The United Arab Emirates and Oman are full of beautiful places to visit. And we’ve fallen in love with Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Al Ain and Muscat!
The United Arab Emirates, and more particularly Dubai, leave no one indifferent. You love them… or not. Because wealth, splendor and opulence are omnipresent… or not. We chose to explore them without prejudice, and we loved it!
The amazing places to visit in UAE and Oman
Abu Dhabi is the capital of the United Arab Emirates. Abu Dhabi’s main attraction is undeniably the Sheikh Zayed Mosque, named after the country’s first president, who died before the building’s construction was completed in 2007. This mosque is absolutely stunning, both inside and out. It is the largest marble structure built by man to date. It also contains the largest chandelier (12 tons!) and the largest handmade rug in the world (5627 square meters!). Our curiosity led us to see the Ferrari World theme park, next to the Abu Dhabi Formula 1 circuit. Its building is the largest space frame structure ever built.
For once, with the risk of shocking many, I will let loose a little bit by talking about Dubai, the city of the Middle East with its now legendary reputation as a sumptuous and opulent destination. You know… this city “of disproportion”, “built in concrete”, “superficial”, “charmless”, “soulless”, “not authentic”, “not ecological”, “not human”, which has grown like a mushroom in the middle of the desert “with the money from oil”, “by the strength of the arms of poor slaves” and “by not respecting human rights”, and which continues to do so today, unscrupulously and under the dumbfounded gaze of the international community (i.e. France, England and the United States).
And against what you may think, I’m not going to aim my ammunition at Dubai, but rather at the disturbing criticism I see on the social networks surrounding that city. You know, those Internet users who consider themselves among the most holy of all the sacrosanct and who spit their venom on anything that doesn’t resemble them! These anarchists from the Western world who have never set foot in Dubai, who know everything about everything, whose superiority is not to be proven and who allow themselves to judge it as if they had already lived there, because of a report they saw on the television. These people who are part of the middle class, who have never experienced real poverty up close, who are always asking for more government subsidies because everything is due to them and they owe nothing to anyone. They claim to be defending the widow and the orphan by wanting to tax the richest and all those who, with the sweat of their foreheads, have managed to achieve the standard of living they had always dreamed of. It is up to us to ask ourselves if it is not jealousy that drives them to be so judgmental.
It’s true that I had a bias towards Dubai, but I wanted to know for sure by visiting it. And as I try to educate my children to be open to the world while also being critical yet reasonable, this is the guideline I also try to follow when I travel.
What I can say, after visiting Dubai and talking to many of its residents, is that the reality there is quite different. It is true that money is the common denominator that governs life in this country, as it is almost everywhere. But unlike Las Vegas, which was built around entertainment, lust and debauchery, Dubai was built around a need for subsistence. With a bit of empathy, I understand what pushed the leaders of this country to develop in the way that they did. Because you see, life in a desert is difficult. The country is arid, has no lush vegetation and has difficulty with water supply. Oil has long been the vector in the country’s development, but this is no longer the case. The country has taken a green shift in sustainable development, becoming a leader in solar and wind energy, water desalination and wastewater recycling. The admirable decisions taken by the government in recent years have generated massive foreign capital injections and industrial and commercial investments. The country’s sound management has resulted in a trade surplus that has made all Western countries look pale in comparison.
Today, with nearly 90% of its population being foreigners, the United Arab Emirates (which is a democracy, by the way) has become an Eldorado for workers from all over the world, seeking a better future than they would ever have found in their own country, and even less so in poorly managed Western countries overflowing with racism and prejudice. The people who live in Dubai are normal people, who have chosen to live and work there. Even if some may earn ridiculously low wages, they are neither slaves nor unhappy. They are just aspiring to a better life, and that is precisely what Dubai offers them: opportunities, security and a standard of living that no other country could possibly offer them. In this morally conservative society, attitudes are discreet and there is no intoxication, let alone drugs and prostitution. Dubai is one of the safest cities in the world, with a very low crime rate. Can the same be said of Paris, London or New York?
Surprisingly, I have not seen more luxury or extravagance than in some of the cities we have visited. We did not see any “super cars” elsewhere than in the vicinity of Dubai Marina. Of course, there are some very luxurious neighborhoods, but nothing as outrageous as some cities such as Monaco, Geneva or even Toronto. Its infrastructure is no better than that of the Netherlands, its skyscraper density is no higher than that of Hong Kong, its shopping centers are no more impressive than those in North America. And if the frantic pace of construction or their creative approach bother you, I can’t imagine what you would have said if you had lived in New York when its first skyscrapers were being built! But seriously, I wasn’t impressed at all.
And indeed, the city also possesses a certain appeal, with districts boasting modern architecture and old but sober and authentic neighborhoods with lively souks that have brought us back to moments that have reminded us a bit of Turkey, Lebanon or Jordan.
Despite the unbearable heat in the middle of the day, we had a wonderful stay in Dubai. This destination is not perfect and cannot please everyone, but I hope you will no longer see Dubai the same way and that you will have the chance to visit this wonderful city and appreciate it as much as we did!
I’ll be honest with you. We had never even considered visiting Oman. I didn’t even know where this country was until 2 months ago, when in Turkey, we met a Canadian expatriate in Dubai, who told us that we would be bored by spending 9 days in Dubai. He suggested we visit Oman, which we did during a short 3-day stay and Wow! We were very pleasantly surprised by this country!
Just 200 years ago, Oman was the center of a true colonial empire, stretching from northern India to Zanzibar! There is an atmosphere of strong Islamic flavor that contrasts with that of the United Arab Emirates, where modernity has taken over from the traditions. In downtown Muscat, the capital, it is a great place to live and people are friendly, relaxed and simply happy. While strolling peacefully on the beach, on the corniche and in the souk of the old town, it feels like you’re living in another century!
The architecture of the buildings is rich in detail. The many castles, watchtowers and stone fortresses, are evidence of Oman’s strategic value at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. The seaside and mountain landscapes that we have criss-crossed are magnificent. In the middle of an arid climate, we passed by a lot of oases. Sometimes we felt like we were in the Sahara Desert with its large orange dunes, sometimes we felt like we were in the middle of the African savanna with camels to replace lions, elephants and giraffes. Many mountainous formations have even reminded us of Iceland as well!
Al Ain is nicknamed “the Garden City” because it is a great oasis in the middle of the desert! We spent 2 nights there, just enough time to visit the surroundings and visit its camel market. On the way back to Abu Dhabi, we had fun climbing huge sand dunes!
For a better preparation
We landed in Abu Dhabi where we stayed for two days. Then we headed to Dubai for five days. With our rental car, we crossed the border into Oman for a short three days, where we stayed in Muscat. On our return to the United Arab Emirates, we slept two nights in Al Ain and then spent two last nights in Abu Dhabi.
Our way of life in the United Arab Emirates was very similar to the one we had in Turkey. We slept in 5 different hotels of the Marriott chain during the 11 nights we stayed there. In Abu Dhabi, we treated ourselves to a night at the Ritz Carlton Abu Dhabi Grand Canal. All these hotels have been paid for with our points. Aside from the Ritz Carlton which is a category 5 hotel, all the others were category 1 and 2 hotels, i.e. they required very few points.
In Muscat, we had booked an apartment for three nights.
The region is a real paradise for cars, as we refueled for just 2.4 Dirham (0.65 USD) per liter of gasoline. The roads in the Emirates and Oman are beautifully maintained, to such an extent that you can drive at 160 km/h on some highways! We had to pay an additional insurance to be able to drive in Oman. Budget Rent a Car, our rental company, offered us this possibility for an additional fee. But it is not the case for all companies. On returning our Chevrolet Aveo, it had an extra 2000 km on it.
I must confess that we have not tasted any traditional dishes from the United Arab Emirates and Oman, since the indigenous population in these countries is ultra-minoritary. So we often ate in Lebanese, Turkish and American fast-food restaurants. The Indian ready meals sold in grocery stores were also tasty and very inexpensive.
Our expenses in the Emirates and Oman were quite reasonable, considering that we were staying with our points. Our only “crazy” expense was the cost of a visit at the Burj Khalifa, at AED 490 (USD 133). The total cost of our stay for our family of 4 is:
- 6575 AED (1792 USD);
- 470 AED (128 USD) per day;
- 117 AED (32 USD) per person and per day.
In detail :
|Expense Category||Amount Spent|
|Flight and Visa||2093 AED (570 USD)|
|Accomodation||766 AED (209 USD)|
|Transport (including gas)||1684 AED (459 USD)|
|Eating out||836 AED (228 USD)|
|Groceries||619 AED (169 USD)|
|Activities||578 AED (157 USD)|
|Total||6575 AED (1792 USD)|
In a nutshell
|Dates||2018-10-18 to 2018-11-01|
|Number of days||14|
|Cities we visited||Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Al Ain, Muscat|
|Inbound||From Jordan by plane|
|Outbound||To India by plane|
|Mode of transport||Rental car|
|Distance travelled (car & foot)||1924 km|
|Number of photos taken||4000 (285 per day)|
|Currency||The United Arab Emirates Dirham (1 USD = 3.67 AED)|
In the end, the United Arab Emirates more than exceeded our expectations, and Oman absolutely charmed us. This introduction to Oman gave us the desire to discover this country in greater depth. But until then, it is India that awaits us!
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