Oman- UAE travel info

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13 days,  Jan 09




Kind of travel: me and my girlfriend Elisa in an independent travel

When: 26th Dec08- 7th Jan 09

Do I need a visa?: no for EU citizen, and we didn't even pay any entry/ exit tax

How I moved: not big choise. Or you take the expensive taxis or the frequent buses/ minibuses. Anyway moving around is easy but dramatically slow due to the traffic

Freezing or baking?: it was chillier than we thought. The temp was 16- 24C, but in particular in Abu Dhabi the chilly wind didn't let to stay even on the beach with the jacket. Forget bathing in the sea!

Where I slept: at the youth hostel for 30€ (double with bathroom and breakfast). In centre near the souk there are other cheap (and dodgy) hotels, otherwise nothing for less than 70€ for a double.

What I liked: I found the palm shaped artificial island, called Jumeria, amazing in all the senses (even negative), but it's a must to be seen.

What I disliked: the traffic sucks terribly

How much daily: we managed to spend 46€/day per each (with 15€ x hostel), always moving by bus and keeping far from any 'fancy top end' restaurant. I doubt you could spend less...

Dangers/ hassles: none

What to have: a pair of sunglasses unmissable for anyone


Leaving from Milan, passing through an uncommon stop-over in Azerbaijan, in the hearth of the night we landed in the famous Dubai. After few hours of an unfruitful snooze in the shittiest area of the supercool airport, we wandered in the outskirt of the city, looking for the 'Oman Transport Company' bus heading to Oman. It's around 5h to reach the Omani capital and for most of the trip to the border, we were amazingly plunged in a thick fog; when finally the sun came out, we were already close to the land of the Quabus Sultan. Hence, given our 'I-just-wanna-sleep' mood and the foggy weather, our first glance of the Emirates turned out a quite fuzzy.

[The Travel in Oman]

Entering United Arab Emirates from Oman through Buraimi, we passed the high barbered wire fence dividing the two countries. Al Ain, 10min from the crossing point, it's a nice oasis in the middle of the desert. Nothing can really draw a visitor here, despite being the first sip of Emirates (or the last one, according to your direction) and the wide well kept zoo. Here, beside the animals, you can admire the typical Arab couples: white dressed guys driving the pushchairs, while the black dressed wives parading with their new purses.
The same day we reached Dubai in an easy 2h trip by one of the frequent minibuses shuttling between the towns.
The accommodation in Dubai at the Youth Hostel turned out a good pick. In fact for 30€ we got: a double room with private bathroom, breakfast and swimming pool. The drawback are the 6kms from the centre, that, given the traffic, will make you regret of the saving quite quickly.
A day can be spent for the gold and the perfume souk, together with the creek, however from my point of view the real highlights are 'The Mall of Emirates, where the famous ski resort is placed, and overall the jaw dropping Palm Jumeira.
The first one, reachable by bus, is a huge mall with its ski resort that means a bunch of slopes (even a black one!!), a lifter, a bob course and a snowboarding area. You can see it for free from some windows or investing 40€, you can enjoy it for few hours renting all the necessary outfit in the place. It makes a kind of impression if you think that most of the Arabs have their only chance to see the snow in a Mall.
Less easy to be reached, but more impressive I found the Palm Jumeirah:
The biggest artificial island in the world is in the shape of a palm tree. It consists of a trunk, a crown with 17 fronds, and a surrounding crescent island that forms an 11 km long breakwater. The island is 5 km by 5 km and its total area is larger than 800 football pitches residential areas built on a palm-shaped artificial island.
Till the monorail won't be completed (2009), the only way to get there is by taxi from the business area called Dubai Marina in the mainland. Then you have to reach the northmost tip of the island where the magnificent brand new Atlantis Hotel is placed. Here have a walk in the mall built underneath the hotel to have a look to the HUGE acquarium, or have some fun at the water park just next to the Atlantis.
On the way to the Palm Jumeirah the bus'll stop in front of the Burj-Al-Arab, the super-advertised hotel designed to resemble a billowing sail.
You can't enter it for free, but the view from the eastern beach worth the effort, in particular at the twilight.
The last day, tired of the chaos in Dubai, we visited the capital Abu Dhabi, with an easy 2h travel by the frequent buses shuttling between the cities.
Here we had a look to the biggest mall of the Emirates, where, just to give you an idea of the dimensions, in the kid area there's a real rollercoaster.
Then we had a stroll along the nice few km long seafront, where, due to the chilly wind, we couldn't appreciate the well kept beach and its park built alongside. I guess from March it should be a pleasure poking around there and bathing.
One thing I really liked of Abu Dhabi was that urban buses are for free, but girl must seats separately, so don't take into consideration buses as a good opportunity to flirt! :-)



Arab Emirates, and in particular Dubai, disappointed me. I guess this can be due both to 'too-high-expectations', given the worldwide Dubai fame, and the backpacking approach we had with the country, that maybe keeps hidden most of his gems. For sure we didn't want a 200$/day trip in the Emirates that's why we didn't regret having spent with our 45$ anyway.
Generally speaking the main issue we found, was the traffic: moving around a city as Dubai without any form of underground or light train is a hell. Only to reach our hostel placed 6km from the centre it took more than 1h. Said this, once the underground under construction will open (2009), things will change a lot, I hope.
Then I didn't get enthusiastic for Dubai itself; the highlights that are worth the visit (skiing Dubai, Palm island, Burj Al Arab hotel) are outside the city, while the centre is far from being super-modern, and at the same time not even a typical middle east town built around the souk: hence it results a mix of skyscrapers and stalls.
On the other hand I appreciated Abu Dhabi, since it fitted more with my expectation of modern, clean, organised city of the Emirates.
Said this, of course visiting the Emirates is an interesting experience I recommend. My suggestion, to avoid to get quickly fed up, is to associate such trip with another destination that could be the desert of the Emirates, the Oman (in particular the Musandam Penisula) or the Saudi Arabia (tell me how you'll get the visa!).



U. Arab Emirates travel tip


EU citizens will get a visa at any international airport without any visa fee. We exited UAE to Oman at Wajaja land border point, reentering at Buraimi one, in both the cases without paying anything.




The currency is the UAE Dirham (Dh) (1€= 4,74 Dh). US$ seems still to be the most convenient currency to be changed, but also euros are well known.



I had the usual vaccinations: ephatite A, B, typhus and tetanus. Hygienic conditions seemed quite good but tap water is still a risk



I used Lonely Planet (in Iitalian 3rd ed, translated from 2nd ed, Sept 2007), as usual it's a good support, although too superficial on the transport details and a surprising total lack of info about highlights as the Palm Jumeira or the construction of the high skyscraper in the world (see tips below)






- Pay attention when staying in the urban buses with your girlfriend. Women are not allowed to seat with men and they have a reserved area in the front of the bus. The amazing thing is that any woman on the bus must sat, at cost of being even three per seat. In case their area is full, the driver won't allow any other girl to get on.
In case the men are squeezed like hell in the back and the women area is free, the driver won't allow any man to come in the front.


- The Youth Hostel we were (Dubai Youth Hostel) was 30€ for a double with private bathroom and breakfast included. It's clean and high standard compared to the Hostel in Europe. If you wish some refresh, there's even a swimming pool with a nice view on the city.
Full booking seems an issue at the Youth Hostel of Dubai and there's a long debate on the LP forum about this. My suggestion is to give a call few days in advance to book, since they accept phone -reservation. Don't write email, since many people reported neither they answer to the email, nor they took into account the booking even having confirmed by mail.
Honestly take into consideration staying in one of the dodgey but cheap hotels around the souk, since the 6km distance of the Youth Hostel from the centre will quickly be a pain.