Sunday, 13 November 2016

Luxury in 48 Hours: Muscat, Oman.


Oman is one of the most beautiful countries I have ever been to, and out of the 35 countries I've now visited, it had some of the friendliest and most welcoming people. I spent a short 48 hours in Oman, and got a small taste of what the country is like and what the highlights are. This guide is perfect for those of you who are stopping over on business or pleasure, and don't have a lot of time to see this vast and stunning country.



I only had two nights in Oman for two reasons; 1. Oman is very expensive, and 2. I wanted to be back in Dubai for another weekend. Although I was sad to have such little time in Oman, I definitely managed to make the most of it, and I'm going to tell you how to do the same!

There aren't many luxury hotels in Muscat, the only one in the centre of the city is the Chedi, and then the two 'main' hotels are about 40 minutes outside the city. There's the Shangri-La, which I wouldn't recommend after my experience there, and the Al Bustan Palace, which is a Ritz-Carlton hotel and is the one I'd personally stay at if I return to Oman.

To get to both of the luxury hotels outside of the city you need to take a taxi from the airport through the mountains. It was one of the most amazing car journeys, and I just stared out of the window in total awe of the scenery.



When you arrive at your chosen hotel, drop your bags and relax for a while. The big hotels have shuttle buses that take you to Muttrah, which is a small town outside of the city of Muscat, and home to one of the oldest Souk's in the Arab world. You can either join one of these shuttle bus groups, or arrange for a private taxi to take you to the places you'd like to visit. 

There isn't too much to see or do in Muttrah, but the Souk is a great place to pick up souvenirs, and the Port is really pretty and lovely to walk along in the evening. Avoid the really touristy shops and stalls, and stick to the ones selling perfume oils and spices. They're super cheap and really good quality, but be warned - the Souk isn't photogenic at all! Also make sure you cover up when you go outside the hotel, there's no need to cover your hair, but be respectful and cover your knees, shoulders, and chest. 


On  your full day in Muscat head out into the countryside. I was desperate to visit Wadi Bani Khalid during my trip, but wasn't sure which tour company to use. I felt really overwhelmed and wanted to make sure I went with a safe and reputable company as I was travelling alone. I ended up doing the 'Great Desert and Wadi' excursion with Arabica Orient, and I honestly can't recommend them enough!

My driver and tour guide, Sulaiman, picked me up from the hotel reception at 8am, and from start to finish I felt so safe and had the best day! The car was a luxury 4wd with a fancy cool box in the centre arm-rest full of iced water, and the drive out to the desert took about three hours, and we chatted the entire way. His English was perfect and we discussed Islam and Catholicism, and he gave me a full history of Oman and their Sultan, Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said.

The Sultan grew up in India and England, and went to school in both countries, before enrolling at Sandhurst in the UK, and then joining the British Army. He was then ordered home to Muscat and Oman, where his father isolated him. He studied the history of his own country and Islam, and decided changes needed to be made. In 1970 he overthrew his father in a coup, and Quaboos bin Said al Said rose to power and changed the name of Muscat and Oman, to the Sultanate of Oman.



Oman is a completely neutral country, they don't get involved in any wars, and often serve as an intermediary between Iran and The West. The Sultan used the profits from Oman's oil industry to completely change the country, before he came to power there were just three schools in Oman and under 1,000 students...now there are over 1,000 schools across the country and half a million students. He also installed running water and electricity throughout the country. Due to the huge amount of incredible change the Sultan brought to the country, the people of Oman love him. 

Healthcare and education are free in Oman, and the benefits system is one of common sense; orphans receive benefits until the age of 22 (women keep receiving payments until they marry), and the disabled are supported by the government throughout their life. If you have to stop work due to illness or injury, you get benefits too.



The issue with the Sultan is that he has not named an heir...and he's in his seventies now. The people of Oman aren't sure what will happen when he dies, and whether the military will takeover or if it will be one of his nephews. The other issue is that the oil is drying up, so the economy is starting to suffer. Hence Oman is trying to focus it's efforts on tourism. 

So after a couple of hours of driving through the Omani countryside and mountains, we stopped off at a service station for fuel and snacks. I jumped out of the car and went inside to grab a sprite, and there was a guy getting a drink out of the fridge next to me. He literally just stopped and stared at me, frozen to the spot he was standing in, so I smiled and say hi....and he legit just stared at me with his mouth open. I went to the counter to pay, and he followed to pay for his and continued to just keep staring at my face and hair. I had to stop myself from laughing I found it so funny, and happened every time we stopped somewhere and got drinks or snacks. At least one person would just stare at my face and hair with their mouth open.



We continued on our way, and after letting air out of the tyres we headed into the desert. It was boiling hot in the middle of the day and I'd already been to the desert in Qatar, so we drove up the dunes a little bit and then went back down to visit a Bedouin family, stopping off to say hi to a camel or two enroute. On the way Sulaiman explained the difference between why the men wear a white robe and the women wear a black robe, and it's all because of the bedouin people.

In the desert the bedouin people went to the toilet outside, and when the moon was bright you could see the women going to the toilet when they wore white, as the moon would reflect off their white robes. So they changed the colour of the women's robes to black to protect their dignity when the moon was full. When they're in their own homes women wear brightly coloured robes, it's only when they go outside of their home that they wear the black Abaya (although they don't actually have to wear black, some women choose to wear other colours, black is just the most popular choice in the Gulf).



The bedouin women welcomed us into their home, and provided us with strong coffee and dates. I'm not usually a huge coffee lover, but this coffee was so different. It was aromatic and so full of different flavours, and I actually really enjoyed it. One of the bedouin ladies put henna on my hand and wrist, and we sat on the floor and I listened in awe as Sulaiman and the women chatted in Arabic. Every time anyone speaks another language in front of me I find it fascinating just listening and trying to work out what they're saying. I've heard Adam speak Arabic around me so many times that I'm always trying to recognize words...and failing miserably. I'm completely useless when it comes to other languages.



We then said goodbye to the women, and drove over to Wadi Bani Khalid, stopping at a restaurant to pick up lunch on the way. We took it away with us and ate it at the Wadi just a 10 minute drive away - we carried the bags to a table by the Wadi, and feasted on delicious rice and curried lamb and fruit smoothies; me eating with a plastic knife and fork, and Sulaiman eating with his hands - picking up big handfuls of rice and lamb and squishing them into a ball. My stomach definitely isn't strong enough to eat with my hands, but I was pretty impressed with how he combined the rice and lamb like that!

It was pretty incredible eating with this view right in front of you...it was quite literally an oasis in the middle of the desert and mountains.



After lunch I went for a dip in the Wadi. There were plenty of other tourists there swimming, with a lifeguard on the side just in case someone needed help. The other tourists were in bikinis but I'd made sure to pack my swimsuit, my proper one that I use for proper swimming, one that covers me. At the end of the day, even though Oman is pretty liberal, we were still in an Islamic country, and I tried to do everything I could to stay respectful.

 And then it happened. As I was making my way down to the rocky edge, with my camera in one hand (waterproof) and my sunglasses firmly on to shield my eyes from the glaring sun, my foot slipped on a slippery rock and I tumbled down the rocks into the water. I laugh every time I think about it, it was such a classic Catherine clumsy moment. I shrieked in shock, and the lifeguard caught my sunglasses that flew from my head while I concentrated on stopping my head from hitting the rocks and saving my camera. 

While I was regaining my composure and giggling to myself, Sulaiman's head popped over the edge of the hill above and asked if I was OK and what happened. All was good though and I had a quick refreshing swim before jumping out and getting changed in the changing rooms. The water in the Wadi was cool and a beautiful colour, but it was really quite unnerving not being able to see what was below you. 



After I'd changed we then made our way back to the car. The short walk back to the car from Wadi Bani Khalid took us over a stream and through the vegetation. We had to walk along a narrow path, and I was just in awe of how breathtaking the scenery in Oman is...



We drove back towards the hotel, chatting away again until I got so sleepy I kept falling asleep.When we stopped off at a convenience store for snacks, I grabbed a guava juice and we finally twigged the one word we'd both struggled with earlier. Sulaiman had been telling me about a fruit earlier that they grow in Oman, called 'Juaffa', I said I'd never heard of it, but when he saw my guava juice he said 'That's it! Juaffa!' I finally realised what he meant, and said 'Oooh! We pronounce it Gwarva!'.



We arrived back at the Shangri-La around 6pm, and after spending 10 hours together non-stop chatting the majority of the time, I was sad to say goodbye to Sulaiman. He was such an amazing tour guide and his knowledge of Oman and the history of the country was fantastic. I learnt so much as well as having a really fun day, and I'm so grateful to him for being so patient and answering all of my questions!

Also, ladies, Oman is full of good looking men. I've literally never seen so many good looking men in one place! They can have more than one wife though as polygyny is legal in Oman - sad times. On the plus side Oman is the only country in the Arabian Peninsula that allow women to vote! Omanis are also much more hospitable and liberal than Qataris, and I noticed a huge difference between the men in Oman and the men in Qatar. Whilst the men in Qatar would not touch me or shake my hand, the Omani men would gladly shake my hand with a firm grip, kiss me on each cheek to say goodbye, and wish me well. 

The three Omani men that I had conversations with (one gentleman who showed me around the Muttrah souk when I looked very lost, my day trip driver, and my taxi driver on my last day), were all charming, intelligent, and spoke perfect English. My taxi driver on my last day was thrilled to learn I was from England, and he asked if I minded if we went the long way to the airport so he could practice his English on me. I found this hilarious and told him that was totally fine. We had a great car journey driving past all of the main sites in Muscat while he grilled me on football and life in England!

When he finally dropped me at the airport, he shook my hand, thanked me in Arabic ("Shukran" - I had to ask him what it meant, awks), and gave me his card so I would have a taxi driver the next time I was in Oman. That's the brilliant thing about Oman, the people are so friendly that I now have a taxi driver and a tour guide for the next time I visit! (email me if you're visiting Muscat and would like their details).

If you have more time than I did, you can also check out the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, and the Royal Opera House. There are also various military museums dotted around Muscat. 

A huge thank you to Sulaiman, Arabica Orient, and Oman Ministry of Tourism for giving me the best day ever in Oman! It honestly made my trip and was a dream come true to see the Omani countryside and go on an adventure and excursion to Wadi Bani Khalid!

Pin For Later:


PIN FOR LATER: How to spent 48 Hours in Muscat, Oman! Including a visit to the oldest souk in the Arab world, and a day trip to the desert and Wadi Bani Khalid!



*My day trip excursion was provided free of charge by the Oman Tourism Board and Arabica Orient. They were honestly amazing though and I can hand on heart recommend both Arabica Orient and Sulaiman as a driver and tour guide! 
SHARE:

8 comments

  1. Oh my goodness, the Wadi looks so beautiful! You're right, it's a true oasis! How funny with that guy staring at you, it must have been unnerving at first though? It'll probably happen less and less as the tourism increases in Oman :) xxx
    Lucy @ La Lingua | Life, Travel, Italy

    ReplyDelete
  2. These photos are incredible!! I'm dying to get there... thanks for the inspiring post!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I want to visit Oman so much!

    ReplyDelete
  4. What a lovely day in Oman!

    ReplyDelete
  5. I love this post, I feel like I've learnt so much about Oman (although I'm sure I've only scratched the surface and have to see it to believe it!) - I had no idea how relatively liberal they are. I could actually picture your 'Catherine moment' and all I could think about was the coffee table incident at the Conrad New York! Ah, I miss you! x

    West London: Chelsea, South Kensington, & Notting Hill - Posh, Broke, & Bored

    ReplyDelete
  6. What a great pictures, Hope u to see on the next one.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Muhammad kamran26/10/2017, 09:42

    Excellent blog ! very Nice picture.i am going Muscat next month your blog will helpfull for visiting these places

    ReplyDelete

Booking.com
Blogger Template Created by pipdig