Posts from the ‘Oman’ category

The Bedouin aren’t the only Wise Men of Oman

Today’s Itinerary

By Jacob Aldridge

The sun rises over the Wahiba Sands, Oman

The sun rises over the Wahiba Sands, Oman. Photo by Aries Vitan Wong, CC License

There’s something different about waking up to a cool desert morning. Unlike the genuine cold of a Viennese Christmas Market, which bites at your throat and chews your fingers, early risers in our desert camp experience a more invigorating chill. It’s almost as if the cold focuses the mind on the significance of every moment.

Breakfast includes some traditional fruits from the Arabian peninsula, and before we’ve even offered to help with the washing up and taking down the tents we’re ushered back into our 4WDs.

People have lived in the Wahiba region for almost 8,000 years, and while modernity gives opportunities to the next generation, it’s a shame to note that most of the camel trains we pass are ridden by tourists as the locals embrace the air-conditioned benefits of a new 4WD.

Two camels in Oman

Camel photo by Erkan Pinar, CC License

Mid morning we stop to visit a Bedouin house in the desert, an opportunity to meet and talk with some of the proud tribespeople who embrace both their bedouin traditions and the emerging Omani national identity. Livestock remain the key economy here, mostly goats and camels. While tourism is increasingly important, we get the feeling that the clean house and well-dressed, well-spoken people we meet are nothing new – they may be surrounded by 12,500 square kms (4,800 sq mi) of desert, but that’s no excuse for a mess.

 

How friendly are the locals? Check out this video – this group are either being very polite to an Australian tourist, or they actually like the taste of Vegemite!

Official Amouage Gold picture

You can buy Amouage Gold perfume from the source

We arrive back in Muscat by mid-afternoon. There’s plenty of time before our flight to take in more sights and sounds of this city – but it’s the smell we are interested in. More specifically, the smell of the Amouage Perfume Factory. Feted as ‘The Most Valuable Perfume in the World’, Amouage Gold for Women is created from the resin of the frankincense tree and the essence of the rare Omani Rock Rose, plus another 120 ingredients including Myrrh.

That’s right – Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. If you’re looking for an excuse to treat yourself this Christmas time, look no more.

Conveniently, the Amouage Factory is located not far from the airport, meaning we arrive in plenty of time for our Oman Air flight onwards. We will land tomorrow morning in Bangkok, Thailand.

Want to Go? Need to Know…

  • A single entry, one month visa for Oman can be purchased for 20 OMR (about $USD50) at the airport
  • December temperatures in the desert are reasonably mild, but the summer heat and the late winter evenings are especially dangerous
  • Even experienced desert drivers and hikers are reminded to take precautions with water rations and recording your planned itinerary with your consulate and/or hotel in case of accident
  • You do not need to book in advance to visit the Amouage Factory
  • Click here to stay up to date with a free subscription to our daily destinations email

Share your Oman thoughts or desert experiences in the comments below.

Skip Dubai and Abu Dhabi – Oman is the new hot destination

Today’s Itinerary

By Jacob Aldridge

We considered a self-drive tour of Oman, but being mindful that English is less common outside of the main cities (and we don’t speak Arabic) we decided to join a small group tour. And there are a surprising array of tour options and Oman holiday packages – including Turtle Watching! – as Oman aims to compete with (and outperform) the airport hubs of Dubai (Emirates) and Abu Dhabi (Etihad).

Textiles at the Ladies Market

Ladies Market in Ibra – the adjacent souq remains co-ed

At 8am the luxury 4WD arrives at our hotel. There’s a two hour drive ahead of us, as we leave Muscat’s waterside location and head south through the Harjar mountains and inland to the town of Ibra, in the Sharqiyah area. Now best known as a ‘gateway’ town, Ibra also boasts a weekly ‘Ladies Market’ – every Wednesday the souq is open only to women, and run by women, with a focus on household and textiles products.

Al Mansfah Ruins

Some of the ruined mansions of Al Manshah

As we drive away from Ibra the village of Al Mansfah is silhouetted on the horizon, a community of 19th Century mansions that fell with the fortunes of the region into disrepair. At this point we assume Ibra is a gateway to barren desert sands.

How wrong we prove to be, as the 4WD enters the Wadi Bani Khalid ! With several fresh water springs, and year round water, this valley (Wadi is Arabic for valley – we’re learning Arabic fast) is known for the deep blue water at the foot of the mountains. Experienced hikers would be drawn here for the opportunity to explore some of the largest caves in the country, including the underground chamber of Kahf Maqal. We stop for a more relaxed picnic lunch.

 

Desert oasis of Wadi Bani Khalid

Just what we imagined an oasis to look like. Photo by Andries3, licensed under Creative Commons.

And then it’s into the desert, and the Wahiba Sands. Covering 12,500 square kms (4,800 sq mi), what initial looks barren surprisingly reveals itself as an expansive ecosystem. The region is home to the Wahiba Bedouin tribe, and we’re staying here tonight in a desert camp. You may have been camping before – but you’ve never been camping like this!

Driving a 4WD through desert sand

Experienced drivers know how to maximise safety and fun. Photo by Erkan Pinar, CC License

We could spend a few hours enjoying the spacious tent and the food and drinks available in camp – truly, this must be how Bedouin tribal leaders lived despite the nomadic elements of their lifestyle. However, we have one more activity today – and it’s something Lawrence of Arabia could never have imagined: dune bashing in our 4WD! Definitely best led by an experienced sand driver, there’s a real thrill in racing up a mammoth sand dune, with no road in sight, and then cresting over and down the other side. This is why we travel.

So much fun can be exhausting, and dinner and bed beckon. But be sure to take a few minutes to drink in the night sky as the milky way reveals an expanse of stars known to every generation of humans except the modern city dweller. We will fall asleep feeling humble between the innumerable sands below and the infinite stars above.

 

Stars are visible even inside your tent

Night may be falling, but the wonder is only beginning. 4WD and Tent Phots by Erkan Pinar, Licensed under Creative Commons

Want to Go? Need to Know…

    • You can see a list of Oman Air’s holiday packages by clicking here
    • There truly are a range of tour options from other operators if you search for them, from 2 night to 2 weeks, and encompassing a lot more than we thought Oman would have to offer
    • December temperatures in the desert are reasonably mild, but the summer heat and the late winter evenings are especially dangerous – even experienced desert drivers and hikers are reminded to take precautions with water rations and recording your planned itinerary with your consulate or hotel in case of accident
    • Click here to stay up to date with a free subscription to our daily destinations email

Share your Oman thoughts or desert experiences in the comments below.

Driving About Muscat, Oman

Today’s Itinerary

By Jacob Aldridge

Our plane touches down at Seeb International Airport in Muscat, capital city of Oman, just before 10am. Strictly speaking it’s still winter, as it was when we left Vienna yesterday, but here on the Arabian peninsula (and at the same latitude as tropical south-east asia) the temperatures aren’t expected to drop below 22ºC (72ºF) all week.We have a two day Oman Air holiday package starting tomorrow, which means today is all ours – and there are things to do in Muscat, this vibrant city. To make the most of it, we’ve hired a car at the airport – why not, in a city where petrol is regularly less than 40 cents per litre. Drive about Oman on the right hand side of the road!

Why is Oman on our itinerary? Have a look at this video!

Grand Mosque

Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, photo by Gary Denham Licensed under Creative Commons

As would be expected of this predominately Muslim nation, Muscat’s skyline is dotted with Mosques. Grandest among these, and one of the few that is open to (respectful) tourists, is the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, located on the main road between the airport and the city.

Being careful to avoid prayer times, we remove our shoes and step inside the square prayer hall, which can fit 6,500 worshippers. Modern Islam holds itself to be a religion of peace, and the serenity of this holy place is obvious. Inside, the orderly and spacious nature of the design means we can feel the space much faster than taking in all of the detail. Though there are a small number of individuals praying, it’s clear that they are having their experience and we don’t feel we are intruding. If you’re unfamiliar with Islam, though, it’s hard not to wonder whether you might inadvertently offend somebody just by being here. The Sultanate of Oman, like many middle eastern countries, is working on the balance of cultures.

Back in the car, and we’re heading from the Mosque the Sultan to the Sultan’s official residence, the Al Alam Royal Palace. Not open to the public, we still decide to drive out to the its location on a point of land jutting out into the Gulf of Oman.

A number of Forts mark important points throughout Oman, and though some are recent most are remnants of a colonial past when the country was under Portuguese control. Most famous are the twin forts of Al Mirani and Al Jalali, which stand to attention close by the Al Alam Palace. We walk up the nearby Corniche, to the base of the Mutrah Fort, taking in the view of the twins before ending with an expansive view back over the city.

One of the twin forts

Fort al Jalali, a Portugeuse fort twinned with Fort al Mirani

So far, we haven’t really felt the desert country, and standing by the water as the afternoon progresses we can associate more about Oman’s maritime history than the Bedouin lifestyle further inland. As the nation emerges further as a global destination, diving off its broad coastline is one of the prominent attractions available.

Westerners are advised to understand the local customs, particularly in relation to religion and gender. We’ve found nothing to concern us from having a great experience here. One Australian film-maker created the page Side Trip of a Lifetime about Oman, and has even taken to the streets here to ask other tourists about Oman for Western Women?

Want to Go? Need to Know…

    • While some middle-eastern countries are more relaxed than others in regards to western cultural norms, always be respectful of locals
    • This is particularly important when visiting Mosques – modest clothing and definitely no shoes
    • English can be called Oman’s second language, and particularly in Muscat street signs are translated and English speakers can be found in more tourist locations
    • A single entry, one month visa can be purchased for 20 OMR (about $USD50) at the airport
    • Stay up to date with a free subscription to our daily destinations email

Have you been to Muscat or driven about Oman? Share your experience – and what we’ve missed – in the comments below.