Sanaiya – which translates into “industrial” from Arabic – is not one of Al Ain’s most picturesque districts, but it certainly is one of the most… exciting.
As the town’s industrial area, there is barely an item you won’t be able to find – although it will take some exploring on foot.
Driving around Sanaiya can be perilous, as trucks of all sizes and well-used Toyota Corollas weave in and out of each other in seemingly organised chaos. You have to be on your guard in the back roads as pedestrians have a tendency to just walk out into the road without looking. Parking is free but also a free-for all, with little-to-no regard paid to the non-existent white lines...
But it all adds to the charm and it’s usually worth it when you find that one missing piece or obscure service.
It’s one of the best places in Al Ain!
Where it’s located
Sanaiya sits in a natural amphiheatre between two rocky escarpments to the east and west. To the south is Jebel Hafeet – Al Ain’s famous mountain – and to the north is the town centre.
Transport and parking
There’s no denying the fact that traffic in Sanaiya can be a nightmare, especially during evening rush hour. The main roads in and out generally move during working hours, but between 5pm and 8pm in the evening it can be jammed solid – especially leaving Sanaiya towards Sanaiya roundabout.
Don't expect much order when it comes to parking
Parking Parking is free across most of the district, but in some areas it is a challenge in itself Bus There are several buses running through the area Taxi Taxis are easy to flag down, with a lot of drivers actually living in the area.
Sanaiya exists solely for retail and services. It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for a 26mm drill bit, chicken wire, lace curtains, or even the gearbox from a 1972 Austin Maxi, the odds are that someone will have it somewhere. It’s also the place to go to get your car fixed, washed, or even sold.
We should point out that you shouldn’t judge a shop by its external appearance. It is quite common for some shops to sell combinations of items that you may think utterly mad. This writer once needed a fuel pump and, after having not found one in over 20 other stores, ended up finding the perfect model in a lighting shop that specialised in chandeliers!
Looking for a fuel punp? Try the lighting man
There is a large Lulu Hypermarket on the corner of Hessa Street and Khalid Bin Sultan Street, as well as the new Boutik Mall – which until now is still sparsely populated with only a handful of shops, including a Carrefour Market.
You will find that shops selling similar goods are pitched next to each other, which results in an unofficial sub-plan. Hardware shops are generally congregated on the unnamed horizontal road that runs through the middle, while garages and auto spare shops can be found in the central western block.
Heavy plant and construction materials – such as the cement factory and hire companies – are located in the southern most reaches of the area.
Do not rely on the internet. We estimate that only 5 per cent of businesses in Sanaiya have an online presence, and even phoning ahead can often be futile. If you’re going shopping, you’ll have to do it the old-fashioned way.
English is not widely spoken here, and if that is the only language you have in your arsenal then you may struggle. It’s best to take samples or pictures of what you’re looking for to ease yourself in. Urdu, Hindi and Arabic are more commonly spoken.
You will also come to learn very quickly that most places only accept cash. Bigger stores may take credit and debit cards, but the smaller shops most certainly won’t. There are plenty of ATMs in Sanaiya, but you’re well advised to get cash out beforehand.
Lastly, Sanaiya is full-to-overflowing with truck drivers for hire. They normally gather in car parks next to the main roads. All it takes is a honk of the horn and a quick description of what you want shifting and where, and then haggle the price. Very few drivers will speak English so you may need a translator or an intermediary who you trust.
Sometimes simple tasks, like wheel balancing, need the help of a translator
Dining options in Sanaiya are at the lower end, with mainly small café’s and restaurants selling cheap and cheerful food from burgers to curry. It’s not the kind of place you will go out in the evening, but if you’re hungry while hunting for your steam-powered diesel pump then you will find something small to tide you over.
There are no formal recreational activities in Sanaiya. Instead, those who live in or the near the area are usually spotted playing cricket in the dried-up wadis that weave around the area.
There is an expensive compound on the northern edge of Sanaiya, overlooking the football ground and is populated mainly by Western families. However Sanaiya is more popular with those on a tighter budget. Small apartments can be rented for as little as Dh20,000 annually. Shared staff accommodation is very common.