TRAVEL FEATURE

A group of women visiting a mosque are provided with special head-to-toe dresses as a sign of respect.

I was in Dubai in July. We were visiting Ski Dubai, a 22,500 square metres indoor ski resort in the Mall of the Emirates, the largest shopping “resort” in the world.

The temperature outside was 109F, or 43C! Inside the temperature was a chilly -4C, or 40 degrees below the outside temperature. It was like a miracle. We found it hard to imagine that Dubai, the desert kingdom of United Arab Emirates (UAE), can offer skiing facilities where one could rush down a ski slope inside a mall in the Arabian Desert where  snow machines simulate the natural precipitation process perfectly. This, and other amazing tourists attractions, is exactly the kind of absurdity for which Dubai is famous.

Ski Dubai provides facilities inside the Arctic-like sub-zero winter wonderland where enthusiasts can race downhill on toboggans, roll down the slopes in clear inflatable giant balls, and get involved in several exhilarating, fun activities! The unathletic member of the family can enjoy a hot cocoa at

St. Moritz Café or watch a free daily show put on by a group of king penguins.

After all this fun, the whole family can conveniently go to watch a movie or have dinner at various restaurants in the mall. It’s hard not to admire Dubai for its indefatigable energy, dynamism, ambition and ability to dream up and achieve projects that elsewhere would never get off the drawing board.

Dubai is set to host World Expo 2020 and is preparing to welcome the world. Visitors are bound to be astounded by many more grand projects already in the pipeline. Dubai’s fame as the shopping haven and top retail destination is bound to satisfy any visitor who will be blinded by the city’s cultural diversity, culinary landscape, fashion, music or desert safari. Expo visitors are bound to see plenty of examples of Dubai outclassing itself.

Desert safari

To experience the traditional desert life, we took a Dubai desert safari. The organizers picked us from our hotel in a four-wheel drive Land Cruiser to the Lahbab Desert, approximately an hour drive. The thrilling and adventurous experience through peculiarly red dunes follows with our driver Hakim showing his driving skills with a convoy of other vehicles following close by.

We then proceeded to Al Khayam desert camp where we were given time to refresh with unlimited supply of soft drinks, Arabian coffee and sweets, and shisha smoking before participating in camel rides. This was followed by a barbecue dinner and entertainment with belly dancing — a traditional desert entertainment. A touch of class was when the camp’s lights were switched off completely to set a typical desert ambiance for tourists. Your desert safari ticket also entitles you to be dropped off back to your hotels.

Burj Khalifa

Another must to see in Dubai is Burj Khalifa, dubbed the world’s tallest building. Standing tall at 828m, it’s almost impossible to get the whole building in one photograph. The hotel has the world’s highest observation decks on three floors providing spectacular view of the city.

The tree-shaped Palm Jumeirah island is known for plush hotels, posh apartment towers and upscale global restaurants. Food trucks offering snacks like shawarma dot the Palm Jumeirah Boardwalk, popular for its views of the Dubai coastline and the sail-shaped Burj Al Arab hotel. In the evenings, beach clubs with spas and infinity pools turn into boisterous nightclubs with live DJs.

Gold Souk

Dubai Gold Souk is a traditional market in Dubai. The souk is located in Dubai’s commercial business district in Deira, in the locality of Al Dhagaya. The souk consists of over 380 retailers, most of whom are jewelry traders.

Dubai Spice Souk or the Old Souk is a traditional market in Dubai, located in eastern Dubai, in Deira and is adjacent to the Dubai Gold Souk. The Spice Souk, situated on Baniyas Street, is in the locality of Al Ras. This is an ideal place for spices, clothes and local souvenirs.

Abu Dhabi

I highly recommend also taking a trip to nearby Abu Dhabi, the capital city of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), located on an island connected to the mainland by two bridges. Plenty of tour companies offer day trips from Dubai to Abu Dhabi, which is a one-hour-and-45-minute drive in comfortable air-conditioned buses.

One of the main attractions in Abu Dhabi is the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the largest mosque in the country and a key place of worship for daily prayers. During Eid festival, the mosque is visited by more than 41,000 people.

The project was launched between 1996 and 2007 by the late president of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, aimed at uniting the cultural diversity of the Islamic world. His final resting place is located on the grounds adjacent to the complex.

As soon as we arrived at the mosque, our guide cautioned everyone that there was a strict dress code that must be followed by all visitors. “Your legs and arms need to be covered — no shorts or skirts above the ankle. Your clothes should not be tight fitting — this is not the place for yoga pants! Also make sure that the fabric of your clothes is opaque as see-through garments are inappropriate in a religious environment,” he advised.

We were directed to wear conservative, loose fitting clothing: no shorts for men while women instructed to wear a long-sleeved shirt or robe (abaya) and cover their heads with headscarf (Shayla). Women who were not dressed appropriately were provided long-sleeved attire on the bus by the guide to enable them to enter the mosque.

Tourist behaviour

The same rules of respectability are applicable to most Middle Eastern countries. Tourists and visitors should acquaint themselves with local customs, bearing in mind that as foreigners, it’s incumbent on visitors to adapt to the customs and social behaviour of the region.

Compared to other United Arab Emirates’ states, Dubai is very liberal. While observing Islamic law, tourists are advised to take precautions about what to do and say. Islamic law prohibits unmarried couples from living together or to share a hotel room. This is based on the Tawajed clause, which states that people of opposite sex cannot be alone together unless they’re married or are family.

Holding hands and kissing in public is disrespectful and not allowed. Alcohol is not legal in Dubai, except in hotels and certain high-end restaurants. Being drunk and disorderly in public is unacceptable, and may result in a fine or worse.

While wearing bikinis or swimsuits is not frowned upon, but topless sunbathing and thong-like bottoms should be avoided. When out of the water, one should cover from neck to feet. 

It is considered illegal in Dubai and may land you in legal trouble if caught to make a public display of affection, sex outside marriage, avoid any sign indicating homosexuality and the possession or use of drugs. If these simple rules of behaviour are followed, rest assured that you’ll have a holiday of a lifetime in and around Dubai.

Mansoor Ladha is a Calgary-based journalist, travel writer and author of Memoirs of a Muhindi: Fleeing East Africa for the West and Portrait in Pluralism: Aga Khan’s Shia Ismaili Muslims.