Dubious Dubai

Visiting friends, my wife, Pam, and I work hard to enjoy this reincarnation of Hong Kong in the desert. We are partially successful. This is a good news-bad news review.


Dubious Dubai

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Ed Hahn on January 6, 2006

My wife, Pam, and I take a 9-hour flight from Hong Kong to spend the holidays with friends. We arrive at 11pm in the midst of our friends’ party for the Taiwan Legation. While not exactly in a party mood, we do manage to get into the spirit of things and enjoy ourselves.

We spend our first morning getting organized. Pam finds the compound and the weather fine for walking. Later we drive to the desert for sand dune viewing. We also see a male-only ritual dance but are never able to determine what is being celebrated

On Saturday, we visit the monster Mall of the Emirates. In the afternoon, we visit the Dubai Museum and fort as well as the Creekside area.

Christmas day, we return to Creekside, explore the corniche and the Bur Dubai souk, and have dinner at a surprisingly good Lebanese-Thai restaurant. We also ride an abra across the creek and back. The view at night is spectacular.

Next day we visit Sharjah, the most fundamentalist of the Emirates, We spend a couple hours in the Heritage Area, a mixed bag at best. Details in the Sharjah review.

Tuesday, we hire a car and driver. Our first stop is Hatta, an ancient agricultural town. We then backtrack to Fujairah and our hotel.

The next day we hire a car and driver to take us the length of the east coast from Khar Kolba to Dibba - details in the Fujairah review. That night, we explore on foot - not much to see.

Thursday, we visit the disappointing Fujairah museum and fort. Back in Dubai we celebrate New Year’s Eve early. We do cocktails, dinner, and bar hopping. See the Eating/Drinking review for details.

We spend most of the day Friday at the Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club with friends, eating lunch at the Boardwalk restaurant, with its great view, raucous sea gulls, and mediocre food and service.

Saturday, we head for the Bastakia Quarter of old Dubai. After lunch, we stroll the Corniche before hiring an abra for a 45-minute run up and down the creek. We lastly visit the Deira area – see the Creekside Review.

New Year’s Day, we drive around to ensure we haven’t missed anything. We lunch at an authentic Northern Chinese restaurant owned and staffed by Chinese from Shandong Province. We fly home that night.

${QuickSuggestions} Dubai is expensive. Fortunately, there are many ATMs.

There are few three-star hotels, and the ones we saw deserved no more than one and two stars. They also tend to house prostitutes and touts, so plan on a five-star holiday, find someone to stay with, or, if you are going to be there for a while, rent a serviced apartment.

The hotel restaurants generally serve excellent food at fairly high prices. Local restaurants serve good food at reasonable prices and are clean and regularly inspected.

Alcohol is served only at hotels and venues associated with hotels. Buying liquor to-go requires a license, which is a hassle to acquire. You can sometimes get away with it, but if caught without a license, you could be in serious trouble. Better to stock up on arrival at the duty-free shop next to the baggage claim in Dubai International Airport. The allowances for beer, wine, and liquor are quite generous.

The malls in Dubai are huge and feature expensive merchandise. Don't miss the indoor ski hill at the Mall of the Emirates.

Bargains can be had at the various souks and the shops in Bur Dubai and Deira. Be prepared to haggle unless you want to pay much more than the item is worth.

All the locals I met had one piece of advice, "No matter how cheap it is, do not visit the UAE in the summer months." You might find the resorts bearable, but that's about it. The heat is intense and unremitting, 24/7.

The UAE is not a tourist-friendly destination in the same sense that many countries in Europe and Asia are. Signage is inadequate, tourist sites are often under construction or deserted, and information is often confusing and contradictory, less so in Dubai than the other Emirates.

The best guide books are Time Out and Lonely Planet. They are slightly out-of-date but still valuable resources. A recent comprehensive local guidebook, City Guide, is available everywhere in Dubai but can only be purchased there.

Our top three tourist attractions were the Dubai Museum, the mosque at Bidya (non-Muslims can actually enter), and the Bastakia area.

If you want to eat or drink at the seven-star Burj al Arab Hotel, make reservations well in advance. We were never able to get access. Most of the time access was limited to registered guests.${BestWay} Except for the Creekside area (Bur Dubai and Deira), Dubai is not a walker-friendly city. Sidewalks are not always available, buildings are far apart, and in the summer it's too darn hot.

There is little public transportation. We mostly depended on taxis, which are moderately expensive. There are two on-and-off bus tours. One covers the total creekside area. The other runs out along the beach all the way to the Sheraton. You can ride both lines on one ticket, which is fairly pricey at 140 Dirham (US$38). However, if you are staying at a beach hotel, it's cheaper than a taxi to Creekside.

Renting a car is almost required if you intend to move around the Emirates. Rentals rates are competitive when you take into account that you are automatically getting insurance. To rent a car, you need an international driver's license, or you must get a temporary license at the Auto license office. If you have a US or UK license, you will be issued a temporary license for 3 months without any questions. It costs 135 Dirham (US$37). If you do not intend to leave the Dubai Emirate, you can rent a car without an International or temporary license. If you intend to drive into Oman, you must buy additional insurance and the rental rates go up considerably.

In our case, I had only my Hong Kong license, so we used taxis or hired a car and driver for longer trips. In a few cases, we borrowed our friend's car and hired a driver from his leasing company. Rates are not out of sight. A mid-size car and driver can be hired for under US$100 per day, 50% car and 50% driver.

Caution: if you have never driven in the Middle East, be aware that drivers often use excessive speed and are very aggressive. They also take chances most seasoned drivers avoid, trusting, I believe, in kismet.

We also found that many of the drivers we hired were are not as familiar with the Emirates as we expected. In one case, the driver would not take the route we wanted even though we had a map. He didn't believe the map. Taxi drivers, on the other hand, mostly speak English and know where they are going.

Al Diar Siji Hotel

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Ed Hahn on January 12, 2006

This hotel is part of a group of eight hotels in Abu Dhabi and Fujairah. They are owned by a private corporation with strong government ties.

Pam and I chose this hotel because we couldn’t get into the Meridien Resort Hotel, it being high season. Quite frankly, in light of the recent bombings in Amman, Jordan, we decided to avoid US-managed hotels. In retrospect, this was, most likely, an unnecessary precaution.

It is primarily a business hotel, situated next to the Fujairah Trade Center on Ahmad Bin Abdullah Road. It has an executive floor with the usual amenities and an excellent business center, which we had occasion to use. It offers reasonably priced personal computer and Internet access, about US$3 per hour. Staff members were eager to help but not always as knowledgeable as in most business hotels, I’ve stayed in. The rest of the hotel staff were excellent, particularly at the front desk and in the dining rooms.

The location was not ideal for tourists like us. It is a 30- to 40-minute walk to the waterfront, a 30-minute walk to the Fujairah Museum, and a 10-minute taxi ride to the Fujairah Gardens and Heritage Area. The hotel website plays this down of course.

It does have an excellent Lebanese restaurant, the Al Meshwar, right across the street, along with a KFC and a Pizza Hut. Next door is a shopping mall with fairly nice shops and more restaurants.

The hotel restaurants are quite good. The Diwan serves excellent reasonably priced buffets for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You can also order from the menu. We ate there twice. The Asmak seafood restaurant did not appeal to us, as they seem to be trying to be all things to all people. We liked the coffee lounge in the lobby and stopped there after a hard day of touring. The Zorba Lounge was a bit of a disappointment. The service was very slow and the ambiance and décor was from the 1950s. There's also an Arabic Shisha Corner that serves Arabic snacks and features water pipes. We skipped that.

The hotel has all the other amenities you would expect in a five-star establishment: a pool and pool bar, a fitness center, a state-of-the-art conference room, etc. One thing I didn’t expect was the six-lane bowling alley.

Overall I was impressed but not overwhelmed. Compared to other five-star hotels in the UAE, its rates were very competitive. Given the low occupancy when we arrived, I suspect we might have done even better if I had bargained on arrival, but we had pre-paid for our stay off the Internet.

Al Diar Siji Hotel
P O Box 1199
Fujairah, United Arab Emirates
971 9 223 2000

Dubai National Museum and Al Fahidi Fort

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Ed Hahn on January 15, 2006

We chose this attraction as one of our top three activities while in the UAE. We visited it on a Saturday afternoon (Dubai’s Monday). It was almost empty of visitors.

We got a little confused figuring out how the place worked. When you enter, you are in the fort area, which you should explore first with its display of weaponry: curved daggers known as hanjars, as well as swords, spears, bows and arrows, pistols, rifles, axes, and shields made of shark skin. Traditional musical instruments are featured as well. In the courtyard you will find a number of boats and traditional living quarters, including a wind tower.

Al Fahidi Fort once guarded the city's landward approaches. Built around 1799, it has served variously as a palace, garrison, and prison. It is thought to be the oldest-surviving building in Dubai. The walls of the fort are built from coral and shell rubble from the sea and are cemented together with lime. An impressive massive iron-studded door guards the entrance. The fort was both the residence of Dubai’s rulers and the seat of government until it was retired as a museum in 1971. It was renovated later in the decade. The current manifestation with its air-conditioned galleries wasn’t finished until 1995.

The entry to the museum proper is in the far left-hand corner as you enter. This is what confused us. You go down a circular ramp to enter the exhibit area. Once you’ve done that, the site is laid out in a very logical and user-friendly manner.

The museum contains a number of dioramas, complete with life-size, if not life-like, figures and sound and lighting effects. These dioramas are meant to depict everyday life in pre-oil days. There are scenes from the Creek, traditional Arab houses, mosques, a traditional Islamic school, the early souk, date gardens, and pearl diving and selling, including sets of pearl merchants’ weights, scales, and sieves, as well as desert and marine life exhibits.

There is also an extensive archaeological section with displays of copper and alabaster pottery, coinage, weapons, skeletons, and other objects found in various digs. Some are as much as 4,000 years old; others date from the Islamic era, from the 7th to the 13th centuries.

I found conflicting information as to when the museum is open. Best I can tell, it opens around 8:30am and closes around 10pm. The hours differ on Friday (the Sabbath) and during Ramadan. If time is a concern, you can phone the museum at 3531862.

We spent over one and a half hours here. You could spend more if you were into archaeology. As I said before, we enjoyed this museum very much.

I forgot my camera, but photo taking is allowed.
Dubai Museum
Al Fahidi Fort
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
+971 4 353 1862

Bastakia Quarter

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Ed Hahn on January 19, 2006

Most of the guidebooks give al Bastakia short shrift. Pam and I could have spent a whole day there. In my mind, it’s the most worthwhile site of all the ones we visited.

The al Bastakia Quarter which is actually in Bur Dubai dates back to the early 1900s. The houses were once the homes of wealthy Persian merchants, who moved to Dubai to take advantage of favorable tax concessions. Most came from the Bastak District in southern Iran, hence the name of the quarter. It is being turned into a pedestrianized conservation area. The buildings and houses are being restored and should be finished in the near future.

We started at the Majlis Gallery. Which is open from 9:30am – 1:30pm and 4:30 – 8:00pm, Telephone: 04 3536233. The showrooms are set up around an open courtyard which is graced with a beautiful olive tree. It is a most relaxing environment. When we were there, the main gallery featured paintings by Sylvia Woodcock. Local artists are featured in some of the other rooms. In addition to the art work, handicrafts, particularly candles and candle holders, are for sale. I was very impressed by the variety and price range of the gift items on offer. We bought a number of items to give to friends. The manager, an English woman, was most helpful and helped make the whole experience a good one.

We stopped for lunch at a delightful venue named the “Local Restaurant.” It had fountains and greenery and a raised, covered platform in the center of the courtyard for dining. The waitresses were in Persian costumes and competent. The Persian food was excellent and reasonably priced. I think we enjoyed our leisurely lunch here as much as any meal we had in Dubai.

After lunch, we went hunting for the renowned boutique hotel, XVA, named after the street it’s on. Because of the alleys and lack of signs we got lost trying to find it. When we finally did, we were rewarded by a courtyard that contains a delightful Café. The rooms around the courtyard are art and custom furniture showrooms. The guesthouse itself has only a few spartan rooms but gives lie to my assertion that there are no reasonably priced decent hotel rooms. The problem is getting a reservation here is difficult. Telephone: 353-5383, fax: 353-5988, e-mail: xva@xvagallery.com.

We wandered the lanes after visiting the XVA. We found traditional houses, a mosque and an avant garde dress shop. The many wind towers help make the area architecturally interesting. I can only speculate how fascinating this area is going to be when they finish reconstructing it. Don’t miss it.
Bastakia Quarter
Creekside
Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Creekside - Bur Dubai and Deira

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by Ed Hahn on January 21, 2006

If there is an “old” Dubai and if there is a downtown Dubai it’s Creekside. The Creek is a natural sea-water inlet which cuts through the centre of the city and is the historic focal point of life in Dubai. As we strolled along the paved walkway on its banks, we were often reminded of Dubai’s centuries-old trading traditions.

The creek separates Bur Dubai on the south bank, the tourist center, from Deira on the north bank, the retail commercial center. Both districts have their unique charms. Bur Dubai has its traditional architecture, museums and historic houses. Deira has its souqs and shops as well as streets packed with people from many different cultures.

We spent one evening and one afternoon just strolling up and down on both sides of the creek. We rented an abra for a waterside tour of the creek. It costs about 100 Dirham (US$27) an hour. We bargained for a run from the mouth of the creek to the al Maktoum Bridge and then a drop off on the Deira side for 50 Dirham (US$13.50). Worth every fil (US$0.003). We found the dhows, anchored up and down the creek, the most interesting sight on the ride. These dhows ply the Gulf Coast but also venture as far as India and East Africa.

If you just want to ride an abra as the locals do pay 50 fils (US$0.14) and ride across from one abra terminal to the other. There are two on each side.

The evening we were there, we visited the Bur Dubai Souq. It has the usual tourist junk but is also known for its textiles and nearby tailoring shops. Unless you are buying a very cheap item, be prepared to haggle. We bought some caps and a shawl for one-half the asking price and gave up early, in my opinion.

We had dinner at a Lebanese-Thai restaurant, whose name I’ve forgotten. It has a veranda that juts out over the creek. We ordered from both cuisines and were somewhat surprised at how good and reasonably priced the food was. It’s on the left as you enter the Bur Dubai Souk.

We visited Deira in the late afternoon. It reminded us of Lockhart St. in Hong Kong. The shops held every type of item you could imagine. The streets were filled with shoppers and the ubiquitous delivery vans - lots of noise and confusion.

We visited the jewelry souq and the perfume souq. Frankly they were both disappointing. Instead of open air spaces, most of the merchandise was in shops. This cuts down on browsing.

The Spice souk was as I imagined it would be – open sacks of many different kinds of spices and merchants trying to convince us to buy spices we would most likely never use. I loved it.

There’s much more to Creekside, some of which I discuss in the Bastakia and Family Activities Reviews. I recommend you budget at least two full days to explore it.
Bastakia Quarter
Creekside
Dubai, United Arab Emirates

An Excursion to Sharjah

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Ed Hahn on January 17, 2006

Sometimes, I wonder if my biases get in the way of my ability to appreciate things other people seem to value. Sharjah is a place that raised the issue for me, again.

Ten kilometers Northeast of Dubai, it carries the UNESCO title "Cultural Capital of the Arab World." Perhaps my expectations were too high. If this place is indeed the cultural capital of the Arab world, then culture must not be a high priority for the Arab world. If culture is intended to be analogous to "ethnography" or "lifestyle," then maybe there’s a point to its title. If culture means the arts, architecture, and intellectual history of a region, then I missed something. That aside, our 1-day visit to Sharjah was at least interesting, but I wouldn't call it exciting.

The fact that Sharjah is the most fundamentalist of the Emirates did not impact us at all. The fact that there is very little signage for tourists did. Our driver got lost twice, which, frankly, is not a criticism of our driver. We finally were able to locate the Al-Hisn Fort and the surrounding Heritage Area.

The Heritage area is widely touted as a place where one can really appreciate Arabic Culture and contains a number of museums and historical sites. It is near a number of art galleries as well as the corniche and within walking distance of the famous or infamous gauche Blue Souk.

We tried to depend on our guidebooks to find our way around, in lieu of any helpful signs or directions, and found that the guides were as clueless as we were. For our first stop, we finally stumbled on to what we were later to learn is the Majlis of Ibrahim Mohammed al-Midfa.

Ibrahim al-Midfa was considered an intellectual leader and established the first UAE newspaper in 1933. The museum now houses Ibrahim Al Midfa's books, papers, and studies, as well as his photographs and personal things. It also serves as a meeting place for government sanctioned literary and historical pursuits. In the absence of any information, it was hard to figure out what we were seeing.

We were fortunate to meet an employee who volunteered to walk us over to the area containing the Islamic Museum and the Sharjah Heritage Museum. We visited the Islamic Museum first and found it to be the most interesting of any of the sites we visited.

The Kaaba exhibit was fascinating and included a documentary film about how the Prophet's Mosque and the rites of Hajj and Omra developed. The museum also exhibits a piece of the curtain of the Kaaba. The exhibits helped me understand the importance of the Kaaba as well as some of the more esoteric rituals of the Haj.

The Islamic Museum also exhibits scientific and literary religious manuscripts and arts and crafts, including clay, pottery, metal, and glass, as well as textiles, jewelry, and coins. The artifacts go back 1,400 years.

The Sharjah Heritage Museum is housed in the Bait al-Naboodah or al-Naboodah House. It is a traditional Gulf building built in 1845 and was family owned until the late 1970s, when it was transformed into the Heritage Museum. We wandered throughout its 16 rooms on two stories. Each room is filled with artifacts, mostly furniture, clothing, and jewelry, some of which are labeled. The ventilation structures, called berajils, were interesting, as was the open-fire kitchen. There is a Sharjah documentary and some interesting photos near the entrance.

Our next stop was the Al-Hisn (Fort) Museum, which was the residence of the ruling family for almost 150 years. Built in 1820, it was partially destroyed in 1969, then rebuilt and converted into a museum in the 1970s. Like the two previous sites, it consists of a number of rooms that served different functions, like pearl trading, nursery, public events, school, library, etc. The only unique thing about it was its history as a fort, and that wasn’t featured anywhere I could find. There was a weapons room but nothing about how the fort functioned as a fort.

We also visited the Souq al-Arsah, which has been restored. It was one of the oldest souqs in the UAE but almost completely collapsed in the 1970s and 80s. It’s now full of various kinds of shops selling the usual soug fare of everything from handmade rugs to cheap souvenirs. We were the only visitors, and we finally left because the shop owners would not leave us alone to browse. I don’t blame them. They were most likely totally bored.

Theoretically, each of the above sites was supposed to offer visitors dates and coffee. It never happened except in the Souq, where snacks were available for a price.

The museums are generally open from 9am to 1pm and 5pm to 8pm, except Friday, when they're open from 5 to 8pm only. However, we were there in the mid-afternoon, and every museum was open. Maybe that’s why the place seemed so deserted. Everything is closed on Mondays. During Ramadan, the hours vary. Phone first at 06 568 1738. Each museum charges separately and the tariff varies from 3 to 10 Dirham.

From the souq al-Asrah, we walked out to the corniche. A maritime museum is directly adjacent to the souq. We didn’t go in but did enjoy the courtyard display of different types of craft, especially an original Shashah (traditional fishing boat) made from the mid rib of the date palm frond. Anchored nearby and part of the museum is a traditional coastal sailboat. Unfortunately, it was closed.

We strolled along Corniche Road. We saw many small boats used for local gulf commerce. It was fascinating watching the loading and unloading, most of which was being done by hand.

We headed for the Arts Center and Sharjah Art Museum, which is 1 block inland from Corniche Road. Unfortunately, everything was closed. I guess they adhere to the posted hours of 9am to 1pm and 5 to 8pm. In the Art Center we did find some paintings on exhibit, but they were not very memorable.

After a quick stop at the fabled Blue Souq, which looked like an ugly tourist trap of immense proportions, we decided to head back to Dubai to avoid the evening traffic jams. Speaking of traffic jams, the following Thursday, a 3-hour back up developed as people tried to get to Sharjah. Evidently a road was unexpectedly narrowed from three lanes to one, and there was no alternative route. Be sure and inquire about local conditions before heading fro Sharjah on a weekend.

While we were disappointed to miss the Art Museum, we did not return to Sharjah. Sharjah has a wildlife park/zoo featuring desert animals and a Natural History Museum and Desert Park, both of which might be worth a visit. There are also a number of other museums. The Sharjah website, http://www.sharjah-welcome.com/index.php, claims a total of 20, ranging from archaeology to cosmetics. We did wander into the Numismatic Museum but found almost no descriptions of what we were looking at so we left.

In summary, Sharjah is worth a visit but plan ahead to ensure you know which sites you want to visit and how to get there, what the sites’ opening hours are, and how to avoid traffic jams.

Fujairah and the UAE East Coast

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Ed Hahn on January 23, 2006

Pam, my wife, and I hired a car and driver to take us to the East Coast. We planned to go through Hatta, the ancient agricultural oasis and then drive through the Hajar Mountains to Fujairah. Things did not go as planned.

We mistakenly believed that the main road to Fujairah would take us to Hatta. When we realized that our assumption was wrong, we immediately directed the driver to go to Hatta first. Not being able to read our minds, he was headed for Fujairah by the most direct route.

When we got to Hatta, we drove around the old town and out to the dam, which is an impressive site, if only because it contains a lot of fresh water in the middle of the desert. In retrospect, we might have stayed in Hatta at the Fort Hatta Hotel and done some exploring on foot. Instead we asked the driver to head for Fujairah through the mountains. He said there was no road through the mountains. We shared a map that showed a road going from Hatta to Fujairah but he insisted such a road did not exist. We finally gave in and he backtracked about 75 km to go to Fujairah. We found out later that there is indeed a road and the scenery is spectacular – a missed opportunity.

After checking into our hotel, the Diar al Siji, we had an excellent buffet lunch in the main restaurant and did some exploring of Fujairah on foot. Pam walked all the way to the corniche, an hour round trip, while I explored a nearby shopping mall and the high rise World Trade Center. Neither of us was very impressed with what we saw. Perhaps our expectations exceeded the reality.

Fujairah has a 70km coastline and is the only emirate situated entirely along the Gulf of Oman. As we discovered, there is much natural beauty of the rugged and raw variety. The mountains are jagged, the desert is sparse and rocky and the beaches are pristine. Evidently the diving can be spectacular. Unfortunately, it is also one of the world’s busiest oil bunkering ports and we could see the ships lined up for miles waiting to take on their cargo. Not surprisingly, bilge emptying has had a deleterious effect on the harbor.

The second day we hired a car and driver with the idea of driving the length of the coastline and doing some other sightseeing in Fujairah itself. Our first destination was Khor Kalba, a conservation reserve at the foot of the Hajar Mountains, which have historically separated Fujairah from the other Emirates. Khor Kalba, which is actually in Sharjah, is a site that needs attention.

In 1996, UAE’s first national park and nature reserve at Khor Kalba was established. The plan for the creation and operation of the park and reserve was to conserve and nurture the rare flora and fauna of the area while regulating public access.

Nine years later the place looks like a waste disposal area. The mangroves on which the whole ecology depends are disappearing. In the past much of the Gulf coast was lined with mangrove forests, which have long since been logged off. There are still mangrove stands in some places – one such place is in these tidal creeks of Umm al Quwain. Sadly the trees and the birds, fish and crustaceans they support are in danger of extinction because of human intrusion. We saw large government signs, forbidding entry into the mangroves and the killing of any wildlife, but without guards or game wardens to enforce the message, the destruction goes on.

Because fishermen were drying fish on the nearby mud flats, the flies were so thick, we were overwhelmed and had to cut our visit short. Road building to support the many mansions being built in the area has reportedly cut off the flow of fresh water to the trees. We saw fishermen dragging their nets using four-wheel drive vehicles and destroying the natural sand spit protecting the trees in the process.

What could be a great tourist attraction appears to be a site for family picnics, late night parties and crabbing and fishing in forbidden areas. I hope something is done soon.

Leaving Khor Kalba, we drove north along the coast to Khor Fakkan. The drive was interesting. It was cool enough to drive with the windows down and we could smell the saltwater. Khor Fakkan is set on a beautiful natural harbor. Along the water there is an extensive corniche, a very nice park with an open air restaurant and a 200 meter wide sand beach. We stopped to stretch our legs and enjoy the view.

Our next stop was the mosque and watch towers at Al Bidya. We rate this as one of the highlights of the whole trip to the UAE. The mosque is located between Khor Fakkan and Dibba. While the mosque itself, built in the 15th century, is reputed to be the oldest in the UAE, the towers and other structures surrounding the mosque date as far back as 200 BC. The site of the village has been inhabited for 4,000 years (biblically, the beginning of time).

The Mosque is very tiny and has four small domes supported by a massive central pillar. Being able to enter a working mosque thrilled us. They have abayas available for women visitors. This is the only mosque I have ever visited that allowed non-believers to enter. We also climbed up to the two watch towers so we could get a look at the surrounding area. We saw date palm plantations, the village itself and an inlet and beach - well worth the climb.

We drove North to Dibba and the Omani border. Dibba has some attractions, most importantly, a cemetery holding 10,000 rebels who rose up against the imposition of Islam and were slaughtered in 632 AD. Our driver couldn’t find it, though. He said it was on the Omani side but our guidebooks said otherwise. We eventually go 0 for 2 in arguments with drivers.

We drove back to Fujairah to visit the Heritage Center, which is North of Fujairah City Center - what a disappointment. It is intended to portray the traditional life of the Emirate people, including traditional houses, utensils, tools and other items as well as the system used for irrigating fields, including the working bull that makes the system go. We saw a bull but it was so old and sickly, I doubt if it could walk on its own. Nothing was labeled in either Arabic or English. For what its worth, the village is open all day; every day and entry is free.

After the Heritage Village disappointment and on the advice of our driver, we passed on the nearby Ain Al Madhab Gardens which contain a mineral spa with changing rooms, a park and a playground.

We had a late lunch at a gauche looking but interesting Lebanese restaurant, across from our hotel, the Al Meshwar, Faseel Rd., telephone: 09-2229225. The food was excellent and the ambiance of the smoke-filled ground floor, reserved for men only, was fascinating. We ate upstairs. I wanted shwarma but they only serve it at night. This seemed weird to me given that the meat for shwarma is cooked continuously.

The next day we requested a late check out and grabbed a taxi to the Fujairah Museum and the nearby Fujairah Fort. The Fujairah Museum has displays of archaeological artifacts found in excavations throughout the Emirate, some going back over 4000 years. There are is an exhibit of Islamic Art and other exhibits to illustrate traditional lifestyles. You need only budget about 30-45 minutes to see everything in this museum. It’s open from 8 am to 1 pm and 4 pm to 6 pm every day except Saturday. Entrance costs 5 Dirham. Picture taking is allowed.

We walked the quarter mile or so the Fujairah Fort. It’s actually a construction zone. Reportedly 360 years old, the fort was severely damaged in the early twentieth century by the British. It appears they’re just getting around to repairing it some 90+ years later. I think it will be an interesting place to visit someday but it certainly wasn’t the day we were there. The fort itself was locked tight. Everything else was under construction. I believe they plan to move the museum to the fort when they finish restoring it.

On our way back to Dubai, we drove through the Masafi Friday Market which is actually open every day. In addition to the usual tourist oriented junk, vendors sell fruits and vegetables as well as some interesting handicrafts including fabrics and pottery.

Our overall impression of the East Coast tourist scene is that it is “a work in progress.” Unless you like diving or beach resorts, I would suggest there are other destinations in the UAE or Oman that would make better use of your time.

Dining and Drinking in Dubai

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Ed Hahn on January 25, 2006

This section is contains a potpourri of information on eating and drinking in Dubai. I will focus on family entertainment and adventure experiences in another review.

I personally love eating and drinking out especially when I am traveling. This time we were staying with friends so we didn’t eat out as much as we would have if we were staying in a hotel. Nevertheless we were able to sample a good cross section of what Dubai has to offer.

I very seldom write restaurant reviews in my journals because I either don’t pay enough attention to what’s available and what’s going on around me or I am so focused on relaxing and enjoying my meal that I lose focus. Whatever the reason I prefer to say a few words about the places I choose and let it go at that. I’ve never been able to wade through, detailed restaurant reviews. I mostly skim the article and pick out what I will try if I visit the place. Consider this as skimming. I also briefly discuss some restaurants in the other reviews in this journal.

Because wine, beer and liquor are only available at restaurants associated with hotels, most of the upscale restaurants are on hotel properties. There are very good Middle Eastern, South Asian and Oriental restaurants separate from hotels but they do not serve alcoholic beverages. I did eat at one Chinese restaurant where they served beer in tea pots – pretty clever!

The only upscale restaurant we visited was the Rib Room in the Emirates Towers. We decided to celebrate New Years Eve a couple days early and avoid the crowds. We started at the 360° Bar and Grill at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel and Resort. It sits out in the Gulf at the end of a long curving pier. There are electric carts to take you out or you can walk. It’s about a five minute walk. It has an air-conditioned restaurant on the ground floor but up the stairs is an open-air lounge with both western style tables and Middle Eastern couches. We thoroughly enjoyed drinking our pre-dinner cocktails in the cool evening air. It was packed so we had to stand. Not surprising since Thursday night in Dubai is equivalent to Saturday night in the West.

We went from there to the Rib Room at the Jumeirah Emirates Towers. The ambiance is very hushed but not snooty. We were dressed casually. The décor features lots of dark wood. The service was very professional and competent. Most of us ordered some kind of beef dish, as they bill themselves as specializing in steak and seafood. My U.S. aged porterhouse was fantastic and cooked exactly how I like it. They claim their signature dishes are Beef Wellington, roasted prime rib and Wagyu beef from Japan. They have an excellent wine list. The only bad news was the cost. The check with tax and service charge for our group of seven was slightly under 4800 Dirham (US$1300). I must admit we did drink quite a bit of wine. The Rib Room’s phone number is 971-4-3300000, Fax: 971-4-3303131.

For a nightcap, we went to the world famous Buddha Bar. If the 360° Bar was crowded, the Buddha Bar was sardine packed. Originally conceived in Paris, the Dubai manifestation is situated in Grosvenor House, a Meridian Hotels property in West Marina Beach. It features mostly drinking but does offer a fusion cuisine menu along with sushi. The décor is over the top with a huge sitting Buddha dominating the main dining room. After about an hour I was ready to call it a night. As we left the bar at about 1:00 AM, we noticed that there were at least 50 people lined up to get in to the place. It’s open until 4:00 AM.

But what about the other end of the spectrum, fast food. The usual suspects are here, McDonald’s, KFC, Burger King, plus a number of Indian, Chinese and Japanese outlets. We had a late lunch one afternoon at an interesting departure from the usual fast food fare, the Automatic Restaurant & Grill. It is a chain of Lebanese restaurants, where Arabs, locals and expats from Lebanon, Syria and Egypt, come for lunch and dinner. The kitchen concentrates on Lebanese staples—hummus, tabouleh, kebabs and grilled prawns. I had heard that it is consistently good and inexpensive. We had hummus with fresh vegetables and pita bread plus lamb kebabs and grilled chicken. I recommend you try one for lunch at least once. They are all over the place and easy to find.

In between fast food and gourmet dining, there are many choices. For pub food, try the Red Lion Pub in the Metropolitan Hotel. It is the oldest pub in Dubai. My host and I dropped in for a few beers and a light supper one evening. The food was good and as far as I know authentic. Since my pub experiences are heavily weighted to Hong Kong pubs, I could be wrong about the authentic claim. We enjoyed ourselves. The pub was heavily populated with football fans watching an English Premier League match so it must pass British muster at some level. It also has an outdoor beer garden and BBQ which is reputedly very popular but was not being used the night we were there.

There’s also a Hard Rock Café for people who prefer an American type bar and grill to a pub. It's at Interchange # 5, Sheikh Zayed Rd., Telephone: +971-4-399-2888

We had a delightful time, one Friday afternoon, at the Boardwalk Restaurant at the Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club, Tel: +971 (0)4 295 6000. The ambiance is unbeatable. It is the only restaurant built out over the creek. One magazine listed it as a “disappointment.” Another couldn’t stop singing its praises. For us the location was outstanding, the food was forgettable, the swooping gulls soon became a bother and the service was spotty at best. Nevertheless, we would go back. No reservations, although we were immediately seated at about 2:00 PM. It’s open from 9 AM until Midnight so you should be able to pick time that avoids crowds. Prices are reasonable.

On our last day we visited a truly authentic Chinese restaurant, owned and operated by a Chinese from Tsingtao. The waitresses were all from Shantung province. We had pot stickers, wheat noodles and three or four other dishes, I don’t remember. They were all delicious. Unfortunately, I also don’t remember the name of the restaurant. It’s located in the Al Hamriya section north of the Creek.

Even though I, personally, am not a big fan of Middle Eastern food, I do want to recommend a place that I saw but did not eat at. It’s the Kan Zaman, Near Heritage Village in Bur Dubai, Tel: +971 04 3939913. It’s a shisha café (has waterpipes) that looked very appealing from the outside and although it has an eclectic menu, evidently serves decent local food. My host family suggested sticking to the kebabs, hummus and tabouleh. One of the main attractions is that the café sits on the banks of the Creek. Most of the tables are outside so it’s possible to eat and watch the boats and abras go by. As you might imagine, no alcohol is served.

To summarize all of this: in discussing dining out with my host family and others I met, the consensus is, if you go to one of the major hotels and don’t worry too much about cost, you will not be disappointed. The local restaurants are all regulated so it’s unlikely you would get in trouble eating as the locals do. The fast food outlets are…well…fast food outlets, excepting the Automatic Restaurant & Grill. The bar and pub food seems edible and reasonably priced. I suggest Googling “dining, drinking, Dubai.” You will come up with many choices and unless you are a lot pickier than I am, you won’t be disappointed.

Here’s a list I picked up from the Economist Magazine which, though targeted at business people, has pretty good variety.

Splurging

Al Mahara at Burj Al Arab
Café Chic at Le Meridien Dubai
Tagine at Royal Mirage Palace Hotel
Verre at Hilton Dubai Creek
Vu's at Emirates Towers Hotel

Lunch
Biella Caffè Pizzeria at Wafi City Mall
The Glasshouse at Hilton Dubai Creek
Wafi Pyramids at Wafi City

Fashionable Eating
Eauzone at Royal Mirage Arabian Court
Sho-Cho at Dubai Marine Beach Resort
Zheng He's at Mina A'Salam

Local Food
Asha's at Wafi Pyramids
Layali Lubnan at Sheikh Zayed Rd
Lime Tree Café at Magroody Shopping Centre
Kan Zaman near Heritage Village
Zyara Café near Al Salaam Tower

Casual
Automatic Restaurant & Grill at locations around Dubai
Medzo at Wafi City Pyramids
More Car park near Welcare Hospital

Disappointments
Boardwalk at Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club

Brunch
The Alamo at Dubai Marine Beach Resort
The Glasshouse at Hilton Dubai Creek
Jebel Ali Hotel at Jebel Ali

Outdoor and Family Activities in Dubai and the UAE

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Ed Hahn on January 25, 2006

While there seems to be a limited number of truly interesting and worthwhile cultural and artistic tourist attractions, there are a number of activities aimed to appeal to the tourist family or the more adventurous outdoor tourist.

Some of the more interesting desert activities include safaris, dune driving and exploring wadis in four-wheel-drive vehicles; sand-skiing, hot air ballooning and moonlit Arabian desert barbecues, complete with traditional entertainment. Closer to town there is camel racing and horse racing with no betting, of course. You can also cruise in a traditional wooden dhow on Dubai Creek or into the Gulf with or without a meal. I recommend “without.”

The UAE also has swimming, sailing, fishing, windsurfing, water-skiing, jet-skiing, scuba-diving and snorkeling. There are five grass golf courses. If you are really sports and activity oriented you can play squash and tennis or go horse back riding, trekking, paragliding, cycling, ice-skating, shooting, and bowling.

If all you want to do is watch, there’s The Dubai Desert Classic golf tournament in early February, two US$1,000,000 International tennis tournaments in late February, one for women and one for men and an IRB Rugby Sevens tournament in December.

For families with children, there are lots of beaches and parks with playgrounds. Creekside Park is especially nice. It has an interactive Children’s City with areas dedicated to anatomy, science and space. Families can also ride a gondola that provides great views of the city.

The zoo on Jumeirah Beach Road is small and disappointing according to our host family but further down is Jumeirah Beach Park. It’s a huge facility with children’s play areas, barbecue sites, food kiosks, volleyball areas, and a beach with lifeguards. It’s on Jumeirah Beach Road next to the Hilton Beach Club.

The Jumeirah Beach Corniche is a little further down and has 800 meters of beach frontage, with shaded picnic tables, play areas, showers and a sheltered swimming area. It’s located just off the Beach Road, next to the Marine Beach Club.

There are also commercial sites that cater to families like the Wild Wadi Water Park and Ski Dubai next to the Mall of the Emirates for indoor skiing, sledding, snowball fights and Santa Claus at Christmas-time.

We had a fun afternoon renting ATVs at one of the locations you can't miss on the Dubai-Hatta Highway. There are also enclosed tracks for small children to experience driving an ATV on the sand.

One of the more interesting sites is Heritage Village near the Shindaga Tunnel. The site attempts to recreate the Bedouin way of life, with people dressed in traditional clothing, displays of traditional handicrafts, and traditional song and dance performances. It also has a Diving Village featuring artifacts from Dubai’s pearl diving past. It’s a wee bit tacky but maybe kids won’t notice. We didn’t see it but there is evidently a tiny section for children, with activities intended to keep youngsters occupied while the adults take coffee break at a nearby cafe.

To summarize, there’s lots to do for adventurers and families. Use the internet and Google to locate your choices and plan ahead to avoid the disappointment of closed facilities or fully booked activities.

http://www.igougo.com/journal-j49932-Dubai-Dubious_Dubai.html

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