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United Arab Emirates


While the United Arab Emirates (UAE) these days appears to be little more than a stage for Dubai to strut its increasingly crazy stuff, there’s far more to this fabulous little federation than Disneyesque dioramas. The UAE is a contradictory destination, an Islamic state where the DJs’ turntables stop spinning just before the muezzins’ morning call to prayer can be heard, and where a traditional Bedouin lifestyle and customs continue alongside a very Western version of rampant consumerism. While many visitors marvel at the fantastic (in the true sense of the word) hotel and real estate projects, the real wonder is how the savvy sheikhs manage to harmonise such disparate and seemingly opposing forces.

For Western visitors, the UAE is a very safe Middle East destination, with the comforts of home and a taste of the exotic. Here you can max out those credit cards at designer clothes shops, laze on a gorgeous beach and sip a cocktail as you plan which fine dining restaurant to book and which international DJ to dance to until the early morning. On a less hedonistic stay, you can soak up the atmosphere of the heritage areas or the magnificent mountain scenery of Hatta, haggle over souvenirs in the souqs of Sharjah, head out to Abu Dhabi's desert sands for a camel ride under a star-filled sky, or dive the coral-filled waters of the Gulf (the beaches near Ras Al-Khaimah are as unspoilt as you'll anywhere in the region). Or simply mix up a blend of everything; after all, that’s what makes the UAE unique.

Getting there in arab

• Sea

• Land

• Entering the destination

• Air


The Iranian shipping company Valfajre-8 has twice-weekly services (usually Sunday and Thursday at 9pm, but you’ll need to be there at 4pm to go through the formalities) between Bandar-e Abba in Iran and Sharjah’s Port Khalid (Dh160 economy, 10 to 12 hours). The local agent is the Oasis Freight Agency (06-559 6325; Kayed Ahli Bldg, Jamal Abdul Nasser Rd, Sharjah; 8am-1pm & 2-4.30pm).


Border crossings

UAE border posts that are open to non-GCC citizens include those at Al Darah (at Tibat, for Musandam), Wajaja (Hatta), Khatmat Malahah (near Jebel Hafeet) and Al Hilli (Al-Ain–Buraimi) Passport Controls. During research, we were informed that only GCC citizens could cross at Gheweifat to Saudi (even if you’re only transiting).

Officially, if you’re eligible to receive a visit visa on arrival at airports, you should be able to at border posts. The best advice is to cross the border during business hours. If the posts are not staffed and you don’t get a visit visa you will have to leave the UAE within 48 hours or be liable for a Dh100-per-day fine.

To travel to Oman, use Al Darah, Wajaja and Khatmat Malahah Passport Controls. At the UAE post, there is a Dh20 exit visa processing fee and a Dh60/OR6 visa fee at the Omani entry point. For reasons not adequately explained to us, at the new Al Hilli Passport Control (Al-Ain–Buraimi, where a border post has just been established and formalities introduced in early 2007), travellers are required to purchase a visa for Dh200. As many Emiratis live in Buraimi and many Omanis work in Al-Ain there is a lot of movement across this border and hence long delays. A new integrated electronic system is being established nationwide, being trialled at the Wajaja (Hatta) border post at the time of research, which authorities promise should speed up formalities everywhere.


Oman National Transport Company (ONTC) runs buses from Dubai via Hatta to Muscat and vice versa. Buses leave from the ONTC office (04-295 9920; DNATA Car Park, Deira; 9am-9pm), located near the Caravan Restaurant, two to three times daily. The schedule varies on demand, so call ahead. The trip takes approximately five hours and costs Dh60/100 one way/return. Buses have televisions and toilets on board. Note that this is the only bus company that non-GCC citizens can travel on. The others should not sell you tickets (they don’t stop at the border for a start).

Dozens of bus companies have services to Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt via Saudi Arabia and Jordan, but officially, non-GCC citizens should not be travelling on these and the bus companies are not allowed to sell you tickets. Saudi transit visas are required and at the time of research these were not being given to non-Muslims.

Car & motorcycle

If you hire a car in the UAE, you will need to take out extra insurance (usually Dh500 per week) if you plan to take it into Oman.

Entering the destination

Entering the uae

If you are eligible to collect a visit or transit visa when you arrive, entering the country is simple. Proceed straight through the immigration desk or border post and get your passport stamped. If you are entering on a sponsored visa you’ll need to go to the clearly marked visa collection counter at the airport when you arrive.


Dubai and Abu Dhabi are the country’s main international airports, though an increasing number of carriers serve Sharjah as well. There are also small international airports at Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah and Al-Ain, primarily used by charter flights. There is no departure tax when leaving by air.

Emirates Airlines ( is the Dubai carrier and Etihad Airways ( is the UAE’s national carrier. Both have an excellent reputation for service and safety, flying to destinations throughout the world. A ‘no-frills’ airline, Air Arabia (, was established in 2003 in Sharjah. It flies to Gulf, Middle Eastern and Asian destinations.

Other airlines flying to & from the uae

Air France (AF;; Dubai 04-294 5960, Abu Dhabi 02-621 5818; hub Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris)

AirIndia (AI;; Dubai 04-227 8767, Abu Dhabi 02-632 2300; hub Chathrabathi Sivaji International Airport, Mumbai)

British Airways (BA;; Dubai04-307 5555, Abu Dhabi02-622 4540; hub Heathrow Airport, London)

Gulf Air (GF; 800 2200;; hub Bahrain International Airport)

KLM (KL;; Dubai 04-335 5777, Abu Dhabi02-632 3280; hub Amsterdam International Airport, Netherlands)

Singapore Airlines (SQ;; Dubai04-223 2300, Abu Dhabi02-622 1110; hub Changi Airport, Singapore)

Money & costs in Arab

• Economy • Money

The UAE has the world’s third-largest reserves of oil (with Abu Dhabi alone having 9%); unsurprisingly, this underpins the national economy, contributing approximately 28% of GDP. It is thought that at current levels of production, oil reserves will last for only another century, and, sensibly, the country is looking at other industry to take over from oil in the future. Dubai has handled this with particular foresight and its oil exports now only account for around 6%, with this reducing to a miniscule 1% by 2010. Through its development of healthy tourism, trade, manufacturing and construction industries, Dubai has become the most modern Middle East metropolis.


The official currency is the UAE dirham (Dh), which is fully convertible and pegged to the US dollar. One dirham is divided into 100 fils. Notes come in denominations of five, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1000. Coins are Dh1, 50 fils, 25 fils, 10 fils and 5 fils.

Moneychangers sometimes offer better rates than banks. If they don’t charge a commission, their rate is probably bad. Not all change travellers cheques, though currencies of neighbouring countries are all easily exchanged.

There are ATMs on major streets, in shopping centres and sometimes at hotels. All major credit cards are accepted.

In each emirate, a different level of municipal and service tax is charged against hotel and restaurant bills. This is somewhere between 5% and 20%. If a price is quoted ‘net’, this means that it includes all taxes and service charges.


Business hours

The UAE weekend changed in 2006 from Thursday and Friday, to Friday and Saturday, but not all businesses had converted at the time of writing. The following information is a guide only. There are variations between each emirate and individual businesses, and there are shorter hours during Ramadan:
Banks 8am to 1pm and 4pm to 7pm Sunday to Thursday, 8am to noon on Friday.

Government offices 7.30am to 3pm Sunday to Thursday and Saturday mornings. Note that they close their doors at 1pm but you can generally find someone on the phone until 3pm.

Private offices 8am to 5pm Sunday to Thursday.

Shopping malls 10am to 10pm. Note that many still close for Friday prayers from 11.30am to 1.30pm, or all of Friday until 2pm or 4pm.

Shops and souqs 9am to 1pm and 4pm to 10pm Saturday to Thursday, 4pm to 9pm on Friday

Climate & when to go Arab

The best time to visit the UAE is between October and November and then February and March, when temperatures hang around the mid-20s and the humidity is under control. While December and January are generally considered the best months to go, the weather over the last couple of ‘winters’ has been unpredictable with conditions often cloudy, rainy and bleak.

This is also high season when most of the country’s festivals, sporting events, and conferences are held, so you’ll be paying rack rates for accommodation in Dubai and Abu Dhabi and will need to book well in advance. The Christmas and New Year period also gets busy, particularly on the east coast when European expat families want to get away.

Avoid the month of Ramadan if you possibly can: iftar (breaking the fast after sundown) is fun and it’s a great way to meet locals, and hotel rates are heavily discounted, but erratic business hours, dangerous driving and not being able to eat or drink in public during the day can make it hard going. A trip to the UAE in high summer (July and August) is simply a bad idea – the only advantage being heavy discounted hotels.

A perfect day in Dubai


Beneath the mantle of glitz and glamour, Dubai’s subtle and seductive charms could easily be overlooked. But lift the cloak of this glittering diamond city, and the essence of Arabia is quickly found in the lively, chaotic and traditional souqs centred around the Creek, the heart of this ancient trading port. Delve a little deeper and you’ll find the essence of a people fiercely proud of their desert heritage. ‘No man’, wrote the British explorer Sir Wilfred Thesiger of his travels across the Arabian sands, ‘can live this life and emerge unchanged…He will carry, however faint, the imprint of the desert.’

Dubai’s humble roots ¬¬¬¬¬¬– the Arabian sea and the enigmatic desert – are its greatest enchantments.


A hot-air balloon flight at sunrise reveals the enormity and tranquillity of the desert which stretches, seemingly endlessly, to the horizon. In the dawn light the sand glows a rich reddish-gold, the vast sea of dunes broken only by the occasional tarmac road, green oasis, and wandering camel. Savour the silence as breakfast in the dunes is the quietest meal you’ll have today.


Shopping malls are the modern-day oases of Dubai, and the largest oasis in the city – or the world – Dubai Mall has a three-storey aquarium at its centrepiece. Unashamedly grandiose, with shopping and entertainment to match, Dubai Mall epitomizes the opulence that has flourished from the desert sands.

Before leaving the mall, take one of the fastest lifts in the world to the 124th floor of the tallest building in the world. ‘At the Top’ in Burj Khalifa provides unparalleled 360′ views of the city set against the stunning backdrop of the desert and the Arabian Sea.


Immerse yourself in the atmospheric Bastakiya area of Bur Dubai beside Dubai Creek. Before wandering through the restored historical quarter, stop for a late lunch at Basta Art Cafe (Al-Fahidi St, Bastakiya), a leafy courtyard cafe in a traditional wind-tower building. The labyrinthine lanes lined with wind-tower residences are enchanting to explore. Here you’ll find the Majlis Gallery (Al-Fahidi Roundabout), the city’s oldest commercial art gallery dating to the 1970s, as well as XVA, one of Dubai’s leading contemporary galleries.

Work your way up Al-Fahidi Street to the Dubai Museum located in an 18th-century fort. The collection charts Dubai’s rapid evolution from pre-oil fishing village to glamour capital of the world.


Wander the laneways down to Dubai Creek and hire an abra (a water taxi) from the abra station. The creek is the bustling heart of the city with dozens of abras constantly criss-crossing the water, and wooden dhows lined three abreast along the wharf loading and unloading goods from exotic destinations. At sunset, light reflecting off the glass facades of the city’s modern buildings makes a surreal backdrop. Disembark across the creek at the Deira Old Souq abra station.


Follow the pungent perfume of frankincense, sumac, cinnamon and sacks full of enticing spices across the street to the tiny yet aromatic Spice Souq. Continue through the winding lanes to the wooden-latticed arcades of the Gold Souq where all that glitters is not just gold. Diamonds, pearls, and precious gems dazzle in the largest gold market in Arabia. It’s crowded, chaotic and absolutely fascinating.

Retrace your steps to the abra station and cross the creek back to Bur Dubai. Now the sun has set, Bur Dubai Souq (between Al-Fahidi Street and Dubai Creek) is buzzing. Haggle over curly-toed Aladdin slippers, colourful textiles and cheap souvenirs then wander down Hindi Lane – a narrow, crowded alleyway lined with garlands of marigolds and Hindu religious paraphernalia.

The Arabian night continues. Head west along the creek towards Al Shindagha, to Kan Zaman (Heritage Village), an atmospheric creek-side restaurant and order the Arabic mezze and grills followed by apple sheesha - an obligatory way to end the meal.

History of Arab


• Early history

• European arrivals

• Black gold

• Independence

Early history
While the country doesn’t appear rich in physical history, the earliest significant settlements in the UAE date back to the Bronze Age. In the 3rd millennium BC, a culture known as Umm al-Nar arose near modern Abu Dhabi. Umm al-Nar’s influence extended well into the interior and down the coast to today’s Oman. There were also settlements at Badiyah (near Fujairah) and at Rams (near Ras al-Khaimah) during the 3rd millennium BC.

The Persians and, to a lesser extent, the Greeks, were the next major cultural influences in the area. The Persian Sassanid Empire held sway until the arrival of Islam in AD 636 and another religion, Christianity, made a brief appearance in the form of the Nestorian Church, which had a monastery on Sir Baniyas Island, west of Abu Dhabi, in the 5th century.

European arrivals

During the Middle Ages, the Kingdom of Hormuz controlled much of the area, including the entrance to the Gulf, as well as most of the Gulf’s trade. The Portuguese arrived in 1498 and by 1515 they had occupied Julfar (near Ras al-Khaimah) and built a customs house, where they taxed the Gulf’s flourishing trade with India and the Far East. However, the Portuguese stayed on in the town only until 1633.

The rise of British naval power in the Gulf in the mid-18th century coincided with the rise of two important tribal confederations along the coast of the lower Gulf. These were the Qawassim and the Bani Yas, the ancestors of the rulers of four of the seven emirates that today make up the UAE.

The Qawassim, whose descendants now rule Sharjah and Ras al-Khaimah, were a seafaring clan based in Ras al-Khaimah. Their influence extended at times to the Persian side of the Gulf. This brought them into conflict with the British, who had forged an alliance with the Al-Busaid tribe, the ancestors of today’s rulers of Oman, to guarantee that the French could not take over their all-important sea routes to India. The Qawassim felt that the Al-Busaid had betrayed the region, and launched attacks on British ships to show that they weren’t going to be as compliant. As a result, the British dubbed the area ‘the Pirate Coast’ and launched raids against the Qawassim in 1805, 1809 and 1811. In 1820 a British fleet destroyed or captured every Qawassim ship it could find, imposed a General Treaty of Peace on nine Arab sheikhdoms in the area and installed a garrison. This was the forerunner of a later treaty, the Maritime Truce, which was imposed by the British in 1835 and increased their power in the region. In 1853 the treaty was modified yet again, when it was named the Treaty of Peace in Perpetuity. It was at this time that the region became known as the Trucial Coast. In subsequent decades, the sheikhs of each tribal confederation signed agreements with the British under which they accepted formal British protection.

Throughout this period the main power among the Bedouin tribes of the interior was the Bani Yas tribal confederation, made up of the ancestors of the ruling families of modern Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The Bani Yas were originally based in Liwa, an oasis deep in the desert, but moved their base to Abu Dhabi in 1793. The Bani Yas divided into two main branches in the early 19th century when Dubai split from Abu Dhabi.

From 1853 until the discovery of oil, the region was a backwater, with the sheikhdoms nothing more than tiny enclaves of fishers, pearl divers and Bedu. Rivalries between the various rulers occasionally erupted into conflict, which the British tried to subdue. During this time the British also protected the federation from Saudi Arabia, which had ambitions to add the territory to its own.

Black gold

After the collapse of the world pearl market in the early 20th century, the coast had sunk into poverty. However, the sheikhs of Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah had already discussed oil exploration in the area, with Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Shakhbut granting the first of several oil concessions in 1939. The first cargo of crude left Abu Dhabi in 1962 and Dubai, which had been busy cementing its reputation as the region’s busiest trading centre, exported its first oil in 1969. With the British hinting at an oddly timed exit from the Arabian Gulf in 1971, Abu Dhabi’s ruler, Sheikh Zayed, set about negotiating with other sheikhdoms in the Trucial States to create one nation.


The British had set up the Trucial States Council (the forerunner to today’s ruling council) in 1951, and with the announcement of their imminent departure, the original plan (announced in February 1968) was to form a federation including Bahrain, Qatar and the Trucial Coast. With some tough negotiating by Sheik Zayed and some odd boundaries formed (such as the Omani enclaves, and Fujairah split between Fujairah, Sharjah and Oman), as well as Bahrain and Qatar deciding to drop out, the new country came into existence when six of the emirates united on 2 December 1971; Ras al-Khaimah joined the following year. While critics said the UAE wouldn’t last, and with doubts about its future after the death of Sheikh Zayed in 2004, the UAE remains the only united Arab states in the region.

Come to Arab

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