Traveling to Dubai or Beijing? Follow These Do's and Don'ts


Dubai has worked hard to earn the reputation of having the biggest, richest, and best of everything. For building buffs there's the world's tallest tower, the Burj Dubai, and the sail-shaped Burj Al Arab, the world's first 7-star hotel. For shoppers there's the Dubai Mall, the largest in the world, parked in front of the Dubai Fountain, the biggest dancing waterworks in the world. Inside the Dubai Mall there's the world's largest aquarium viewing panel, with a built-in tunnel for 360 degree views of a shark tank. If you're going to visit this unique place, follow these simple do's and don'ts.

DO: Get over the beach and out to the desert. Dubai's desert sports offerings are world class and unique. Hit the dunes for a day of sandboarding, go on a camel ride, get behind the wheel for some desert off-roading in a 4x4, or enjoy a peaceful night of camping in the sands. The desert weather can actually be a pleasant break from the humidity of the coast, especially at night. So while you're here take a day or two to explore the sands beyond the beach.

DO: Check out "old" Dubai. Put the skyscrapers, shopping malls, and beaches aside for a day to explore old Dubai, the area around Dubai Creek. Just 1 dirham (roughly 30 cents) will buy you a scenic cross-creek ride along Dubai's historical district. This area is rich with traditional architecture, complete with wind towers and houses restored in traditional style. Creekside attractions include the Gold and Spice Souks, the old quarter of Bastakiya, and the Dubai Museum (admission is 3 dirhams – less than $1).

DO: Take in local culture. At first glance one might miss it, but Dubai has some serious culture. At the mouth of Dubai Creek you'll find Heritage Village, with its potters, weavers, and pearl divers. In the industrial Al Quoz district you'll find a trove of trendy art galleries (see especially The Third Line and Ayyam Gallery ). If you have the time, take a short trip up to Sharjah, the next-door Emirate and seat of more than a dozen worthwhile museums.

DO: Sample Dubai's wide and wonderful ethnic mix. Cheesy as it sounds, Dubai is indeed a crossroad of cultures. What that means for your vacation is a lively set of options for food and entertainment. Whether it's salsa at Malecon, the Russian Cabaret at Troyka or Bhangra at Café Bollywood, a sense of adventure and an open mind will get you half way around the world. Some of our favorites on the food side are Thai at the Smiling BKK; Lebanese at Karam Beirut, overlooking Ski Dubai; Pasta at Carluccio's near the Dubai Fountain; Pars Iranian Kitchen in Satwa; and Indego Restaurant for Indian (or Ravi Restaurant for a less elegant, but outstanding Pakistani food at half the price).

Say N-O to PDA

DO NOT: Show your love in public. Public displays of affection - even a kiss on the cheek to your spouse - can get you as much as a year in jail. It's a rule that's not always enforced, but you're way better safe than sorry. Last year a British couple was arrested, caught having sex on the beach. Though their sentence was commuted, they faced prison time and hefty fines. Also watch what you wear – shorts, skirts, and skimpy tops are discouraged. In some parts of the UAE they are illegal. Follow the cues around you and you should be fine – for example, bikinis and more revealing clothes are allowed on the beach. To cover the unlikely event that you do get in trouble it's a good idea to travel with your local consulate number handy. The U.S. Consulate in Dubai can be reached during working hours at +971 (0)4 311-6000. In the case of an after-hours emergency, the number is +971 (0)2 414 2200 for help from the U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi.

DO NOT: Come in summer. With average summer midday temperatures hovering around 103-105ºF and humid, you'll want to avoid Dubai from June to September. Even the waters of the Persian Gulf can be uncomfortably warm. In autumn, winter, and spring the weather is ideal, normally in the 70s and 80s with plenty of sunshine. Also avoid the month of Ramadan if you want to see the place in full swing – restaurants shutter and the city slows down as observant Muslims fast by day. On the other hand, come during Ramadan if you'd like to learn more about Islam's holiest month and enjoy the sumptuous evening buffets known as "Iftar," or breakfast.

DO NOT: Hit hot spots on weekends, if you can avoid it. The Muslim weekend is observed on Friday and Saturday in Dubai. That means that if you're visiting for the Western weekend, Sunday is a great day to beat the lines and enjoy more of Dubai's top attractions. That applies especially to attractions like Ski Dubai and the city's two main water parks, Wild Wadi and Aquaventure.

DO NOT: Spend all your time with expats. It may seem hard to do, given that roughly 80 percent of the population is non-native. But don't let that discourage you. Start with the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, where you can sign up for a Bastakiya walking tour or a cultural breakfast with an Emirati guide.

DO NOT: Take pictures of locals. You may be curious and eager to take snapshots of locals in their national dress – a white robe for men called a dishdasha, and a black covering for women called an abaya. But don't. It's considered rude and bothersome to take pictures of locals without their permission. Photographing women can offend their modesty, and could result in your camera being confiscated.

Beijing, China

DO: Be careful when walking down the street. People like to spit in China (a lot). The Chinese government tried to put a stop to spitting in public before the Olympic games in 2008, but spitting in public is still considered socially acceptable.

DO: Make sure to take full advantage of the cheap Chinese food and cheap massages, but bring some Imodium, just in case. Between spicy dishes and questionable sanitation, even in the best restaurants, food poisoning and indigestion is possible.

DO: Take the time to drive an hour outside the city to see the Great Wall of China. It is gorgeous and is completely different from what you will experience in the city. Also, try to meet some of the locals. Like in many places, the country folk can be much more charming than the urban people. And many will want to take photos of you.

DO: Go to the zoo to see the pandas. And shell out the extra money to hold one and get your photo taken. All your friends will be jealous.

DO: Keep a tally and take pictures of every person you see sleeping in public and every young couple you see wearing matching t-shirts. It's common for young couples to buy his and her t-shirt before traveling together.

DO: Bargain for at least 5 to 10 minutes and pretend to walk away at least once. If haven't done this, congratulations, you just paid double the actual price. People bargain very aggressively here, don't be surprised if the starting price is only a fraction of what you think the item is worth. Just know before you start negotiating that if you don't want to be overcharged, you are going to have to invest a little time.

DO: Get a bike. When the traffic is bad it's one of the quickest ways to travel. But watch out for the cars, because they won't always be watching out for you. China has bike lanes for just this reason, but cars are regularly in them, so unfortunately they don't offer a great deal of protection.

Why did the tourist cross the road?

DO NOT: Expect the locals to speak English. Students will very often know some English, but the older generations do not. Vendors in big markets carry calculators for easy bargaining and will usually know enough English to help you. Cab drivers, on the other hand, generally do not speak English, but a seasoned driver should be able to decipher even the most broken Chinese.

DO NOT: Be surprised to see babies and young children with holes in the back of their pants. Disposable diapers don't really exist here, so the toddlers just go to the bathroom out on the streets.

DO NOT: Take a video camera to Tiananmen Square and try to talk to the locals about what happened in 1989. Plainclothes police officers will swarm you and make you stop. The government has gone to great lengths to ensure that no one talks about the 1989 protests and subsequent massacre. If you are not careful, you may very well find yourself behind bars.

DO NOT: Miss a trip to Wangfujing snack street where you can sample every example of local cuisine including scorpions and such, if you fancy that sort of thing. Be careful not to accidentally eat one of your favorite furry friends - Donkey and dog are the most common mistakes. Also, do not eat hot pot before a night out, the smell will follow you all night.

DO NOT: Exercise outside. The pollution in Beijing is still very bad and it takes a long time to get used to it. China is the highest emitter of greenhouse gases and Beijing is ranked the 13th most polluted city in the world. The fifth most polluted city, Tianjin, is only about an hour away. Leading up to the Olympics, the government began restricting traffic and planting trees, but the city is still generally covered by smog. It doesn't help that Beijing is a city surrounded by mountains, which traps the pollution emitted by its factories.

DO NOT: Expect traffic to move exactly according to lights. Just because all the cars have a red, does not mean that one won't almost run you over. Driving is a new phenomenon here and there is a serious lack of experience.

This report was contributed by Beth Loyd and Emily MacDonald.