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Part 3: Sharjah, Khasab (Oman), Ras Al Khaimah

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

24.12: Dubai -> Sharjah -> Khasab (Oman)
Esraa Hotel Apartment, Khasab (Oman). 103 Euro for an apartment with two bedrooms, a kitchen and two toilets. By far not as flashy and elegant as the Welcome hotel in Dubai, but more space. Two TVs, A/C, fan, furniture in each bedroom (tables, chairs, cupboards). Few A/C power plugs. Toilet with bathtub/shower combo, electrical water boiler system, no hairdryer, no A/C power plug.
The kitchen is relatively basic: a fridge, a microwave oven, kitchen stove. No dishwasher, no washing machine for clothes. The hotel is a bit out of town. Ok if you have a car, but if you don't, it gets complicated.
WLAN is free, available in the room, but the line is bad: I cannot manage to connect with the notebook PC, while the Android tablets have a weak connection.

Weather: sunny, blue sky with some clouds, windy, but less than yesterday. A bit fresh.

I get up at 8:30am, but we only manage to leave the hotel and start driving towards Sharjah around 11am. Then it takes longer than expected to reach Sharjah, because the Sygic car navigation system sucks. It gives me the wrong directions and makes me go in circles. After a while I start screening very critically the driving instructions it gives, skipping instructions which do not seem plausible. After 45 minutes of driving, at 11:45am, we are finally in Sharjah at the Hisn fort.

Parking by the way costs AED 2 for one hour, AED 5 for two hours, AED 8 for three hours and so on.

We leave the car and start exploring the area. The fort is undergoing restorations and can't be visited. It's sort of cute, but is surrounded by tall skyscrapers, which make it look a bit funny and out of place. Also, the fort is isolated from the Sharjah heritage area. Instead of having one contiguous historic district, the old buildings are mixed with skyscrapers and separated from each other.

It's almost 12pm and we start looking for a restaurant. No such thing here. It seems Sharjah doesn't like tourists, or doesn't know how a tourist place should look like. It should be all tourist attractions in one area and hotels and restaurants located conveniently next to it. We have to ask a local for directions and he tells us that the restaurants are all in a certain area.

We walk to this area and finally find the main heritage area. This seems to be a work in progress, with restoration and construction ongoing. It could be sort of interesting if the city planners had arranged things better and not mixed old with new. But like this, the heritage area leaves quite a bit to be desired.

We use Google maps to locate the restaurants in the area, then head to a KFC restaurant for some quick lunch at 1pm. At 1:30pm I give a call to the Sharjah desert park and hear that on Tuesdays (today) it's closed. The original plan was to visit this place, then drive to Oman at 5pm.

So, around 2pm we walk back to the car and start driving towards Oman. While in Sharjah we make a couple of photo stops around the blue souk, which is very photogenic.

It takes a while to get out of Sharjah and reach the motorway. This is due to the outdated Sygic maps and to the fact that lots of roads are being rearranged all the time and roadworks block the road here and there. And the closest motorway junction is closed.

Anyway, at 3 something pm we finally are on the motorway towards Oman. The motorway is not bad (three or more lanes). The speed limit is 120km/h.

It's almost 5pm when we reach the border. Quite complex procedure. First we have to get out of the UAE and they charge us a total of 114 AED for this. Quite weird, why would you have to pay some money to get out of a country?

Then we have to enter Oman. We have to fill in application forms for all of us and finally they ask us to pay 200 AED. I explain that with the "Common visa facility with the Emirate of Dubai" we don't have to pay a fee, and even show the website of the Royal Oman police. The border officers pretend to know nothing and insist that we have to pay. Then they claim that the free border crossing is another one, further south between the emirate of Dubai and Oman.

This explanation sounds almost plausible, but if so, why doesn't the website of the Royal Oman police mention this restriction?

Anyway, we have lost one hour with border crossing formalities. It's 6pm and we start driving the last 45km of the journey. This part of the trip takes about one hour. A couple of km after the border there is a checkpoint of the Omani police. Then the road is very curvy, which limits the maximum driving speed.

Shortly before 7pm we reach the outskirts of Khasab. Once there we make a stop at the Lulu supermarket where we buy some food. Delicious, freshly cooked take-away, very cheap food in this supermarket: choice of chicken curries, beef dishes, fish dishes, fried rice and more.

We reach the hotel around 8pm. There the staff tell us that they need the hotel voucher of Agoda printed out on a piece of paper. The problem however is that Agoda, brilliant as they are, have only issued the voucher three days ago and sent it by email.

Perhaps Agoda should send these vouchers, which apparently are needed for checking in, immediately when somebody makes a booking. Or Agoda could adopt the booking.com mechanism, with which vouchers are not needed for checking in.

In any case it's quite a mess to retrieve the voucher and ultimately it only works because I travel with a notebook computer and have access to the Internet all the time.
I could imagine that other tourists, who do not carry so much IT infrastructure with themselves, end up running into trouble with Agoda, if for instance Agoda only issues these vouchers very late.

25.12: Boat trip to Musandam fjords -> Khasab
Esraa Hotel Apartment, Khasab (Oman). The water boiler in the toilets doesn't have enough hot water for one shower (unless you restart the heater immediately before taking one shower and wait).
Weather: sunny, blue sky, quite fresh. On the sea a mix of cold and warm, mainly due to the strong wind.

The highlight of the day and perhaps of the entire trip is the boat trip to the Musandam fjords. Best day so far, first real holiday feeling.

We leave the hotel shortly after 9:30am, then get lost and cannot manage to find the boat. In the end, after a few phone calls (luckily we have a local phone number), we are escorted to the small harbour where the tour boats are located.

The tour boats are wooden boats in different sizes, with a tent roof as a sun protection. Ours has a carpet and pillows at the edges on which you can sit and relax.

The boat staff hands over hot tea, water and soft drinks, fresh fruits and a meal at noon (chicken biryani, steamed rice, salad, hummus). The chicken is not bad, but far too dry and hard. It has probably been cooked too much.

On the boat we meet a couple of Malaysians (hello, my wife is Malaysian too) with kids. They work in Dubai and came in as a short trip. Later speedboats will add two Italian guys and two German women to the boat. Apparently these travellers didn't manage to be at the pier by 10am and joined the boat with some sort of a water taxi service.

Anyway, at 10:10am we leave the harbour. The sea is initially a bit rough, but becomes very quiet as soon as we enter the fjord. At 10:28am we spot the first dolphin. A white animal following our boat, emerging and diving again next to the boat. All tourists on the boat, but especially the kids, as very excited.

There will be many more dolphin sightings today. After the failed dolphin sighting trip in Malaysia in 2010 I'm not too optimistic about spotting dolphins today. Needless to say I'm completely overwhelmed by groups of dolphins following our boats and jumping around like dogs following their master. I used to think these sightings of dolphins only happen in the movies, but no, here they happen today.

I set up the camera to the 10 frames per second high-speed mode and end up shooting over 700 frames today. I fill one 16GB memory card and 2/3 of the second one. Lots of time spent out in the evening sorting out the bad shots.

The scenery is very nice, although not as spectacular as I was expecting it. No 1000 metres tall cliffs plunging straight into the sea, not like a Norwegian fjord scenario. There is one small village, actually consisting of only a few houses, mostly of fishermen, in the fjord area. Then we see some other houses here and there. Otherwise there is not much of a human presence, except for the boats of the tour operators.

At 11:20am we stop in front of what must be Telegraph island. Other tour boats are also stopping here. Some tourists brave the cold winds and jump into the sea for some snorkelling. The sea water is actually not that cold, it's the cold wind which is the problem. We are not that tough, so don't jump into the sea.

At 12pm lunch is served, at 12:40pm the trip continues. There will be one more snorkelling stop, otherwise it's navigating around a bit and spotting dolphins all the time.

We do not go on land, which surprises me a bit, because from the various trio reports I got the impression that these boat trips include landings on the coast.

At 4:15pm we are back at the harbour. I wonder if it makes sense to spend the last hour of daylight exploring a bit Khasab, but Khasab is already completely in the shadow, no sun is shining on the city. Also, a quick check shows that there is not much to do in Khasab. So we just go to the Lulu supermarket, buy some dinner for tonight, then head back to the hotel.

26.12: Khasab -> Ras Al Khaimah
Hotel Mangrove by Bin Majid, Ras Al Khaimah. 400 AED or a large room, very elegant, with lots of furniture. Two queen size beds, sleeping sofa, LCD TV, fridge, A/C, phone, electronic safe, attached bathroom with hairdryer, bathtub+shower, breakfast included. The room actually costs 450 AED, but they discount it to 400 AED (see below). WLAN available, but not free. Good restaurant (international; there is also a Chinese restaurant). Four star hotel, best hotel so far on this trip. Lots of European tourists.
Buffet style breakfast, quite good, although not top level.
Weather: sunny, much warmer than yesterday, spotless blue sky. I wish we had had this weather yesterday when doing the cruise.

We pack our stuff and leave the hotel at 10:50am. The idea would be to have a look at the mountains behind Khasab. The hotel staff suggests to drive to Khor Najed (also spelled as "Khur" and "Najid"), where there is something like a lake. Later I realise that Khor Najid is not a lake, but a fjord.

To get to Khor Najed we drive out of Khasab on the road to Dibba, then turn left after about 15km (army/police checkpoint along the way). Here there is an unpaved road which climbs up the mountain to a pass. From this pass there is a great view of the fjord. Then the road goes steeply down to the sea level. A 4WD car is not necessary because the road surface is smooth enough (no big stones on the street). Road construction is ongoing, so probably in the future this road will be paved.

In Khur Najid there is nothing, except for a number of private boats and several cars, most of which are 4WD. Perhaps Khor Najed will be developed as a harbour for private boats.

We spend perhaps 10-15 minutes down at the sea level, then start driving back to Khasab at 12:15pm. Shortly before 1pm we are back in Khasab. We check out briefly the centre of Khasab, then visit the castle.

This is a fort which has been renovated and converted into a museum (ticket: 0.5 OR). Inside there are some exhibits about the life in Musandam in the past. All in all moderately interesting.

At 1:15pm we start driving towards Ras Al Khaimah. Along the way we stop in a number of spots, where there is a nice view of the coast. At 2pm we stop at a beautiful sandy beach, completely undeveloped, next to the road. We spend 25 minutes there, then continue driving.

At 3:20pm then reach the border. This time there are no fees to pay and getting through only takes half an hour ("only" in relative terms, because crossing a border shouldn't take more than a few minutes).

Once back in the Emirates, the road become much more straight and motorway-like. Still there is a speed limit of 80 km/h, which is very hard to understand and which in fact few people follow.

Around 4:30pm we reach Ras Al Khaimah and should turn right according to the navigation system. But we can't because on the right side there are roadworks. Big detour around the bay to make it to central Ras Al Khaimah.

On the way we stop at the Sheikh Zayed mosque, which stands out in this late aftenoon light in the skyline of Ras Al Khaimah. After some searching (the Mangrove hotel is not in the Sygic navigation system) we reach the hotel shortly before 5pm.

Checking in takes a while, because for some reason the hotel staff are very busy. Then they can't find our booking, and later it turns out that they have no connecting rooms and that the two rooms we have booked would be on different floors.

Some discussion follows. The only reason I had booked two rooms is that apparently one room only sleeps two people. But they tell me a room can sleep two adults and two kids. So we check out the standard room and see that there are two queen size beds. So two adults could sleep with two kids, but it's a bit narrow.

We ask if there is a bigger room, and yes, they have the executive room for 450 AED (vs 300 AED for the standard room). We check that and ok, we'll take that. The guy suggests if we want to add a breakfast for an additional 100 AED. Ok, let's splurge it, we'll take also the breakfast. Total cost should be 550 AED.

Back down in the reception I cancel one of the two rooms I've booked. Then surprise, surprise, the guy upgrades us from the standard to the executive room at no charge, i.e. we pay AED 300 for the executive room + AED 100 for the breakfast. Sounds like a pretty good deal for the UAE.

In the evening we have a dinner in the hotel restaurant. Usually we eat in external restaurants, but I'm thinking that it's less complicated if we have a dinner here. The dinner is not cheap (AED 242 for the four of us), but very delicious and plentiful.

Copyright 2014 Alfred Molon