Mobile phones
Getting around

Part 1: Introduction

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

Overview and overall impression
Until now we have been using Dubai as a hub when travelling to Malaysia, spending at most a day or two in Dubai when stopping between flights. With this trip the plan was to get a more comprehensive look at the United Arab Emirates, by spending two weeks in the country and visiting a number of places.
The idea was to visit the region in a suitable season (summer is far too hot), spending some time in the desert, on the beaches and exploring the cultural and historic heritage of the country.
The impression we got after this trip is that the tourist infrastructure in the UAE is still underdeveloped. The most tourist-friendly place and also the one with the most tourist attractions is currently Dubai.
In the other emirates there is a dearth of things to see and do. It also appears that - except perhaps for Dubai - the UAE have not been able to properly preserve their cultural heritage, preferring to build skyscrapers and modern infrastructure instead of restoring old buildings. In Sharjah for instance the historic district is full of skyscrapers, which are adjacent to the old buildings. In most cities it's very hard to identify the old historic cores, because not much is left of these old areas.
Most cities in the UAE we visited were heavily westernised modern places, except for Al Ain which retains an Arabian look and the village in the Liwa oasis.
You could buy everywhere western branded products, but it was quite difficult to find anything local or regional. For instance Baskin Robbins ice cream parlours were everywhere, but we only saw one place selling Turkish icecream. Almost all products on sale in shopping malls were imported, mostly western branded goods.
There are several beautiful beaches in the UAE. However it was a bit too fresh to swim in the sea, because at the time of visiting (end of December) a cold wind was blowing. On the other hand in the summer it's too hot to swim in the sea. Probably there is a small time window of a few months each year (October-November and spring) in which a beach holiday is suitable.
The highlight of the trip was the boat trip to the fjords of Musandam, which are in Oman, not in the UAE. Oman is more interesting than the UAE because of the sceneries and the richer cultural heritage. It's also a less expensive place where to travel.
Supposedly there are efforts to develop the UAE as a holiday destination, but I'm skeptical whether these efforts will bear significant results, mainly due to the widespread lack of historic, cultural and natural sights. If a tourist is planning to visit the region, he/she is better served spending the time in neighbouring Iran or Oman.
My advice would therefore be to limit holiday trips to the UAE to a few days (for instance as a stopover between flights) and spend those days in a few selected areas (see below). Beach holidays should be done in the intermediate seasons (fall and spring).

The cost level in the UAE is high, more or less in line with that of a developed western country (where travelling isn't cheap either). It is possible to find inexpensive restaurants, but it is also easy to spend a lot of money. On the other hand, petrol for cars is very cheap (1.72 AED).

Because of time constraints and the fact that we were frequently on the road we had to rely on what was available at the moment, so ended up eating in fast food restaurants (KFC, Pizza Hut or similar) more often than we were planning to. In major cities we frequently ate in food courts or restaurants in shopping malls, where meals are relatively inexpensive. A positive surprise was the Lulu supermarket in Khasab (Oman) which sells delicious freshly cooked take-away food. We didn't try out the local Arabian cuisine and frequently ate Indian food, which is easily available in the region, due to the large Indian expat community. On a couple of occasions we tried out the food of hotel restaurants, and this was very good.

We stayed in mid-range hotels, spending between 400 and 600 AED/night. For this price we had good rooms with all amenities. It is possible to spend less if you travel in the off-season (for instance the summer) or if you stay in places out of town.

Money  / Exchange rate (Dec 2013-Jan 2014)
1 Euro = 5.02 AED (average rate at the time of travelling)
1 Euro = 1.36 USD 
For current exchange rates check the Universal Currency Converter.

ATMs are everywhere, so that you can easily get cash with a Cirrus/Maestro ATM card. 

Mobile phones and prepaid cards
I bought SIM cards from Etisalat (Wasel) upon arrival at the airport in Dubai. These cost 40 AED with 5 AED of airtime on them. Phone calls were inexpensive (fractions of a dirham/minute). I bought a 5GB data package for 249 AED and used that for accessing the Internet and checking mails.
The package was just for one phone, but we were able to share the Internet connection among several devices by means of WLAN tethering (mobile phone acting as a WLAN hotspot). We used 4.9 GB in these two weeks (lots of youtube videos watched). In all places we had good coverage, most of the time this was ultrafast 4G.

Internet access
I used the WLAN network in the hotel and the smartphone to access the Internet. In many hotels the WLAN was either not free or very slow, so I used the smartphone to access the Internet.

Mostly sunny with a blue sky, with very few clouds. Daytime temperatures in the 23-26C range. Fresh wind most of time on the beaches, making swimming in the sea uncomfortable (the sea water was not cold, but the wind was). Only some rain on one day in Dubai, no rain the other days.

Health / Vaccinations
I didn't refresh any immunisations for this trip. Good, flexible and affordable dentist in Dubai.

VISA / Entry requirements
A free visa on arrival was granted when we landed in Dubai. When entering Oman for some reason the free combined Dubai/Oman visa was not available and we had to pay 114 AED to leave the UAE and 200 AED to enter Oman (total cost for the four of us).

The UAE and Oman are a very safe place.

Recommended things
  • The highlight of this trip was the boat trip to the Musandam fjords, where we saw nice scenery and many dolphins.
  • The Tal Mireb sand dune site in the Liwa oasis is a very cool place where to be. Nice atmosphere and fun driving on the dunes.
  • The modern architecture in Dubai
  • The Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi

Things to avoid
  • Several places in the UAE are quite unimpressive:
    • Abu Dhabi is just a collection of modern buildings and skyscrapers with no historic core worth mentioning; only the grand mosque is interesting.
    • The historic area in Sharjah leaves quite a bit to be desired.
    • The cities of Ras al Khaimah, Dibba and Fujairah have no tourist attractions worth mentioning.
  • For a beach holiday it is necessary to catch the right season, either spring or autumn. In summer it is too hot, in winter too cold for swimming.

Getting around
We rented a car (Hyundai Sonata) and used that to drive around. The car was pleasant to use and driving was easy, except for Dubai where there was just too much traffic. Petrol is cheap (1.72 AED/litre).
We used a navigation system (Sygic on an Android smartphone) to get around. This worked well, except in cities, because the maps were outdated. As a consequence we sometimes relied on Google Maps navigation to find places.
Overall we drove a lot (2073km in two weeks). Max. speed of 100-120km on motorways. Most roads are toll-free, except a few ones where there are 5 AED "salik" fees.
For Oman we bought an additional car insurance from the rentor (Budget).

Copyright 2014 Alfred Molon