A Jewel In The Desert
The capital of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi, is a fascinating city you must see if you have the chance. I have visited this city twice and both times have been overwhelmed by the extreme opulence and grandeur of this jewel in the desert. The city has developed immensely in the last 50 years, from being little more than just a desert. Truly amazing! Here are some of the things you can expect to see and do.
If you want a luxury stay, you’ve come to the right place. There is a plethora of luxury hotels in Abu Dhabi for you to choose from. Two I’ve had the pleasure of staying at are the Sofitel, a very luxurious skyscraper with spacious rooms, situated on the Corniche overlooking the Arabian Gulf. The other is the Westin Abu Dhabi Golf Resort & Spa, which has expansive views of the golf course and balcony access. Both hotels were sensational and have everything you could want, and more, for a fabulous stay.
However, then I discovered the cream of the crop, the Emirates Palace Hotel. Wow! This place blew my mind. It is by far the most opulent hotel I have ever seen and I really, really(!) need to stay here next time I come to Abu Dhabi.
It is an iconic landmark of the city and the third most expensive hotel in the world. The building is over a kilometre long and the decor inside has marble, gold, mother of pearl and Swarovski crystals. Absolutely over the top, but stunning. A true jewel in the desert.
Rooms in this gorgeous 5 star palace hotel start from (United Arab Emirates Dirham) AED 2000, which is approximately AUD $770 per night. Bargain, right?
Have you ever heard of a ‘gold’ ATM machine? Yep, it’s not a typo. Here you have an ATM machine that gives out gold bullions! It was the first one in the world to be installed in 2010. Now there are others around the world.
You must see this amazing building in Abu Dhabi.
The Corniche beachfront is pristine and absolutely immaculate. Manicured to precision, staff pick up anything slightly untoward on the sand and rake it regularly. It’s one of the cleanest beaches I’ve ever seen. Chairs and umbrellas are placed in perfect alignment. Private beaches are also available for a small charge, if you prefer.
There are beautiful cafes on the beach for you to enjoy too. It is very pretty here and the water is an unreal colour. It certainly is a great spot to hang out and bask in this delightful seaside setting. I spend quite a few hours here.
On my first trip here I was talked into going on a Desert Safari. I was a little less than enthusiastic, not really knowing what it would entail. We were picked up from our hotel, taken to join a bunch of other poor unsuspecting folk, bundled into cross-country vehicles, and driven out to the middle of nowhere, literally, where there is nothing but sand as far as the eye can see. Immediately I panicked, as we could be left out here to die in 50°C heat! Ok, a bit overdramatic, I know.
Then we were off, dune bashing, with our thrill-seeker driver, who was out to scare the life out of me. Here in the desert, there are no road rules, they can drive as mad as they want. Who’s gonna police this shit? The crazy desert thrashing went on for about an hour! I was hanging on for dear life, meanwhile everyone in the car was laughing at my distress, including my dear beloved.
Finally, we stopped, thank goodness. We pulled up to a Camel Farm, in the middle of this vast nothingness. By this stage I was feeling quite ill and hoarse from screaming. We got out and I started to feel a bit better, but I was not interested in the camels.
After my stomach had settled, god knows why, but I decided to go for a camel ride and what a hilarious experience that was. Little did I know that the camel has to sit down in a weird kneeling sort of way for you to hop on and off, which I was not expecting, and nearly toppled over the front of its head. The ride itself was actually quite fun.
Dinner & a show in the desert
To finish off an interesting day, we were treated to a lovely outdoor dinner of local Arabian cuisine, including delicious sweets. Tables, cushions and carpets were set up on the sand, and a bellydancing show on a stage in the middle. The dancer encouraged us to get up and participate in a bit of jelly-shaking.
There is something really special about being out in the desert at night. It’s surprisingly cool in the evening.
I even had Henna painting done and some people were enjoying the Shisha smoking on offer. You can also partake in quad-bike riding and sand-boarding down the dunes.
Overall, I quite enjoyed the whole desert safari tour and thoroughly recommend it. It’s something we don’t normally get to experience; a first for me, that’s for sure.
Different tours vary in price, but expect to pay around A$100 per person for 5 hours.
Another jaw dropping place to visit, which is open to the public and has free entry, is the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Grand is an understatement. Ginormous is more like it. You really must see this Mosque in Abu Dhabi.
An absolutely magnificent structure made with materials sourced from all over the world including marble, gold, pearl and millions of crystals incorporated throughout the design. Workers and companies from many different countries were employed. It boasts the world’s biggest chandelier and the largest hand made carpet. Don’t miss seeing this Mosque.
Last but not least, I must address the Dress code in this country. It is very important to avoid offending the locals and respect the customs here, by dressing conservatively. Also, to be allowed entry into some locations, be sure to check requirements to avoid disappointment. For example, to go inside the Emirates Palace everyone must have legs and arms covered, no exposed skin, no shorts and no open shoes. The male I was with was given a Kandoura (an ankle length Arab garment) to wear because he had shorts on.
Similarly, to be allowed entry into the Grand Mosque, men are to wear long trousers and preferably long sleeves. Women are given a black Hijab to cover their hair and neck and a black Abaya to wear over their clothes. This is provided at the entrance in a changing area and is free, but you must leave them your ID, or driver’s license, not passport though, as a security deposit.
And finally, be aware of the rules for photography in certain places. I found out the wrong way, being told off by security for having my photo taken in front of the Grand Mosque. I believe the reason was because I was in unsuitable attire. Hence, my revised photo above. Even Rihanna apparently got in trouble when she was there a few years ago. However, men can be photographed in normal clothing.
A land of contrasts and a fascinating city with much to admire. It really is a jewel in the desert.
Similar to Abu Dhabi, you might want to check out Doha in Qatar.
Bye for now.
Abu Dhabi Airport hosts Etihad Airways which I found to be excellent. I have flown with Etihad several times and will again. I recommend them for service, comfort and attention to detail.