The Middle East - tips
|In short||Lots to see, lots of tensions and an extremely friendly population.|
|Highlights||For ruins and historical life, go to
Palmyra and Crac de Chevaliers of Syria, Petra of Jordan and of course most of Egypt,
including Giza, Luxor and the Abu Simbel. On the Arab Peninsula, the old city of Sana,
Yemen, beats any other place in the region.
For people, almost anywhere will do, however, personal favourites are Aleppo and Damascus in Syria and the western highlands of Yemen. Egypt is not bad either, however, for all places you have to get away from the tourist traps where people tend to be much less friendly. A few years ago, a place like Luxor was just great, however, these days it seems to be filled with vultures trying to lure the flood of tourists into yet another tourist trap.
Even one of my own favourites, Syria, has suffered from tourist related unfriendliness, proved by the huge difference in attitude I experienced in 2001 and 2008, respectively. In 2001, I seemed to be the only tourist in an extremely friendly country, whereas 2008 showed an exploding flood of tourists and a severe decrease in friendliness.
For nature, the Middle East is less interesting, however, the mountainous deserts of Yemen, the central-western higlands of Oman and the Wadi Rum of Jordan are great places to enjoy the dry nature of the Arab world, and so is the Lake Nasser and Sinai regions of Egypt.
The Gulf Region is actually quite pleasant but a bit expensive. On the other hand, it's great to fool around with absolutely no other tourists to mess up things. Especially rewarding if you just come from the tourist hordes of Luxor.
|Places to avoid||Despite a number of recent terrorist
attacks, there are not really any particular place to avoid - apart from
certain places in Iraq. Women
should avoid Yemen and, in particular, Saudi Arabia without male companionship. Syria,
Oman, Qatar, Emirates and Bahrain are somewhere "in the middle" with regards to
single women travelers, while Israel, Jordan and the torist resorts of Egypt are the
countries where the people are the most accostumed to women tourists. That
doesn't guarantee against harrassment, unfortunately.
If you, like me, detest tourist traps and extremely pushy tourist vultures, stay away from the touristy places of Egypt! Luxor, Aswan and Giza have turned into horrible places with incredibly inflated prices and reduced friendliness. Alexandria and Rasheed are much better.
|Seasons||In the north, the European spring and fall are the best, whereas travellers to Yemen, Oman and the Gulf will prefer to go there in the winter, where the temperature is a bit more bearable. In Afghanistan and Iran, the temperatures are extreme, so avoid the bitterly cold winters as well as the blistering summers.|
|Do's and don'ts||Lots. The Middle east is the
birthplace of the Prophet Mohammad, and Muslims rule apply - everywhere! Saudi is the
worst, while Egypt, Syria and Jordan are much more easygoing. Still, no shorts apart from
the Egyptian beaches, skip the beers and don't eat or drink in public during the Ramadan.
Apart from Saudi and Yemen, much less strict than Afghanistan, and people have seen quite a few Westerners and accepted at least some of our strange habits.
And - don't mention the war, the Iraq one, that is. And, if you happen to be Danish, the Mohammed cartoons are never going to win you any friends either. freedom of speech just doesn't exist the way we know it, and Middle East people find it very hard to accept that it's legal to insult their prophet.
|Visa||Depends where you are going, but for most countries yes. Syria, Lebanon, Jordan are easy to get at the borders / airports. UAE and Oman hand out visas at the borders and airports, and so do Bahrain and Qatar. Saudi is the only impossible one, unless you are a Muslim going Haji pilgrimage or work in the country.|
|Value for money||Varies a lot. The Gulf States are bloody expensive, while Yemen, Syria and Jordan are excellent value - and much more interesting, and Egypt is even better value!|
|Others||Enjoy the "terrorist region" of the world. Most likely, it's the most hospitable too, however, don't expect extreme friendliness in the Gulf States. People, in particular in Qatar, Bahrain and the Emirates, are more reserved than in Egypt and Syria, though not unfriendly. Just reserved and more difficult to get in contact with.|