United Arab Emirates
The once bare desert land of the UAE is fast becoming the most attractive destination in the Middle East by merit of glamorous PR campaigns, fantastic architectural developments and its seductive tax-free status. Made up of seven sheikhdoms or Emirates, the UAE occupies an oil-rich triangle of land between Saudi Arabia and Oman on the eastern side of the Arabian peninsula.
Abu Dhabi is the capital city of the country which, before 1971, was a British protectorate known as the Trucial States. The discovery of oil in the early 20th century saw a massive increase in the prosperity of the Emirates and the gradual decimation of traditional Bedouin lifestyle as nomadic tribes gravitated towards the cities.
Now the UAE is fast becoming a globally recognised modern state with top resorts, a glorious coastline and some of the best leisure facilities in the world. Nonetheless, despite the apparent Westernisation of the country, it is important to keep in mind that this is an Islamic state and to behave and dress with according respect and caution.
Arabic is the UAE’s official first language, although the vast majority of people will speak at least some English – especially those involved in the tourism industry. Urdu is spoken amongst the significant Pakestani population. Marhaba – helloMin fadlak – please Na'am – YesLaa – NoIsmee... – my name is...Bikam...? – how much is...?
The currency of the UAE is the Dirham (AED or Dhs). At the time of writing (August 2006):US$1 : 3.67 AEDUK£1 : 6.97 AED€1 : 4.69 AEDNotes come in AED 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 and 500 denominations. You will also come across AED 1 coins and fils, 100 of which make up a Dirham.
The UAE has an unfailingly hot, sunny and humid climate. Spring and autumn will be far more comfortable for most travellers than the summer months, when the air quality decreases and temperatures soar as high as 45°C. During the winter months (November to March) the weather is more clement and temperatures range from 20°C-30°C.
Sea, sand and sun make the Emirates an appealing holiday destination throughout the year. Along the east coast of the country bordering Oman the rocky Hajar Mountains provide a dramatic background to the fertile waters of the Gulf which is home many species of tropical fish. There are diving centres in Fuejeirah, Abu Dhabi and Dubai and there are many places along both coasts where you can snorkel. The calm waters around the Musandam Peninsula at the northernmost tip of the country are a prime place to spot pods of dolphins and whales and revel in the scenery away from the crowds. Wakeboarding, kite surfing and jet skiing are popular along the coast around Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Fujeirah. A large proportion of the UAE’s coast is relatively undeveloped, so with a little exploration you can find a secluded beach all to your self.
The pristine deserts and dramatic mountains of the UAE provide a playground for any outdoor sports or off-roading enthusiasts with a penchant for hot weather. The rugged peaks which mark the border with Oman hide some breathtaking views and challenging trekking routes. Other popular desert pursuits include sand boarding, desert safaris and camel riding which are all available on tours organised from Abu Dhabi or Dubai.
Dubai, the glittering centre for commerce and trade in the Middle East, plays host to major sporting events such as the Dubai Tennis Open and the world’s richest horserace, Dubai World Cup. The city also boasts some of the most ambitious building projects in the world, including The Palm and Dubailand, the behemoth network of theme parks currently being built which promise snowy mountains and a larger-than-life replica of The Eiffel Tower.
Shopping is a favourite pastime in the Emirates and unless you drive into the middle of the desert, you’ll never be far from an air-conditioned mall. Dubai is the country’s major shopping destination with over 30 malls hosting impressive ranges of the world’s top brands all under one roof. The Mall of the Emirates is currently the largest shopping centre in Dubai, and the only one which can boast its own indoor ski slope.
In the more traditional souks and markets across the Emirates you will find intricately designed pieces of gold and silver jewellery as well as carpets, perfume and textiles all (if you are prepared to haggle), for a very reasonable price.
While the general standard of roads in the UAE is good, the standard of driving is not; Dubai in particular has one of the highest fatality rates amongst drivers in the world with road deaths increasing every year. Visitors are advised to be patient when confronted with heavy traffic and to drive with caution at all times.
As drinking is frowned upon, there are very strict penalties for drink driving – the blood alcohol limit in the UAE is zero. Penalties include hefty jail sentences, fines and corporal punishment for Muslims. Those involved in an accident which has injured another person are sent to jail until the injured person is released from the hospital. Should a person die in a traffic accident, the driver of the other car is liable for payment of compensation for the death. Even minor accidents can result in drawn-out proceedings, for the duration of which both drivers may be prohibited from leaving the country.
A non-resident visitor to the UAE can drive if they obtain a valid international driver's which has been issued by the motor vehicle authority of their home country. The UAE recognizes driver's licenses issued by other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states only if the bearer is driving a vehicle registered to the same GCC state. It is not advisable to drive without a valid licence as this also incurs harsh penalties.
The UAE is a Muslim nation, and only bars attached to hotels are able to gain licenses to sell alcohol. Traditional social culture is centred around the many small Shisha bars that you will find lining the streets. This said, with the influx of western culture, there are some possibilities if you are looking for a big night out. Both the main Emirates of Abu Dhabi and Dubai have a night scene, the wildest being in Dubai. Here you will find plenty of clubs and bars that play host to international DJs, and remain open until 3am.
Food and Drink
Given its multicultural make-up, it’s no surprise that the UAE is home to a truly global range of cuisines. If you are on a tight budget, you’ll find excellent shwarma (kebab) in the country’s markets and souks (bazaars) and at most malls you’ll be able to chose from a remarkably cosmopolitan range of fast food outlets. Emirati food is not easy to come by, but there are scores of excellent Lebanese, Syrian and Persian restaurants in the UAE’s cities where you can sample the delicate flavours of Arabic cuisine.
Dubai in particular is earning a name for itself as a culinary destination with the city’s ever-growing slew of fine-dining restaurants beginning to attract positive critical attention. Gordon Ramsey pre-empted the zeitgeist by opening his restaurant Verre several years ago and it looks as if other internationally renown names are set to follow.
The only venues in the country licensed to sell items forbidden by Islam (pork and alcohol) are those that are attached to hotels and some supermarkets. The independent cafés and restaurants across the country instead offer a myriad range of fresh fruit juices and coffees.
Tourist InformationEach of the Emirates has its own tourist office apart from Um al Qaiwain and Ajman. The rest are listed below.
Abu DhabiPO Box 94000Abu Dhabi UAETel +971 4440 4444Fax+ 971 4181 108
DubaiPO Box 594 DubaiPh +971 4 223 0000Fax +971 2 223 0022
FujairahP.O.Box 829, FujairahUnited Arab EmiratesTel: +971 9 2231554 / 2231436Fax: +971 9 2231006
Ras al KhaimahP.O Box 11940 - Ras Al KhaimahTel: +971 7 244 51 25Fax: +971 7 228 80 22www.raktourism.com
Sharjah PO Box 266619th Floor, Crescent TowerBuheirah Corniche, SharjahTel +971 (6) 5566777Fax +971 (6) 5563000