I am not going to talk about the things that you can do in Dubai. I will write a separate one for that if you really must go. For you must go at least once to look at what makes it so crazy famous on luxury and how are they driving this desert city to be one of the most popular tourist destinations of all time.
You will never see anything like Dubai, anywhere. Except maybe, the catching-up Abu Dhabi. 50 years ago, there was nothing. Just a vast desert, miles of sand dunes and the coastline of the Mediterranean Sea. And today they have 'the tallest building in the world', 'the biggest mall in the world', 'the biggest man-made island' in the world and quite a lot more.
But does this make Dubai a great place to visit? Maybe once.
Will I recommend this to my friends or anyone else? Definitely No.
I am not a great fan of Dubai and here is why:
1. The Scorching Heat: Oh god no! I live in a tropical country and very close to the equator, but it still cannot compare to Dubai weather. The terrain of Dubai is mostly desert. And it tends to absorb the average heat and magnifies it to push the Dubai temperature to well around 45-degree Celsius during summers. I was looking out of the window on the flight and the view from a half hour to landing is amazing. Miles of dry, sandy terrain, but you know what's odd? Clouds! For there are none. And a lack of clouds with arid air makes it quite hard to stay outdoors for long. And a frequent switch to air-conditioned spaces to outside weather may get sick.
Here is what you do. Try to avoid visiting Dubai during the summers. Winters and autumn are a good time for tourism, and you will be able to enjoy the outdoors to the fullest. Get a hat or a cap to cover your head when walking outside. It is the reason the locals wear the traditional headscarf "Keffiyeh" to protect themselves from the heat.
Dress light and in cotton preferably. Shorts are usually acceptable in Dubai for men and women along with Skirts but try to keep it around knee length in the daytime for you get some disapproving stares. Although you will find the culture extremely modern in their attire and the city filled with Europeans. And the nightclubs allow women in almost any attire. Dress code for men would be stricter for restaurants and nightclubs where flip flops and casual shorts are not allowed. Although there is no law defining what should be worn on beaches, restrict wearing bikinis in the resort or pool areas of your hotel.
2. A Concrete Jungle: I am a lover of outdoor spaces and natural habitat. And in Dubai, nature is harsh. So, unless you are in love with miles of desert, sand dunes and desert lizards, you are not going to get much. Dubai is all made by man. And when the man made it, they made it in cement and steel. So be ready to experience the grandeur of architectural feats by humans.
There are enormous multi-lane roads which also get jammed in traffic during office hours, flyovers, metro connecting the whole city, malls, showrooms, residential spaces, flats, villas, bungalows, hotels, restaurants, bars, nightclubs, day clubs, mosques, shopping complex, souks, offices, anything and everything that you can think of what man could create, you will find it here.
Weekend in Dubai will mean mostly going to the mall, restaurants or to the beach. So if you are planning to spend more time in Dubai than a vacation, make up your mind about it beforehand.
3. Gaga on Makeup and Retail: While in India, wearing make up is something that women do on occasions. If you don't take the Ekta Kapoor's bahus into consideration. But damn, Dubai is high on makeup! I think it must have started when women, restricted by their laws of wearing burqa wanted to express themselves better. But it's not just the locals. All women in Dubai wear crazy amount of makeup. I barely saw anyone without a fake eyelash or heavy amount of foundation and vibrant eyeshadow. Or perhaps, it was just a cultural shock to me.
And while on the topic, the weekends are dedicated to shopping. It is a shopper's paradise and a retailer's benchmark. The Dubai Mall is the most luxurious mall in the world and the prices on the products will make your head spin. The products are like something that you never see anywhere else and shamelessly blingy. But then, what else are you supposed to do on a weekend in Dubai?
4. There is always a Regular and a Premium: The subjugation of the riches! There is almost nowhere in the whole city, no place which has not been divided into a 'regular' and a 'premium' space. From monuments to desert safari, hotels, lounges, restaurants to I am sure toilets at some places. The concept of equality is simple plain funny. If you got money babe, they will show you better things to spend on.
It also comes from the disproportionate imbalance of wealth between the Arabs and the Expats. There are not even one-sixth locals out of the total population of Dubai and when Dubai made an exorbitant amount of money in oil, they decided to split the riches with the locals which is an extremely noble thing to do. Maybe UAE wants it that way, but inequality does not top the charts of their social issues
The influx of expats from mostly India and Pakistan has been in similar middle-class working class. While initially people came to make money, live below their means to send it back home, in the recent years the government of UAE has urged expats to get settle in Dubai and spend the money locally. These are the people you will see in usual day-to-day life.
There is a very large segment of people, mostly men that you will never see in Dubai. Its as if they don't even exist. These are thousands of workers who are trafficked to the country with their passports seized and made to work in extreme heat and meager pay. Who do you think makes this concrete jungle? These are not even regulars. In Dubai, they don't exist.
5. It's a 'fine' country: Although I never drove in Dubai, I spoke to almost all my cab drivers. And most of them were Pakistanis. It was amazing to listen to them talk about their home in the mountains which they had to leave to come to Dubai to look for a job. Broke my heart, especially for the fact that they seemed so much like Indians.
Anyway, they told me that there is just an insane number of fines imposed in lieu of the traffic rules. And most of them are not even clearly defined as 'entering the road in a dangerous manner' which will get you a fine of at least 200 AED. If a person in the backseat does not wear their seatbelts that 400 AED for each person. That's 7,500 INR or $109. And these get cut by the driver's salary. These guys fear to look at their salary slip for they are not even aware of where exactly they were fined. Dubai is a 'fine' country and that's how they make a lot of money
6. Media Policing: Dubai is probably the only country in the world where media does not have freedom of speech. While I will not go in depth of the topic due to lack of facts, but it is highly unlikely that you will ever find any news in media if the facts of an event are skewed against the ruling regime. A lot of people have been confiscated, even jailed for speaking against the government.
I happened to be there in Dubai last year during a time of great unrest and on the verge of war breaking out, however, you couldn't find any trace of information on it in Dubai. It also keeps the nation very positive since the negative sentiments are kept in control. Well, as long as people are happy!
I am not going to end in the note on 'despite the facts' line. It's so mainstream that you may end up going anyway sometime or maybe a layover will do. And enjoy while at it. Dubai changes every day and will continue to do so in the next 20 years. They are also pushing the extends of humans feat and what our civilization is capable of achieving.