you warm?
Prices start at 10 Dirhams (3 US Dollars) but don't be fooled: these flimsy bits of unidentifiable material will not look nice for long, and they will definitely not keep you warm! Many store owners will try and convince you that "I only sell best quality in my shop... all other shops here sell fake, but mine is real..." Yeah, yeah... Do I have "stupid" tattoed on my forehead? (I took a picture of this sign in the Textile Souk in Feb. 2007)
Fun Alternatives: --> A nice Pashmina Shawl that is of medium quality is usually made of Viscose mixed with some cotton and wool. These will look nice & shiny and even keep you a little bit warm. Prices for such Pashminas should not exceed between 60 - 100 Dirhams (16 - 27 US Dollars).
--> REAL Pashminas made of 100% Cashmere are available, and they are indeed cheaper than in Europe, the UK or the USA... but they still don't come cheap! A real cashmere Pashmina will cost (depending on stitching, colouring, and of course your haggling skills!) anywhere from 800 Dirhams upwards. (220 US Dollars).
So, the moral of the story is: Many items are a lot cheaper in the Souks of Dubai than they are at home. But you still have to pay for quality :-)
PROBLEMS? Since August 2007 there is a new department within Dubai Police, especially for tourists: Tourists may call on toll-free number 8004438 (24 hours) or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Budget Travel
- Women's Travel
Dubai is modern, shiny, clean, and "oh-so-perfect", or so it seems. It is definitely not the place for animal lovers or people with common sense on respecting animals.
The UAE still lacks a national agency for the protection of animals to provide a much-needed boost for animal rights. No clear laws, regulations, etc. are in place!
Dubai Zoo is one example of this: tiny cages, no escape from the stifling heat, no mental enrichment, untrained staff, and all of this since the 1970's.
The present zoo in Jumeirah is cramped, with about 1,000 species sharing just 17,500 square metres (including offices/visitor centre). This works out to less than 9 square metres for each animal! (see photos)
Residents agree: "This place where the animals are kept cannot be described as a zoo." In a newspaper poll 84% voted in favour of a new zoo. Apparently, a new zoo is in the process of being built, and the municipality has assured us that it will be much better... let's hope so.
--> UPDATE 2012: Finally! Could it be true? Will the poor long-suffering animals of the Dubai zoo get a new, more spacious and modern home? Click here: http://gulfnews.com/news/gulf/uae/general/dubai-safari-to-cover-400-hectares-1.1022592
Also, Dubai also has a "Dolphinarium". There has been a huge public outcry against this as keeping dolphins in small tanks, forcing them to do tricks is cruel and completely outdated "entertainment". Dubai claims that this is in the interest of 'conservation & educating children'. This is not true and is already being condemned by PETA and other animal rights organisations (I wrote to PETA and informed them of the planned project). Show your support on www.nodolphinshow.com!
No-one wants cruelty in their holidays...
Unique Suggestions: Voice your opinion to the Dubai Deparment of Tourism, and let them know that in order for Dubai to become (and remain) a prime destination for tourists, the animals at Dubai Zoo must be given better quality of life and better care & surroundings!
Also, see if you would like to support the work of 2 of the UAE's volunteer-run animal rescue organisations:
K9 Friends http://www.k9friends.com
rescues dogs that need help
Read a recent article on the plight of a neglected dog & the insufficient laws here...
Feline Friends http://www.felinefriendsuae.com
rescues street cats, abused cats, etc. (we adopted our cat Kazimir at one of their open days :-)
Fun Alternatives: But it's a vicious circle: I don't want to tell people not to visit Dubai Zoo, because then it will loose money on entrance fees, etc. But I do believe that you have the right, as a visitor & as a parent, to know the truth and to be aware of what to expect...
Do you want to take your kids to see tigers walking up and down and up and down along their concrete walls with a dazed look on their faces? Or great apes pulling their fur out because of boredom?
It's up to you, but we are all trying to find a way to improve the lives of these unfortunate creatures... without being deported for speaking our minds...
AUGUST 2008 NEWS: Searing heat beats Dubai Zoo animals into submission
Travel agencies, hotels and airlines all have 1 thing in common when it come to inquiries about Dubai: They lie to you.
So here is the TRUTH about the REAL SUMMER TEMPERATURES
& the truth about REAL LIFE during RAMADHAN:
--> Trust me, I've lived here for 14 years and the city is on the edge of a desert after all... it gets HOT!!
If you are planning to spend lots of time perfecting your tan, dune-bashing in the desert & seeing the city, then summer is definitely NOT the time to visit.
Hotels & airlines will try to "lure" tourists with cheap flights & hotel packages, but that doesn't mean that you will enjoy your holiday.
From June onwards, daytime temperatures are always around 40 degrees Celsius = 104 F, and July is the hottest month with temperatures hovering around 45 C = 113 F, even reaching 50 C = 122 F!!! Average humidity is between 70 - 90% during the day, with September being a slightly cooler but the most humid month, with a regular 100% humidity. Because of the high humidity some people (especially the elderly) may experience difficulty breathing.
2. RAMADHAN (in Year 2012, approx. July 20th - Aug. 18th)
(again, cheap hotel offers lure tourists)
During the Islamic Holy Month, Muslims fast during sunlight hours (no food, water, smoking, chewinggum and also no sexual intercourse). At sunset they break the fast ('Iftar') & usually stay up very late & nap during the day.
Note: During the day, cafes/restaurants are closed (but supermarkets are open). Hotels will keep at least 1 indoor restaurant open for guests. Shopping malls/Souks open later in the day, but still serve no food/drink until after sunset. The Museum is also closed. No eating-drinking allowed in public (hotel beaches are usually ok though). No alcohol is served anywhere during the day. At night, pubs are open serving alcohol but no live music & no dancing. And remember that people may get a bit grumpy towards the end of the day, low blood sugar level or desperate for a cigarette!
So if you want to really experience Dubai during your holiday, Ramadhan is not the time for you.
Unique Suggestions: 1. SUMMER - You can survive a summer holiday up to your chin in a cold pool or at Wild Wadi Waterpark (the water is usually very cold there), but otherwise all you can do is sit in air-conditioned shopping malls. It's far too hot and uncomfortable to really enjoy a holiday in full.
Around town, there are many nice & pretty Ramadhan tents where you can eat typical Arabic dishes, smoke Sheesha and relax. It's a very traditional atmosphere and nice to experience.
TIP: If you want both action & tradition, why not visit Dubai just before or just after Ramadhan? That way, you have a few days of quite, cultural days and a few days of night-life & action!
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In terms of seasons/temperatures, to really enjoy the beaches and desert
the best time to visit Dubai is from October to May.
June to September is really very, very uncomfortable, hot and humid.
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Note that in December & January, it can get quite chilly in the evening and you may need a cardigan/light jacket. Also, Dubai is most likely to experience RAIN in January. For the past for example (2005-2008) we had many straight weeks of rain in December & January... you can imagine that the tourists were not impressed... ;-)
- Adventure Travel
- Budget Travel
- Family Travel
When you get a taxi in Dubai make sure you have a map of the city with you and check the driver is not taking the long way round to get you to your destination. There are so many taxi's in the city that drivers have long gaps between customers, this means that they are always looking to make a few extra dirhams when they get someone in their cab. Do not accept any fare other than the one on the official meter, if the driver claims the meter is not working get out of the cab and get in another one. If at any time you feel you are being ripped off ask the taxi driver to take you to the nearest police station or when you get to your hotel ask one of the hotel staff for help. The drivers are aware of the serious implications of trying to overcharge so once you threaten the police they will soon start to behave. Also be aware that taxi drivers often work 18 hours straight through, if your driver looks like he may fall asleep get him to stop and call another cab. Keep a watchful eye on your driver throughout your journey to ensure he doesn't fall asleep particularly in the early hours of the morning. Always use the official tan coloured taxi's nothing else.
- Business Travel
- Budget Travel
- Luxury Travel
LITTLE-KNOWN FACTS ABOUT BURJ AL ARAB
All around the world, it is known as the landmark of Dubai.
Here is Dubai, it's known as our very own "leaning Tower of the UAE"... the island wasn't constructed well enough, and with the settling sand the hotel needs to be propped-up every once in a while...
The service is totally overdone & exaggerated: My fiance went to the men's room & whilst relieving himself an attendant stood 2 inches behind him, waiting to hand him a towel... Privacy, please!
Your own, private butler for your suite is available 24-hours just for you... Great, but could he please stop knocking on the door every 30min, asking if we need anything? Just buzz off.
And the entire cleaning staff manages to make you feel positively filthy: I sat on one of the grand sofa, then stood up to greet someone, and within seconds he was busy hovering the spot I'd sat on... I then lit a cigarette, and every time I flicked ash into the ashtray a waiter exchanged it... oh gimme a break!
The restaurant at the top is called Al Muntaha. It has been voted Dubai's worst restaurant for 2 consecutive years! The quality & taste of the food is atrocious. I'm not picky, but the mashed potatoes were re-heated & dry, the spinach was bitter & unseasoned, the fish was half raw and cold inside, and of course it's totally overpriced.
Unique Suggestions: The Architect messed up big-time!
The UAE prides itself on being "tolerant towards all religions", but I guess there's a limit to everything: The restaurant that swoops around the back & top of the hotel creates a sort of... well... Christian symbol. That's why you will NEVER see official photos of the Burj Al Arab from the sea / rear side: because it looks like a giant cross. (I managed to find a photo though... click on the main picture to see it)
--> To enter the hotel as a non-guest, you ued to have have to pay an entrance fee (what is this, a museum?) Nowadays, you need to have a LUNCH OR DINNER RESERVATION in order to enter the hotel. There is also a min. charge on the reservation, to avoid people making a booking & then not eating there.
If you really think you cannot carry on living your life without seeing the Burj Al Arab, then go ahead. Go as part of a guided Dubai city tour... but don't say you haven't been warned.
Fun Alternatives: For neutral details on the hotel, click here...
If you have the cash and absolutely want to stay there for 1 night in your life, go ahead. But please be aware that a stay at the Burj Al Arab is NOT experiencing Dubai. All you are experiencing is the hotel fantasy-world.
For beautiful Arabian & Oriental Luxury, I would suggest the Mina A'Salam or the Al Maha Resort.
- Luxury Travel
There are many internet cafes in Dubai. Their per hour rate vary from AED 2 to AED 30. This tourist trap is about internet cafes charging AED 2.
I entered to this internet cafe charging AED 2 and started using internet. The browsing speed was very bad and PC was infected with viruses. Most of the programs were corrupt are it was not possible to use Internet. After efforts of 10 minutes I decided to leave. When i came to payment counter to inform about problem and my decision to leave , the owner told me to pay AED 5 for "internet usage".
When I told him about the displayed rate of AED2 per hour then he smiled and then said okay give me AED2. I told him that it was just for 10 minutes and I was not even able to use internet then for what he was charging me money. Then he agreed and came out of this cafe.
Unique Suggestions: If you also face such situation then do not pay any money. And make sure whatever you are paying is according to their displayed rate.
Fun Alternatives: An alternative would be to try another internet cafe. The standard rate is AED 5 in most of the good internet cafes. Their service and browsing speed would be excellent and your PC would have all the latest services such as webcam, printer and scanner available for use.
- Business Travel
- Budget Travel
- Study Abroad
n Dubai the currency exchange is no problem at all. But you have to make sure about the conversion rate being used. I have seen that the conversion rates used by all banks at airport are the best.I have also been to currency exchanges in Bur Dubai and found their conversion rates lesser then the ones offered by the banks at airport.
Unique Suggestions: I always prefer to get currency exchanged at airport. And I would also suggest others to use currency exchanged facilities offered by banks such as Emirates Bank and National Bank of Dubai at airport.
Not exactly a trap - just a warning.
Lots of people like to learn scuba diving on holiday, and experienced divers can't pass up the opportunity to get in the water, but because of all the offshore construction work (Palm Island, and now "the World" islands), the dive sites have been trashed by the dredgers and fleets of supply boats. There aren't any coral reefs - its all wreck dives off the Dubai coast. Sadly, most of these are unaccessible now.
Its great to do a PADI course in 5* luxury surroundings, but if you're new to diving, your open water dives are not going to be that great, and experienced divers will probably be disappointed.
Unique Suggestions: The dive centres (Pavilion at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel and Al Boom Marine) obviously know the local sites aren't up to standard, although they are still using a couple of them, but they are now offering excursions to the east coast (about an hour and a half drive) and Musandam (around two hours drive to Dibba then a long boat ride to the dive sites).
We would never discourage anyone from learning to scuba dive, but you do need to be aware that the visibility is pretty awful now (it was never that reliable anyway!).
Fun Alternatives: Diving off the east coast (Khor Fakkan / Fujeirah) and Musandam (Oman) is marvellous. Clear, calm, warm blue sea (most of the time), good visibility and a wonderful variety of marine life. If you really want to dive in the UAE, make the effort to get up early and go on a trip to the Indian Ocean on the east coast. We’ve had dives that rival the Maldives here!
- Diving and Snorkeling
I think I have to put the tips under the “Tourist Trap”
Due to multi culture environment in Dubai, sometimes many people forget that there are others who can understand what they are saying.
I witnessed a lot of “accidents” where tourist cursing in their native language or make fun of certain people, and it turns to that person fully comprehend the cursing or whatever they are saying.
You may find Indian speaks Spanish, Egyptian speaks German, Western speaks Urdu, Chinese speaks Arabic, Indonesian speaks Tagalog, Sri Lankan speaks Russian, etc.
Unique Suggestions: So, to avoid embarrassment, be careful if you are about saying something bad (or at least, if you cant help it, make sure none around, so that none will bothered to understand you ) :)
Fun Alternatives: Very simple : Mind your language and don't curse in public places (as non-smoking rules applied)
- Road Trip
- Business Travel
You can visit the Jumeira mosque inside only on thursday morning and sunday morning.
To do that you just have to go before 10 am and take your tiket.
When we went it was incredibly crowded and the person supposed to be our guide for the tour looked more like a comic of a resort then a guide.
He spent the little time we wasted listening to him trying to make the pulic laugh and explaining islam religion like if we all were at a primary school.
The first thing he said was: you can take picture everywhere inside and outside also if there are people praying, why? why should I be allowed to disturb someone, while praying, taking my pics?
So we just liestened to him a few minuts and then ran away.
Unique Suggestions: If you really want to see the mosque inside, go and then after you took your pictures, just go away saving yourself from this show.
- Religious Travel
Dubai ITSELF is the tourist trap of the century. All the hype of must go to Dubai... must see dubai.......it is the most overated destination I have been to. It is a colourless drab concrete jungle. Yes, there are lots of new buildings being constructed. Yes there is some interesting architecture,but there is more to a destination than looking at a lousy building. Firstly.....there is NO public transport, no trains, no buses.Thats right...no public transport. Just taxis with drivers intent on taking you the long way to increase the fare. And the queues for the taxis are so long you can't see the front pick up point. CARS?....cars,thousands of them.... 4 and 5 lane roads all full of cars at a standstill, gridlock. If it takes 15 mins to walk somewhere, it will take you an hour by taxi. The streets, the sidewalks, the blocks of land.... It's all under construction. It's a full on construction zone without anyone doing anything. There are holes, trenches,demolition, scaffolds,,dirt, etc etc etc, everywhere ......but no-one working at it. Where are they all????????? Why not get the job finished?All this means.....SMOG. Thats right....mixed with the fine sand blown off the desert is SMOG from the cars and building dust, which makes the whole area and horizon look like a smoke filled room. Shopping....what a load of rubbish. I compared catalogues from Sydney and can buy cheaper electronic goods in Sydney. The gold souk......again I bought gold cheaper in Europe and better quality diamonds in Europe. There are lots of yellowish tinged diamonds at the souk originating from India. Then theres the fake rolex watch salesmen....etc etc. Its not what it seems. BE VERY CAREFUL what you buy.Then there's the weather. Landed at 11:30 at night to a 36 degree temperature. There is one nice thing........there is one palm tree in the city , but it looks a bit thirsty. And they do have running water and electricity.
Unique Suggestions: IF you must go............. stop for a day, at the most two. It might be great destination in 4 or 5 years when they build the transport systems and clean and green up the place. But not now. It's a con. Also stay close to what you want to see otherwise you'll be spending most of your day in the traffic jams.
Watch the taxi drivers. Get a map and try and follow the route. They will drive past your hotel and take the long way round to your destinations. They will rip you off. Track your way on a map and dont be shy to say....HEY, turn here.!!!!!
Check gold and diamonds carefully before you buy. The quality in a lot of cases is just not there. Before you leave home bring catalogues to compare the prices of gold, diamonds and electronic and other goods.
Fun Alternatives: Rather than sit in traffic and breathe all the pollution.......Get to Europe and spend extra time there. There is much more to see and do. Much more scenic, more hospitable. Much more colourful and fun. More variety in shopping and better quality and prices.
When I travel, I depend on the internet to communicate with family back home. The internet service in the resorts is very expensive (approx 1 Dirham per min). There was an internet cafe located in the strip mall next to my hotel. I bought a membership for the week I was there and it worked out to be extremely cheap.
Unique Suggestions: If you have to use internet service within the resorts, ensure that the hotel staff log you off the computer when you are done. If you don't, then you will be charged even when you are not using it. Check and double-check how much internet time is billed to your room.
Fun Alternatives: If you go to City Centre Mall to shop, there is interenet service available on the second floor in the Electronics Store. Enter this store and walk straight to the back. It costs 10 Dirhams for 1 hour.
Whenever you want to cross the Creek, take an abra or watertaxi, shared with many other people (as a bus) for 50 fils but do not allow bored abra drivers to take you alone in the boat unless you intend to do a cruise. Sone if them lure the tourists into crossing the river alone on the boat and they charge them 10 Dh or more for it.
Cross with the rest of the local people and you will pay 50 fil only.
If you are interested in having a little cruise on your own you can hire an abra all for yourself. With some bargaining you should pay some 30 Dh for a half an hour trip or 70Dh for an hour one.
Unique Suggestions: Cross the Creek with the local people and only hire the abra all for yourself if you intend to take a little cruise.
- Arts and Culture
Madinat Jumeirah is the Arabian Resort of Dubai, a resort that doesn't look like a resort. Its webiste writes: "a magnificent tribute to Dubai's heritage and is styled to resemble an ancient Arabian citadel". it's a las Vegas style tribute - very much on the tacky side.
Inside there are hotels, shops (trying to look like a souq) restaurants, spas and conference centers. There are also abras on an artificial pond - for guests only.
Unique Suggestions: Eat at one of the restaurants - they are nice and not expensive... in particular the Italian restaurant (Toscana) was excellent: real olive oil and pasta cooked al dente.
Fun Alternatives: The heritage area around the creek is very similar (and more scenic)... and it's without the tacky shops.