To be honest, “modest” and “UAE” don’t belong in the same sentence. The oil-rich nation boasts the world’s tallest building, the world’s largest mall, man-made islands, underwater hotels and the like. So, what business do your favorite Raggamuslims have in UAE? Well, Urbndervish was graced with a week-long mid-semester break and we thought it was too much time sit around twiddling our thumbs. We considered heading further north but it’s just too cold. We considered heading west but we didn’t have enough planning time. So, we decided to pack up our compact car “Suzi” and hit the road for UAE. We certainly didn’t want to see all that the Emirates has to offer because, frankly, we’re not that interested in the fanfare but we were curious to visit Sharjah, the religious and cultural center of UAE, Al-Ain, the “uptown” twin sister of Al-Buraimi (in Oman), and to shop at an organic store on the day of their 20% off sale. Additionally, Urbndervish’s friend invited us to visit his family on the eastern coast of Oman and we thought it was a good time for a leisurely visit.
Adventure hat, outdated Lonely Planet guide, and a borrowed phone with GPS.
-Spend a night in Al Buraimi
-Cross the border via Hafeet and visit Al-Ain
-Spend a few days in Sharjah
-Shop at the Organic Store in Dubai
-Pass Fujairah to exit UAE via Khatmat Malahah
-Drive down the eastern coast of Oman, pass Sohar
-Spend two nights in Suwayq
-Bring it on home
We left for Al Buraimi just after sunset. In retrospect, it would’ve been better to leave during the day because long portions of the road towards and following Ibri were unlit. Two-lane roads after dark aren’t the best for travel and we missed out on the mountain views. No frets though, many more mountains to come!
After spending the night at a hotel in Al Buraimi, we left at about mid-day and entered Al-Ain. The border crossing was easy. Instructions and directives weren’t the clearest but you get through eventually. People give you pieces of paper, only to be taken by the next guy standing by the road. There’s a bit of stop-and-go, but not bad. Just make sure you have proof of car ownership and valid insurance that covers your car in UAE, your passports, your residency cards, and some Emirati cash for visas. You can buy car insurance at the border and if you didn’t exchange any money prior, you’ll be directed to an inconspicuous Indian man wearing shades and greased hair.
Our first impression of Al-Ain was how green it is! One of its former amirs took “greening” the emirate very seriously and there are trees everywhere! The pastel-colored homes and large, impressive schools reminded us of South Florida. We visited the Al-Ain Oasis for about an hour and then hit the road for Sharjah.
En route to Sharjah, we stopped at the Dubai Outlet Mall to buy Lil’ Z a new swimsuit and grab some lunch for her. We continued to Sharjah and were impressed by just how well-developed it is–with subways and public buses. Sharjah has lots of beautiful mosques, museums, and tons of sick houses. The homes were elaborate and imposing in size and design.
It was time for dinner, so we stopped at an Indian restaurant that we read about via Happy Cow and enjoyed a delicious meal before retiring in Ajman for the night.
After watching the sun rise over Ajman, we sought out some fresh fruits and carrot juice for breakfast and went to visit Sharjah’s central souq.
The souq was gorgeous and inviting, but closed! It was Friday and just about everything is closed until 4pm. Lil’ Z had fallen asleep in the car, so we took a few photos of the souq and the nearby Khalid Lagoon. To pass the time, we drove to University City, where the University of Sharjah is housed alongside other institutions.
Entering University City is a bit surreal and over-the-top. We were hoping to find the library open but our plot was foiled once again. As we approached the golden hour of 4pm, we visited the Souq Al-Arsa and, later, the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization.
The Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization is inviting, well-designed, and comprehensively curated. It held Islamic artifacts, mosque models, interactive touch-screens, calligraphy, tiles and textiles, etc. It was reminiscent of Kuala Lumpur’s Islamic Arts Museum.
As the sun set over Sharjah, it was time to eat! We read about an Ethiopian restaurant online called “Al Habasha Restaurant” and since it had been so long since we ate Ethiopian food, we sought it out and gave it a try.
The lentil dish and injera was satisfying, as always, but there weren’t any vegetable dishes on the menu, so we ended up with a hot, delicious mess. The sights, smells, and sounds of Ethiopia only reignited our yearning to visit. We’re coming, insha’Allah!
On this brave day, we made our way to Dubai Mall, the world’s largest mall, to shop at the Organic Store.
We made plans to reconnect with a family from Cali currently living in Abu Dhabi. Their son and Lil’ Z became well-acquainted over a late lunch at P.F. Chang’s.
In the interludes of eating, we checked out the waterfront, only to realize that we were beholding the world’s tallest building, Burj Khalifah.
After a few days of UAE’s opulence and encounters with haughty Emiratis, our skin was starting to itch, so we happily returned to the “sleepy sultanate” that we call home, sweet Oman! The view of the Hajar Mountains was amazing and Oman welcomed us with open arms (and a routine car search!).
More on the Omani side of our road trip to come.