UAE is a very modern and vibrant country. For some it is a progressive and clean country, for others a tourist “Disneyland”. For most western tourists, the United Arab Emirates offer an environment that is very familiar to them. The shopping centres are exceptionally modern and filled with practically every product available in the West (except for sexually explicit material – films are censored, as are magazines to some extent). The lesser known side of the UAE includes remote, magnificent desert dunes on the edge of the Empty Quarter and rugged, awe-inspiring wadis in the north-east on the border with Oman.
The roads and other public facilities are modern, although at times extremely crowded. Supermarkets offer a wide range of European and US products, as well as local and regional items, depending on the shop. Large international chains such as Ikea, Carrefour and Geant are present, and fast food chains (almost all from the USA) such as McDonald’s and KFC are widespread. On the other hand, there are still a few crowded traditional souks filled with products from all over the world, as well as carpet shops. These can be hard to find for the average traveller, as the shopping centres tend to attract an overwhelming amount of attention. (Contrary to what is printed in some travel guides, Abu Dhabi souks have been demolished during 2006 and no longer exist. Nevertheless Dubai’s souks are still wonderful to explore).
Alcohol is available in many restaurants and bars in Dubai and in the tourist hotels of all other Emirates except Sharjah. There is a legal but completely overlooked requirement to have a licence to buy alcohol in liquor shops (of which there are only a few). The alcohol licence is proof that the holder is not Muslim. A passport will not suffice. However, you can buy duty-free alcohol at the airport to bring it into the UAE. The Emirate of Sharjah is completely dry. An alcohol licence is required in the Emirates of Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Ajman; the other Emirates of Ras Al Khaimah, Fujairah and Umm al Quwain do not require a licence. This requirement is sometimes overlooked in certain transactions.
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