Day Trips to Hatta and Al Ain

In both Dubai and Abu Dhabi there are two remarkable day trips to do.

On one visit to Dubai, when we stayed in the Royal Mirage Palace Hotel (a fantastic hotel with an incredible swimming pool and attentive staff), we drove an hour to the destination of Hatta. Hatta is a traditional village enclosed in the Hajar Mountains, away from the trapping heat and dust of the desert surroundings. It acts as a perfect escape for relaxation and solitude from the throbbing and pulsating Dubai, a calm retreat in the mountains. The landscape is beautiful, and has a popular heritage museum that encapsulates the traditional life and dwellings of the Hatta people well. Visit the Dam and the Jumer Mosque, as well as Hill Park, for glances of reconstructed buildings and to obtain wonderful views of the area. A must whilst you are in Hatta, is to explore the Hatta rock pools, a hive of natural beauty in a traditional town. Activities also include camel rides, sand boarding and “wadi bashing“, (dune chasing and smashing in a retro looking Jeep).

From Abu Dhabi and Dubai, one can visit Al Ain in under 2 hours. Al Ain, otherwise known as “The Garden City,” is similar to that of Hatta, although it offers much more scope and variety in activities, because of its status as the fourth largest city in the UAE. On the border of Oman, this city offers a form of escapism that can entertain the family for more than just a day or two. There are traditional things to see such as the Al Kharir Animal Souq; Al Ain Museum and Fort,  Al Ain National Museum, or the Al Ain Oasis, which is where Al Ain acquired their reputation from. The oasis is a perfect place to take a stroll, hiding away from the blazing sun and finding shelter under hundreds of blossoming date palms.  Head over to the second highest mountain in the UAE, Jebel Hafeet for a picturesque view over Al Ain at sunset. Al Ain is becoming more and more of a tourist destination for locals and the expats that live in the neighbouring countries. With fun and entertaining activities such as visiting the zoo, safari park, hot springs, and Wadi Adventure (an adventure park filled with exhilarating rides up in the air and in the fast paced man made river below), it is easy to see why Al Ain is such an attraction.

If holidaying or living in Dubai and/or Abu Dhabi, a visit to these serene escapes is a must. Just choose between a quiet traditional village, or a bustling garden of activity.

 

 

 

 

Lifestyles of The Rich and Tax Free: Dubai and Abu Dhabi

Living in Abu Dhabi for a brief spell of two years meant that after living in Bahrain, I soon found out what life was like in a wealthier, glossier and greener country in the Middle East. One that had connections to the glitziest and most extraordinary city in the Middle East (Dubai) but also a city that did not turn their back on traditional culture and heritage. Being the capital of the UAE (United Arab Emirates), Abu Dhabi is a liveable city, one that lacks the panache- and drama, of Dubai, however, still stands a fair game in the stakes and competition of grand shopping malls and even grander mosques.

Although living in Abu Dhabi, Dubai was a perfect weekend get away destination, one that continued to excite and entertain us- until we finally realised that the greed of growth had swarmed Dubai, chewed it up and spat out a mess of consumerism. Dubai is a concrete jungle, a rich man’s playground. Wealthy Arabs decide to build lavish water parks in the middle of the desert- because they can, the largest man made island in the world, the largest artificial canal in the world, and not to forget, the world’s longest arch bridge. In Dubai, money is not an issue, and it seems businessmen and construction plans are created to obliterate records and wow the world. Forget about worries of constructing in the middle of a desert, an economic recession, global warming, or the thousands of migrant workers that suffer to make these materialistic dreams possible, all it matters is that it is built big and now.

And Dubai does in fact, “wow” the world. Becoming the 7th most visited city in the world, development and business have shot up in growth and widened in size, marketing Dubai as the “business hub of the Middle East” and a global city created to satisfy every consumers needs. The city exhibits opulence and luxury, a place for retail (well it has 70 shopping centres) and where dreams are seen to come true. Fancy swimming with dolphins? Bungee Jumping? Hot Air Ballooning? Camel Racing? Or skiing in fake snow surrounded by desert? All that you can do… in Dubai.

For any visitor that does come to Dubai, they really should pop into Dubai Mall, the largest shopping mall in the world. The sheer size and row upon row of shops will astound you at such a creation. Head to the Burj Khalifa, one of the tallest buildings in the world, which is used as an observation tower over this sprawling mass of consumerism and creation, or the Dubai Fountains, the biggest light and fountain show in the world, where 6,600 lights go and perform every 30 minutes. If you want to be gob smacked even further, head to the Burj Al Arab, the only 7 star hotel in the world, labelled only by visitors not by the hotel management itself. Rooms are incredibly expensive and are booked up pretty quickly but arranging a lunch is easy to do. We came here for lunch and I was shocked with how beautiful and stunning the interior was. It looked as if the designers had put more attention to detail towards the colourful mosaics here than any of the grandest mosques in the UAE, which only further highlights that wealth in Dubai is a religion.

If craving some culture and history, head to the Heritage Village to learn about the UAE before the finding of oil, and their previous commodity that was traded, pearls. Then pop to the Dubai Museum where you can see the social history of the Emirates with fine examples of traditional architecture and housing. Visit Jumeirah Mosque, the largest in the city and see the elaborate Arabic calligraphy contrast with the pearl white stone the mosque is built with. It is a privilege for non- Muslims to visit this mosque, so abide by the locals custom and cover up. Also head to the Gold and Spice Souq, where you can wander through traditional style souqs, meandering through tiny lanes and under archways where shopkeepers hark out to you in desperation for a sale. Always remember to barter if you are thinking about buying anything.

Our favourite highlights that entertained us as children (and years of living in Bahrain and Abu Dhabi meant we had learnt already vast amounts of the social and economical history of the Middle East), were Marina Beach for its pure white sands, Ra Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary for its scope of birds, and Wild Wadi. Wild Wadi was the first water park in Dubai and it still reigns supreme to this day. Wild Wadi is an amusement park where one can float through artificial lagoons, practise surfing, share dangerous slides with friends and gain courage to ride the Jumeirah Sceirah. The Jumeirah Sceirah is terrifying. Climbing up flights of steps, you marvel at the entire view of the water park and whilst you get comfy at the top of the slide, you are then pushed down the 120 metres ferociously. The side used to be a lot more dangerous (which added to the terror), with it being literally a slide one could easily lift off or even tumble over, nowadays they have made a capsule chamber which “drops” you down the slide, much safer.

Although Dubai paints this façade of being a liberal and cosmopolitan city, it still is a Muslim city and public displays of affection are illegal. Drinking and pork are still haram, and although you may see some Arabs eating or drinking, it is thoroughly frowned upon. Follow the local customs and rules, respecting the religion and you will surely have no problems.

We stayed in at various times Jumeirah Beach Hotel, Hyatt Galleria and the Emirates Towers. Out of the three I enjoyed the Jumeirah Beach the most due to its free access to the beach and discounted access to Wild Wadi.

Life in Bahrain

Being born in the Middle East, the Kingdom of Bahrain to be precise, made me learn from a young age about other cultures and other ways of life, specifically financial and political inequality (the difference between Shia and Sunni Muslim homes were shocking). Although not a tourist destination, and many stay away from this area of the world, I thought I would write a post about the place anyway, either to educate you on a world you do not know, or to inspire you to go there.

First and foremost, just like any country in the world, be safe. Many western minded people will immediately jump to the conclusion that Bahrain, or even any Muslim country, is an unsafe place to be. Anywhere in the world is unsafe if you do not use common sense. Secondly, wrap up if you are a woman. Be respectful of their religion and culture, (I’m not saying to go out and buy an abaya but cover your shoulders and no hot pants) even as a child I was ogled at and as a teenager I had many men chatting me up in random locations, so be wary and I’d advise to be firm with your rejections and if possible, always travel accompanied. This same advice though would be given to any woman planning to travel around India alone. Thirdly, do not bring your prejudice and misconceptions with you to Bahrain (if you take the step to travel here you are not very likely to have any anyway), Arabs are friendly and inquisitive people, and so allow them to be so. Feel free to take a look at a recent article I wrote for the online magazine Globe of Love, on appearances in relation to Bahrain:

Why First Impressions Aren’t Always Accurate | Globe Of Love

As Bahrain is a one hour drive away from Saudi Arabia, there is still a moderate form of rules and regulations within Bahrain, however Bahrain, I would say, is the party place of the Middle East (second to Dubai). Many Saudis drive over the causeway on a Friday evening to come across and rev their engine, smoke shisha, chat up women and even some, dare I say it, drink booze. You can easily spot the young Saudis (or even the families whom pop across to go shopping in the mega malls) because of their Arabic studded number plates and music being played loud and proud from their car. So being in Bahrain on a weekend is a must.

I returned to Bahrain years later after I left, with two of my British school friends. Before this, to me, Bahrain was home, not a tourist destination. A place to eat Fuddruckers, be the only person in the cinema whilst watching a film, and to shop in 6 mega shopping complexes. Returning with visitors who had never been there before made me appreciate more of the culture, rather than just see the shiny Americanised version of many things which Bahrain focuses much more on. There is little tourist attractions, or much information about heritage, as creating F1 tracks, waterparks and expanding shopping malls is more of a priority. Be prepared to hear locals compare Bahrain to Dubai, trying to compete with them whilst planting a shopping mall in the middle of a desert.

1. Rollerblade along a Promenade. Bahrain is full of promenades and they are decorated beautifully. Take the time for a blade down one of them to explore Bahrain on foot.

2. Bahrain National Museum. A must visit to see what life was like before finding oil! Here you can also understand their heritage.

3. Al Fateh Grand Mosque. This mosque is one of the biggest in the world and the most beautiful, make sure you go for a tour.

4. Bahrain Fort. Have a wonder around this fort to learn about the Dilmun civilisation (I remember coming here on a school trip) and don’t feel the need to go to any other forts after this one.

5. Beit Al Quran. Come here to this complex dedicated to Islamic arts to gain more of an understanding of the Quran.

6. Manama Souq. Get a taxi into the city centre and have a stroll around the souq, there are so many beautiful things to see, touch, smell and buy!

7. There are a few water parks that have been constructed since I left so feel free to check one of those out!

8. F1 Track. If you love the F1 then come here for a photo but as it is in the middle of the desert, team it with a visit to the Tree of Life. As well as building a massive bonfire, having a BBQ and drinking under the stars in the desert, we used to do this a lot as a kid and it was always a special moment.

Our dog Chole in the desert

9. You have to visit one of the large shopping malls; Seef Mall is the most well-known. Just to see the extent of luxury in some Arabs lives in Bahrain, (I can still smell the incense now).

10. Go to the beach. The main beaches in Bahrain are dirty and unkempt, and if found by a local when sunbathing, I am sure you would receive more attention than you would like. We would go to the Meridian, now called Al Bander hotel resort, where there are a number of swimming pools, the beach, an island and water sports.

Bahrain has a large diverse nightlife and most bars, pubs and clubs are in hotels. Try out Trader Vics for cocktails, JJ’s, Wranglers, Sherlock Holmes, Fiddlers Green and Savage Garden. Not many of these places check for ID and if you are a female expat, you are given a VIP status (which meant clubbing for my friends began at the age of 14) so if you are a parent, be wary. Whilst you are in Bahrain, make sure you check out the brunches there, breakfast and champagne goes on for most of the day, as there is no such thing as a short lunch in Bahrain.

The above paragraph pretty much sums up what life is like as an expat in a country abroad, even in a muslim country. Being an expat, you become a member of a community where kids play together, parents drink together, and families unite. People do similar things every week, every year and they become very… comfortable. And you can easily become comfortable, due to no tax in Bahrain, meaning you are able to afford a higher standard of living. Life as an expat is one colourful party, and can be hard to step out of, many people being sucked into the glamour and expense. Although a fun and interesting lifestyle, it is not one that embraces all manners of local life or is subjective to heavy issues such as gender equality, or human rights. Rather, these are overlooked because of the shiny and perfect expat dream does not need these, which meant for me, I could not live like this forever.

Finally, whilst you are there, you have to eat a Shawarma, (I miss it so much) it varies from place to place, in meat, sauce, and bread combination so if you are stuck for choice, go for Hummus and Tahini sauce with chicken in Flatbread and no vegetables!