Sunday, 24 February 2008


A while ago I posted up ten things to get you out of the house, which would also do as ideas for when you’ve got visitors. Here’s another ten. So now you’ve got twenty individual things to find out about the Emirates, which really does mean you’ve got no excuse for saying ‘there’s nothing to do today’ or, bless you all, ‘this place hasn’t got any culture’.

Like the last post, this comes with a long post warning. I couldn’t be bothered to split it up and post one a day…

The Gold Souks

This is a bit of a cheat, as I’ve actually got two gold souks in mind. Dubai Gold Souk is inside the bit of Deira by the mouth of the creek, halfway between HSBC in Dubai and the Grand Hyatt in Deira. You can park up anywhere in that area and just walk inside and you’ll get to it: an alternative is to take an abra across to the spice souk abra station from Bastakia, which is always fun. If you do it in the evening, take a turn up the dhow wharfage, too and have a shufti at the amazing mixture of cargoes, boats and crews. Sitting watching life go by and biting into the piping hot, spicy pakoras from the tea shops on the creekside at sunset was an old pleasure from travelling out here in the ‘80s…

Sharjah Gold Souk, the Souk Al Markazi or Blue Souk, is to be found at the edge of the Buheira Lagoon and sits at the end of King Feisal Street as it joins Al Aroubah Street, near to the fish market, the Saudi mosque and Al Ittihad Square. Any cabbie should know at least one of those! A major piece of contemporary Islamic architecture, the Blue Souq is nestled snugly by the insanely optimistic ‘Smile, You’re In Sharjah’ roundabout, so called because it contains that very injunction picked out lovingly, by insane people, in flowers. In fact, we have long referred to this as ‘Smile, you’re insane’ roundabout.

You’ll likely get better shopping out of the Sharjah souk, although the Dubai one is more extensive. The Sharjah one has the added advantage of an ‘antique souk’ on the first floor, although the chances of finding a true antique there are about as remote as those of finding a talking fish. Bargain like your life depended on it: the stallholders are as venial a collection of bashi-bazouks as you’re likely to find in your life.

Sheikh Saeed’s House

Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum was Sheikh Rashid’s father (Sheikh Rashid, arguably the founder of ‘modern’ Dubai and a truly visionary man) and therefore is Sheikh Mohammad’s grandfather. His house has now been restored from its former crumbling state, years of neglect having reduced it in parts almost to rubble. The house itself is a fantastic place to take a wander in the daytime and is also home to a delightful collection of early photography of Dubai as well as a collection of coins and other bits and bobs. It’s well worth the visit and costs pennies to get into. The area around has also been restored as a cultural centre and you can easily give an afternoon wandering around. If you want to hang around for the early evening, you can sit by the creekside, drink mint tea and smoke shisha at Kan Zaman as you watch the dhows and pleasure boats, abras and seagulls whizzing around the busy waterway.

Another option is to accede to the clamorous abra drivers who park up by Sheikh Saeed’s house and accept a tour up and down the creek. Don’t pay ‘em more than Dhs 60, they’re robbers, but do take the tour: it’s great fun and they’ll drop you off at the Spice Souk abra station so you can wander the dhow wharfage at sunset or go into the Gold Souk. Neat, huh?

Another hint: if you’re going to be in this area with guests, start the afternoon off with lunch at the Grand Hyatt’s Al Dawar revolving restaurant, known to us both (unfairly) for many years as the ‘revolting restaurant’. The food’s really good and you get to do an aerial tour of Dubai as you eat and gently revolve 360 degrees in an hour.

You can get to Sheikh Saeed’s house, which is in Shindaga, by driving towards Shindaga tunnel from Bur Dubai and then slinging a right before you get to the tunnel and just after you pass Carrefour or the Al Bustan Flour mill to your right. Or ask a cab to take you to the fruit souk in Bur Dubai and then go left at the lights beyond the fruit souk towards the main souk area.


Established by Iranian traders under British protection in the C19th, Bastakia’s wind towered adobe houses have been restored and are a delight to wander around: particularly as a few have been given over to cafes and art shops. A short walk along the creekside towards Shindaga will take you past the Amiri diwan to Dubai fort, which is a small, but good, museum.

The wind tower, incidentally, so much a symbol of the UAE is an Iranian innovation brought over to the UAE and can best be seen at Ajman Fort Museum, where a working, original wind tower stands. It’s amazingly efficient.

Geeky fact: one of the reasons these houses and forts are made of coral is that they allow air to pass through: in the summer, water was poured on the roof and the family would then sleep under the stars as the evaporation gently cooled them.

Dubai Museum

What a link! Dubai Museum, located at the old Al Fahidi fort in Bur Dubai, sits next to the Amiri Diwan. You get to it by driving down the creekside past the British Consulate (or Saudi Embassy, depending on how you like your directions) or, alternatively, by passing Bur Juman to your left going down bank street and then turning right at the lights. Or take a cab.

The Museum’s small but pretty much perfectly formed: the entrance leads quickly into a courtyard with rooms off it showing video clips and barasti (palm frond) houses showing how people lived in Dubai right up until the 1970s. Then you’re on the way downstairs, past a strangely stuffed and suspended seabird and a wee model of the old settlement of Dubai and into the highly impressive video show of Dubai’s history. From there, it’s a journey through town and desert and then into a display of artefacts from Dubai’s archaeological past and then, almost before you know it, you’re blinking in the sunlight again. If you’ve lived here more than six months and haven’t been, then shame upon you.


Finding Liwa’s a doddle: go towards Abu Dhabi and then drive south – you can use the truck road or the ‘regular’ road – and you’ll need a reasonable road map. If you’re going to do Liwa, there are only two sensible options: the Liwa Hotel or camping. If you’re intending to drive on the dunes you’ll need friends, sand shovels, water, tow-ropes and the million other things that serious off-roading demands. I’d buy a copy of the Explorer offroad book – it’s the best of them.

One attraction on the way down is the Emirates National Auto Musuem, the private collection of cars assembled by Sheikh Hamad bin Hamdan al Nahyan. The watchman usually lets people in, so don’t be deterred if it looks closed!

So why bother with Liwa? Well, the Liwa Crescent is true, deep desert. The dunes roll out as far as the eye can see, stunning piles of golden, reddish sand that can peak at 200 feet. It’s camel country, herds roam across the sands and the people out here are still close to the land, even if they do tend towards the Landcruiser lifestyle a little more than when Wilf ‘watery boys’ Thesiger used to wander around these parts.

The solitude out there is absolute, the tranquillity of the desert is a delight and at night-time, the deep desert clear skies and glistening stars stretched out above you, totally free of light pollution. There’s nothing like it!

Wadi Warraya

Wadi Warraya is easy to get to these days, signposted off the Dibba-Khor Fakkan road (or, if you’re going the other way, the Khor Fakkan-Dibba road) and reachable by blacktop road. It used to be an 18km wadi drive from the main road and was by far better off for it, too.

It’s the only guaranteed year-round waterfall in the Emirates and is, sadly, covered in graffiti and often filled with rubbish: the inevitable consequence of the road being built up to it. On one occasion we visited to find a gentleman had pitched his tent and installed a generator to drive the lightbulb on a stick he’d placed in front of it. The noise was awful.

Be careful about letting kids splash in the rock pools at Warrayah: there’s often a hidden payload of smashed glass in there. Climb up, though, and bathe in the bowl at the top of the waterfall, where a natural ‘Jacuzzi’ has formed: it’s really nice up there and the whole area’s great for a wander along the wadis and even a picnic!

Fujeirah Fort & Museum

The East Coast makes for a great day out: strike out early and aim for Masafi (the Dhaid, or airport, road out of Sharjah or the 611 out of Dubai should do, slinging a right at the Sajja turnoff – you could also drive towards Hatta and turn left at the Madham roundabout to get to Dhaid but that’s a long haul. Turn left at Masafi to get to Dibba, then right to pass by the JAL Hotel, the Al Aqha Meridien and then the Sandy Beach – an overnight at any one of these hotels would make the day out a neat weekend break. Drive down the coast towards Khor Fakkan, stop at the Bidya Mosque (the wee meringue-shaped white thing on the right under the lookout tower on the hill) for a peek on the way to Sharjah’s Indian Ocean resort town. Bidya is thought to date back to the C15th, which would take it back to the fall of Byzantium – although there is more ancient history on this coast with Dibba the scene of the battle that finally established Islam as the religion of the entire Gulf (and the burial place of 10,000 warriors today) and Bitnah home to a megalithic (that’s 3,000 years old to you, mate) grave site on the ancient trade route that used to snake up the wadi linking Fujeirah to Masafi.

Wadi Warayah is a right hand just before you get to Khor Fakkan (so is Wadi Shis, but that’s another story for another day)

The Oceanic Hotel at Khor Fakkan used to be nice, but we haven’t stayed there in 17 years, so don't take this as an up-to-date recommendation! When you leave Khor Fakkan, you’ll head inland for a bit before rejoining the coast and then you’ll find yourself entering Fujeirah itself.

Carry on along the coastal road until you see the Hilton on your left. There’s a large coffee pot on the roundabout (most roundabouts in Fujeirah are monumental, in fact many are monumentally dysfunctional): sling a right here and you can’t miss the Fujeirah Museum as well as the slightly drab ‘cultural and heritage centre’. The Museum’s nice and worth dropping by for, but not worth the trip to see specifically. If that makes any sense. It’s a short walk or a hop in the car from here to the restored Fujeirah Fort, which is well worth a wander round – particularly if you remember the awful ruin on a hillock that stood there washing away into the ground with every winter rains.

Now you can drive down the coast some more to reach Khor Kalba or drive inland to Masafi and perhaps visit Bitnah or Daftah on the way up. The drive’s amazing, particularly at sunset, when the craggy peaks to your left are silhouetted rather wonderfully.

Khor Kalba

If you decided to drive down to Kalba rather than go up to Masafi, you’re in for a treat: Kalba’s got a nice restored fort (it used to be an Emirate in its own right and an important one, as the backup airstrip for Imperial Airways’ airport at Sharjah was in Kalba), which used to be nothing more, literally, than a depression in the ground. It’s also got a neat seaside which extends out into an extensive mangrove swamp. Conservationists will get irritated here: Kalba’s something of a mess and really could do with more environmental protection measures and perhaps something nice like a visitor centre, but for now it’s open to all and the rubbish tells its own tale. The mangroves are fantastic, buzzing with life includling blue-shelled crabs. On the beach, local fishermen bring up dragnets using ancient, battered Toyota Landcruisers, a massive frothing load of fish the eventual result and then, tragically, a beach scattered with the corpses of sand sharks: edible but not liked by the locals and so of no value to them. They can’t be put back, apparently, as they inevitably die once they’ve been pulled up in the nets and have breathed air.

Go back on the mountain road to Sharjah and get a real treat of a drive scenically – including the mad tunnel through the mountain – and you’ll eventually end up at the infamous National Paints Roundabout on the Emirates Road!

Al Maha

Scrimp and save if you have to. Use your Skywards Miles. Sell a child. A kidney. But just do it.

A club class upgrade to Heathrow = 50,000 miles. A 24-hour summer blissout with food on demand and a luxurious desert chalet with a private pool = 50,000 miles. It’s a no-brainer, surely!

Emirates’ Al Maha Desert Resort is getting arguably a teensy weensy bit old and drab and could do with a minor spruce up. (Oi! I didn’t say change it!) But it’s still Dubai’s most interesting hotel and without doubt stands as the premium resort hotel in the Northern Emirates, no competition. You call ahead when you’re on the Al Ain road (route 66) and there’s a guide waiting to pick you up as you arrive at the holding area (you can’t take your own car in). It’s a quick ride through the dunes on black top to the hotel, passing through the enormous game reserve (something like a third of Dubai’s land area). Once you’re there, ladies in kandouras ply you with towels and fruit cocktails as you’re checked in then it’s a golf cart to your chalet which will feature a massive bath for two, a nice fresh coffee maker, a decanter of sherry (very civilised at sunset on the decking), two chaise longues and a decked area out back graced with its own swimming pool for two. Oh, I should mention it’s definitely not a child friendly place. Yaaayyyy!!!

Room service is included as is any meal you take in the restaurant, so it’s much lounging around followed perhaps by a glass of pop on the dunes after a camel ride or a quick safari with your guide, then freshen up before a drink overlooking the waterhole and dinner in the restaurant: it’s a set menu, but the chef will accommodate pretty much any request, including a Sri-Lankan curry for two if you’re really, really nice to him and give him some notice. It’s a curry to die for, too.

If you’re up to it, there’s falconry in the morning. We’ve never managed the 5.30am wakeup. You’re more likely to find us lolling around in the extensive, excellent (and a tad expensive, but in for a penny...) spa. Incidentally, once you’re checked out, there’s no hurry to get rid of you – the staff always make it a point to ask if you’d like to stay for lunch. Which is a nice touch.

And so, 24 hours after you called from the Al Ain road, you’ll be blissed out, relaxed and filled with strong feelings of love towards your fellow men. I’m not saying that’ll last, I’m saying this is how to get there


nzm said...

Very cool list - on the button!

dibba tours said...

Good list of the things on the last

Dibba Overnight Package said...

very impressive list of things in the last and Dubai have the every things market.

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