When we first told friends and family we were going back to the Middle East, many were genuinely afraid for us. Every negative news story was relayed to us just to make sure we knew what we were getting ourselves into. Although the stories in our media paint a bleak picture, the countries we visited (the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Bahrain) felt much safer on a day-to-day basis than our own home countries (the USA and Australia) and our adopted country (New Zealand). We saw less violence and aggression on the streets and many expats echoed our feelings by saying they felt safer there than they did in their home countries too. So if you are interested in travelling in the Middle East, our advice would be to not let your fear stop you. Do your research into the current situation in the countries you want to visit, make an informed decision, and then go. The three countries we chose each provided a very different and rich experience.
The UAE provided the glamour of the trip. After all, we had worked hard all year and wanted a chance to recover. We split our time to a few days at the beginning and a few days at the end and this worked perfectly for us. The first trip let us unwind and relax from work. As we were super excited to be there we stayed close to the sights we most wanted to see- the Burj Khalifa and the Dubai Marina. The days at the end let us recover from some rougher travelling in the region so that we felt a bit rejuvenated before we flew back to NZ to start work again. We stayed in several different areas in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi so that we could enjoy all that those cities have to offer but also enjoy our luxurious hotel rooms.
Oman was the perfect place to satisfy our need for a bit of adventure. There are so many amazing hikes, swimming spots and beaches and just a very short drive can lead you from mountains, to beaches, to wadis and to the desert. The tourist infrastructure hasn't been completely developed so it's easy to get off the beaten track and we found 'wild camping' to be an amazing experience. Who wouldn't like to just pull up to an awesome, scenic spot and just put up camp? Best of all we felt totally safe doing so.
Bahrain gave us the chance to really talk with some locals, as we took a guided tour of both the mosque and the areas outside of Manama. The mosque tour gave us a deeper understanding of all mosques by explaining the design and the motifs used to adorn them. Then our tour from Farhat Tours provided us with interesting insight into Bahraini culture both past and present.
Having travelled to many countries around the world, perhaps the thing we enjoyed most about the entire trip was that we didn't get hassled. If someone came up to speak to us it was usually just to welcome us to their country and move on. No one was trying to whisk us away to their uncle's guesthouse or some shop somewhere that would give them petrol vouchers for bringing us. Even the souqs were surprisingly low key with no desperate pleas to buy carpets or drink tea, and no being physically held in shops until you purchase whitening cream (useful for a very pale woman, thank you very aggressive woman in that Beijing shop). Other than a few shout-outs to make sure we were aware pashmina and 'Rolexes' were available, we were left to browse and take photos in peace.
From a traveller's point of view, this trip was extraordinary and I'm glad we did our own research and weren't scared off travelling in the Middle East. Arabian hospitality is famous for a reason, so I recommend you go and experience it for yourself.