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Somewhere in the middle of UAE

by Sonia Valentine from Australia and Himanshu Nisar from India

You’re probably wondering what the title is all about, well, let us explain. Whilst most tourists visiting UAE often go to places like Dubai and Abu Dhabi, there exists an emirate that is still an unexplored gem called Ras-al-Khaimah (RAK).

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UAE, Ras al Khaimah by night by Sonia Valentine and Himanshu Nisar

We’re a long-distance relationship couple so the excitement of not just meeting each other but meeting in a new place every time makes the trip even more exciting. A few weeks ahead of the trip, our flights were booked; we flew from our respective home countries and finally met at Abu Dhabi airport.

We love road-trips and knew this too was going to be one, so we sorted our car rental and set out to explore this land. UAE follows left-hand driving rules, so for all you first time left-hand drivers like Sonia, make sure you familiarize yourself with the variation in road rules.

RAK is about a 250 km drive from AbuDhabi along Sheikh Zayed Road. Just a heads up to brace yourselves because the drive can often times seem like a scene from a fast and furious movie with all the posh and fast cars surrounding you.

We called it a night and decided to start exploring this city next morning after the drive that normally takes only about 2.5 hours, took us 6 hours with the number of wrong exits we took. No regrets though, as we got to explore the little towns along the way.

We stayed at the RAK hotel which is quite centrally located and you will be surprised how decently priced it is considering its 4 star rating.

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UAE, Hajar Mountains in the backdrop by Sonia Valentine and Himanshu Nisar

Dayah Fort

First stop on our list was the Dayah Fort – This place sure is a paradise for history lovers with tales of heroic battles being fought here between the Al Qawasim tribe and the British in the early 19 th century. Be prepared to walk up a steep 234 steps up to the top of the twin towered forts. One tip to keep in mind is, don’t plan your trip around the late morning or afternoon hours like we did, for the sun sure won’t be very kind to your skin. Once up there though, every bit of sweat, huffing and puffing will be worth it with the breathtaking views of the Hajar Mountains on one side and the vast gardens of palm tree plantations on the other.

It can be quite tricky to find this hidden fort since it so beautifully blends in with the dessert, so the easiest way to route it would be to look for the Dayah Fort Resthouse that stands exactly opposite the fort.

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UAE, palm tree plantations  by Sonia Valentine and Himanshu Nisar

Jazirat-al-Hamra

Our next stop was Jazirat-al-Hamra, which was only a short drive from the fort. We reached here during the early hours of the evening and we though excited, there was a slight jitter to enter this abandoned town and of course who wouldn’t quiver with this place having the reputation of being the ghost town of RAK.

Nonetheless, the adventurers in us suppressed all doubts and off we went to explore the unknown. So local folklore has it that Jazirat-al-Hamra was a thriving pearl fishing village consisting of main 3 tribes that was established around the 14th century but the exact reason as to why this place dwindled to a mere structure of sand covered houses and empty roads in the 60’s varies. We ourselves were baffled with the numerous stories we heard from different individuals.

Some say that with the decline in the pearl trade business the residents moved to bigger cities with better future prospects while others say that a feud between the tribes and the leaders of RAK forced the villagers to flee to Abu Dhabi for shelter and protection.

But the most spine-chilling tale was of town being haunted by a very powerful djinn (genie) that has been blamed for many unexplained and horrible occurring’s taking place at Jazirat-al-Hamra.

We braved to walk through this eerie village for little over two hours and whilst we experienced no spooky activity, what actually stunned us was that the walls of the houses were made of corals used as bricks. Yes Coral, we had seen nothing like this before and were simply amazed by the architecture and construction of this town.

UAE, Ruins-being-restored-at-Jazirat-al-Hamra
UAE, ruins being restored at Jazira al Hamra by Sonia Valentine and Himanshu Nisar

Al Qawasim Corniche

Our night ended with a stroll along Al Qawasim Corniche, RAK’s beachfront that extends around a 4 km walking stretch. Along the path we spotted several good local joints to dine in and this place is an added bonus for families with several options for kids to play and keep themselves busy with.

One regret that we have was not being able to hire a hoverboard as the two renting shops we spotted were both booked out at the time we wanted to hire them. Be sure to try this out and have a bit of extra fun on our behalf too.

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UAE, Al Qawasim Corniche by Sonia Valentine and Himanshu Nisar

Shakespeare and Co. and Belgium Beer Café

Shakespeare and Co. was on our list of eateries to visit anyways but what really surprised us was the location of this place being in a mall. The décor of this place is very quirky, with paintings on the ceilings, mismatched chairs and vibrant colors all around. The food too, sure does live up to expectation and their friendly staff was an added bonus.

If you are looking for a more western menu then Belgium Beer Café must be on your list with this place being one among the few that will serve you a drink in the restaurant as well. We ordered a lobster bisque, some stuffed mushrooms and an Alfredo Penne pasta, all of which was divine. But then it was time for dessert and the Chef’s Special Warm Chocolate Brownie just transported us to a magical land.

UAE, Shakespeare and Co. by Sonia Valentine and Himanshu Nisar

Gyrocopter Ride

This was Sonia’s birthday trip so Himanshu planned something special for the day. We drove to Jazirah Aviation club. A joy ride over RAK was her present and she had the option to choose from a light sport aircraft and a gyrocopter. Gyrocopter it was as it seemed more fun and off we were into the air. We flew over RAK for bit over an hour where we got a bird’s-eye view of all the places we had already visited and a few new places like an untouched island with turtle nesting, parks and architectural masterpieces that sort of completed the picture of the entire city for us.

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UAE, getting ready to take off  by Sonia Valentine and Himanshu Nisar

Gyrocopter Ride

This was Sonia’s birthday trip so Himanshu planned something special for the day. We drove to Jazirah Aviation club. A joy ride over RAK was her present and she had the option to choose from a light sport aircraft and a gyrocopter. Gyrocopter it was as it seemed more fun and off we were into the air. We flew over RAK for bit over an hour where we got a bird’s-eye view of all the places we had already visited and a few new places like an untouched island with turtle nesting, parks and architectural masterpieces that sort of completed the picture of the entire city for us.

uae-Bird’s-eye-view-of-RAK
UAE, bird’s eye view of RAK by Sonia Valentine and Himanshu Nisar

We were in separate gyrocopters enjoying our own ride when suddenly our pilots decided to do synchronized formations, which was a pleasant surprise. At one point we also got to take controls and get a feel of flying this machine, which probably was more exciting for Sonia as Himanshu is a trained pilot and knew what he was doing. All in all a must do experience in RAK, birthday or not.

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UAE, This time it was Himanshu driving and not Sonia by Sonia Valentine and Himanshu Nisar

Khatt Hot Springs

After all the heart pumping activity from the morning, Himanshu had now planned a relaxing spa experience at the natural Khatt Hot Springs. This place is situated towards the south on the outskirts of RAK. The drive to this tiny mountainous village was an adventure in itself with our GPS deciding to take us off-tract, leading to our car getting bogged into the sand. Of course, no trip to the dessert is complete without getting stuck at least once in the sand.

After the drama of finally being rescued by a few kind locals we ultimately reached our destination. Admission is free to the natural mineral pools if you are a guest at the resident hotel across the pool but for all others like us there is a small fee to get in. Keep in mind though, this a gender segregated pool unless you pre-book one of the private pools.

No amount of convincing would let us in together, so off we were into our separate chambers that lead to the sheltered hot pools. As much as we missed each other’s company, we must say the experience of just relaxing in this 400 C mineral pool was simply tranquilizing. Even though properly closed off like any other pool, the base of the pool has been left in its original form with the natural rocks and pebbles acting as a soothing foot massage. Sonia sure couldn’t ask for a more perfect birthday.

This place sure has surprised us and unlike what we expected RAK to be, it has a lot to offer with a mixed bag of options to choose from. We highly recommend visiting RAK before it gets too commercial and crowded.

Come be part of our travel story on Instagram: organicpassengers

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