x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Emirates yield plenty of travel opportunities

My future holiday plans are going to concentrate on the region on my doorstep.

I never travelled far from Abu Dhabi during the few years I spent as a teenager in the capital.

Sadly, my farthest escapades were to Dubai in search of the lifestyle I had left behind in the United States.

I was more concerned about returning to the countries where I had spent my formative years rather than getting to know the region I hailed from and resided in.

At the time, the only Emirati culture I was interested in were those found in various shopping malls around Abu Dhabi, and on occasion, comparing it with those found in Dubai.

My perception of the country and region was gift wrapped in climate-controlled chain stores and food courts with little else of the nation visible.

But I have stepped outside the AC in my subsequent return and discovered more of the wonders my surroundings have to offer.

One journey led me west of Abu Dhabi, a bearing I had never taken before, to Al Gharbia.

Here, I discovered the quieter and slower-paced life of the remote Zayed City and spent a few nights in the desert surrounded by majestic orange-hued dunes of sand in Liwa.

Travelling east, I became familiar with Deira, a section of Dubai I barely knew existed.

In the bustle of Deira, I was exposed to Old Dubai, which provided a stark and welcome contrast to the glitz of its newer counterpart across the creek.

Dubai, too, had a beautiful back garden in the form of red, rolling sand dunes in the Hatta region with the towering Big Red, 90-metre-high sand dune with slopes as steep as black ski runs, creating an impressive sight.

My venture to the northern emirates smashed my notion of the UAE's landscape being only desert.

Fujairah provided an altogether different terrain, boasting mountains made of rock rather than sand.

It is also the emirate where the oldest place of worship in the UAE, the 500-year-old Al Bidyah Mosque, is located.

Open to Muslims and non-Muslims alike, this monument taught me the nation's rich history goes much further back than I expected.

In the past, I never took time to say hello to our neighbouring countries, instead opting to travel to far-flung places.

But my current travels have led me to our closer neighbours, Oman and Qatar. Not only did I find the unique sights and sounds of the countries enriching, but I also found nations with dialects, traditions and culture almost identical to those of the Emirates.

Upon learning I was Emirati, many of these nations' locals welcomed me as one of their own.

The familiar hospitality made me feel at home instantly and gave me the sense I had never left my country.

Travelling the Emirates as well as some of the bordering countries has given me a better sense of my country, culture and the strong ties it shares with its next-door neighbours.

Instead of spending the weekend shopping or my next holiday in California, next time I might opt for a stroll around the Emirati or Gulf region block instead.