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South and east of Qatar, you reach the United Arab Emirates [U.A.E], which consists of seven separate emirates unified as one State since 1971.

As you follow the coast around, the first of the United Arab Emirates encountered is Abu Dhabi, also known as Abu Zaby. The latter is the name you will see in many atlases, notably the popular National Geographic.

Abu Dhabi /Abu Zaby, in terms of area, is largely desert. In fact, most of the land area of the United Arab Emirates, which covers 83,600 square miles [10.5 times the area of Wales.], is in the emirate of Abu Dhabi.

Much of it forms part of the Rub Al Khali, or Empty Quarter, a desert that stretches through Saudi Arabia and Oman, as well. This arid stark desert is renowned for its spectacular sand dunes, broken only by the occasional oasis.

Visitors to Abu Dhabi will find a land of startling contrasts -- occasional irrigated areas of cultivated farmland appear as a green paradise amid endless stretches of desert and vast tracts of sabkha.

The city of Abu Dhabi is located on a low-lying island in the Arabian Gulf. It is a lush modern metropolis, complete with tree-lined streets, futuristic sky-scrapers, huge shopping malls and international luxury hotels, surrounded by the sparkling waters of the Arabian Gulf.

The famous "Manhattan" style skyline, reflected in the azure waters along the corniche, offers a striking contrast to the large parks and green boulevards that are spread across the island.

Al Ain, the second city, lies to the east, on the border with Oman. Primarily an oasis town that is surrounded by a hostile desert, this "Garden City" as it is also known, portrays a vision of cool tranquility.

North east of Abu Dhabi/Abu Zaby, as the coast curves around, is the rapidly developing emirate of Dubai, then the smaller emirates of Sharjah followed by Ajman as you carry on northwards towards the Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian/ Arabian Gulf.

About 50 miles north of the Strait of Hormuz lies the large Islamic Republic of Iran, which was known as the kingdom of Persia until the overthrow of the Shah of Persia in 1979. Iran occupies the whole of the northern coast of the Gulf.

After Ajman, on the southern shore, you reach the small Arab emirates of Umm Al Quwain, followed by Ras Al Khaimah. Then, heading further north, you leave the U.A.E at the rocky Musandam Peninsula overlooking the Strait of Hormuz and enter the independent, more mountainous, country of Oman.

The majestic Hajar Mountains rise in the Mussandam Peninsula, run through the eastern U.A.E, and flow into Oman, further south. Oman is split into two parts, separated by the U.A.E, and the emirate of Fujairah.

Sailing out through the Strait of Hormuz, you reach the Gulf of Oman, on whose shores the United Arab Emirate of Fujairah, is located. The Gulf of Oman is, of course, part of the Arabian Sea and warm Indian Ocean further south.

The Persian Gulf, or the Arabian Gulf as all the Arab countries ike it to be known, is the foremost oil producing area in the world, apart from, possibly, Russia. Abundant oil and natural gas has made many of the countries surrounding the Gulf very wealthy. Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi are particularly well blessed with oil reserves.

Dubai has also been fortunate in the past in terms of oil reserves, but those reserves are now beginning to dwindle, so there is a huge drive to turn the emirate into a premier global tourist destination over the next few years. They are busily setting up the infrastructure for this transformation.

The speed of change is absolutely amazing!! The spectacular, high quality, civil engineering projects being created in Dubai in pursuit of this ambitious tourism goal, are truly astounding. What is occurring in Dubai requires a whole dictionary of superlatives!

Three huge palm-shaped islands, Palm Jumeirah, Palm Jebel Ali and Palm Deira, are being created from dredged sea-floor sand off the coast of Dubai; "The World", which is a collection of over 300 man-made islands, created over two miles off-shore from dredged sand, in the shape of a map of the world. Amazing!!

All of these sand islands, forming both The World and the Palms, which are protected from erosion by rocky break-waters, are being transformed into luxury tourist locations by having high quality villas, apartments, 5-star hotels, shops and restaurants built on them. Luxury is a byword here. Expensive luxury yachts ply between the islands.

The superlative, innovative architectural design of many Dubai construction projects, especially the many modern sky-scrapers, is stunning! The superb, iconic Burj-al-Arab Hotel, shaped like the sail of an Arab dhow, is built on its own man-made sand island and is the tallest hotel in the world. It is also regarded as the only 7-star hotel, because it takes the term luxury far beyond 5-star establishments.

Even many of the 5-star hotels in Dubai deserve higher ratings. Many of these can be found along the Jumeirah Beach shores, near Palm Jumeirah and the Burj Al Arab Hotel.

The tallest building in the world can be seen on Sheikh Zayed Road in Dubai. It is called Burj Dubai [Dubai Tower] and it will be over 800 metres high when complete. It is over twice the height of the Empire State Building in New York.

Now, an even taller building, called Al Burj [The Tower] is being built a little way away,to the west. It will reputedly be a mind-boggling 1000metres....or kilometre....high when it is finished!! This is not yet confirmed.

Sheikh Zayed Road has been transformed into an avenue of superbly- designed skyscraper office, hotel and accommodation towers in little over 15 years. Only the Dubai World Trade Centre building was there in 1980.

Dubai Marina, near Palm Jumeirah, in the high-class Jumeirah resort area, is also the biggest marina in the world. It is surrounded by luxury high-rise apartments and hotels.

Although there is a fine airport, known as Dubai International Airport, in the Deira area of Dubai, north of Dubai Creek, they have now commenced the construction of a huge airport, twice the size of Heathrow, at Jebel Ali, in the south-western area of Dubai, closer to the Jumeirah holiday area. It will be known as Al Maktoum International Airport. They are building this to cope with the projected huge influx of expected tourists.

Dubai also has several Free Zones in terms of taxation, so it attracts entrepreneurs and businesses from all over the world. Businessmen love low taxes, or better still, no taxes!!!! The business ethos of Dubai has always favoured entrepreneurial enterprise and low taxes. This accounts for its global popularity amongst businessmen and shoppers.

The numerous shopping malls,in Dubai, such as Mall of the Emirates, are huge, spotlessly clean and very impressive. Shopping is one of the main reasons that tourists flock to Dubai.They even have Dubai Shopping Festival in January/February each year, when the shops slash their prices. The ladies love it!!!

Abu Dhabi/Abu Zaby is also a very impressive city, as we said earlier, with fantastic examples of modern high-rise architecture everywhere, especially along Abu Dhabi Corniche on the sea-front. The Marina Mall on the end is also superb in its lay-out and choice of shops.

Abu Dhabi is following Dubai's lead and really pushing to improve tourism numbers. It is a fine, very clean, well-planned modern city. It is also said to be the richest city in the world due to its oil wealth. Now, this oil money is being used to create superlative, well-designed modern structures all over the emirate, just as in Dubai. Both Abu Dhabi and Dubai are being transformed very rapidly. The speed of construction is amazing.

One great way of visiting Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Oman, Fujairah and Dubai, is to take a cruise around the Arabian Gulf from Dubai. It is becoming increasingly popular, as an alternative to the Caribbean, especially during the winter months when temperatures are pleasantly warm.

The Arabian Gulf, is growing in popularity as a tourist destination and also as a luxury second-home, vacation region. The wealthy are flocking to buy holiday homes, from all over the world, attracted by tax incentives and warm weather.

As a holiday area for the less wealthy, it is still very reasonable. Taxis are very cheap and eating out is invariably excellent and very good value for the money. More hotels are springing up almost weekly, so the choice of accommodation is increasing rapidly. Hotel prices are bound to fall as competition increases.

To return to Dubai shopping; the Gold Souqs, especially in Dubai, are well worth a visit. You will be absolutely dazzled by the opulence and splendour of the ornate window displays. There are hundreds of little shops selling gold, silver and precious stones in the souq. After all, the Arabian Gulf region based all its early trade on selling pearls obtained from the sea-bed of the Gulf.

Merchants have been coming here for centuries to trade for precious stones and gold.

The Old Gold Souq is on the Deira, or north, side of Dubai Creek, near the Corniche and Creek entrance. It is a fascinating place.

Nearby is the aroma-intoxicating Spice Souq, where you can purchase frankincense and myrrh to go with the gold!! Gold, frankincense and myrrh ? Now where have I heard that before???

There is a great deal more than oil in the Arabian Gulf!!

Why not pay it a visit and see for yourself?