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
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
You’ll likely get better shopping out of the Sharjah souk, although the
Sheikh Saeed’s House
Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum was Sheikh Rashid’s father (Sheikh Rashid, arguably the founder of ‘modern’
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
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
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
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.
What a link!
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
LiwaFinding Liwa’s a doddle: go towards
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
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 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
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
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.
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
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
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…