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The Middle East: Beyond the Burj Khalifa and brunches

November 27, 2017 11 Comments

Lately I have been sharing a lot of pictures on my Instagram, that have surprised people. Yes I have all my clothes on in them (haha!) but actually the pics aren’t really of me; they are of some surprising landscapes to be found here in the United Arab Emirates. For most expats that live here, life doesn’t extend beyond malls, concerts and using their hard earned dirhams to fly off to exotic destinations (GUILTY!). However, as I was curious in Kuwait (where there wasn’t much to explore), I have been curious here in the UAE so I have trying to venture beyond the norm. With the weather being sublime at the moment, Expat Lion and I kicked off the exploration season with kayaking through the mangroves and then subsequently planned a crazy weekend away. This is a post about the different landscapes we came across in our largely unplanned, mostly mad, dash across this Middle Eastern country in Bumble (pictured below):



  1. Hatta Dam (Dubai)

When I posted a picture of this gem, people were messaging me saying, “IS THIS REALLY DUBAI?”


It really is not a landscape I would associate with the emirate of Dubai (seems more like Canada or New Zealand) but honestly, what a gem. Lion and I headed here on our way to Abu Dhabi from Fujairah for a quick stopover just to check it out. We are planning to go back with the rest of the Expat Felines to do some kayaking which is one the water sports on offer there.


Only a 90 min drive from Dubai city center, take the Dubai-(E102Sharjah-Kalba Road) via (E611 Emirates Road) and not the E44 which will require you to exit the UAE and enter Oman. No you don’t need a 4 x4/SUV to get there at all! More information on this particular gem, check out this informative link by one of my favourite bloggers in Dubai 😌

2. Fujairah (and the Omani coastline)

Fujairah was actually the centrepiece of our entire trip and it was gorgeous.


Not as developed as surrounding emirates, it has retained a certain natural charm about it. Unlike other coastlines here in the UAE, this is only one that shares the sea with the Gulf of Oman meaning that there are WAVES; being a South African Panda means that I’m obsessed with oceans and waves.


We were supposed to snorkelling but due to bad weather (8 drops of rain), it got cancelled however it was still worth it to enjoy the beautiful beaches of Fujairah surrounded by mountains. We stayed at this resort where we were upgraded to a beachfront villa at no extra charge… there are plenty of resorts in Fujairah to satisfy every budget.


3. Hajar Mountains (Ras Al Khaimah)

When we began driving through these mountains, I was surprised. I really didn’t realise that the UAE had such structures. Perhaps I was being naive and uninformed but the pictures you see online never show you anything like this.


Granted, they’re not The Alps or Table Mountain but I definitely think they’re worth a look and would love to go hiking in this vicinity some day in the near future!




4. Sheikh Zayed Mosque (Fujairah)

Oh of course she would include a mosque here. Why would I drive all the way to Fujairah to see a mosque when I can see plenty of mosques in Abu Dhabi/Dubai/Kuwait etc? Well I wouldn’t say that this particular mosque in Fujairah is worth making a special drive for unless you’re a mosque maniac (not me).



However, if you do happen to be in Fujairah, then why not go have a look see? It reminded me of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul but an emptier version. You can’t explore much if you aren’t Muslim but you can take a quick walk around the grounds for some snaps.

5. Desert ( ALL OVER the UAE)

What could be more Middle Eastern then undoing your shoes and pressing your toes into the warm orange desert sand? Very few things I think.


You can find desert dunes on the side of most highways in the UAE and its always a treat to stop where you see somethng pretty to snap a pic!


6. The Sharjah city skyline

Sharjah- often known as the cultural capital of the UAE- is mostly known for being conservative and ‘dry’ (no alcohol permitted within the emirate). However, Lion and I made a stop to visit Nakheel Oasis on our way to Fujairah and were rewarded with these stellar views of the Sharjah skyline (it was more developed than I thought) and Al Nour Island.



Sharjah is GREEN and if you’ve been living in the Middle East for a while, this sight would definitely fill your heart with joy!



In conclusion,

The UAE has become synonymous with skyscrapers and it is easy to forget that away from its cosmopolitan cities lies landscapes that are complex and gorgeous. Just a simple drive showcases how the natural environment is far more diverse than is generally known. A landscape dominated by desert, ranging from vast, flat sandy expanses to spectacular beaches & towering mountains is a certainly worth exploring!






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  • Nyara November 27, 2017 at 2:14 pm

    Wow… Amazing pictures (as always) and I still can’t believe that’s Dubai!! Always opposite of the norm Panda, that’s why we love you!

    • Expat Panda December 12, 2017 at 7:43 am

      Thanks so much! I try to go off the beaten path and am usually rewarded with some gems 🙂

  • John Snow November 27, 2017 at 8:55 pm

    Nice to see again. Dubai – Oman border… A perfect place to relax.

    • Expat Panda December 12, 2017 at 7:44 am

      Glad you enjoyed the post 🙂

  • Miss A November 27, 2017 at 9:08 pm

    So much more to see here than Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The nature is actually quiet fascinating to be a “desert”. Nice post!

    • Expat Panda December 12, 2017 at 7:44 am

      Thanks it really was refreshing to see some different scenery from the usual skyscrapers and sand 🙂

  • Britta November 28, 2017 at 2:30 am

    You are not naieve and uniformed…or perhaps that just makes two of us. 🙂 I’ve thought the UAE was one massive city for years, and I even had a friend in high school whose family is from the UAE! I suppose I didn’t learn much about her country of birth from her! Anywho, I’m quite surprised by all the…uh…NATURE you’ve exposed me to via this post. Looks gorgeous! Who’da thunk ther was so much more to the UAE?!?

    • Expat Panda December 12, 2017 at 7:46 am

      Haha I feel like I should’ve known better having lived in the Middle East for a while now. This is the beauty of blogging though- we discover new places without having to catch a flight!

  • josypheen November 29, 2017 at 3:14 am

    These are stunning! I love your photos of the mountains and that lake. Wowza.

    That you for continuing to educate us all Panda-chan!!

    • Expat Panda December 12, 2017 at 7:46 am

      Thanks so much Josy! I was lucky to find such gorgeous landscapes in this country 🙂

  • phillygirl77 December 30, 2017 at 6:38 pm

    Well there’s definitely more landscape to see in the U.A.E than in a Qatar. Ha!

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