AL-AIN & BURAIMI
Edited by Woodrow W. Denham, Al-Ain, UAE, 1994
To download this file in Adobe Acrobat (.PDF) format, click here (175k).
I have taken the liberty of revising and expanding the Al Ain, UAE, section of Gordon Robison's Arab Gulf States Travel Survival Kit, 1st ed. (Lonely Planet Publications, Hawthorn, Vic, Australia, 1993). I have quoted and paraphrased paragraphs from the original that do justice to this region, but have revised paragraphs in need of help and added a great deal of new material of my own. (Note: By 2004 the 1 st edition of this LPG has long since been superceded and a lot has changed in Al-Ain since 1994, but I have NOT updated this sketch of the Buraimi Oasis to reflect any of those events.)
Buraimi Oasis is a huge green depression in the desert that straddles the border between the Eastern Province of Abu Dhabi and the Sultanate of Oman. It is surrounded by Oman's Hajar Mountains to the east, an isolated mountain named Jebel Hafit to the south, and the endless dunes of the Rub' Al-Khali, or Empty Quarter, to the west. Prior to the oil boom, there were seven major date palm producing areas within the 15 by 30 km triangular oasis. The one with the most trees was called Buraimi, the one with the largest market was called Al-Ain (rhymes with "all mine"), and the other five were neighbors of the "big two". Now all of the settlements in the UAE section are districts in the modern city of Al-Ain, and all in the Omani section are parts of the town of Buraimi. So "Buraimi Oasis" is the name of the depression, and "Buraimi" is the name of the town in the Omani section of it.
In the days before the oil boom, the oasis was a five day overland journey by camel from Abu Dhabi. Today the trip takes about two hours on a tree lined freeway. Once in the oasis, you can cross freely between the oasis and Oman - people driving up from Muscat pass through customs before reaching the Omani town of Buraimi - and this is one of the factors that makes the oasis so appealing.
Al-Ain is the birthplace of Shaikh Zayed, ruler of Abu Dhabi and President of the UAE, and he has lavished money on it. As recently as the 1940's it was a remote farming community with a few thousand residents; now it is a planned city of nearly 200,000 people, crosscut by tree lined six-lane boulevards 1-2 km apart forming a huge grid, and dotted with more than thirty parks and gardens. The Omani town of Buraimi has not received the same kind of treatment. The resulting contrasts make Buraimi Oasis one of the most interesting places in either country to visit. (To visit Buraimi from Muscat, you need a Road Permit; see the Oman chapter for details).
There is a lot to see in the area. It's a popular weekend retreat from both Dubai and Abu Dhabi which are roughly equidistant from it. Now that Al-Ain International Airport has opened, the oasis is being developed as a premier international destination resort for visitors from Europe, elsewhere in the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia, and especially Russia. Al-Ain already is a remarkably polyglot city: Arabic is the official language and English is the international language, but shopkeepers prefer Hindi and Malayalam, taxi drivers prefer Urdu and various Afghan dialects, cleaning crews prefer Sinhalese and Bengali, and cocktail waitresses prefer Tagalog.
Buraimi oasis is probably the longest inhabited part of what is now the UAE. The country's oldest known artifacts are potsherds from the 4th millennium BC which were found near Jebel Hafit, a short distance from the oasis. Digs near Al-Ain have also turned up a Bronze Age (3rd millennium BC) culture which may have had ties to the Umm An-Nar civilization that then existed on the Gulf coast near modern Abu Dhabi.
As Arabia's climate became warmer, oases such as Buraimi became increasingly important. The population of Buraimi increased significantly during the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, apparently as a result of migration to the oasis by tribes from the surrounding desert. By the 10th century Al-Ain, which was then called Tawwan, was a trading center along one of Arabia's many caravan routes, a status which it retained into our era.
In the 18th century, the ancestors of today's Saudi Arabian royal family incorporated the oasis into what is now called the First Saudi Empire, a short-lived kingdom which covered even more of Arabia than the present Saudi state. The legacy of this was Wahabism, the puritanical strain of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia which, in a milder form, remains a strong influence in the Al-Ain - Buraimi area today.
Abu Dhabi's ruling Al-Nahyan family moved to the oasis some time in the 19th century, well after the founding of Abu Dhabi town. Since the early years of the 20th century, the family has ruled the oasis jointly with the Omanis, first with the imams who controlled the interior of Oman and, in the 1950s, with the Muscat-based Omani sultans. The 18th century Saudi presence in Buraimi however, led the Saudi government to claim the entire oasis for its kingdom in 1949. The Saudi claim was prompted by Aramco, the Saudi-based oil company, which wanted to drill for oil in the oasis.
In 1952 the Saudis occupied part of Buraimi. The question of sovereignty eventually went to an international arbitration panel in Geneva. When the talks collapsed in 1955, the British and the Al-Nahyan family took matters into their own hands. A Bedouin force, led by Shaikh Zayed who was then the governor of Abu Dhabi's portion of the oasis, along with the Trucial Oman Scouts, who were commanded by British officers, drove the Saudis out of Buraimi. The dispute continued on a lesser level for several more years. The current Abu Dhabi - Oman border was demarcated in 1966. Saudi Arabia formally dropped its claim to the area in 1974.
The Al-Ain/Buraimi area can be very confusing at first. All of the boulevards in Al-Ain look pretty much the same and none of them had names until one day in January 1994 when, as if by magic, name plates appeared everywhwere. Rumor has it that Pizza Hut installed them to keep its drivers from getting lost. The only street names that really matter are Main Street which runs from the Clock Tower Roundabout to the Coffeepot Roundabout, Khalifa Street which parallels Main Street one block to the north, and Buraimi Road from the flyover north to Buraimi. The streets in Buraimi don't appear to have names either, but there aren't many of them. Large purple-and-white tourist signs lead you to most major points of interest in Al-Ain. You can get around best if you know the name of your destination, the nearest roundabout or the district in which it is located. Al-Ain and Buraimi straddle the UAE-Oman border and everyone can flow freely back and forth between the two countries without a customs check. The Omani customs post is about 40 km down the road toward Muscat.
Basically, Al-Ain wraps around an arm of Oman territory with most of Al-Ain's business district lying just south of the border. To get to Dubai or to some of Al-Ain's suburbs from the center you drive through Oman for about 4km before emerging back into the UAE. The advantage of this for the budget traveler is that it allows you to stay at one of the cheaper hotels in the area which is just across the Omani border. Also, it's an easy way to see a little of Oman without hassling with visas. Most of the area's services, however, are in Al-Ain which is much newer and more modem than Buraimi.
In Al-Ain the service taxi station behind the Grand Mosque is very much at the center of things, but distances in both Al-Ain and Buraimi are large. You could, in theory, walk from the bus or taxi station in Al-Ain to the one semi-cheap hotel which is just over the border in Buraimi, but with any luggage at all it would be a hell of a hike, especially when it is hot, which is most of the time. The three big hotels are accessible by car or taxi. Some of the interesting sites, like the Hili Gardens and Jebel Hafit, also require your own transportation.
There is no tourist office in either city but it's fairly easy to find most of the things worth seeing in Al-Ain by following the big purple road signs. Buraimi has no tourist signs but the market and both of the old forts are adjacent to the main road which runs across Omani territory.
There are lots of banks in Al-Ain near the Clock Tower Roundabout and the GPO. In Oman you'll see several banks on the main road. Both UAE dirhams and Omani riyals are accepted on both sides of the border at a standard rate of OR 1 = Dh 10.
Post & Telecommunications Al-Ain's GPO and telephone office are side by side at the Clock Tower Roundabout. The GPO is open Saturday to Wednesday, 8am-8pm, Thursday 8am-6pm and Friday 8-11 am. The Etisalat Office is open every day, 7am-midnight. Buraimi's post office is open only in the morning, and its sign is only in Arabic, but it's more-or-less across the street from the Yameen Restaurant. The phone systems of the two cities are separate. Thus, if you're in the Hotel Al-Buraimi and want to ring someone 200 meters away in Al-Ain, it's an international call and will be billed as such. Do not be deceived by the fact that the pay phones in the two cities look the same. Apparently, Etisalat and Oman Telecom buy their phones from the same supplier but they don't accept the same coins. The UAE telephone code for Al-Ain is 03. There are no telephone area codes in Oman.
Emergency In Oman dial 999 for police, ambulance and fire. In Al-Ain, dial 999 for police, 998 for ambulance and 997 for fire. If you have a medical emergency anywhere in the oasis and can seek care on your own, go to the Emergency Room at Tawam Hospital on Abu Dhabi Road about 10 km west of Al-Ain's city centre. For dental emergencies, go to the sign of the tooth behind the Yugoslavian Furniture Store at the northwest corner of the central business district. For medicines, try the University Pharmacy on Khalifa Street.
Places of Interest
Marubbaa Fort & Al-Ain Museum In downtown Al-Ain, the museum and fort are in the same compound, southeast of the flyover and adjacent to the mud wall that encircles the date groves of Al-Ain oasis. Marubbaa Fort was built in 1910 by Shaikh Sultan Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, and was the birthplace of his son, Shaikh Zayed, the President of the UAE. It is being restored but is not yet finished. You can see it from within the compound.
As you enter the museum, take a look at the Bedouin diwan set up to the left of the manager's office. It's a display of what the reception area of a traditional Bedouin tent or home looks like. This particular room is also used to welcome visiting VIPs, which may be why it always looks like it only lacks hot coals for the coffee to be served.
Moving to the right, the first gallery has an interesing display of old 1960s photographs of Al-Ain and Abu Dhabi. It’s striking to see how quickly the area has developed. Around to the left, the next gallery has reconstructions of everyday life in pre-oil days. Note how most of the figures are dressed more like Omanis than Gulf Arabs (i.e., wearing turbans instead of the gutra and agal headdress). The opposite wall has a large display of weapons.
The third gallery has more weapons, musical instruments and some stuffed examples of local desert birds. The wall back near the entrance houses a display of some of the decorations Shaikh Zayed has received over the years. The collection is rather eclectic, including both the Order of Isabel the Catholic, bestowed on the Shaikh by King Juan Carlos I of Spain, and a bullet from the Palestinian Commando Lyla Khalid.
The other two galleries house a chronological display of the region's archaeology which is remarkably rich, including a large number of Bronze Age and Iron Age sites as well as later pre-Islamic and Islamic sites.
The museum is open mornings Sunday - Wednesday 8am-1pm, Thursday 8am-noon, Friday 9-11:30am. It's open afternoons Sunday - Friday, 3:30-5:30pm (November-April) and 4:30-6:30pm (May-October). It's closed on Saturday. Admission is 50 fils.
Livestock Souk The entrance to the livestock souq is across the parking lot to the east of the museum. It's brand new, spotlessly clean, quite large, and a good place to see some of the finest breeds of sheep and goats that money can buy. The fodder section of the market sells an amazing diversity of green plants for discriminating animals to eat, including hay imported in huge cylindrical bales from Saudi Arabia. The souk attracks Bedouins and townspeople from all over the UAE and northern Oman. The best time to visit is before 9am when the trading is heaviest.
Old Prison The old prison in the fort-like building just north of the museum, between the Coffeepot Roundabout and the flyover, is open erratically. The walled compound contains the prison tower and gardens. Climb to the top of the tower for a view over the oasis and the nearby camel market. Like most of the old buildings in the city, this one is illuminated at night and is especially attractive when seen from the Camel Souk after dark.
Camel Souk Al-Ain's traditional camel souk is immediately behind the prison, and is a specialized alternative to the new fangled livestock souk. It's small but worth visiting for local colour. It's open from early morning until about noon every day, and is best visited early in the day before the heat and smell become too intense.
Al-Ain Bedouin Souk South of the flyover and adjacent to the Al-Ain bus station is the old Bedouin souk that long made Al-Ain the trading centre for Buraimi Oasis. The west end of it has been upgraded, but the section east of the little mosque has not. It sells fresh foods of every kind including a great diversity of dates, plus leaf tobacco, camel gear, Korans, extraordinarily expensive honey whose curative powers are mentioned in the Koran, male palm flowers used to fertilize female flowers during the mating season (February and March), sweets from Mozambique, brassware from India and khanjars (curved daggers) from Oman. It's larger and much more diverse than the Buraimi Souk, and is at its best in the mornings.
Oasis Walks At the center of each city block, somewhat hidden by the fringe of new buildings encircling it, is an extremely productive fruit and vegetable plantation. You can visit these rich old agricultural areas right in the center of Al-Ain and Buraimi, as well as in the suburbs of Hili and Qattarah. Unmarked entrances to Al-Ain Oasis are behind the bus station across the street from the Bedouin Souk, and an entrance to the one in Buraimi lies just behind Al-Hilla Fort at the Buraimi Souk. Walk through the openings in the mud walls and wander peacefully along many kilometers of silent paths, among irrigated gardens, majestic old date palms, small mosques and the remains of abandoned villages and forts. Don't get lost!
UAE University Now to Al-Ain's northern suburbs. The only university in the UAE occupies several campuses scattered throughout the city, has over 10,000 students and is one of the city's largest employers. If you would like to visit it, go to the Public Information Office at the Islamic Institute Campus (Jamia Islami) two blocks northwest of the city center. Other campuses include Maqam for women students (male visitors prohibited), Muwaiji and Jimi for men students (female visitors prohibited), Bin Ham for the medical school, and Zayed Central Library for men and women at different times and different days.
Muraijib Fort & Park Because of sexual segregation of Moslem men and women in Gulf societies, Al-Ain has several delightful parks that are reserved exclusively for women and children, most of them built around small forts that have been restored, illuminated at night and surrounded by beautifully landscaped flower gardens. Muraijib Park, on Jimi Street a few km north of the city centre, is an easily accessible example. It's open daily 4-10pm, Fridays and holidays 10am-10pm. Admission for women is Dh1, and children enter free; men are not admitted.
Hili Gardens & Archaeological Site This combination public park and archaeological site is about 8 km north of the centre of Al-Ain off the Dubai Rd, and the route is well marked by tourist signs. The main attraction is the Round Structure, a 3rd millineum BC tomb possibly related to the coastal Umm An-Nar culture. It was brought to the attention of archaeologists in 1962 and partially restored in the late '60s. The park that encloses the Round Structure is itself surrounded by a large number of Bronze and Iron Age villages, fortifications and smaller tombs which together make this an extremely rich archaeological site. A line of beehive tombs is visible along the top of the Omani hill a few km east of the park. Visit the Al-Ain Museum to see a representative selection of the movable artifacts. The park is open daily 4-11pm, Fridays and holidays 10am-11pm. Admission is Dh 1.
Hili Fun City & Ice Skating Rink Ice skating is popular in Al-Ain! The tasteful amusement park and ice rink are a few km north of Hili Gardens near the edge of the city. In addition to its regular activities, Fun City hosts the month long Al Ain Festival in January, with visits from international performers such as a circus from Moscow, pop music stars from Cairo, and TV stars from the USA. It's open daily 4pm-10pm, Fridays and holidays 9am-10pm. Admission is Dh 30.
Zoo Now to Al-Ain's southern suburbs. Follow the tourist signs southward to the zoo, and you'll find one of the better ones in the Gulf. It has indigenous species including Arabian oryx and gazelle, saluki dogs and bustards, as well as more conventional exotic animals like elephants, kangaroos, gibbons and penguins. It is open daily 7am-5:30pm. Admission is Dh 2.
Ain Al-Faydhah Ain Al-Faydhah is a destination resort south of the zoo and the exit to Jebel Hafit. It is being developed by the government for Moslem visitors. The artificial lake is supplied by a natural spring at the base of Jebel Hafit.
Buraimi Souk & Al-Hilla Fort Now to Buraimi. To enter Buraimi from Al-Ain, follow Buraimi Road north from the flyover, go through the roundabout with traffic lights, and cross the border. Continue northward to the first roundabout in Oman and you'll see the Buraimi Souk on your left. It's bigger than it looks from the road, and is a very practical place selling fuits, vegetables and household goods. You won't find many souvenirs here, but the atmosphere is good, especially at night when the stalls are illuminated by gas lanterns until they close at about 8:30 pm. Al-Hilla Fort, immediately behind the souk, is being restored but is not yet open to the public.
Buraimi Grand Mosque This recently completed mosque located a couple of km northeast of the Buraimi Souk is by far the finest piece of architecture and the largest mosque in the entire oasis. The great white building with a capacity of several thousand worshipers has two enormous cylindrical minarets tipped by red aircraft warning lights. The outside of the dome is malachite green and the inside is illuminated by a magnificent chandelier. See it at night. The building stands alone, and its illumination is superb.
Rub' Al-Khali & Garn Bint Saud Now for some short excursions outside the oasis. The west side of Buraimi Oasis is formed by the sands of the Rub' Al-Khali, or Empty Quarter. You can easily experience this vast sand desert close up by visiting Garn Bint Saud, a peculiar dome of rocks surrounded by immense dune fields. The sea of red sand washes right up against the base of the rocks. Half a dozen restored Iron Age tombs (ca. 1000 BC) occupy the summit, while several Bronze Age tombs (ca. 3000 BC) encrust the flanks. The Al-Ain Museum displays a selection of artifacts from the area. Go to Bida Bint Saud about 15 km north of the city centre, drive to the end of the paved road, and walk about ten minutes to the top of the hill. A couple of km south of the hill as you return toward Al-Ain, you can walk to the crest of the high dunes on the east side of the road for spectacular views of the Omani mountains, especially fine at sunset. Carry water and wear a hat. Round trip taxi fare is about Dh 20 from the city center. Allow 2-3 hours.
Jebel Hafit The southern edge of the oasis is formed by Jebel Hafit, a 1500 m mountain that juts right up out of the desert. Its geology is complex and the highway to the top is spectularly illuminated at night. From the top, you have panoramic views into the Rub' Al-Khali to the west, Buraimi Oasis to the north, and the mountains of Oman to the east. Seeing sunrise from the summit is worth the effort. The summit is about 30 km from the city center. From the Clock Tower Roundabout, head west then south and follow the tourist signs. The final turn-off is about 15 km out, and is well marked. Round trip taxi fare is about Dh 40. Allow 3-4 hours.
Hajar Mountains & Khatwa Oasis The Hajar Mountains of Oman form the eastern edge of the oasis. A good way to see them is to visit the village of Khatwa. Khatwa's water supply comes down from the high mountains in a falaj, or aquaduct, that clings to the edge of a deeply eroded wadi, or dry river bed, before emptying into small water channels that supply the palms. The dense date groves, old stone houses and narrow lanes of the hillside village suggest major contours of traditional Arabian culture, while walking several kilometers up the rim of the falaj provides grand views of the barren, tortured mountains in which much of that culture developed. Khatwa is about 30 km northeast of Buraimi. You don't need an Omani visa, and you can negotiate a taxi fare for the round trip. For a detailed route map, see Off-Road in the Emirates available in most bookshops in Al-Ain. Take water and wear a hat. Allow 5-6 hours.
Places to Stay Buraimi Oasis does not have a large selection of accommodations, and all reflect government policies in both countries aimed at attracting up-scale tourists. There are six hotels in the two towns. The Nakheel Hotel in Al-Ain is reserved exclusively for guests of UAE University and does not accept other visitors, so you need not consider it. Ain Al Faydhah Hotel and Resthouse south of Al Ain is a Moslem resort that does not cater to Western visitors.
The Hotel Al-Buraimi (650492) in Buraimi is the only hotel that remotely qualifies as cheap. It's a good place, sitting almost smack on the border, on your right as you enter Oman from the center of Al-Ain. Singles/doubles are Dh 105/130 or OR 10.5/13.5. Do not confuse this place with the Al-Buraimi Hotel (652010), which you can find by following the blue-and-white signs throughout the Omani part of the oasis. Singles/doubles are Dh 218/261 (OR 23/28) plus 15% and service charge. Ask about their weekend packages.
Back in Al-Ain, your can select from two deluxe hotels: the Al-Ain Hilton (686666) at Dh 365/395 plus 15% or the Al-Ain Inter-Continental (686686) at Dh 350/475 plus 15%. Both offer special rates to people affiliated with the University, and both have all the amenities of five-star hotels including fine health clubs. By design or accident, the Hilton provides more services for families with children, while the Intercon provides more services for singles and families without children. The hotels offer convenient but expensive laundry services; many reliable small laundries downtown provide next day service for Dh 1-2 per item.
Places to Eat Buraimi Oasis is a great place to eat. All of the restaurants except those in the Hilton and Inter-Continental Hotels are in the low to middle price range, and are located in the eight square block central business district of Al-Ain and the much smaller core of Buraimi. Diversity and quality are excellent, and prices are 15-20% less than in Dubai.
Middle Eastern foods begin with takeaway shawarma (Dh 2.5), falafel (4 for Dh 1) and whole broasted chickens with salad, hommous and bread (Dh 12-15) at streetside stands throughout the city. Midrange restaurants include the Lebanese Al Mala on the south side of Khalifa Street, where you get shish kabob, shish taouk, lamb chops or mixed grill with several salads and bread, and the nearby Egyptian Al Mansoura that serves meats and salads along with vermichelli rice, foul and lots of lightly fried vegetables (about Dh 15). The Golden Sheep on the north side of Khalifa Street serves upscale Lebanese meals (Dh 18-30), and is a favorite of Western professionals at lunch. For very classy lighter fare, visit one of the colorful juice shops that makes fruit cocktails from mango, papaya, orange, kiwi fruit, canteloup, pineapple, almonds, pistachios and cream (Dh 5-8). Many fine Middle Eastern bakeries serve an enormous diversity of sweets (Dh 1 each to Dh 25 per kg).
Indian and Pakistani foods abound. Tiny cafeterias everywehere serve keema and parotha, dosa, uttapam and idli sambhar (about Dh 3) and thalis (Dh 4-7). The block beside the flyover just behind Shaika Salama Mosque has many good restaurants along with Indian pop and classical cassette shops (Dh 6-9 each), barber shops (men's haircuts Dh 10) and sari shops. The Sun Gulf, a favorite of middle class Indian families, has a large menu of South Indian meals for under Dh 5 and exceptional vegetarian thalis with masala tea for Dh 10. Opposite the playground, the Super Restaurant offers vegetarian and nonvegetarian Indian foods (Dh 8-15) and caters to the University crowd. Both make fine gulab jamum and other Indian sweets. Al Fazal, a Pakistani restaurant near the Super serves outstanding fried fish dinners (Dh 8), and the nearby Iranian bread shop sells loaves straight from the tandoor (Dh 0.5). At the Muslim Restaurant on Buraimi Road half a block north of the flyover, try mildly seasoned Pakistani mutton with lots of cilantro and robust flat bread (Dh 8). In Buraimi, the best biryanis, served with chicken soup, salad, a boiled egg, curd, bread and tea (Dh 10) come from the Karawan and Muscat restaurants on the east side of the main street.
For East Asian food, start at the Super Restaurant. It's Indian, but it also has a Chinese menu including good haka noodles (Dh 8). A large Chinese and Filipino menu is available at the Golden Gate Restaurant at the west end of Khalifa Street, where meals range from fried rice (Dh 10) and squid adobo (Dh 12) to fine fish dinners (Dh 30). The Meeting Place, around the corner from the Golden Gate and in the same price range, also serves good Chinese and Filipino food.
Western fast foods from Pizza Hut, Hardee's and Kentucky Fried Chicken, all on the north side of Khalifa Street, range from hamburgers (Dh 8) to large pizzas (Dh 30). For French pastries, try the Arlequin Patisserie at the intersection of Khalifa Street and Buraimi Road.
For more expensive Western and international fare, head for the luxury hotels. The Hilton has a Chinese restaurant with main dishes at about Dh 30 apiece, and an Iranian restaurant serving dinners for about twice as much. The Intercon has the expensive Fish Market Restaurant that sells fish by the kilo, the Horse and Jockey Pub that offers a small dinner buffet with meat, vegetable, potato, salad and desert (Dh 35), and the TanjoreRestaurant where prices are higher and quality is lower than at other local Indian restaurants. The main diningrooms at the Intercon and the Hilton serve excellent buffet breakfasts (Dh 45), lunches (Dh 60) and dinners (Dh 75).
All sorts of soft drinks and fruit juices are available (Dh 1-1.5), milk and other dairy products are excellent, and alcoholic beverages are available with meals at the Hilton and Intercon. Tap water is safe to drink, but since it is desalinated it tastes strange; cold bottled spring water is available in foodstores and restaurants (Dh1.5 - 3.0 per litre). The climate is hotter and drier in Buraimi Oasis than in coastal cities, so you perspire a great deal without noticing it. Drink a lot of water or you'll get in trouble, especially when you're active outdoors.
Shopping In addition to traditional souks, Al-Ain is packed with department stores selling a full range of consumer products, specialty shops selling everything from frankincense and hunting falcons to computers and automobiles, and large supermarkets selling foods from all over the world. The city is well supplied with travel agencies and airline ticket offices, and the new Al-Ain International Airport has an outrageously large duty free shop for such a tiny airport.
Entertainment Paco's at the Hilton, and the Pub at the Intercontinental, have singers and the Intecon has a disco. There's a full range of sports facilities at both hotels. Organizations such as the Natural History Society and the Choral Society meet regularly at the Intercon, and visiting entertainers from Europe, Africa and Asia appear frequently. Watch for announcements.
Getting There & Away
Air Al-Ain International Airport opened in March 1994, becoming the sixth international airport in the Emirates. It's out in the dunes of the Rub' Al-Khali about 15 km NW of the city centre. Currently there is direct service to cities in Asia and Europe with connections to the rest of the world. Services are expected to grow rapidly in coming years as the tourism infrastructure expands. Ask your travel agent for details. Taxis and hotel buses cart you to your destinations in the city.
Bus. Buses run from Al-Ain to Abu Dhabi every 30 minutes, 6am-9.30 pm (2.5 hours, Dh 10) from the station behind the Al-Ain Cooperative Society's supermarket.
Oman's bus company, ONAT, has three buses a day to and from the Ruwi station in Muscat. The buses leave from a parking lot across from the Hotel Al-Buraimi at 7am and 1 and 3pm. The trip to Muscat takes six hours and costs OR 3.600. Tickets can be purchased from the driver. To take this bus you will need an Omani visa which allows you to enter the country by land. Expatriates resident in Oman will need a Road Permit. The Omani customs post is about 30 km from the border.
Service Taxi. Al-Ain's taxi station is in the big parking lot behind the Grand Mosque. Taxis take four to seven passengers to Dubai (Dh 30) and Abu Dhabi (Dh 25). The trip takes about two hours to either city. You can also occasionally find cabs from Al-Ain to Fujaira (Dh 50) but you should not count on this. A few service taxis going to the same destinations also can be found around the bus station.
Bus Al-Ain has a thorough but, like Abu Dhabi, nearly incomprehensible municipal bus system. Fares are Dh 1. If you know where you're going, you might be able to find out which is the right bus by asking around at the station. Note that Hindi and Malayalam (not English and Arabic) seem to be the main languages spoken there.
Taxi Standard Al-Ain taxis are white and gold and have meters which you should insist on using to avoid arguments, especially when you take a taxi at the Intercon or Hilton. The fare is Dh 2 for a flag drop and 50 fils for each additional km. Buraimi taxis are white and orange and don't have meters, so bargain up front. Limos, white with purple trim, are available at the deluxe hotels and are good for quick trips to Dubai and Abu Dhabi airports, but are about twice as expensive as standard taxis for short trips within the city. To hire a taxi for a day trip outside the city, arrange it in advance and negotiate a price based on distance and time.
Car If you want to rent a car from an international car rental chain, see the rental desk at the Hilton or Intercon. Also, there are several independent rental agencies in Al-Ain. Prices are reasonable and often negotiable.
Buy insurance! If you rent a car in the UAE, your insurance will not cover accidents occurring in Omani territory. If you drive a car that you rented in Oman, you probably will not be allowed to take it through the Buraimi customs post. Also, use of seat belts is mandatory in Oman and is strictly enforced. The Royal Oman Police can and will hit you for a hefty fine - about Dh 100 or OR 10 payable on the spot - for violating this law.
Driving in Al-Ain is especially dangerous for novices because of a combination of long, straight, six-lane streets, grossly over-powered vehicles, relatively low traffic densities and a fatalistic world view. The result is that people often drive without regard to posted speed limits, sometimes exceeding 180 kph on boulevards bordering residential areas. When driving on the boulevards of Al-Ain, stay in the middle lane when possible and NEVER enter the left lane without checking first to see how fast the cars behind are gaining on you. Roundabouts generate fender benders; straightaways generate fatalities.
Return to the Middle Eastern Collection Index.