Ramadan in Dubai – epic fail or nailed it?
Of Souks and Sheiks
Dubai has never been right at the top of my bucket list for traveling, but I certainly wanted to at least have a glimpse of it at some stage in my life. Shopaholics rave about it and although I do enjoy the odd bit of shopping, it’s not a top priority for me. A few years ago we had the opportunity to stop over in Dubai on our way back from our holiday in Phuket.
After visiting one son who flew the nest many years ago, it was time to visit another who did the same. This time it was to Dubai. We were warned that it was Ramadan, but we were flying home from Thailand where we'd spent a two week holiday. Our stopover was in Dubai and considering it was en route, it would be worthwhile spending a few days with him.
Dismal disaster during Ramadan in Dubai or how to nail it?
(Disclaimer: This is not intended to offend anyone who observes Ramadan.)
Some facts and fables about Dubai, Ramadan and how tourists cope in the heat.
1. It is not a good idea to run around Dubai in their summer heat, in the middle of the day. This does not apply to Ramadan alone.
July is extremely hot. Let me reiterate: July is frigging hot! It’s as if a scorching bubble has sucked you up and squished you with a flaming electric blanket. We thought we’d be acclimatized after the heat and humidity of Thailand. Not a chance!
In the four days we were there, we walked about 50 kilometres. This was not at a relaxed pace. If you were there about four years ago, you might have spotted me – the giveaway would be the face that matched a red tomato. Even the bus shelters have air conditioning, but you can’t spend your whole day there just to cool down.
2. Eating and drinking is prohibited in communal areas.
We knew some restaurants would be closed but we didn’t realize how many. Being a cosmopolitan city, with many expats living there, one would have thought there would be a few more open. We’ve since discovered most expats go way during that period.
There were places you could purchase some food and drink, but you weren’t allowed to consume them in public places. Carting it all back to the hotel wasn’t always practical either, because we didn’t have a vehicle and trying to be our usual thrifty selves, didn’t consider taxis. In hindsight, it would have been worth spending money on a taxicab.
Not even being able to consume water in public places was difficult for us. At times it was unbearable, and we had to resort to chewing a few dates and slugging a bottle of water behind closed doors in the public restrooms where no one could see us.
3. If you enjoy alcoholic beverages, don't expect them to be readily available during Ramadan; even after sundown.
You may have an issue finding bars and restaurants that sell alcoholic drinks if you like your tipple. We were aware of it, and it didn’t bother us so much.
4. There are only limited restaurants or coffee shops open throughout the day.
The limited restaurants that were open were cordoned off with screens and their windows were covered too. We ate our breakfasts in those coffee shops, but there weren’t many available. We had no idea there would be so few open and ended up frequenting the same one most of the time.
5. Profanities, arguments and procrastinating are frowned upon. Be respectful, compassionate and generous to people.
We spent our last day walking through the Souks. By then I was worn-out and emotional. The heat was getting to me, and I normally love the summer heat. I’m ashamed to admit that just a tiny (OK, maybe not that tiny) bit of blasphemy slipped out. I must add, it very seldom happens. Blame it on the menopausal hormones! At least it was only in front of my family.
6. Even in 50+ degree Celsius heat, there will be a time that you could get cold. I’m sure you’ll be convinced I’m a batty fox!
Did you know you can freeze during Ramadan in Dubai? Not kidding.
No-one can describe that heat, until you’ve experienced it. Air conditioning in the buildings is a great respite, but that too can be short lived. When you’re dressed for heat and you spend some time in a cold building, you end up feeling chilly. My solution was to carry a pashmina with me, to cover my shoulders.
I bet you were thinking of Ski Dubai when I mentioned freezing! We did however peer through glass windows looking at it though.
My initial and inadequate impressions of Dubai:
The contemporary cosmopolitan metropolis of Dubai is clean and seems well maintained although there is so much construction taking place. It is a city of excessive extremities: tallest building, largest shopping mall, the most dazzle and probably the most expensive too. I’m convinced it probably has the most blistering climate too. I could be wrong though.
It is obligatory for adult Muslims to fast during Ramadan. There are exceptions though: Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding and those who are suffering from an illness, such as diabetes...I didn’t notice an exemption for women going through the anguish of menopause. They really need to add that one too!
Big Bus Dubai
We used the Big Bus Dubai Hop On Hop Off Tours to see as much of Dubai as we possibly could. Although it was worth every cent, it is a good idea to plan your route and tour. Consider the time you would spend at each stop and what you are keen on seeing. You could spend far too long at one sight and miss seeing the rest. It is expensive but there are some free extras which makes it worthwhile if you have the time.
Fountains and Burj Khalifa
The fountains at Dubai mall are a must to see at night. It is a short freebie worth seeing. We incorporated a spur of the moment tour up to the observation deck of the Burj Khalifa on the 124th floor. Initially the plan was to see it at daytime, but we were running short of time. Seeing the city lights from that height gave us a different perspective. I must admit I’m sorry I didn’t see it during the day though.
The Metro is cost-effective and efficient – when you want to stay parallel to the main highway which is Sheikh Zayed road. It is the longest road in the Emirates. Taxis are also quite reasonable, but it is quite confusing driving around Dubai. Roads and distances are misleading with the confusing practice of driving in the opposite direction to your destination in order for you to cross the freeway.
The Dubai creek is part of the older historical Dubai. Here you can pick up some of the Emirate culture. The museum is in the oldest existing building in Dubai, portraying Dubai’s history and culture day living. How could they survive without air-conditioning in the past? Quite ingenious actually. The air flow through their thick-walled houses and wind-towers kept them cooler.
A strange sight to see was the huge mobile air-conditioning units outside restaurants on the sidewalk. It’s certainly not Eco-friendly but trust me, when you’ve experienced the heat you would appreciate it.
A disappointment was that many of the displays of craftsmen and women at work aren’t active during Ramadan. The exhibitions at the Sheikh Saeed al Maktoum House were open though.
A fascinating scene along the banks of the creek is the traditional Arabian dhows used for trade to transport goods to other countries as far as India and East Africa. Ostensibly unguarded cargo in piles even at night, ready to be carried on board. It’s not something that we could do in South Africa. It wouldn’t take long for our thieves to remove them.
Tip: If you want to visit the Souks, arrive without being flustered, cool, calm and eager to browse with plenty of time in hand. Have the patience to chat to the traders while they lure you with a silk scarf thrown over your shoulder. If you’re hot and bothered, like I was, that extra layer of silk in that heat, even if it is flimsy and sheer, could push you over the edge!
If you’re looking for gold, you’ll find it at the Gold Souk. Flashy, ornate necklaces that looked like they weighed a ton. Thinking of that makes me break out in sweat already, and while I write this, I’m sitting in a cool 20 degrees C.
Desert or Tropics?
We couldn’t get over the greenery, essentially in a sandy desert. Admittedly it was all brought in and planted after the buildings were complete. I didn’t get to see the Miracle garden, but it is closed during the scorching summer. I’m not surprised, seeing that I wilted in that heat.