United Arab Emirates

Oil rich United Arab Emirates, consisting of 7 emirates, is one of the richest countries in the Middle East. Since we often use UAE as a transit country, we’ve visited this fascinating region numerous times over the past decade. The emirate of Dubai is constantly in a state of transformation, impressing us to no end with its daring architectural visions brought to life. The tiny emirate of Ajman beckoned us to explore its museum, which is located in an 18th Century fort. Sharjah is an emirate known as the cultural heart of the UAE, and we had a chance to check out the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization, King Faisal’s Mosque, and the Al Majaz waterfront (corniche). The east coast emirate of Fujairah lured us to take a dip in the Gulf of Oman, and the capital emirate of Abu Dhabi warranted a quick visit when one of our flights was diverted there. Overall, we find the UAE to be a convenient hub and an intriguing (albeit pricey) destination.

Basket weaving scene; Ajman Museum Image of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the constitutional monarch of UAE, superimposed on the mountainside near Masafi Men relaxing with their shisha pipes; Ajman Museum display Beautiful pottery for sale; Masafi Friday Market School children running amok; Ajman Museum Colorful cacti for sale; Masafi Market Fruits and vegetables for sale; Masafi market A woman modeling a "burqa", which in the UAE refers to the face covering that is painted or dyed gold and rubbed until shiny; Ajman Museum Pottery for sale at the Masafi "Friday Market" (Souq al Juma), even though its now open 7 days a week! Replica bedouin tent scene; Ajman Museum Driving past the Oasis of Dhaid Canyon vista near Masafi Courtyard view of Ajman Museum The rugged Hajar Mountains separate Fujairah from the rest of the country School girls on a field trip to Ajman Museum, housed in an old ruler's palace which was built in the 18th Century A traditional scene on display at the Ajman Museum Detail on a wall built outside of Ajman's excellent museum A massive UAE flag beside the Sharjah waterfront Wire fish traps line the waterfront; Sharjah Two women clad in black abayas seek refuge from the midday sun underneath a palm tree; Sharjah View of Dibba Mosque A shark statue at a traffic roundabout; Fujairah Lots of water sport activities available at Sandy Beach Hotel; Fujairah The rugged Hajer Mountains overlooking a beach resort in Fujairah View of Snoopy Island, a popular dive site in the Gulf of Oman; beachfront of Sandy Beach Hotel; Fujairah View of the oldest mosque in the UAE, made entirely of mud and stone; Al Badiyah Mosque in Fujairah A worshipper enters the Al Badiyah Mosque, famous for being the oldest and smallest mosque in the UAE Originally built as a traditional souq but converted later into a museum, the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization is not to be missed, especially for its mosaic constellations on the dome's ceiling Lanterns adorn the central dome of Sharjah's Museum of Islamic Civilization Intricate detail of a curved dagger; Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization Detail of a jewelry infused bodice; Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization Mother of Pearl replica of the Dome of the Rock; Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization The oldest fort in the UAE, Fujairah Fort, was built in 1670 and badly damaged by the British in the early 20th Century View of the fort walls and lookout tower; Fujairah Fort Dhows lining the Sharjah waterfront Locals beating the midday heat beneath a shady tree; outside the Souq al-Arsa A tourist models a red/white checkered headdress locally known as a "ghutra"; Souq al-Arsa View of the intricate bead and embroidery work on the bodice of a souvenir dress; Souq al-Arsa Detail of Arabic coins sewn onto the bodice of a dress; Souq al-Arsa in Sharjah Recycled shell casings used to make souvenir tanks and aircraft; Souq al-Arsa Curly toed slippers for sale; Souq al-Arsa in Sharjah View of Bitna Oasis and its 16th Century Portuguese Fort; Fujairah UAE flag above a lantern in the Souq al-Arsa, considered one of the most atmospheric souqs in the UAE Inner courtyard view of Bait Al Naboodah; Sharjah heritage area Carpets from Iran, Afghanistan and Turkey on display at the Blue Souq; Sharjah The aptly named "Blue Souq"; Sharjah Massive gold jewelry sets for sale; Blue Souq in Sharjah Fanciful gold necklaces for sale; Gold Souq section of Sharjah's Blue Souq Interior view of Sharjah's Blue Souq The fruit and vegetable souq (next to the Al Jubail bus station); Sharjah Delicious dates for sale (at a bargain price); Sharjah fruit and vegetable market A mosque at the Sharjah corniche Sharjah's Al Majaz waterfront View of the Al Qasba complex; Sharjah Al Qasba canal (with "Eye of the Emirates"); Sharjah View of "Ski Dubai"; inside Mall of Emirates Lanterns for sale; Mall of Emirates Fancy a camel souvenir? Pick one up at the Mall of Emirates Becky poses next to a life sized camel statue; The Dubai Mall At 828 meters, the Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world Posing in front of Burj Khalifa Lake View of the Dubai Mall Waterfall (with diving statues) Another view of the Dubai Mall divers A recreation of a traditional Arabic Souk, located inside the Dubai Mall Robby poses next to a gigantic vase; Dubai Mall Becky stands beneath a whimsically fantastic lollipop tree; Dubai Mall Robby snags a hug from a red eyed tree frog; Dubai Mall The message is clear at the chocolate section of a massive candy store in the Dubai Mall Visitors gather for the nightly free choreographed fountain light and music display at the Dubai Fountain The magnificent light and music display at the Dubai Fountain The shopping mall of Deira City Center is packed with shoppers View of Gulf men wearing traditional outfits. Their white robes are known as "dishdasha", and their red & white checkered headdress is known as "gutra". The gutra is held in place by a black cord referred to as an "agal" The brightly colored fishing mural is a dead giveaway for the Dubai Fish Market, a must for the first time visitor Butchers chopping up goat heads; Dubai Buckets of shrimp sold by the KG; Dubai fish market Fresh shark for sale at the Dubai Fish Market View of a wind tower, used to create natural ventilation in buildings; Heritage House Kitchen area, Dubai Heritage House A vendor proudly showing off his red snapper for sale, Dubai Fish Market Courtyard view of the Dubai Heritage and Diving Center There is even a wide assortment of dried fish for sale; Dubai Fish Market Lanterns adorning the Dubai Heritage and Cultural Center Becky enjoys some coconut juice while taking a breather in the sweltering summer heat Beautifully restored buildings, such as this one complete with wind towers, line the Dubai waterfront Entrance to the Gold Souk, Dubai The Dubai Gold Souk showcases an obscene amount of gold, as store after store displays a bewildering amount of 22 carat gold for sale Merchant vessels on Dubai Creek Robby hanging out on our dhow Courtyard view of the Heritage House in Dubai Shopping district, Dubai Creek Cozy reception, Heritage House Tour boat to the Dubai Heritage and Diving Center Covered courtyard, Heritage House Wild Wadi Water Park entrance The 321 meter tall Burg Al Arab towers over the Madinat Jumeirah Resort complex The Madinat Jumeirah is a sprawling 5 star resort with over 5 KM of waterways that are linked by water taxis The upscale Madinat Jumeirah resort complex was designed to resemble a traditional Arabic town, and includes over 40 restaurants, 2 boutique hotels and a souq Entrance way to an antique shop, Madinat Jumeirah Souk Sand art arranged in various sized glass bottles for sale; Madinat Jumeirah Souk A worker demonstrates sandpainting (creating sand art in a bottle), Madinat Jumeirah Souk A picturesque compact mosque in bustling Abu Dhabi A HMMWV with traditional desert scenes painted on each door; Abu Dhabi Robby is pleasantly surprised at how reasonable taxi fares are; Abu Dhabi View of the sprawling capital city of UAE, Abu Dhabi Close up of a Dubai based license plate (complete with a Burj Al Arab icon) Downtown scene, Abu Dhabi "May the force be with you"...locals struggle to push a stalled Star Wars theme van; Abu Dhabi purchase photo gallery softwareby VisualLightBox.com v6.1

What to do with limited time? Read on and see what you can accomplish with only 12 hours in Dubai.

We stayed in the heart of Deira, at the San Marco Hotel. This budget option met all our needs, including easy access to the city’s main sights. After our breakfast buffet, we set out to explore the city after requesting a late checkout (which the friendly staff had no problem arranging).

Word of warning…there is a reason why all Dubai hotels slash their prices in half during the summer months. The weather is absolutely unbearable outdoors, with the heat index soaring to outrageous levels and the humidity serving as the final nail in the proverbial coffin. Seriously, we were drenched with sweat our every walking moment outside of AC-blasted rooms. We were told that everyone tackles this problem by bringing an extra set of clothes on the way to work so they can change into something dry once they reach the confines of a reasonable temperature. Little did we know that the heat would be so overbearing, but hey…we wanted to see Dubai so we suffered through it and are glad we did.

First stop? The very chaotic, lively and colorful fish market. We walked there from our hotel, and our surroundings were immediately transformed into a section of Dubai that truly reminded us of the Middle East. Finally! We were wondering if there were any nooks or crannies that would reveal that we were in this section of the world, versus a sanitized city that could be located anywhere in Europe. The fish market did not disappoint, and we were beckoned in to see the museum that gave us a bit of history of Dubai’s fishing past. Inside the bustling market, we first walked through the butcher shops, where we were jokingly offered pieces of cow’s brains, balls, and tongue! The butchers absolutely loved us wandering through their stalls, and kept urging us to take their photos. In the fish market area, we were astounded at the vast selection of fresh seafood: shark, crab, shrimp, muscles, barracuda, tuna, red snapper, eels, and sting rays to name a few. Most of the vendors were Pakistani, and they beckoned us to take photos of them, proudly displaying their wares.

Afterwards, we grabbed fresh coconut juice from the fruit/vegetable market, and then strolled over to eye the world famous Gold Souk. Dubai’s Gold Souk is amazing, and contains more gold than you would ever dream was possible. Row after row of 24 carat gold necklaces, bracelets, rings, and pendants dazzled and amazed us (although we aren’t too keen on the yellowish 24 carat gold look…Becky is more into white gold, platinum or silver). In any case, the Gold Souk is a must, if only to marvel at the vast selection, quantity and quality of wares for sale. There is nothing comparable to the Gold Souk in the world…we have never seen more tantalizing displays of pompous wealth before our eyes!

Afterwards, we cooled our heels at the Heritage house, which is a 5 minute walk from the Gold Souk. The house was built in the 1890s, and is probably the best example of a traditional Emirate family house in Dubai. What is even better is that its free! We were welcomed to wander around and take note of the traditional fabrics, materials, and furniture dispersed throughout the large house. Wax displays of the family wearing traditional garb were also strewn throughout. After watching the informative video on various Emirate children’s games, we decided to take our beating back in the sun and wandered down towards the creek.

Our jaunt on the Dubai creek was very easy to organize. In fact, we had no sooner walked towards the creek when we were approached by a dhow river boat captain who agreed to ferry us up and down the creek in our very own dhow. After negotiating a rate for an hour long ride, we relaxed on the creek and admired the many mosques and modern buildings competing for waterfront views. Many of the more fanciful hotels have been built right up on the riverbanks, and they command magnificent views of the creek and beyond. We asked to get dropped off at the Heritage and Diving village located at the mouth of the creek at the culmination of the trip and wandered around the empty village. Apparently the village is a great place to see potters and weavers display their handiwork, but today the village was a ghost town (maybe it was the heat?)

No visit to Dubai would be complete without a trip to see the world famous Burj al Arab, one of the only 7 star hotels in the world (cheapest room is $1000 a night!!!). So we duly hopped into a taxi and made our way out there. Security is fairly tight, and without signing up for a guided tour or booking a room at the hotel ourselves, we were stuck admiring the hotel from beyond the security fence. And we weren’t the only ones! Burj al Arab lures in a ton of tourists who gaze longingly from a distance at this amazing building. The medina mall adjacent to Burj al Arab offers magnificent views over this section of Dubai, and is full of fanciful stores selling even more fanciful wares. We window shopped (the only thing we could afford) and then decided to head over towards the City Center complex to catch a movie and relax in AC surroundings.

Overall, Dubai is a fascinating city that definitely warrants a few days. Since we will be traveling here many times over the course of our future vacations (Dubai is the international hub for the Middle East), we will explore more of this vibrant city in due time. Until then, explore this shopper’s paradise for yourselves! But be careful of sticker shock…the affordable prices of Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan are non-existent here! High rollers and smartly dressed attire is a must if you want to hang out with the big-whigs of this up and coming destination.

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