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  You are here : Home | World | Middle East | United Arab Emirates
 
 

 

 

 

United Arab Emirates

 

 

The United Arab Emirates is a federation of seven emirates on the eastern side of the Arabian peninsula, at the entrance to the Persian Gulf. It has coastlines on the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf, with Saudi Arabia to the west and southwest, and Oman to the southeast and also on the eastern tip of the Musandam Peninsula as well as an Omani enclave within its borders. It is a country rich in history and culture and an easy starting point for travels in the Middle East.

Cities

  • Abu Dhabi - The capital of the UAE
  • Ajman - The smallest emirate, One of the budget destinations.
  • Al Ain - Inland and close to the Omani bordertown of Buraimi, Al Ain comprises a triangle between the proper cities of Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
  • Dubai - The most common entry point for travelers, it is the transport and commerce center of the UAE.
  • Sharjah - A more budget destination, dusty and chaotic in places but with some charms.

Understand

The United Arab Emirates is a modern and dynamic country. To some, it is an advanced and clean country, to others a tourist "Disneyland"

For most Western tourists, the UAE offers an environment that is extremely familiar. The malls are extraordinarily modern, filled with virtually any product available in the West (save sexually explicit material; movies are censored, as are, to some extent, magazines). Alcohol is widely available at many restaurants and bars in Dubai and in the tourist hotels of every other emirate save Sharjah. However, you must obtain a liquor license (US$50) in order to buy a full bottle at a liquor store. The liquor license is proof that the bearer is a non-Muslim. A passport will not suffice. However, you can purchase liquor duty-free at the airport to bring into the UAE.

The roads and other public facilities are modern if, at times, extremely crowded. Supermarkets offer a vast assortment of products from the U.S. and Europe, mainly from the U.K., along with, of course, local and regional items. Major international chains such as Ikea and Carrefour have a presence and fast-food chains (nearly all from the U.S.) such as McDonald's or KFC operate widely. On the other hand, there are still crowded traditional souks filled with products from around the world, rug stores, or other traditional areas. These can be hard to find for the average traveler, as the malls tend to gain an overwhelming amount of attention. (Please note that contrary to what is printed in guidebooks, the souks in Abu Dhabi were torn down in 2006 and no longer exist. The souks in Dubai are still wonderful to explore, though).

Culture
The Emirates is a federation of seven emirates, and as a result the rulers--or Sheikhs (pronounced: "shake")--of each emirate can radically affect the way of life in his respective Emirate. For example, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashed al-Maktoum of Dubai is very modern, so Dubai is forward-thinking and modern. The ruling sheikhs of Ajman and Sharjah are more conservative, thus the rules are more strict concerning religion, alcohol, drugs and general living conditions.

Climate
The country is extraordinarily dry, getting only a few days of rain a year. Despite that, Emiratis use water at an alarming rate: there are broad swaths of grass in the major public parks, for example, and landscaping can be extensive in the resorts or other public places. A visitor is not restricted in water use in any way. The weather from late October through mid-March is quite pleasant, with high temperatures ranging from the upper-20s C (mid-80s F) to lows in the mid-teens C (low 60s F). It is almost always sunny. In the summer, the temperatures soar — it is widely suspected that the officially reported temperatures are "tweaked" to cut off the true summer highs, which can reach 50 C, or around 120 F, or higher!

People
The population is incredibly diverse. Only some 20% of the population of the Emirates is from the Emirates; the rest come from the Subcontinent--India, Pakistan, or Bangladesh (some 50%); other parts of Asia, particularly the Philippines, Malaysia, and Sri Lanka (another perhaps 15%); and "Western" countries (UK, Europe, Australia, USA, South Africa)(5-6%), with the remainder from everywhere else. On any given day in, say, Dubai or Sharjah, you can see people from every continent and every social class. With this diversity, one of the few unifying factors is language, and consequently nearly everyone speaks some version of English. Nearly all road or other information signs are in English, and the language is widely spoken, particularly in the hospitality industry. On the other hand, there are elements that would be jarring for overseas travelers, such as fully veiled women.

Talk
The official language is Arabic, but it is safe to say that the majority of the population doesn't speak it (Iranian, Indian, Asian and Western expatriates are more numerous than Arabs in Dubai, and usually have very limited knowledge of Arabic). English is the lingua franca.

Other languages widely spoken in the UAE include Farsi (Persian), Hindi/Urdu (Hindustani), Malayalam, and Tagalog (Filipino). Most people possess at least a basic command of English, though it is not uncommon to meet people whose English is limited.

In Dubai, most shops, hotels, and commercial businesses conduct business in English. Generally speaking, Arabic is spoken by government departments and the police; however, in Abu Dhabi and in the Northern Emirates, Arabic is much more widely spoken.

Do
One of the main focuses of tourist life (other than shopping) is the beach. The waters of the UAE, although definitely more cloudy in recent years due to heavy coastal construction, are still, for those from less torrid climes, remarkably warm, clean, and beautiful. There are long stretches of white-sand beaches, ranging from completely undeveloped to highly touristed (even in cities like Dubai). The snorkeling and diving can be magnificent, especially along the eastern (Indian Ocean) coast. Vast swaths of desert stretch to the south of the major urban areas, offering dramatic views and terrifying rides in fast-driven safaris. The mountains are dramatic, steep rocky crags, and a visit to them (for example, the town of Hatta) is well rewarded with amazing views. Women wearing bathing suits will draw unwanted attention at the public beaches; it is advisable to pay for a one-day entry pass to a private beach at a hotel.

Ski Dubai in Dubai Emirates Mall opened in December 2005. It is the world's third largest indoor ski slope, measuring 400 meters and using 6000 tons of snow. Ski Dubai resort is the first UAE indoor ski slope to open (www.skidubai.com), although others are planned. No equipment is needed--skis/snowboards, snowsuits, boots and socks are all included in the price (the socks are disposable). You may want to buy a cheap pair of glove liners and a hat from their souvenir store.

The Marina Mall in Abu Dhabi is scheduled to open an indoor ski slope as well in 2007 - 2008. A ski slope in Ra's al Khaimah is also in the works.

 

 
             
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