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Part 4: Dibba, Fujairah, Al Ain

20-21.12: Munich -> Dubai
22.12: Dubai
23.12: Dubai
24.12: Dubai -> Sharjah -> Khasab
25.12: Musandam fjords -> Khasab
26.12: Khasab -> Ras Al Khaimah
27.12: Ras Al Khaimah -> Dibba -> Fujairah
28.12: Fujairah -> Al Ain
29.12: Al Ain
30.12: Al Ain
31.12: Al Ain -> Liwa oasis
1.1: Liwa oasis -> Abu Dhabi
2.1: Abu Dhabi
3.1: Abu Dhabi
4.1: Abu Dhabi
5.1: Abu Dhabi -> Istanbul -> Munich

27.12: Ras Al Khaimah -> Dibba -> Fujairah
Coral Suites hotel, Fujairah. 94 Euro for a huge apartment (110 m) with two bedrooms (and a small additional one), three toilets, a big kitchen with washing machine, stove+oven, microwave, toaster, water boiler and a big living room with sofa and LCD TV. Lots of furniture. Almost too big for us. Free WLAN is available but unusable, because it is too slow. The hotel is on a wide and long road and has a good restaurant (buffet for AED 75). Breakfast not included. No hairdryer in the toilet.
Weather: sunny, spotless blue sky, warm. Nice hot day.

We leave the hotel around 11am and try to drive to the Corniche road to have a look at the beach. I'm imagining that perhaps there is a nice corniche road with a beautiful beach, which would make Ras Al Khaimah an attractive place where to spend a beach holiday.

We immediately run into problems when trying to reach the Corniche road, because the street layout has changed in the last years and the Sygic maps are not up to date. In addition it seems that the local road network is designed in such a way to discourage people from making it to the Corniche. There are no roads which directy lead to the Corniche.

In practice it takes well over half an our to cover the perhaps 2-3 km which separate us from the Corniche. Once there we are disappointed because, well, there is not that much of a beach. Or let's say, there is a beach, but is not as pristine and welcoming as we were expecting it. It's rather dirty and abandoned. In the far distance I see a black SUV on the beach.

We continue driving a bit across Ras Al Khaimah, looking for the old historic core. No such thing in this city. In the end, at 11:50am we decide to leave this place and drive to Dibba.

On the way we refuel the car. The petrol prices seem to have increased a bit over the past years. One litre of 95 octane petrole costs 1.72 AED.

Lots of roadworks everywhere. It would seem that all public works activities are done in the winter.

Speed limit of 80km/h in many roads in the cities and even outside the cities. On the motorway the speed limit is 100 km/h.

We cross quite green areas. Lots of cultivation of crops and fruits. Apparently there is enough water here.

The roads are mostly straight with few curves. Even when we cross the mountains, the road still has few, not so sharp curves. But I have to say that the mountains are not that high in this area.

We reach Dibba at 1:20pm. Beautiful cream white mosque (named again after Sheikh Zayed; it seems that every city in this area has a Sheikh Zayed mosque) at the outskirts of the city.

We check out a bit Dibba. Doesn't seem to be such an impressive place, at least the part we see. We drive towards the sea. The beach consists of small stones, no sand. The mountains around Dibba aren't that scenic either and the city lacks beauty and interesting places.

I was thinking of having a lunch break in Dibba, but given that the place is so uninteresting and there are no restaurants for tourists, at 1:45pm I decide to drive towards Fujairah, hoping to find more suitable places where to stop and rest.

And in fact the situation improves a bit. There are still no nice white coral sand beaches, but at least the coast becomes a bit more welcoming.

Lots of people doing picnics along the coast here and there. This seems to be a general leisure activity on this festive Friday afternoon. Many people are doing these picnics along the coast, but nobody is swimming.

There are a number of expensive hotels along the coast between Dibba and Fujairah, probably each with its own section of beach. But none of these hotel beaches is really nice. The beaches in and around Dubai are much, much nicer.

After some stops along the way, at 3:40pm we reach Khor Fakkan. This is quite a different place. It's a city with a tourist recreation place kind of feeling. There is a nice public beach with white coral sand, but the sea water is green. I wonder if it's pollution or it's algae in the water.

But nobody seems to bother about the green colour of the water. People are picnicking on the beach, kids are playing on the sand next to the green water.

Opposite there is a park with playgrounds, nice and well kept, the entrance costs AED 2. The kids spend some time there, playing in the playgrounds.

We order some snacks in a KFC restaurant. When the bill is due the guy has no change and asks if we have 3 AED in coins. Some discussion if we want to order something else, so that the bill becomes a round number. In the end the lady behind me gets tired of waiting and offers to pay the 3 AED, so that the bill can be settled.

3 AED is not exactly peanuts which you would give to a complete stranger. So I wonder if people here either have too much money or don't care about the money.

Many big and expensive cars on the roads. Lots of SUVs, 4WD cars, many Lexus cars and many Lexus SUVs. Our Hyundai Sonata rental car is one of the poorer cars in this environment. And most cars look quite immaculate, few cars with damages on the streets, as if locals are too embarassed to drive around with a car with scratches or bumps. It's as if everybody is able to buy a big or expensive cars. We see very few small cars.

We continue driving towards Fujairah and reach the hotel shortly after 5pm. Lots of factories and other industrial establishments near Fujairah. This seems to be a more business/commercial place and less a place for tourists.

In the evening we have a dinner in the hotel.

28.12: Fujairah -> Al Ain
One to One Hotel & Resort, Ain Al Faida. 400 AED for a villa consisting of a large living room with dining corner (table+chairs), a toilet and a bedroom. Decently furnished, large LCD TV in the living room, additional desk with chair, sofa + carpet. The place seems to be a bit oldish (probably has been built a number of years ago). Free and ultrafast WLAN (38 Mb/s downlink, 33 Mb/s uplink, fastest hotel WLAN ever encountered). But this place has other issues: it's quite far out of Al Ain (20km from the city centre) and the hotel compound is spread over a large area. To get from the reception to the villa you have to drive by car for a couple of minutes.
The hotel appears to be in the middle of nowhere.

Weather: sunny, warm (24C), spotless blue sky.

We leave the hotel at 11:25am and drive into town at 11:40am. We drive along the Sheikh Zayed street until we reach the sea. Fujairah is not an unpleasant place, it's just that it lacks tourist attractions. It's just a functional and modern city.

So at 12:10pm we decide to drive to Al Ain, which should be a more interesting place. Initially the highway (or motorway?) crosses the mountains, then it reaches a desertic plateau. The road crosses for a large part a sand dunes desert. The sand dunes are quite small (perhaps a few metres tall at most).

At 2:20pm we have a short lunch in a roadside restaurant which seems to be a copy of a KFC restaurant.

At 3:30pm we reach the outskirts of Al Ain. Very green place, carefully choreographed gardens. Perhaps this is the neighbourhood where the local rich people live.

We continue driving towards Jebel Hafeet, where you are supposed to have a nice view of Al Ain. The last piece of road, which climbs up to the summit, is in a very good shape. Lots of twists and turns, but a very good road. At 4:25pm we are on the top.

Lots of people and cars on the summit, which essentially consists of a large parking, with a playground and a cafeteria. Not much else.

The idea would be to stay until sunset. But there is a cold wind blowing, and the visibility is quite poor. In addition there is not much to do here.

So at 5:15pm we drive back to Al Ain. The next destination is the Al Ain shopping mall, where we will have dinner and shop a bit. Also, according to wikitravel this is the largest mall in Al Ain and has an ice rink, so might be interesting.

It takes some time to reach this mall and in fact we are only there at 6:05pm. We are greeted upon arrival by a large decoration, an oversize Xmas fantasy castle.

The mall is sort of nice, but not that new anymore and not comparable to the malls in Dubai.

We are in the mall until after 8pm, then start driving to the hotel. It takes a while to reach the hotel, because the Sygic navigation system doesn't list it. So we initially drive towards Ain Al Faida, then from there try to locate the hotel using Google Maps. Finally around 9:15pm we reach the hotel.

Once there we spend some time trying to locate the reception. Then we check-in and drive to the villa.

29.12: Al Ain
One to One Hotel & Resort, Ain Al Faida. We discover today that this place has a gym, a warm pool (32C water temperature) and a kids pool: Both pools not that usable, as around the pool there are women completely covered from top to toe with the Islamic dress - imagine the reaction if some western tourists showed up in bikini or swimming trunk. In fact nobody is using the pool.
Weather: same as yesterday: sunny, spotless blue sky. Strong sun, but fresh in the shadow.

We leave the room around 11:30am, then briefly check the hotel facilities. After that we drive into town to the Al Jahili fort, arriving there at 12pm.Today there is less traffic on the streets.

The Al Jahili fort is one of the larger and better preserved forts in Al Ain. Built in 1898 by Sheikh Zayed it must have been restored recently, because the walls and everything else are so immaculate and in such a perfect state. Inside the fort (free entrance) there is a museum about the past of Al Ain. The Al Jahili fort is in the centre of Al Ain, not far from the oasis and the other historic sights.

We spend less than 20 minutes at the fort, then drive into town trying to get to the souk. We use the Sygic navigation system to get there, but apparently enter the wrong destination.

We park the car near the oasis and explore the area a bit on foot. Finally we find a souk but it's a meat and vegetables souk, not an interesting spices and artifacts souk.

Since it's almost 1pm and Shirley and the kids want to watch a movie at 2pm in the Al Ain mall, we drive there and split after a brief lunch. Shirley will spend the afternoon in the mall watching a movie, playing bowling and shopping, while I'll do some sightseeing.

The first thing I do is to drive to the Hilli archaeological site near Al Ain. This is about 10km out of town. The problem is that when I arrive at 2:20pm this place is closed. Apparently it reopens at 4pm, but only for families.

So I pay a visit to the nearby Hili towers, and at 2:40pm drive back into town.

Shortly after 3pm I'm at the Al Ain national museum (ticket: 3 AED), which is close to the souk where Shirley and I have been this morning. I check out the museum, which is housed in a building looking like a fort. It's kind of interesting, as there are many exhibits from the past history of the region around Al Ain, dating back up to the stone age. Several samples of ancient pottery and weapons. There is even a video detailing the past history of the region.

After about half an hour at the museum, I walk to the nearby Al Ain oasis. This is a large, walled date palm plantation, which nowadays has been converted to a public park.

After about 30 minutes in the oasis, at 4:20pm I buy some snacks in a nearby supermarket. I wonder where to take the blue hour shots (the blue hour is around 5:40-6pm), because there is a lack of photogenic sights in Al Ain. For instance, no huge mosque with a park around it or significant ancient architecture. So I decide to be back at the Al Jahili fort which is the most suitable place for some scenic photography.

On the way, shorty after 5pm I spot the Al Ain Palace Museum, which by now is illuminated by the warm evening sun light. I park the car and end up spending 20 minutes at the museum.

Also this place is an old palace which has been converted to a museum. I have a quick look, and 20 minutes later I drive to the Al Jahili fort.

It's 5:25pm and I'll spend the next hour, taking a number of shots under different ligthing conditions.

In the evening I reunite with Shirley and the kids. We have a dinner at the Al Ain mall and then drive back to the hotel.

All in all, Al Ain is somehow interesting, although the attractions are quite few and spread over a large area. I was hoping to find some nice desert with big dunes, But apparently it's not near Al Ain.

30.12: Al Ain
One to One Hotel & Resort, Ain Al Faida.
Weather: sunny (strong sun), fresh, spotless blue sky. Very windy in the evening.

We leave the hotel in the morning at 11:15am and drive to the Al Hilli archaeological park, arriving there at 11:50am. The park is open today and the admission is free of charge.

At the beginning we are the only tourists, then two couples of tourists arrive, then a busload of German tourists.

The site is basically a mix of a park with a children playground and some circular tombs from the third millenium BC and ruins of a settlement. This may be a UNESCO world heritage site, but the structures left (except perhaps for the tombs) are rather unimpressive. By the way, it's a 30km drive from the hotel to the Al Hilli site.

We spend one hour at the site, then at 12:50pm start driving to the Al Ain zoo. It's again a long drive, for which we need almost half an hour.

The zoo lies a few km from the centre of Al Ain. The entrance is quite affordable (20 AED for an adult, 10 for a child). It consists of a number of fenced or walled open air areas with animals of Arabia, Africa or southern Asia. Almost no cages. I read that this place is a breeding centre for the Oryx antelope.

Overall the zoo makes a good impression. It blends pretty well into the desertic landscape. And it's good that they do not try to host animals from different climatic zones or completely different habitats, such as for instance seals or polar bears.

We have some kind of meal at the cafeteria/restaurant in the zoo. The food is quite decent.

Lots of visitors today, despite the weekday. Perhaps on weekends this place gets quite full.

We spend three hours in the zoo, then around 4:30pm we start driving to the Al Badawi mall.

This mall is the newest mall in Al Ain. It contains a number of high end shops, a Carrefour hypermarket, a food court and a children/fun area. The children/fun area includes an ice skating rink and a skiing slope, which is closed today however.

The mall is quite nice, but as with all other malls we have seen so far in the UAE, it lacks a local flavour, i.e. most products on sale are imported, or are western or international brands. There is a general lack of local products.

It's as if the Emiratis do not produce anything, but import everything. Or perhaps these local products are sold in places other than flashy malls. But honestly, we also haven't seen shops selling handicrafts. It would appear that locals do not have a tradition of making handicrafts.

We have been looking for souks selling spices, carpets, handicrafts and other stuff like that, but haven't found such souks yet. It's as if locals do not care about such things or there are not enough people or tourists buying such things. Quite a difference if compared to Iran, where at every corner there are places selling handicrafts or carpets.

We are at the mall until 7:15pm, having a dinner there, then drive back to the hotel. Long drive again (26km).

Copyright 2014 Alfred Molon