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Al-Ain

Just an hour and a half to drive from Dubai or Abu Dhabi through rolling sand dunes along a tree-lined freeway takes you to the oasis city of Al Ain (Arabic: 'The Spring').

Al Ain is the UAE's largest inland city, and the second city of the Abu Dhabi Emirate. It is surrounded by magnificent red sand dunes and overlooked by an impressive mountain range. Al Ain is located on the United Arab Emirates eastern border with Oman, and is at a focal point for journeys from all over the region by excellent roads. A holiday destination for the UAE shiekhs for many years, Al Ain enjoys its own microclimate bringing welcome relief from the humidity of the coast.

The oases have brought people to this area for thousands of years, and there is a rich history as evidenced by the many archaeological excavations. There are numerous restored and ruined forts and settlements to be seen throughout the area. Today, the abundance of water from the oases allows the city to bloom in its numerous parks and gardens. It is often known as the 'Garden City of the Gulf' and brings welcome respite from the desert all around.

Visitors to the city will find a large amount of facilities and attractions, and will find an atmosphere and culture that feels more traditionally Arabic than can be found in the coastal cities. Some of the attractions include an active and thriving Camel Market (not so easy to take one home on the plane though!), ancient forts and even a theme park. No visit would be complete without a trip to the top of Jebel Hafeet mountain, with stunning views across the desert dunes, or relaxing at one of the leavy plantations or parks.

Al Ain also provides a great base from which you can explore the desert, with desert 'safaris', 4WD expeditions and camel trips through the desert all available in the area. Visitors can even hop across the border into Oman without the need for a visa and visit the shops in Al Ain's sister city Al Buraimi. Driving around the city you will also find at every road junction fascinating roundabouts, each of which contain themed sculptures, statues, gardens and fountains.

Al Ain can also boast a large amount of shops, from modern air conditioned malls with prices often lower than those in Dubai or Abu Dhabi, to specialised stores including one of the regions largest gold souks.

There are three 5-star hotels in the city: The Hilton, the Rotana and the Intercontinental, as well as a number of smaller guesthouses.

Not many visitors to the UAE make it this far inland to visit this fascinating city, and as a result you can feel what this country used to be like before the tourist influx - once you tire of the shopping and beaches of the coast it is well worth a couple of days to visit Al Ain.

Oman

Oman is one of the few Arab countries that ever distinguished itself in its history as a major seafaring nation. Most of Oman lies along the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea, and the proud seamen of Oman colonized the coast of East Africa as far Zanzibar and even further south.

Since the discovery of massive oil deposits, Oman has seen spectacular economic growth and modernization. The country has kept faithful to its Islamic traditions, however.

Even so, Oman has managed to create a relative open society, more open to influences from the outside than other Gulf countries. In 1970 when the current Sultan took over the government in a bloodless palace coup, Oman was barely out of the Middle Ages. Now, a mere 30 years later, women drive, can be elected -- or appointed -- to the Majlis as-Shura, Oman's quasi-parliament, which advises the Sultan -- and run many successful businesses around the country.

The Gulf has been an important waterway since ancient times bringing the people who live on its shores into early contact with other civilizations. In the ancient world the Gulf peoples established trade connections with India; in the Middle Ages they went as far as China; and in the modern era they became involved with the European powers that sailed into the Indian Ocean and around Southeast Asia. In the Twentieth Century the discovery of massive oil deposits in the Gulf region made the area once again a crossroads for the modern world.

In Oman, high mountain ranges running parallel to the coast effectively cut off the Interior from the rest of the country. The highest peak, Jebel Shams (Sun Mountain), is just over 3,000 meters, and is a favorite destination of locals, expatriates, and tourists alike. It's also a good place to go to escape the stifling heat of the summer.

 
 
 
 
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