My trip would not have been complete without a sand dunes desert experience.
I worked with photographer Akemi Hoshi, an expat from Austria. It’s always a pleasure meeting creatives abroad and learning about their lifestyle and worldly views. If there was one thing I learned about the UAE, it’s that the expats who reside there are very global and well traveled.
I had a vision for this shoot and with respect to the culture, I covered up with a dress from a Kuwait brand called, Riva. The striking yellow and comfortable airy design made me feel like an Arabian princess. I later came to find the dress was a collaboration between Indian designer Manish Arora x Riva. Everything was perfect and the photos are stunning!!
My husband often travels to India for work and for the past few years, timing didn’t quite work out for me to go with him. Finally, this was the year to take advantage. When I was booking my trip to Mumbai, I made sure I was flying Emirates, the best airlines in its class. And for people who are headed to either Europe, Asia or Africa from the US, Dubai is a popular stopover. It’s a shame some travelers skip out on experiencing Dubai all together. And what IS there to do in Dubai but shop in an ultra modern city?!
For one thing, I’ve never been to a muslim country before and I was curious to know what it was like. How do I dress, how do I act and can I casually talk to people when I’m standing next to them at the mall. Even though Dubai wasn’t a big cultural destination for most, I still wanted to experience a new city, meet the people, see what culture is left and what life is like in the United Arab Emirates.
Before coming to Dubai, I made sure to do some research beforehand so I didn’t look like an idiot. Below are some facts to know before going.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a very westernized muslim country
While in Dubai, I was expecting souks, lots of Arabic food and fashion, but what I saw was Shake Shack, Five Guys Burgers and Fries! Arabic food and having a hookah after dinner was available, but in fancy restaurants. You have to go a little further out to experience inexpensive Arabic food. The Emirati culture as a whole is a global fusion. And a majority of the population are ex-pats while only 19% are UAE Nationals.
There are Filipinos and Indians everywhere!
I instantly felt like I was back in Manila. “Kumusta kana po!” WOAH! Am I in the Philippines?! Everywhere I turned, I noticed the entire working class consists of Filipinos and Indians. Most of the time when I travel to another country, I get a sense of the culture when chatting with local workers. In Dubai that was not the case. I found myself making friends with Filipinos, Indians and Moroccans! They served me my water, carried my bags, drove me to town or gave me a massage. It made me happy because I miss the Philippines which is my parents home country, but it also made me sad because I know they are all working there alone to send money home to their families.
Dubai is the 3rd richest country in the world
I kid you not, but I saw a man driving a yellow Lamborghini with a pet baby tiger. The tiger had a bling collar and was enjoying the breeze from the car window just like a dog.
The Dubai Mall is largest shopping mall in the world
I of course spent most of my time here 🙂
Premarital relations, PDA and Homosexuality are illegal
If caught, it could land you in jail. Yet, there are a lot of young, attractive single people with a lot of money. I saw a lot of glamour, a vibrant nightlife, stunning beaches and models walking around. It felt like Vegas and I kept wondering, how do people go on dates?! So I read up and apparently if you wanted to hold hands or steal a kiss on the first date, you’d have to do it in the privacy of your home or hotel, etc.
Alcohol is permitted in certain areas
You can find alcohol within hotels and high-end restaurants. Public drunkenness is considered disrespectful.
Holy Month of Ramadan
Ramadan is a holy month when Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. Ramadan literally started the day I flew out, so I was very lucky!! Otherwise eating and drinking (even water) is not permitted in public. If you really need a sip of water, you can do so in hiding, like the bathroom! Though I’ve heard the city has become lenient enough where there are designated areas covered from view for non-muslims to consume food and drink. My cousin who showed me around mentioned how much she actually looked forward to Holy Month. It gave her a chance to quit smoking and shops host special Ramadan sales.
Clothing is very conservative
Conservative clothing is advised while touring around the Emirates and this isn’t only due to the predominantly Islamic culture, but for all cultures residing there. From muslim to christian, to hinduism, it’s respectful to dress appropriately and keep your shoulders and knees covered. But if you’re at the beach or swimming pool, it’s okay to wear a bikini or swim trunks as long as you cover up when you get back indoors.
Since I was curious, I wanted to know why the Emirati muslims wore white or black. I found their attire was inherited from the Bedouin culture. Men wore thawbs, which are white robes. And women wore abayas, which are long black dresses with a hijab, a head scarf that covers the hair and neck. Sometimes you’ll see some women cover their mouth and nose with only their eyes exposed.
I found it fascinating that Emirati muslim women love to shop!! With abayas as their daily wear, why waste money on shopping for clothes? Apparently, once in the company of their female friends and family, they undress to show off their latest fashion.
Friday and Saturday is their weekend
Friday is considered holy day and Sunday is the start of their work week.
Pork is not served anywhere
I wish we had this rule at home lol, but in case you are a pork lover, you won’t find any in the UAE.
Aside from all the restrictions, things may feel forbidden at first, but I came to learn that because of it, the Emirates felt like the safest travel environment I’ve ever experienced. The respectful culture to women and children were remarkable to me. And as a female, safety is one of the biggest concerns when traveling alone. You learn to understand the rationale behind Islam and I respect the devotion they have to their religion.
Have you been to the UAE? If so, what were your initial thoughts? And if not, would you go?