Middle Eastern Wedding Crashers

A 14-year-old-boy pointed his gun at me, as I crouched nervously on my haunches.

We were squatting with about 20 others in a circle while the leader, a smartly dressed man with a beard, conducted things from the centre of the ring. There were about 200 other men in the room.

A few had warned us not to go to Iran.

I thought of this as we waited to see how the situation would unfold. I looked at Henri, who was doing well to conceal his terror. We were petrified at being called into the middle, as there was just no way we could possibly match this dancing, all sinuous, affectionate and enthusiastic – like some troupe of Middle Eastern M.C Hammers.

Iranian weddings are lit.

The circle was filled with guests at the wedding we’d been invited to, and the smartly dressed man was the groom, a cousin of Hamid, the friend we’d made in Isfahan. The 14-year-old boy’s gun was his fingers twisted into the shape of a gun, which he would occasionally point at me in fits of laughter until I returned fire in a game that lasted all night, although I’m still not sure of its meaning. Right now the groom was bringing individuals up one by one to dance with him in front of everyone.

It is worth mentioning that we had only met Hamid two days earlier, in cliche fashion: over a cup of chai in his carpet shop. His willingness to acquire extra invitations for two white westerners he’d only just met, with no commercial gain on his end, was our first introduction to the famed level of Iranian hospitality.

Isfahan is a busy city with a population of a couple million. Stunning Persian architecture line the streets in the city centre, while endless sand dunes flank the outskirts, where camping, sandboarding and trekking are all popular.

Based on a family’s level of conservatism, weddings here are generally (after a brief but extravagant ceremony) split into two parties based on gender. We’d watched at the start of the night as the bride and groom walked down a makeshift aisle to fireworks and flares, before dramatically releasing two white doves into the night sky. Shortly after we said goodbye to the girls, who disappeared into a separate hall to us.

Women and men split into two seperate rooms after the walk down the aisle.


What followed was six hours of delectable food, wild dancing and selfies, as we came to terms with our celebrity status at the event. Happy and gregarious Iranian men came from everywhere to introduce themselves, hugging and kissing and welcoming us to Isfahan. It seemed everyone wanted to dance with us, to know what we did for a living and to tell us about their relative in Sydney.

After our turn dancing in the middle we were beckoned over to the table of Imam, a tall and mischievous looking character who was probably the least conservative of Hamid’s endless line of cousins. With a dangerous look in his eye he reached into his jacket and pulled out no less than 20 small cucumbers, placing them on the table. This seemed extraordinarily random on face-value, but our modus operandi by this stage was to go with it.

The cucumbers turned out to be chasers for arak, a lethal home-brew spirit which I found almost undrinkable, but ended up drinking quite a lot of. While alcohol is illegal nationwide, a blind eye is turned to occasions behind closed doors like this.

When the DJ’s eclectic mix of Arab-disco and Pitbull (he truly is Mr. Worldwide) concluded we filed out of the building, waving goodbye to the happy couple as they got into their car and drove off. End of the night, it would seem.

This however, proved to be a false conclusion. With Hamid at the wheel, and eight grown men packed into a tiny Fiat, we sped off after the newlyweds in a convoy of around 30 cars, swerving and maneuvering at 100kph and waving white towels out of the window on a highway. Lanes became obsolete in a game where the aim seemed to be to get as close to the bride and groom’s chariot as possible without touching it. Every 10 minutes or so we would all pull over to the side of the road, or down a sandy back alley, for some more dancing and fireworks before piling back into Hamid’s car for another game of cat and mouse.

The race ended at the bride’s mother’s house, where (after more fireworks and dancing) an unlucky sheep was slaughtered in the name of love, a sacrifice the two guests at the wedding certainly didn’t see coming.

In the middle of nowhere, and without any idea of how to get home, we turned around to find our taxi driver from the start of the night ready to take us home – having waited for six hours and kept up with us in the speedy procession. We might have been surprised, but by now we were getting used to that feeling.

Walk on water at world’s first floating resort

Walking on water: no longer restricted to biblical characters.

Kempinski Floating Palace will become the world’s first floating sea resort, to be built in Dubai (or rather, in the sea flanking Dubai).

It’s a case of another day, another extraordinary thing happening in the UAE; the resort will feature 12 luxury villas connected by pontoons: each with two floors, a roof terrace and infinity pool, large panoramic windows and all the technical features of a smart home.

The villas are equipped with solar panels and are designed to be environmentally friendly. Cruising at a maximum speed of 6 nautical miles, you’re not going anywhere fast, so allay those fears of floating away.

The resort won’t open to the public until 2023. But you can bet we’ll be swimming there when it does.

Beautiful Jeddah Luxury Stay

Saudi Arabia has been emerging as a post-Covid travel hotspot in recent times, throwing money into left-field projects including an offshore oil rig resort/theme park, and the world’s fastest rollercoaster.

The House Hotel Jeddah City Yard represents a slightly more traditional way of attracting tourism: by building a bloody beautiful (read: stunning) luxury hotel.

Having only opened in late-September 2021, the hotel is arguably the hottest stay in Jeddah, a town with no shortage of heat in itself. Cool down in the stunning, shaded pool, located on the rooftop terrace overlooking the city.

Despite being located in the upmarket Al Rawdah district, you’d have reason to not leave the complex at all during your stay, given the plethora of food, entertainment and wellness options at your disposal (this is despite being a boutique, mid-sized hotel of 114 rooms).

The hotel is SO aesthetically pleasing; combining Saudi sandstone with minimalistic architecture that wouldn’t look out of place in Scandanavia. No exercises in over-extravagance here.

And while Saudi Arabia mightn’t have been at the top of your list in terms of travel destinations, we’re tipping you’ll be hearing of more and more people heading there over the next few years. Tell ’em about this place.

Offshore Oil Rig to Become Theme Park and Hotel

The Rig (no, we’re not referring to you) is on it’s way.

An offshore oil rig in the Arabian Gulf, off the coast of Saudi Arabia, is set to be turned into a massive theme park and hotel, in a move we bet the original builders of the rig did not see coming.

The 1.6 million-square-foot behemoth will feature 800 hotel rooms across three hotels, 11 restaraunts, swimming pools, an ultra-luxury hotel and super-yacht marina.

Backers of The Rig are lauding it as the “world’s first tourism destination inspired by offshore oil platforms”, an admittedly fairly niche category.

It will also feature an extreme theme park, featuring super fast rollercoasters (the world’s fastest is currently being built just outside of Riyadh) as well as bungee jumping, zip-lining, aquatic sporting adventures and skydiving.

How many times have you been staying somewhere and thought: “Yes, this is nice, but what about oil drilling?” Well, the good news is there will be practical lessons in using drilling machinery, plus information on the industry itself.

While no opening date has been announced and there isn’t a great level of detail on the hotel, the theme park component of the rig looks absolutely lit – check out the video below:

Majestic Oman

With its blockbuster mountain backdrops, expansive canyons, crystal clear waters and endless ochre deserts, it’s hard to fathom how Oman has continued to remain under the radar. But it’s not just the great outdoors that begs to be explored. Hanging off the eastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, Oman’s capital Muscat was one of the most important trading ports in the Indian Ocean – a maritime legacy that still colours life in the city today. Muscat’s stately mosques also demand attention; these extravagant edifices are the centrepieces of their community, with no expense spared in their decoration. The towns and cities that freckle the desert plains and mountain peaks – hiding storied adobe forts, rivers of whitewashed houses and time-honoured traditions – invite exploration too.

Photography by Ante Badzim

Ancient Desert Luxury

This is desert luxury, in biblical proportions.

Perched on the edge of a cliff, the brand-new Six Senses Shaharut Luxury Resort in Israel overlooks the historic Negev Desert, a key outpost for the Roman Empire and before that, a place of religious importance that is mentioned more than once in the bible.

Today it is a place to regenerate, with poolside villas giving visitors the feeling of their very own private desert oasis. There is also a spa with six treatment rooms, an alchemy bar full of natural wellness options, and two more common pools.

If you’re able to tear yourself away from the comfort of the retreat, there are cultural experiences, stargazing sessions, camel treks and floating in the Dead Sea on offer.

Fresh, local and seasonal food will make you feel like Ottolenghi is cooking for you every night and in true Israeli style, every meal is a celebration. Shakshuka for days. 

Hot Air Ballooning over the Arabian Desert

Dubai might be a short stopover for most but that doesn’t mean you have to limit yourself to the confines of a luxury hotel.

Floating at sunrise over the pristine dunes of the Arabian Desert is only part of one experience you should consider; combine falconry, a desert vintage Land Rover safari, delicious Bedouin breakfast, camel ride and you have the perfect day in Dubai.

The morning starts an hour before the sun rises and the air is still and tranquil. As the balloons climb above the Dubai Desert the views of the Hajjar Mountains and Oman are stunning. Gently drifting at around 10,000 – 15,000 feet a falcon (Dubai’s national bird) entertains the group with its flying prowess and obedience circumnavigating several balloons to return at full speed to snatch a piece of meat from it handler’s glove. As the balloon slowly descends onto the soft dunes, a team of vintage Land Rovers awaits to chariot you across the bumpy sand to the Bedouin breakfast that awaits.

Upon arrival at a lavish traditional majilis you’ll enjoy a five-star a la carte breakfast including shakshuka, salmon, halloumi cheese, fresh fruits and chilled mint tea. After breakfast to aid your digestion, you’ll partake in a little camel ride out on the dunes. Forget shopping and the malls  experience Dubai from outside the hotel!

Sealine Beach Resort Stopover

Anyone who’s done the long haul from Australia to Europe knows that a stopover in the Middle East sorts out all kinds of jet lag and general misery. Especially when it’s one where you can relax on manicured lawns by the sea.

This collection of low-lying villas and rooms, all of which overlook the ocean, sit south of the airport and about 50 minutes  drive from central Doha, making it a great spot to recharge for a couple of days. Swim in the pool, take the jet skis for a spin, organise a trip into the desert for dune bashing, and enjoy the Qatari cuisine in one of the restaurants. You won’t want to get back on the plane.

Soak in a pyramid view

The views all around you at 9 Pyramids Lounge have been almost the same for 4,500 years, when the Pyramids of Giza were built to house royalty as they journeyed from earth to their place of eternal rest. Of course, the nine monumental tombs are now one of the most famous sights in the world and attract travellers from right across the globe.

When you think about it, it’s surprising it has taken this long for an entrepreneurial soul to figure out hungry, tired tourists might like a place to rest. Now this open-air restaurant, with its shaded areas and places to sit, all with epic views of one of the seven wonders of the world, offers a spot to take a load off.

It opens early, so stop for a spectacular sunrise breakfast, settle in for some lunch or simply relax after a day exploring. There are yoga and wellness sessions, too, because how could you not feel zen looking at all that?

Get to the source at Dubai’s souks

If you want to get to know the real Dubai – the Old Dubai, with its bustling back streets, souks teeming with fragrant spices, textiles and food from Arabic, Indian and Iranian traditions – you must jump aboard the Frying Pan Adventures Souks Food Walk.

The walk begins at Deira, where your guides will lead you into the heart of the spice souk with its sensory overload of shouts, sights and smells. You’ll be plied with information on the medicinal qualities of turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom, cumin and the most prized spice of all, saffron.

Venture away from the throngs of tourists and into the warren of alleyways to tiny eateries frequented by locals. You’ll sample parotta (flaky flatbread from Kerala) filled with egg and melted cheese, and chips with daqoos (vinegary hot sauce). At other pit stops feast on Emirati snacks and Iranian kebabs. It’s all so moreish, but there is more to come so pace yourself.

You’ll take an abra (Dubai’s oldest form of water transportation) across the creek to Little India with its Ganesh statues, brightly coloured flower garlands and sweet rose incense. Snaking through alleyways, you’ll arrive at the tour’s piece de resistance, the Arabian Tea House, located in the Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood.

The tea house is a step back in time, with its turquoise benches, white rattan chairs, lace curtains and bountiful flowers in an open-air setting. This is the place to taste Emirate food. Begin with mint tea then move on to cheese samboosa with tamarind dip, falafel with tahini, fatoush salad, chicken machos (cooked Emirati style) and rice pilaf with loomi (dried limes). It’s all wholesome, homely, authentic and delicious.