Oman – A Middle Eastern Jewel

Picture the Scene: There’s a girl at the airport. She’s meant to fly out on an 8:50 pm flight. 2 hours before departure she excitedly approaches the check in desk with her friends. The man sitting across from her starts to fire questions…. Who are you traveling with miss? My husband and friends she says… which one is your husband? Oh she says!!! he is on his way to the airport. Well, I cannot give you your boarding pass. He replies. You will have to wait for your husband to collect them from the counter. Excuse me? She says. She is stunned by the reply and checks the date on her watch. To her surprise! yes it is the 21st century and it is the year 2015!

She probes to know more and is told that she is not allowed to travel within the GCC without the husband. She waits, waits and waits sweating and coordinating with friends travelling on the same flight and the in-laws who are awaiting their arrival in Oman. Its 4 minutes before the counter closes when the husband having just landed back from Paris has a quick wardrobe change and manages to arrive at the desk. Alleluia!!!! They make it on the flight. The much awaited and planned exciting weekend has finally begun.

A quick sprint to the gate and an hour later we arrive in Muscat – Oman.

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First Impressions: A birds eye view of the city and I am amazed with what I see. Glitzy and shinny winding roads hint hilly topography. Landing in and a short bus ride later we are at the terminal.

Visa: We take 10 steps are get to immigration. This reminds me of Doha 10 years ago. Visa for GCC nationals is really easy to obtain. I recommend you exchange money at your departure terminal prior to arrival and use the self-service machine at the arrival hall. Visa cost 50 Qatari Riyals = 14 USD

If you haven’t had the time to change to exchange money prior to departure don’t worry you can do so at the counter in the arrival hall.

Transport: Local taxis are available just outside the airport at fixed rates. Taxis in Oman are driven by well spoken Omani nationals. They are helpful and down to earth. I was amazed to see the locals involved in all sorts of jobs very unlike Qatar. Our taxi driver was extremely welcoming; he spoke good English and gave us a fantastic first impression of what was to come. During our 15-minute drive to the hotel we were given food recommendations to sites to visit and whole lot more.

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Car rentals are also available at the airport, which I recommend over taxis if you want to see more of the country as the city itself is spread out and you will need transport to get around. Suggestion: Book online prior to arrival to get reasonable rates. Approximate cost – 1500 QR for 5 days ( Toyata Prado – 6 seater)

Stay: We were only in Oman for a weekend and hence decided to go budget. We spent all of our time rambling around town. We booked our selves at Hotel Venus.  Inspite of the hotel being clean and tidy I would not recommend staying here as not all that was promised at the time of booking was delivered.

The area where the hotel is located though is very convenient in terms of getting around the city and close to plenty of restaurants and a sports bar at the Muscat Holiday Hotel probably one of the oldest hotel in town.

Arriving late at night it was time to have a glass of wine with the crew and hit our beds. We had lots of adventures planned out for Friday Morning ofcourse. Having woken up early morning a light breakfast, a strong cup of coffee and we were all geared up to hit the road. We drove through the wadis crossing miles and miles of rocky structures at Wadi Al Mayh and finally getting to our destination al planned – Wadi AL Shab.

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* Tips: Wear trekking shoes and clothes that would dry out easy. You will be amazed to see what lies ahead.

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Wadi Al Shab is an absolutely stunning city 200 km south of Muscat. You can take a boat across the river for 1 Omani riyal per person and from that point on it is probably a 30 minute trek passing through a couple of pools of water and you end up at a secret cave and waterfall. Walk – swim – hike as far as you can along the river until you get to a point you can’t go any further. It’s shallow and walkable at first as gets deep only when you are close to the cave. I beg you to not chicken out on this one and give up half way cause you would miss an experience of a life time if you did. Look out for arrows on the rocks to direct you towards the cave keeping hydrated and enthusiastic through the trek

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Watch this link to build up the excitement. I am sure u’ll get plotting and planning a trip right away. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lC7LfjvvFmI

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After that amazing day and burning out a few though calories it was time to refuel. A speedy shower later we were on our way to Ubhar at Al Kharjiyah St, Muscat 100, Oman +968 24 699826. Ubhar is an Omani restaurant serving up local specials like Saloona – a meat dish cooked in banana leaves in a underground over for 24 hrs. Camel curry, Camel Biryani and a lot more. Try the starter platter to share. It is absolutely outstanding.

On our way back we popped in for a game of snooker and late night drink at Muscat Oman hotel.

Day 2: was reserved for Culture walks and mosque tours. Muscat city has 2 grand mosques of which, visitors are only allowed into the Sutan Qaboos Grand Mosque. The Mosque closes at 11 am so try and make a trip early morning to enjoy a walk around this massive structure. Ask for a free guided tour from any one the volunteers that will be more that happy to help.

*Tip : Wear clothes that cover arms until wrists and legs until the ankles. If not you would have to buy a Burkha that includes a head scarf that cost 5 Omani Riyal = 50 Qatari Riyal = 14USD

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We ended the tour with some world famous Omani dates and Arabic coffee accompanied by intriguing conversations with well spoke friendly chatty Omani women.

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We only had a couple hours to see more of the city before flying back to reality and the next stop was the Omani Souq. The Souq runs across the Cornish and is a pretty place to walk down after a meal or shopping.

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As we drove back to our hotel for some last minute packing we chatted about what a fun trip this was and mutually agreed on the fact that Oman is truly and extremely under valued gem of the Middle East. I vowed that day on to stop wasting both time and money shopping in malls on weekend trips to Dubai. Oman definitely moved up my list and is my favorite middle east country to visit. I honestly cannot wait to go back and discover more.

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