I just got back last week from a whirlwind of an 11 day summer trip through the UAE (United Arab Emirates) and Oman. It was a group trip that I organized back in May of last year and I managed to get 3 people to come with me to the hot desert. It was my first time to the UAE and I didn’t know what to expect. We spent three nights in Dubai, one night in Abu Dhabi, one night in Al-Ain, one night in Oman, one night in Fujairah, and the last night in Dubai just in time to catch our flights back to the United States. Here are 10 Things I Learned from My Recent Trip to the United Arab Emirates:
1. The portrayal of Dubai does not represent the entire UAE – When people think of the UAE, Dubai and Abu Dhabi comes to mind. There are five other emirates (for a total of 7) in the entire UAE and most people can’t even name the other emirates. During this trip, I visited most of the emirates and my favorite ones so far are Ajman, Sharjah, and Al-Ain.
2. People drive like crazy in the fast lane – During the week-long trip in the UAE, I spent the majority of it driving from one emirate to another. I like to think of myself as crazy LA driver, but the people in the UAE are even crazier. If you’re going slow in the fast lane, you will notice that you will get high beamed and tailgated. The driver behind you won’t weave or cut you off and will expect you to move to the right lane. There isn’t a whole lot of weaving in and out of lanes in the UAE as well.
3. Gas is ridiculously cheap – Gas is measured in liters and it’s about 45 cents a liter. 4 liters make up a gallon, so it’s about $1.80 USD for a gallon of gas.
4. You can actually buy a lot with 1 or 2 dirhams – Since it was so hot outside, a cold bottle of water at most convenience stores was 1 dirham ~ $0.27 USD. It’s even cheaper if you go to the Lulu Hypermarket or local Carrefour! I found food for 2 dirhams ~ $0.54 USD on a restaurant menu in Ajman.
5. You need a car in Dubai – Public transportation is a hot mess and the Dubai metro can only get you so far. The metro is ridiculously slow and stops too frequently. In the other emirates, forget about taking public transportation since it’s almost non-existent. Dubai is like Los Angeles very much in the sense that a car is needed. Sure you can take the Red line, to the blue line, to the expo line to get to the West side, but who does that?
6. Free self-parking and valet parking at hotels – Hotels don’t charge for self-parking and even valet parking is free (with validation). As long as you’re staying at the hotel, they will give you free parking.
7. Dubai souks are worth a visit – I’m not a big fan of the Dubai Mall or Mall of Emirates in downtown. The prices are outrageous and the brands are mostly the same from the United States. I really like the souks (markets) in Old town Dubai which have better prices for souvenirs. The best markets are the Spice Souk, Old Textile Souk, and Bur Dubai Souk. The Gold Souk is nothing to write home about, but the surrounding area has great shopping. I really like the Al-Arsa souk in Sharjah as well.
8. You really only need to spend one day in Abu Dhabi – There isn’t much to do in Abu Dhabi and I’m glad I only spent one night there. We went to Ferrari World and visited the famous Sheikh Zayed Mosque that was featured in the Sex and the City 2 movie. We could have packed in a few more things to do, but figured it wasn’t worth it.
9. Wild camels are dangerous – Several times when I was driving around the UAE desert, I came across a lot of wild camel sightings. It was tempting to pull up to the side of the road to get a picture with one, but I’m glad I restrained myself. Wild camels (especially males) are dangerous and can deliver ferocious bites.
10. It was way too hot! – If I had a dollar for every time someone in our group said the word hot, I would be a millionaire. In some parts of the UAE, the temperatures soared to 54C with 80-90% humidity. It was pretty insane and was the hottest I’ve felt in my entire life. We seeked solace in air conditioned malls where we bought an endless amount of cold drinks. Basically, everyone sticks to the indoors during the summer in the UAE.
The one thing I love about the UAE is the people itself. They’re very kind, humble, and gracious. When I drove my car into the sand (unintentionally), I flagged down some Pakistanis and they helped us tow the car out of the sand. Even though we were getting strange looks everywhere, it’s common to be stared at. By all means, it’s not rude or anything – it’s just that they don’t see many tourists in the lesser known emirates and not particularly in the off-season. If I had to do this all over again, I would do so in a heartbeat. Oh, did I mention the amazing food in the UAE? All I had was pretty much Middle Eastern cuisine which was Indian, Lebanese, Iranian, and Pakistani food.