• Population: 3.1 million (UN, 2005)
  • Capital: Abu Dhabi
  • Area: 77,700 sq km (30,000 sq miles)
  • Major language: Arabic
  • Major religion: Islam
  • Life expectancy: 76 years (men), 81 years (women) (UN)
  • Monetary unit: 1 Dirham = 100 fils

    The United Arab Emirates – one of the safest destinations in the Middle East. Also a destination for the young, posh, and loaded, the UAE gains prestige as an entertainment destination for those who have too much time and too much money. At least, this is what the world impresses on headline-maker Dubai and its ultramodern undertakings like its ridiculous hotel and island concepts. Why not, when in just a few years it managed to catapult from the middle ages to the 21st century. Yet, the UAE surely is more than that. The beauty and warmth of its surroundings is paralleled only by its people. True, this is a mystical place, mysterious, misunderstood, and undiscovered as it is. Contrary to typical knowledge, UAE is beyond oil-rich supplying 10% of the world’s demands, UAE is also gold-rich and pearl-rich.

    Perhaps, realizing why the UAE has become a haven for people we’d like to call “expats”, we shall discover why these long term tourists chose this Bedouin spark of all places to spend their year-long working vacations. For the benefit of the clueless, the UAE is a union of 7 emirates (states) – Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Sharjah, Umm al-Qaiwain, Ras al-Khaimah. And while this is not the place for history, archaeology, or flora and fauna, rest assured there’s fun to be found where you least expect. The modern paradise in the Gulf…this is the United Arab Emirates. 



    The United Arab Emirates (24 00 N, 54 00 E) lies just between Oman and Saudi Arabia at the southern approaches to the Strait of Hormuz, which is an economic more than a geo feature. The country’s total area, though debatable, reports at 83,600 km2 with mostly flat barren coastal plains up north with salt pans rolling inland into sand dunes to the south and west, while mountainous, not only in the north, to the east as well, with the highest point noted to Jabal Yibir holding an altitude of 1,527 metres above sea level. Less one percent of the total area is arable land (0.77%), therefore, not only flora is sparse, so is fauna. Oases a special feature of deserts in the Middle East allow for growth of plants like acacia, eucalyptus, and date palms. Corals and marine life in the gulf are abundant though despite the lack of water resources, freshwater at least.


    The climate is desert or hot and dry in layman’s term, the hottest months in July and August where temperatures go up to 48 °C. But as the east is mountainous, it is thus cooler like in the Al Hajar mountains where temperatures 10 and 14 °C in its coolest months, January and February. Winter is as much you need to know about when to visit here.


    Abu Dhabi is the largest emirate that accounts for 87% of the UAE’s total area, but Dubai stands as most populated with 1.6 million inhabitants. Out of the 5.7 million people here, 15-20% are UAE citizens or Emirati. Others are Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Palestinian, Egyptian, Jordanian, Iranian, Filipino, British, European, and other Arab (Yemeni & Omani).


    ARABIC is the official language no less. It is the national language, but ENGLISH, as the second and international language, is the medium of instruction in schools. Other languages such as FARSI (Persian), HINDU, URDU, FILIPINO are also spoken here due to the expatriate populations.


    Islam is official state religion of the UAE with more than 96% of adherents of, for the larger part, Sunni Muslims. Shi’a Muslims comprise a low 16%, which is still greater in comparison to a sizeable minority of 14% that are collectively Christian and Hindu populations. Hindu was spread to the UAE by South Asians, whereas Christianity, by Filipinos and Western populations. The UAE, to its credit, are religiously tolerant with mosques and cathedrals sitting side-by-side, unlike strict Saudi Arabia or its neighbouring Arab countries. If anything, Islam renders great benefits to the 0% statistics of people with AIDS and have died from AIDS. The UAE maintains a strong resistance to homosexuality and at times sanctions gay foreigners by deportation or some other way, perhaps, if and only of they are freely and openly displaying sexuality.


    In any case, the UAE is a modern entertainment centre for the young and loaded, gay or straight. Dubai is a world-renowned destination for its futuristic shenanigans that attracts more residents than tourists. Some say it is Disneyland-ish, these people are not far from the truth. Tourists have been calling it a “diorama” of some sort, but not to give you a false impression. The place is fantastic, with emphasis to fantasy, because it is that space colony in sci-fi movies as conjured by George Lucas decades ago with its toy-like edifices, space-age train network, and out of this world greenery, in the middle of the desert nonetheless. The Burj Al Arab is no less a modern wonder sure to behold when in Dubai, for a cost…of $1,300 per night (this is the cheapest I can find). But the hyped Dubai remains substandard to the wiles of a backpacker because although it prides a long history, there is more history to find in the deserts. Dubai, first off, is too hot to be dragging a backpack, and too expensive for the cheap fares of the budget traveller.

    Traditions and history, and the life of the Bedouin, remains, however in Abu Dhabi and Sharjah. Abu Dhabi, the capital, was settled from as early as 3rd millennium BC and continues to stand in the present times as the cultural centre of the UAE, where Dubai is the financial and business centre. Mosques in this emirate like Sheikh Zayed Mosque, one of the largest in the world, stand unmatched even by those in Dubai. Qasr al-Hosn (1761) is the oldest building in the city. A mixture of the traditional and the cosmopolitan, Abu Dhabi just can’t resist a love affair with the 21st century with its development of the sun-powered city – zero-carbon, zero-waste. Nowhere else should solar power be the primary source than in the Middle East, least here in the UAE where the sun is hotter and shines brighter. The Sharjah Desert Park is possibly the closest you can get to the Arabian Leopard (as I’m sure you wouldn’t prefer coming across these in its natural habitat), though a recreation of a desert environment pointless with desert land all over. Still, the air-conditioned facility is an A+ in this case.

    Of all the desert and heat, some water fun perhaps? Nestled on the shores of the Persian Gulf, water sports are great here. Sailing, diving, cruising, power boat racing are amazing here with hundreds of water activities and competitions every year. The only bummer is the beach pollution from oil spills.


    Arabic hospitality- this is the operative word in UAE.  For the traveller, there are mosques and beaches, for the special kind of traveller, the foodie…possibilities. Emirati cuisine is more than Arabic cuisine, the locals say. The Levantine cuisine is simply a fresh addition to what they already have they call “Middle Eastern soul food”. Meat, fish and rice, are staple here, with heavy preferences to lamb and mutton. No pork absolutely! They have breads called ragag, chebab, and khameer     , and pasta dishes too like balaleat.

    And it gets better for the lot of us who are unfamiliar with the traditional fare. Dessert in the dessert – another spectrum of Arabian deserts. Shy away from baqlava for a moment here and enjoy Al Khabeesah, Al Khanfaroosh, and Luqiamat. Won’t divulge more but I’ll tell you: sweet, crumbly, crispy, nutty, and good. They smell good when these are cooking, and the taste doesn’t disappoint, wherever you’re from.

    Out of all the places in the world, the world-record holder for Most Countries Visited, Mr. Kashi Samaddar, has chosen the UAE as his home. I honestly don’t know the rationale, but he may have some invaluable insight. Well, he did say, Brazil was among the best…so I’ll check that out too.

    Josh Boorman


    Backpacking Addictz



    Twitter: @backpackaddictz

    Backpacking Addictz is a website set up by backpackers for the use of backpackers. On this site you will find a lot of very valuable backpacking information surrounding different destinations and countries from around the world. Also very helpful backpacking tips and travel advice on planning a budget travel and backpacking adventure. You will also find an enthusiastic and insightful backpacking blog which is regularly updated with new posts and article.

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    Joshua Boorman

    Joshua Boorman

    Founder & Editor in Chief at Backpacking Addictz
    Come with me on a journey with me to various destinations throughout the world. We discuss all things Backpacking, Lifestyle Design & Online Business to help you achieve new found freedom and create a life of meaningful fulfillment.
    Joshua Boorman

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