It’s not often that you’d find a Pinoy traveler headed for the Middle East for purposes other than work. But coming from Southeast going towards where the sun rises over dramatic desert landscapes and modern iterations of ancient cities can be one heck of an adventure. And it doesn’t have to be prohibitively expensive either, if you get your flight tickets to fly via GulfAir using the Tajawal website. After all, priceless adventure trips needn’t be expensive.
Explore The Real Dubai
Let’s start with Dubai though not the touristy parts you’d usually see in countless social media posts. Leave the shopping malls and over 400 skyscrapers to the casual tourists and let’s explore more of what the place has to offer. To discover the real Dubai, be prepared to search for colorful (and fragrant) spice souks or if you’re hungry, try and find shawarma stalls outside the malls (Karama has a number of interesting joints with cheaper and far tastier fare). Travel tip: the local markets are your gateways to an authentic cultural experience and the ones in Dubai are no exception.
It’s hard to avoid the crowds during the daytime though a trip to Jumeirah Beach come the sunset and early evening hours can be a welcome alternative to the indoor spectacles (skiing, even skydiving; imagine that) of Dubai’s malls. Got a bit of money to spare as well as the un-queasy stomach for dessert action? Several tour companies offer dune bashing and the best time to do it is towards the sunset. Not only is the temperature cooler but it’s a real treat to see the sun setting over the sand dunes especially if you come from the tropics.
Uncover Authentic Manama
Manama is the capital as well as gateway to Bahrain. If you’re not really fond of mall shopping and skyscrapers, the city offers a lot of ancient attractions. The Al Khamis Mosque is reputedly the oldest mosque in the whole of Bahrain, dating back to the 8th century. If you’re a culture vulture, it’s a must-see especially at night-time when it’s all lit-up, with its ornate minarets all aglow.
On the other hand, the Al Fatih Mosque is considered the grand mosque, built to honor Sheikh Ahmed Bin Muhammad Bin Khalifa, acknowledged as the founder of modern-day Bahrain. Lavish is an understatement to describe the mosque, constructed using Austrian glass for the windows, Indian teak for the monstrous doors, and Italian marble for the floor where 7000 worshippers can pray all at once.
If you want a multi-sensory experience of the real Manama, visit the Manama souq south of Bab Al Bahrain. Almost everything you’d want to buy is here – from spices to shirts, consumer electronics to shisha pipes; though the real attraction is how the market blends its ancient past with the modern times. Another most interesting souq to visit is Little India, where Indian culture and legacy are spread over 5,000 square meters.
If you’re an early riser, a trip to the main fish market is a must. Drop by before the call to prayer at dawn, to witness commerce of the smelly and raucous kind. For more of the same experience, don’t miss visiting Manama’s Central Market on Lulu Avenue. It offers an experience of how the locals really do their marketing away from the homogenous glitz and bright artificial lights of Bahraini malls.
Time Travel In Multan
Again digressing from the usual touristy routes, the intrepid traveler can hop on the GulfAir plane headed for the ancient city of Multan in Pakistan. All it really takes is a Gulf Air online booking and off you go time travelling, cheap and easy. When you say ancient, this is as ancient as some of the world’s oldest attractions but less conspicuous to the average tourist. Multan has been inhabited for over 5,000 years, and its city was reputedly established by a great grandson of the biblical Noah. Woah. But naturally, Multan is home to numerous archeological sites with some dating back to 3300 BC.
The culturally- and historically-inclined traveler will literally bask in the sun here as Multan used to be the center of a sun-worshipping cult dedicated to Surya, the Hindu sun god. If you appreciate beautiful architecture, there are also a large number of Sufi shrines, the most visited one being the tomb of Shah Gardez that dates back to the 1150s, as well as intricately decorated mosques like The Shahi Eid Gah Mosque built in 1735.
Off-beat travel in the Middle East
The traveler yearning for experiences beyond the Middle Eastern skyscrapers and malls can look forward to richer cultural interactions by venturing and exploring a bit farther than the average tourist. It doesn’t have to be expensive either, as food and merchandise are usually less expensive outside the malls, and as far as flight tickets are concerned, sites such as Tajawal can actually offer more value for your travel money. Sometimes, all it takes is a bit of research and a lot of adventurous spunk to travel off-beat in the Middle East.
Lagalog is a phonetic play on “lagalag,” Filipino for nomad or wanderer. I’m Oggie Ramos, a travel photographer and conceptualist-writer based in Makati City, Philippines and Lagalog is my personal travel blog. I have been blogging since 2004 (eternity in blog years).