Why United Arab Emirates:
The UAE was not at the top of my list of countries to visit. Because it is easy to reach and safe, I always imagined visiting as an older person and saving the more adventurous places for my youth. However, a few events converged to make this the perfect time to visit: the highly rated 2020 World Expo which ends on March 31, the presence of so many business school friends living in Dubai (most likely temporarily) and the perfect spring weather. Finally, I had one silly reason: each emirate counts as a separate country for the Traveler´s Century Club and by visiting 3, I would hit the 100-country/territory threshold to join the club. I decided to book a week in the country with the intention of visiting the 5 smaller Emirates then Expo 2020 mid-week and finally closing it all out in Dubai with all my business school friends on their weekend.
Luckily, I was able to convince my girlfriend Maisie to join me.
March 18, 2022: First Time on Emirates
After work, I headed to New York´s JFK Airport to catch my Emirates airlies flight direct to Dubai. After checking out a couple airline lounges, I boarded the double-decker Airbus A380 plane, the king of the sky. This was my first time on this legendary plane. After the longest takeoff ever, we were in the air headed on our 12.5-hour flight to Dubai.
The economy seat was nicer than any other that I have sat in, but at the end of the day, you are still stuck on a plane for 12.5 hours. Emirates economy is nice and all-things-equal I would pick them over the competition, but it’s not that much better.
March 19, 2022: The Family Room
I arrived at Dubai International Airport (DXB) at 18:30. The airport has a reputation for being the most over-the-top in the world, but to be honest, I thought it was average compared to other global hubs (and less nice than rival Doha).
Maisie´s flight landed just 20 minutes after mine, and we met in the baggage claim. Due to the UAE´s strict PDA laws, we held ourselves back and opted not to greet with a kiss or even a hug.
I then picked up my rental car and we headed on the road to begin our 5-Emirate portion of the trip.
Driving in the United Arab Emirates was more hectic than the US, but still manageable. The highways were wide and busy just like my hometown of LA but the drivers were friendly. But there were also plenty of roundabouts and elegant, yet picky lane exits like in Europe.
It took an hour to reach Ras Al Khaimah city (RAK City), the capital of the eponymous emirate. To the tune of Tyga´s Rack City, we cruised into giant ghost town. The few people walking in the sea of cheap high rises surrounded were South Asian men in their 20´s-30´s.
We stopped for dinner at a falafel restaurant. Because Maisie is a woman, they sent us to the back room, known as the family room. The front was reserved for men. We ordered a huge plate of falafel, hummus, veggie plate and juices for just under $10 total. This seemed like quite the deal since the UAE is one of the world´s richest countries.
March 20, 2022: RAK City and the World´s Longest Zip Line
Good morning United Arab Emirates! Today is going to be perhaps the busiest day of the entire UAE trip.
Maisie and I stated our day by driving into the old part of Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) city. While the outskirts have high-rises, the coastal city center is low rise. It felt Arabic and many white-robed Emirati men were strolling around.
We stopped at the fish market. Inside, we encountered dozens of vendors in white gowns selling impressive arrays of fish. In the Arabic fashion, they touted us with the “where are you from?” or “look here, my friend” but it was relaxed, and everyone accepted a “just looking” response. Most of the customers appeared to be Emirati men. They all wear a white robe and sandals. For most of the time, Maisie was the only woman here. Later, we spotted two Filipino ladies. Maisie said they made eye contact with each other and had a moment.
In a back room was the fish chopping station. You can pay something like 3 dirhams/kilogram (under $1/kilogram) to have them descale and chop your fish into a filet. With about 20 fish butchers simultaneously chopping, the site was mesmerizing.
Our next and final stop in town was the Ras al Khaimah Fort Museum. The fort was previously occupied by the royal family in the 1800´s and seems to be the one remaining piece of heritage.
Entry to the fort museum was just 10 dirhams and included a free guide and a cup of tea. We sipped the tea in a historic waiting room before our guide showed up. The guide ended up being an Emirati woman. While the tour was short, we were able to get the lay of the land.
Typically, in this blog, I talk about the history of a place, but in RAK, there really is not a lot of history and whatever history they do have was not explained in the museum. Rather, the museum curators tried to showcase palace life in 1800´s RAK as well as display ancient artifacts found in the region. All in all, the museum made for a good 30-minute detour and provides a rare window into the local culture in a country that is 90% foreigners.
It was now time to drive to Jebel Jais, the tallest mountain in the UAE. The 1-hour trip took us through a windy desert canyon that reminded me of California´s Coachella Valley. We passed by a few homes but in general there was very little except the nature. Then road wound its way up the mountain along the unguarded border with Oman.
Near the end of the road was a parking lot for the world´s longest zip line. We checked in (with our pre-booked reservation), donned our wind suits and goggles and then got into a van that took us even higher up the mountain. Eventually we were at 1,680 meters, in close vicinity of the highest point in all of the UAE (the highest point of the UAE is elsewhere on Jebel Jais, but the true summit of the mountain is actually in Oman).
After taking pictures, Maisie and I clipped into the double zipline superman-style. At the count of 3, we were released and soared off the mountain and across the valley. Our top speed was 150 kilometers/hour. The wind was strong, but the goggles blocked it from getting in our face. After the initial release, it was not scary, but rather exhilarating.
3 minutes and 2.83 kilometers later, our momentum stopped at a floating platform where we switched to a smaller zipline to take us to the van which drove all the way down to meet us.
The zipline is just part of the larger Jebel Jais Adventure Park, which is quickly becoming THE adventure destination in the UAE. We decided to ride the newly built mountain coaster- where self-controlled sleds follow a metal track down the mountain. Maisie and I waited 45 minutes, but it was worth the wait.
For lunch, we stopped at a collection of food trucks parked on the roadside. I opted for the Arabic one and got a plastic container of spicy chickpeas. Maisie got a swirl of fried potato from the Indian truck.
It was now about 14:00 and time to hit the road to reach our next destination: Fujairah.
Ras Al Kahimah is a destination in itself. The local culture is accessible and there are few demands on foreigners.
Jebel Jais was a great day trip. The zipline is the obvious highlight and was well worth the steep price tag, but there is so much else to see as well such as the mountain coaster. Had we not gotten the zipline reservation, I would have opted to hike to the highest point in the UAE. 1 full day is probably enough to see everything.