Al Ain Blog

Al Ain UNESCO site #2 – Bida Bint Saud

Just off the Al Ain-Nahel Road (E95), some 15kms from the Garden City, you will see a large stratified rock, rising high above the surrounding desert and farms.  This is the Qarn/Gharn Bint Saud and it is hard to miss, being some 800 metres long by 25 metres wide and 40 metres high.


In this area, the  Iron Age covered the period from 1300BC  to 300BC, and excavations have yielded many artefacts from that time, including double edged swords up to 40cms in length.   Archaelogists from Denmark were the first to investigate the Gharn in the 1970s followed two decades later by a local team who established that a very early falaj (watering) system was in use here some 3000 years ago.   Before this find and others in the nearby Hili area, it had been thought that the falaj had been developed in Persia.

Remains of a public building were found a few hundred metres to the west of the outcrop, the first of its kind in the region could have housed the administration of the Falaj which would have had responsibility for distributing the water rights.

Tombs were also found, near to the base of the Gharn, similar to those at the foot of Jebel Hafeet , dating back to 3000BC.

Did you know that Al Ain is one of the oldest continually occupied settlements in the world?  Access to water as well as copper in the nearby mountains made life possible in this area for the earliest occupants who took refuge from the red sands of the surrounding desert. The falaj made small scale farming possible and there would have been a relative abundance of scrub plants for livestock to graze on. A series of Iron Age sites to the North suggest a caravan route linking Al Ain with Dubai, Sharjah, Umm and Quwain and Ras Al Khaima.

These days Bida Bint Saud is completely fenced off, although 4×4 owners can drive round the perimeter.  Some friends who have lived here long-term tell me you were once able to climb to the top but the fence was when it came to light that people were finding and removing artefacts, These days you can find some of the items unearthed in the digs, such as stone pots, jewellery and tools on display in the Al Ain National Museum.

And here’s the google earth view.


Further reading: The Megalithic Portal

Further Reading: From the Gulf News 1998

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Al Ain National Museum

Tucked away behind the bus station in the old part of Al Ain, the Al Ain National Museum is often overlooked – it took me 6 years to visit it and even then it was in response to an invitation to publicize World Heritage Day on my blog.

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The attraction is in two parts – the museum itself which is housed in a climate controlled modern building, and secondly the Eastern Fort, also known as Sultan Fort.  The focus is also on two things – the ethnographic and archaeologic study of the area.

The museum has some fascinating artifacts which cover civilization in the area from its earliest inhabitants some 8000 years ago up to the formation of the UAE in 1971.  It is not a massive museum but there is much to catch the eye, from early jewelry and trinkets to gifts presented to Sheikh Zayed from many foreign dignitaries.

What we found most fascinating however, was a 28 minute long video from the early 1990s which tells the story of why Al Ain came to be – not just since it was on an important trade route but also as it had copper deposits which were smelted and traded.

We visited on World Heritage Day which found the Sultan Fort full of craft activities which many people of all generations and nationalities were trying out.

I wish I had visited it sooner – and I will be back, frequently I hope!

Visitor Information

GPS co-ordinates – N24° 12.967′ E55° 46.452′

Opening hours – Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday – 8am – 7.30pm, Friday 3pm-7.30pm, Monday closed

Entry fee – 3 AED

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Al Ain Unesco Site #1 – Jebel Hafeet

I am not alone in thinking Al Ain is a very special place – in June 2011 UNESCO added some sites in the city to their World Heritage List, the first in the UAE to achieve such status.  As part of my Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Tour Guide training I have to learn about all these sites and many more, so today’s blog is “killing two birds with one stone” – a chance to share some more information on this amazing place with my readers, and I’m simultaneously doing some of my course homework!

The highest point in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, Jebel (means mountain in arabic) Hafeet towers over the garden city of Al Ain.  At over 1200 metres above sea level, it’s a great place to visit in the summer, where temperatures can be as much as 8C lower than the city below and where often a light breeze will cool you down further.  The same light breeze in the winter can make the evening temperatures of 5-10C feel almost sub-zero!

The 12km road up to the top is 3-lane and rises through 60 turns, some hairpin, with plenty of viewpoints on the way up to stop and look at the wonderful vista below.  The road can be driven by 2WD cars and is very popular with cyclists and also supercar owners.  At the top you will find a car parking area with a local restaurant, play areas for kids and benches to sit and relax as you watch the sunset; slightly further down the hill you will find the Mercure Hotel which is a great place to spend a day during the summer.

Marine fossils found on Jebel Hafeet date back 70 million years; there are caves inside the mountain which currently are not accessible to the public.

At the foot of the mountain, on the Eastern (Bawadi Mall) side, there are a series of beehive tombs, dating back some 5000 years.  If you have a 4×4 you can visit these easily – but always during the day, never at night as the area is patrolled by the army/border guards due to its close proximity to the border fence and they will move you on if they encounter you.  The Mezyad graves, as they are known, date from 3200 to 2700 BC and have given their name to the “Hafeet Period” or “Hafeet Cultural Horizon”.  Extensively excavated, bronze and soapstone objects were found and some of these can be seen in the Al Ain National Museum in the town centre.

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World Heritage Day 2015 – Al Ain Event

These days I find myself on lots of mailing lists for events and product launches, some more relevant than others, however every now and then something arrives which really appeals to me.

This weekend, at Al Ain National Museum the TCA Abu Dhabi (Tourism & Culture Authority) are holding a series of free workshops between 4pm and 7pm on Friday 17th April, which sounds like a marvellous way to soak up some of our host’s traditional culture.  The weather at this time of year is very pleasant in the late afternoon and I’m certainly planning to go – hope to see you there!

World Heritage Day 2015 e-shot EN

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Al Ain – Useful GPS Co-ordinates

New to Al Ain?  Heading here after the summer?  Here are some waypoints you may find useful when “finding your feet” in the Garden City of the UAE.

If you have read my “Life in Al Ain” series (see links below) then you will know how much easier your life will be if you use Google Earth and GPS, whether it be a standalone device or a programme on your smartphone!  Click on the links below to download the files.

GPX file – to view on GPS programs and devices

KML file – to view on Google Earth

If you don’t want to download the files above, here are are the lists of some Al Ain waypoints which you may find useful –













And finally some more reading for you

Life in Al Ain Part 1 – Shopping

Life in Al Ain Part 2 – Hotels

Life in Al Ain Part 3 – Leisure and Recreation

Life in Al Ain Part 4 – Officialdom

Life in Al Ain Part 5a – A Different World

Life in Al Ain Part 5b – A Different World – Weddings

Life in Al Ain Part 6 – Further Resources

Life in Al Ain Part 7 – Sanaiya

Ayn Al Fayda

If the summer of 2015 sees you moving here, I hope all goes well and that you will end up loving Al Ain as much as I do!

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Sunday Sandy Snapshot #12

The highest mountain in the Abu Dhabi Emirate of the UAE can be found in Al Ain – Jebel Hafeet.  It sticks up from the desert surrounded by scrubland and small dunes; here in the foreground is the overflow from Ain Al Fayda park, after some heavy rainfall in March 2014. sss017

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Al Ain Jeep FUNatic 2015 – Friday 13th March

For the second year in a row I will be leading the team which is overseeing the offroading part of this fantastic family event.  Anyone with a 4×4 Jeep can join, subject to availability – it will be an easy drive through some very scenic dunes, followed by a great lunch and afternoon’s entertainment at the Rotana Desert Camp.  Amazingly good value at only 300aed per car (up to 2 adults and 2 kids) which gets you lunch, soft drinks, entertainment, t-shirts and other jeep goodies!

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Emirates Desert Championship Round 5

Held on Friday 13th February at Lisalli, the fifth round out of six, saw a large field of bikes, cars and quads take to the sand dunes to compete in this popular event.

Once more stationed at the most remote PC on the moto, I did not get the chance to take many photos as I spent most of the event escorting people out!  Here’s the best of what I have

Pleased to report that the injured biker from last time, Alex Macfarlane was recovered and back on the course, however this time his bike failed him and he had to be towed back to the start.  (Photo by Thomas Tacker)

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EDC results can be found here.

Next round to take place on Friday 6th March – location to be advised!  Hope to see you there!

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Shop and Ship UAE

Sometimes as an expat you want/need to buy something which is unavailable locally – this is less of a problem in the UAE than many other places, but there are still times you can’t get hold of a must-have item!  A possible solution to the problem, particularly if it is a low weight item, is a service called Shop and Ship which is part of the Aramex group.

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How it works

You sign up for an account which incurs a one-off fee of $45, but currently (Feb 15) there is a special offer for only $10!

You receive forwarding location addresses (almost like a PO Box) in 14 different countries – Canada, USA, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Turkey, UAE, India, South Africa, China, Hong Kong and Singapore.

When you buy goods online from a country which has a SNS depot, make your delivery address  your forwarding address in that country.  Please note that there is a list of prohibited goods – all parcels are inspected by customs so do not be tempted to import something illegal.  Some sellers on ebay will not ship to SNS so check before you buy!

Shop and Ship will transport your parcel to the country you reside in, in my case the UAE.

It will then be delivered to your home but if you prefer – and I normally do – you can collect it at their local office.  You pay the onward charges from the country of origination to your current location. Simple as that!

Prices are very reasonable and the service from the USA is very fast – less than a week in many cases!

GPS location of Aramex office in Al Ain – N24 13.372 E55 46.477.


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One to One Ayn Al Fayda Resort – Al Ain

Not many expats know about this park, or so it would seem.  We’ve lived 7 minute’s drive away from it for over five years but apart from having a meal in the restaurant, have never ventured further.  Of course it was closed for refurbishment for two of those years; but that’s no reason to have missed this lovely resort which is on our doorstep!


Ayn Al Fayda is a very old complex and predates Al Ain’s other famous outdoor area – Green Mubazzara.  At one time Sheikh Zayed’s Palace was here and it now houses the “Sheikh Zayed Palace Museum” which is packed full of photos from his childhood, the early days of the UAE through to more modern times.  Opening hours are a little vague, but the beauty of this park is that there are so many different activities in one place there are plenty of alternative activities if something is closed.


The Al Ain Classic Car Museum is opening tomorrow, 30th January 2015 at 1800hrs and if you are a petrol head like me it is well worth a look.  There are heritage cars – mainly landrovers – which pre-date the UAE as well as American imports which have been brought into the UAE over many years.  Log on and “like” their facebook page to be kept updated!

Opening hours – Fridays 1600hrs to 2100hrs – Saturday to Thursday – 0900hrs to 1700hrs.  Other times by appointment.

Admission 5aed.


On the subject of motoring – there is an area within the park dedicated to offroading on Quadbikes.  I had a chat with their manager, Saeed, and he tells me that they have a wide range of quadbikes and buggies with something to suit everyone from age 6 upwards.  There’s a set course for children and 1700 square metres of rough ground for adults to ride around on.  Quads can be hired from only 30aed for 15 minutes for kids sizes, which sounds like a cheap way to entertain your kids for a while.  Adult size bikes, both auto and manual are available and their buggies are – Polaris 250cc and 800cc; Raptor 700cc; Banshee 350cc.  You can rent them from 150aed for half an hour; all rentals include crash helmet hire.  Opening hours are 0800hrs to 2100hrs Sunday-Thursday and 0800hrs to 2200hrs at the weekend.  Weekends are extremely busy!

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If you prefer equine to automotive, then why not visit the Al Bairaq Equestrian Club.  I didn’t venture in here but you can call them on 050 7122929 or 050 7972275 pr visit their instagram page.

Ayn means “the spring” so you would expect to find a lot of water hereabouts – and there is plenty!  As soon as you come through the retro 1970s gates of the resort, you might notice a fountain to your left (wasn’t on when I was there taking photos tho) – just behind here there is a public swimming pool area.


Moving further into the park and you will see signs for “Duck Lake” – this is an area you can rent for parties and groups and the One To One Hotel holds regular Friday evening entertainment there.


No park is complete without a boating lake and Ayn al Fayda has a massive one.  Pedalos are available to rent and you can pedal yourself round a huge canal, enjoying the wonderful views of Jebel Hafeet as birds soar overhead.  They weren’t open on a Tuesday afternoon when I visited but I am sure this place is open and very busy at weekends.


The final “aquatic” attraction is a ladies only pool, which is open from 0900hrs to 2100hrs, 7 days a week and offers a pool, sunbathing and shaded relaxing area.  I am quite tempted to try a month’s subscription here – 350aed for a month, day passes available for 75aed.


With all that activity, chances are you will be hungry and you can find some great restaurants on the park.  We’ve eaten at the lovely Zaitounah Restaurant, which specialises in mediteranean fare – prices are very reasonable and the food is good and plentiful.  They also serve grape and hop beverage and are open from 1200hrs until midnight, 7 days a week.


Next door, the Glass House, which is a vast conservatory, dishes up arabic food 7 days a week; they also have a Friday buffet from 2pm to 5pm which priced at a most reasonable 99aed.  Shisha is available in the adjoining garden.  The Glass House is open from 0700hrs to 0200hrs.  “Sandwiched” in between is the 18OZ diner which I haven’t visited personally but I believe it is a must-go for burger lovers!

Last, but not least, the One to One Hotel offers 26 hotel rooms, 57 luxury villas.

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