The UAE/Oman Road Trip: Khasab, Musandam Oman

The UAE/Oman Road Trip: Khasab, Musandam Oman

  

 

After 3 days road trippin’ around the UAE and visiting all 7 Emirates and Omani/Emirati counter-enclaves, it’s finally to the literal end of the road to Khasab: the main city in an exclave called Musandam Oman and can be considered Oman’s “Alaska”. It’s also called the “Norway of Arabia” due to its topography of desolate mountainscapes and fjord-like inlets.

If you’re planning to do the drive yourself, make sure you have a NOC (No Objection Certificate) that the car rental shop will give to you when you tell them you’re making a drive to Musandam Oman. Evan was able to thankfully arrange all this when he arrived into Dubai 2am the night before.

Giving Evan only 4 hours of sleep, we all woke up early at 7am to begin our day. Ambrose also happened to befriend a Persian girl named Samira last night after I asked him to do my laundry downstairs, so we all had breakfast together at the hotel before beginning our drive at 8:30am.

 

 

We first drove up an hour and half up past RAK city to the UAE/Musandam Oman border, reaching there at around 10am.

 

 

First you have to enter the offices there and formally exit the UAE, paying the 30 AED exit fee first along with your passports, NOC, and car registration papers.

 

 

They then give you a pink slip to show to the border guards as you drive into No Man’s Land.

 

 

Then when you reach the Oman border, you have to enter the offices there to get a visa on arrival stamp at the border for 5 Omani Rials. There’s an ATM inside in case you need it.

 

 

They also hand you another slip to show the border guards that you’re good to enter Oman.

 

 

Once you’re past this border, you need to quickly clear customs.

 

 

Then it’s another 45 minute drive down gorgeous curvy seaside cliffs to reach Khasab.

 

 

All in all, it took us about 3  hours in total to drive from Dubai to Khasab.

Once there we first stopped by the Central Sultan Qaboos Mosque, which holds 1900 people. We were not allowed inside.

 

 

Then we drove up to Alkmazrh Fort (or Khmazera Castle), located inside the city that still belongs to a local tribe; it currently is taken care by the tribes’ younger generation who remain proud of their ancestral possession. It was free to enter for us.

 

 

We then drove 3 minutes uptown and paid 0.50 Rials to check out the slightly larger Khasab Castle for 10 minutes: Built by the Portuguese in the 17th century, this castle once housed the Wali and his family, then prisoners, before being converted and restored into a regional museum.

 

 

The view from the top:

 

 

Then we drove up 2 minutes more uptown to scarf down a fantastic 10 Rial seafood lunch complete with fresh fish at Amjad Restaurant:

 

 

We then finished our drive at Khasab Dhow Port for the ferry-boats to Muscat. Here you can hop on a full day 6-8 hour or half-day 3 hour dhow boat ride (Or take one all the way to Muscat!).

On a side note, if you’re lucky you can find Iranian Smugglers here where everyday hundreds of small jet boats carrying supplies cross the Strait of Hormuz heading to Southern Iran. The former brings over goats and sheep for the UAE, and then carry back televisions, cigarettes, and other goods to avoid Iranian import duties. Because Khasab is a free trade port Oman tolerates all this.

They must avoid not only shipping traffic but also the Iranian Coast Guard who have no reservations of shooting them on sight.

 

 

Since smuggling wasn’t on our minds, we were able to arrange a 3 hour boat ride at 1pm at the last minute for 100 AED (you can bargain it down) per person thanks to a contact provided by Sean the night before.

 

 

Dolphins chased down our dhow about 20 minutes into our ride!

 

 

About an hour in, they’ll take you to a freshwater area deep in the Strait of Hormuz where you can jump in for a swim and snorkel off the coast of Oman (or Iran, depending on how you look at it). A US drone was just shot down here 3 days ago, but we saw nothing of it: No warships, no media, no helicopters, and no military activity. Just a bunch of American tourists going for a dive.

 

 

Then it was simple relaxation for the rest of the journey where you can just take in all the views as they serve you unlimited fruit, tea, water and coffee onboard.

 

 

Just lounge away:

 

 

After our dhow cruise docked back in Khasab at 4:30pm, we began our drive back to the UAE:

 

 

Once returning to Dubai by 7:30pm, we freshened up at our hotel and rendezvous’ed with Sean, his girlfriend Chelsea (who also has been living in the UAE for the past 9 years), as well as inviting Samira out for a final night out together by the Dubai Fountain and facing the Burj al Khalifa.

 

 

After a wonderful meal complete with shisha and drinks, we finally said our goodbyes, with Wendy running to catch her 1am flight back home, and Sean and Chelsea having to go to sleep early for their classes tomorrow morning.

The 5 of us left then headed to Dubai Mall for the obligatory visit to the world’s largest fish tank and one of the largest aquariums in the world:

 

Then Samira and the gang had one more round of drinks and shisha at Garage Café before we all finally turned in at 1am. In a few hours: Kabul, Afghanistan!

 

- At time of posting in Khasab, it was 40 °C - Humidity: 28% | Wind Speed: 15km/hr | Cloud Cover: so so hot

 

The UAE/Oman Road Trip – “Conclaves”: Fujairah, Madha, & Nahwa

The UAE/Oman Road Trip – “Conclaves”: Fujairah, Madha, & Nahwa

 

 

UAE

After visiting Abu Dhabi and the Dubai-Sharjah-Ajman-UAQ-RAK pentafecta of emirates yesterday (which epic-ness will be hard to beat), we woke up early and enjoyed breakfast at the hotel-with-hostel vibes at our lodgings in Rove City Centre . . .

 

 

. . . before heading further off-the-beaten-path an hour away across the country to Fujairah, the only emirate with a coastline solely on the Gulf of Oman and none on the Persian Gulf.

 

 

Madha (Oman), South

From Fujairah we drove from the southern side to the Omani exclave of Madha, located halfway between the Musandam Peninsula and the rest of Oman. It’s a part of the country of Oman located within the UAE.

 

 

This is their international border:

 

 

Although the boundaries of the UAE were decided in 1969, residents of Madha decided to commit to their allegiance to the Sultan of Oman that began in the 1930s.

You can tell you’re in Oman once the lampposts get all fancy and you see pictures of the Sultan of Oman everywhere.

 

 

I just realized I was in Oman proper nearly exactly a year ago. Happy one year anniversary!

 

 

Head for the lookout point up by a hilltop restaurant.

 

 

The town of Madha below is dead, but that’s probably because it’s over 104ºF outside.

 

 

If you keep driving there’s random, newly built dams that serve zero purpose because there’s no water.

 

 

Nahwa (UAE), South

And make things more unconventional, after a 10 minute drive you can reach a second-order enclave inside Madha called Nahwa, which is part of UAE Emirate of Sharjah. You can call it a second-order enclave, a counter-enclaves, or as Sean’s girlfriend Chelsea quips: a “conclave.”

To access Nahwa, take the northernmost road into the Madha enclave south of Khorfakkan and follow the signs to New Madha. From New Madha, there is a paved but winding road that eventually leads to Nahwa.

 

 

There is no official border crossing between Madha, Nahwa, or the greater UAE. Just 2 flags and a 40m strip of no man’s land in between.

 

 

Madha/Nahwa is mostly empty. The population altogether in this region is less than 3,000.

 

 

Madha (Oman), North

And through Nahwa we exited in the north back into Omani Madha. This part of the enclave is mostly gravel and hills:

 

 

UAE

Then out from Madha of Oman, it was back into the UAE.

 

 

Other than Google Maps, the only way to know is a tiny blink-and-you’ll-miss-it white marker up a small climb.

 

 

There’s a little oasis here. So we forego’ed the undeveloped “tourist road” in favor of “restricted access.” Nobody bothered us.

 

 

And after less than hour driving around, we returned on an hour’s drive back to Dubai. Seeing that today was a much shorter day than yesterday, we opted for an early dinner/late lunch with a traditional Mandi at Al Nadeg in the Deira district of Dubai.

 

 

And at 6pm we took advantage of our early evening by making an impromptu visit across Dubai Creek on a 5 dirham local boat.

 

 

On the other side we explored a bit of Old Dubai including Dubai Fort:

 

 

…and the souqs:

 

 

We then hydrated with bougie coconut water and tea at the Arabian Tea House:

 

 

. . . before heading back across the creek to check out the Gold Souq, the largest concentration of cheap gold anywhere in the world:

 

 

You can find the Guinness Book Of World Records’ holder for “world’s heaviest gold ring.”:

 

 

Tomorrow Evan gets in for our drive up to Musandam Oman!

 

 

- At time of posting in Nahwa, it was 32 °C - Humidity: 51% | Wind Speed: 5km/hr | Cloud Cover: hazy & hot

 

Naked & Afraid – Off Roadin’ the UAE/Oman Road Trip: Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwain, & Ras Al-Khaimah

Naked & Afraid – Off Roadin’ the UAE/Oman Road Trip: Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwain, & Ras Al-Khaimah

 

One of my most epic days of traveling ever. And this is days before we head into Afghanistan!

 

 

Following our whirlwind morning in Abu Dhabi, our driver Hosain took us up an hour’s drive towards Dubai at the ENOC Gas Station by Ibn Ba. There we rendezvous’ed with our local friend and expat living in the UAE, Sean — whom I met last May when I crashed a YPT trip in Iraq.

 

 

Despite a snafu with my debit card and the ATMs here (thanks Amanda for the rescue!) we paid Hosain 400 AED for his time as Sean took over for the driving (Amusingly, Sean also happened to be driving the same car as our Abu Dhabi driver).

  

Dubai

We then drove quickly up through Dubai, which I’ve profiled numerous times before

 

 

 

Sharjah

Promptly leaving Dubai behind, we first passed through Sharjah to the north, the third largest and third most populous city in the UAE.

Sharjah is known for its relative “poorer” status and yet staunch Islamic conservatism compared to its neighbors (ex. all alcohol and hookah/shisha is banned here):

 

 

Ajman

…we then passed Ajman, the smallest of the emirates:

 

 

Ras Al-Khaimah

Then driving further and passing by Umm Al Quwain, we reached Ras Al-Khaimah, aka RAK City and home to most of UAE’s residents.

The highlight in RAK city is the ghost town of Al Jazirah Al Hamra (aka The Red Island), which once housed 2500 residents.

Abandoned houses and mosques litter this area, which has been believed by locals to be haunted. Otherwise, this is the closest idea you can get to a traditional town that depicted life before oil was discovered in the United Arab Emirates.

We spent about 20 minutes walking around and urbexin‘:

 

 

You can technically climb up the lone minaret here . . .

 

 

. . . but be careful of the rickety stairs! Some of the steps are NOT secure so test each one carefully before taking a step (I had to lunge up skipping a few).

 

 

Once you get to the top, hold to the wall lest you fall off (there’s no railings here):

 

 

But the views though:

 

 

Umm Al Quwain

After climbing down we then drove south back towards Umm Al Quwain, the least populous emirate in the UAE.

The crown jewel here is the ghost airport that still is home to a mysteriously abandoned Ilyushin IL 76 Soviet cargo plane emblazoned with Palma Beach Hotel on the sides.

 

 

Nobody truly knows its backstory. However, one theory is that an infamous Russian arms dealer had to crash land here in the UAE after running out of fuel, after which he absconded before finally being arrested by Interpol a few years later.

Whatever the story is, and if you find yourself alone and not turned away by the Sudanese official assigned to guard this cryptic relic, look for a ladder by the engine. And if it’s there, it obviously may exit for a certain purpose:

 

 

Hopefully you have a torch with you because the interior is nuts:

 

 

Head to the back for the cargo hold:

 

 

And then to the front cockpit where you can see what Soviet mechanical aviation used to look like before the computer age:

 

 

If you’re really feeling daring, climb up a conveniently placed rope so you can literally sit on top of the cockpit.

 

 

After about 20 minutes here, our aforementioned Sudanese guard finally caught us red handed!

We then quickly exited the aircraft, apologized thoroughly, gave him a can of Coke, and promptly took off as fast as that Russian arms dealer, heading towards Ajman.

 

Ajman

There we had dinner at a new and fancy Moroccan/Syrian restaurant and hookah lounge The Address Moroccan.

 

 

Sharjah

After a splendid meal with chicken and lamb tajines, complemented by a Morrocan/Syrian mixed grill, we headed back down to Sharjah to check out Flag Island.

 

 

Dubai

After about 15 minutes here walking around, Sean then drove us back to the Deira district in Dubai where we finally checked into our accommodations at Rove City Centre.

Just to recap: We spent the past 12 hours having summarily explored 6 out of the 7 Emirates in the UAE: Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwain, and Ras Al Kaimah. And tomorrow we visit the 7th on the other side of the coast, Fujairah, as well as the UAE/Omani exclaves of Nahwa and Madha!

What a day.

 

 

- At time of posting in RAK City, it was 35 °C - Humidity: 67% | Wind Speed: 5km/hr | Cloud Cover: partly clouded, seeded clouding, thick air

 

The UAE/Oman Road Trip: Abu Dhabi Doo! Where Are You?

The UAE/Oman Road Trip: Abu Dhabi Doo! Where Are You?

 

Another monsoon begins. And this time it begins in the desert.

 

 

Taking the 10:55pm Etihad Airways Flight #100 from JFK to AUH, I first experienced nearly an hour’s delay on JFK’s tarmac before taking off. While up in the air, I was able to knock out and get a full 8 hours of sleep before realizing that I would be landing in Abu Dhabi the night before a Friday, when everything would be closed for Friday prayers. Eeeeek.

Immediately getting on the plane’s WiFi, I coordinated with our local expat guide in Dubai, Sean (whom I met last May when I crashed YPT’s tour in Kurdistan Iraq), and came up with 2 possibilities: either we book it to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque right after I land to make it in time for the final entry allowed at 9:30pm, or we visit on Friday after prayers at 2pm.

Seeing that my one hour delay at JFK airport would lead me to land in Abu Dhabi airport no earlier than 8:40pm, as well as my big backpack having been forcibly checked in at JFK, the former suggestion wasn’t going to fly (although I did try to make an attempt, but alas my checked bag took awhile to get to baggage claims).

Once getting out of immigrations and registering for E-Gate, I met up with Ambrose at arrivals whom I last traveled 2 years before in Edinburgh. Oh how time flies!

I’ve had many layovers via Abu Dhabi airport, but today would be the first I would get to leave the airport.

Hiring a cab to take me to my lodgings at Grand Mercure by the coast, we settled into our fancy digs. I’m definitely getting older.

 

 

We then waited for Wendy to arrive at 11:30pm from her flight in Dubai before grabbing dinner at a late night grill shop outside.

 

 

Amanda would join us at 2am as she flew in a few hours later.

The next morning we went for a swim and enjoyed a lazy buffet brunch on the rooftop of our hotel before checking out by noon.

 

 

While waiting for the Grand Mosque to open at 2pm, and after my first Uber driver frustratingly cancelled on me because of Friday prayers, our hotel was able to immediately hire a wonderful driver named Hosain on the spot!

With little time to spare, we first drove to the newly built Louvre nearby on the northeastern part of town:

 

 

Then heading southwest and passing by the Emirati (now a hotel) and Presidential Palaces, we stopped for a visit at Qasr Al Watan, a newly built opulent palace showcasing Arab culture. 

It costs 60 AED to enter and a bus takes you from the visitor’s center to the palace itself.

 

 

Arguably the top sight to behold in Abu Dhabi, however, is the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, one of the largest mosques in the world and the largest in the country. 

There are hourly tours beginning at 10am Monday to Thursday, and 2:30pm onwards on Friday. You have to enter a bit away at a new underground Visitor’s Center.

 

 

Since we had mistakenly been informed on the phone that it would open early for us at 2pm, we were the first ones inside when it actually opened at 2:30pm. The typical Emirati runaround.

Once inside, you first have to register for a free ticket, and then put on appropriate wear which they’ll offer. Then you walk down a long underground tunnel (golf carts are available for the lazy).

 

 

Then we spent about 30 minutes here admiring the grandiosity of it all. This place can hold 41,000 worshippers.

 

 

Even the Ablution Room and public washrooms are gilded with gold and diamonds.

 

 

You’ll need to show them your free ticket to enter the main prayer hall (which I had somehow lost already, so I had to sweet talk and quickly sneak in thanks to a guard who literally looked the other way).

 

Afterwards we jumped back in our car where Hosain then drove us up north for Dubai so we could meet up with our local expat friend Sean!

 

 

- At time of posting in Abu Dhabi, it was 37 °C - Humidity: 69% | Wind Speed: 16km/hr | Cloud Cover: sunny, balmy and hot as hell. Air cuts like BUTTER

 

Denouement In Windhoek To Free Emirates Business Class Upgrade!

Denouement In Windhoek To Free Emirates Business Class Upgrade!

 

Uh..there’s really no contest in trying to even bother following up to the last post; a post that describes a place where I watched the sun rise over the world’s oldest desert, or where I took some of my favorite photos at the most surreal landscapes I’ve ever laid eyes upon.

But, obligations are obligations as the group parts ways today in Windhoek after traveling 16 days together through 13 countries in Africa.

 

Following up on yesterday’s trip to Sossusvlei: At 12:30pm we began to drive back to the capital city of Windhoek, stopping a few times to push our vehicle out of a sand dune, and of course, ice cream. We arrived at around 8pm and had one last dinner again at Joe’s Beerhouse (the only place open for groups on a late Sunday night). Afterwards, we turned in early as half the group would be getting up at 4am for their 6am flight back to the USA.

As for the 3 of us left over — Duncan, Kel and myself — we got up later at around 9am and decided to head early to the airport to check into our flights, but not before doing some brief sightseeing around Windhoek.

While Windhoek has been mainly viewed as a home base for desert safaris, it also can be regarded as a lovely, developed, walkable capital city that can otherwise resemble a nice suburban town in upstate New York.

And so before heading to the airport, we first stopped at the nearby Train Station, which doubles as a transit museum featuring one of the first German locomotives to traverse the barren deserts of Namibia:

 

 

We then drove by Zoo Park, notable for it being the site of a 5,000 year old elephant hunt; elephant fossils and rudimentary hunting equipment of our early ancestors were unearthed here.

 

 

Then we drove up to Windhoek’s unofficial landmark and symbol, the Lutheran Christus Church.

 

 

Across the street from Christus Church is the Titenpalast (behind that giant building, which I think is more impressive) now known as the Parliament of Namibia. It’s remarkable for using only indigenous materials in its construction.

 

 

Finally, there was this early 20th century Heinitzburg Castle that’s now an expensive hotel. Yeah, ok.

 

 

That’s it — Off to the airport! I have a 2 hour flight to Johannesburg followed by a 3 hour layover, then an 8 hour flight to Dubai followed by a 7 hour layover, and then finally a 13 hour flight to NYC.

Thank you Sydney for your company, your sense of humor, and for being so patient driving us around the past 3 days!

 

 

…but when I thought the adventure would end here, I would be so wrong once I got to my layover in Dubai!

So usually if anyone, ANYONE, makes me check in my bag on a flight, I fight them (at some points it can border on whining) and win. Although Windhoek and Johannesburg have more liberal carry-on allowances, any flight leaving Dubai’s airports cannot carry anything more than a 7kg bag/case on the plane. So even though my main backpack would have fit in the overhead bin and my smaller backpack would have been my personal item under my set, the airport staff at Dubai still refused me to go back through security unless I checked in my larger bag.

Despite moving stuff around between the bags, no dice; the 7kg maximum at Dubai is strictly enforced. So I then trudged back (and it’s a big airport!) to the front of the airport and proceeded to check in my bag. But out of curiosity, I asked about whether anyone cancelled so I could move my seat more to the front (I was in the back in economy). 

Their response? No problem; not only would I be moved up, I would also be upgraded to the plane’s business class for free (FYI, I don’t have any status with Emirates!), located in the upper floor of the fuselage. 

So in my moment of irony I want to personally thank the staff that stopped me at security and refused to let me get onboard without checking in my bag. Thank you thank you thank you. My lesson has been learned.

So with dedicated and expedited boarding gates, security, and departure bridges reserves just for business and first class passengers, this oasis greeted me when I boarded:

 

 

My seat upon arrival:

 

 

My seat decked out as a bed with provided mattresses, duvet, and pillows:

 

 

First person POV:

 

 

They give you this beautiful brown leather bag filled with free upscale (think BVLGARI) single-use amenities, and a plastic bag with standard airplane socks and eyemask.

 

 

The windows themselves are a hi-tech shade/blinders that can be controlled remotely by the iPad/tablet next to you or directly.

 

 

And then there is the bar in the back (where the bathrooms are) that opens up after take-off and is staffed throughout the 13-hour flight with free food, chocolates, coffee/espresso, and a semi-full bar available anytime.

 

 

The bathrooms are pretty standard, save for the BVLGARI cologne and perfume and the window that looks outside while I peed.

 

 

And although the food tasted pretty standard, it was wonderfully plated with frequent utensil changes and condiment refills.

 

 

After 13 hours and nearly 8 movies (the best of which was my second viewing of the Bollywood film, 3 Idiots), we began to land at JFK airport, while being treated to the gorgeous thunderstorms outside.

 

 

So sad to leave this little island of paradise:

 

 

Not a bad way to end a crazy trip. Until the next monsoon…

 

- At time of posting in Windhoek, Namibia, it was 27 °C - Humidity: 19% | Wind Speed: 11km/hr | Cloud Cover: partly cloudy

 

At The Top Of The World

At The Top Of The World

The Dubai Infinity Tower just got served

 

When I was in Dubai 2 years ago in 2011:

 

The Burj Khalifa got served from the bottom in 2011 (I had no time then to go to the top!)

 

When I was in Dubai 2 years later today:

 

The Burj Khalifa just got served from the top in 2013 (aka the top of the highest manmade structure in the world!)

 

It’s good to be back in Dubai. It might just be my hunch, but UAE flights seem to have shrewdly designed their flight schedules so that most everyone gets to experience an extended daytime layover in Dubai, presumably to increase money going into tourism and the businesses there. It’s similar to how Icelandair allows open layovers for their flights so passengers can stop over in Reykjavik and spend money in Iceland for a few days before hopping onto Icelandair’s continuing flights to London or Paris at no extra cost, and yet opposite to how flights into Lima for Cusco (usually to see Machu Picchu) always force an overnight stay in Lima, (probably because more money can go into Lima’s hotels)? 

Anyways, I digress…

First things first, the Dubai airport at Terminal 3 (if you’re flying Emirates) has grown into becoming a mini-city. It takes longer than you’d expect to make it to passport control from the gate (a 20-30min walk alone), and then another hour-long wait at passport control to get your stamps.

They just started an E-gate system to expedite passport entry for citizens of certain countries, including the USA, but when I did it I still waited an hour because they have to register first time users of the system and they had only one person doing it this morning because it was a Friday (the day of rest for Muslims). Then, also because it’s a Friday, the metro wasn’t running until 1pm in the afternoon so I had to bleed money on the taxis for the first part of the day.

 

Finally made it onto a train, and it was always this crowded

 

First stop: I finally get to the top of the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa:

 

The observation deck

The "World Islands" can be seen up ahead in the distance

The Burj Al Arab, the only 7 star hotel in the world

View of the top of the Burj Khalifa from the observation deck

We haven't even finished building the Freedom Tower and they're already mocking us!

 

Then toured around Dubai Mall for a bit:

 

 

And afterwards kicking it with amazing conversations on life, love and travel at Marina Way with Diva, my friend from college who had told me to go to Luang Prabang when I went on my first trip (which I did!), and her friends Chewy and Rohini.

 

Diva and Rohini

 

No better way to enjoy your one day layovers in Dubai than with good company, both times –

2011: 

 

2013:

Diva, Rohini, and Diva's mom and dad!

 

And with these conversations going long into the day that end up leaving me only 1 hour to catch my flight to Lahore, I once again booked it and barely made it to my flight in the nick of time.

Next: Pakistan!

 

- At time of posting in Dubai International Airport, it was 18 °C - Humidity: 52% | Wind Speed: 9km/hr | Cloud Cover: clouds and visibility OK