United Arab Emirates & Oman & Qatar

  Burj al-Arab & Madinat Jumeirah Dubai
If there is any real public face of Dubai today, this has got to be the defining image.   The sailboat-shaped Burj al-Arab "7" star hotel rises out of the Persian gulf, towering over the Madinat Jumeirah, a complex of luxury hotel resorts and shopping malls fashioned in the style of old Persian gulf towns with windtowers (contrast this to the image of Yazd in the Northern Iran page) .  There is a lovely lagoon (artificial of course), bridges and boats transporting guests around the Madinat complex.  It makes luxury tourists happy, it brings in the tourist dirhams, and visitors think they've seen the culture of Arabia. 


SkiDubai Dubai

The only indoor downhill ski centre in the world is SkiDubai, situated in the brand new Mall of the Emirates and not far from the luxury hotels on the Jumeirah beach coast.  It's not expensive actually, about $30 buying you entry, lift ticket, skis and clothing rental.  Inside the freezing ski centre, you can head up the ski lift to the top of the slope or else mill about doing other activities in the snow.  Hordes of kids and tourists seem to thoroughly enjoy their experience, and to take a warm break from the crisp cold Dubai winter air, you can duck into the chalet-style ski lodge shown here and watch your friends and family through the gigantic window panes.  Indians and Arabs and filipinos who had never seen snow and tourists like me also gawk through the windows to take in this unique sight. 





Sharjah beach

A more natural scene, Indian or Pakistan guestworkers loiter on the beach in Sharjah, the "twin" city to Dubai that is much less glitzy and toutrist-oriented.  While they've made clear efforts to build attractions to lure tourists, I fear this is not working.  I was the only non-Arab foreign guest at the Sharjah youth hostel.  It could be construed as a calmer, less "spoiled" version of Dubai, but even that would be exaggerating.


Muttrah (Muscat) port

Old traditional style buildings and hotels mix in with the fish market and souq near the port of Muttrah, the most touristed district of Muscat, Oman.  Lovely mountains intercalate between the various districts of the city, lending it more natural beauty than city in the United Arab Emirates.   

Muttrah (Muscat) souq

Arab traditions are also more vital in Oman than in Dubai and this is precisely a selling point to many tourists.  Many Omani men wear their hats and gowns proudly, including this tea-seller and locals who hang out in the shade of the Muttrah Souq to escape the fierce afternoon sun.  Women are rarely seen in public and usually full covered up when they do.


Doha fish wharf

The only spot of life on a dead and gloomy Friday morning in Doha is at the fishing pier, where the morning catch is sold to locals, mostly South Asian and filipino guestworkers.


In the Gulf, even new projects look like rehashed old projects.  On the left, one of several pearl monuments to remind people that pearling was the major industry in Bahrain like in many of the gulf states before oil was struck.  On the right, an ambitious new world trade centre project of Manama, Bahrain consists of two triangular towers linked by three walkways which will serve as the axles for functioning windmill turbines.