Often overlooked for the bright lights and glamour of Dubai, Oman is a small country bordering the UAE and the Arabian Sea. I hadn’t really heard much of Oman until I flew Oman Air and had a delayed flight which led to a missed connection in Muscat and us having 8 hrs to spend in Arabia’s jewel, Oman.The airline put us in a hotel so getting to and from the airport and food was covered. We decided not to sit in the hotel because we had a great (read as free) opportunity to see another country. To explore, taxi had to be our mode of transport because it was so HOT and we really couldn’t come and kill ourselves.
Our taxi driver Fahad was awesome! He was so friendly and had such a happy and calm aura about him and he was so generous (something the Omani people are known for) that he made us feel at home. On the scenic drive through Muscat, Fahad told us about his life and family and started asking if we were married. We burst out laughing because we were single to stupor! This immediately reminded me of my aunts that constantly ask when I will get married, and seeing a similarity in Omani and Nigerian culture regarding marriage.
As we drove, I noticed Muscat’s character seemed particularly different from nearby capitals like Dubai. There is a distinct lack of high-rises and glossy buildings (and trees!) which gives Muscat a whimsical charm and calm elegance. Another thing we noticed was a lot of the buildings are painted white, which are apparently by royal decree!
Can I just quickly break to shout out the Omani men real quick?? I loved how all the men with their shiny hair and beards (I’m a card carrying member of the beard appreciation gang, get at me to get your own card), wore the traditional Omani DishDasha, an ankle length white kaftan, with a round embroidered cap called the Kumma. And not a single stain, not a wrinkle on any of them, so fresh and so clean!
Learn about Oman’s past
Naturally, the first place Fahad took us was to Al Alam palace, the regal gold and blue ceremonial royal residence of the Sultan of Oman.
It is also known as the “Flag Palace” because the palace was built on the site of the former British Embassy where there was a stump of a flagpole in the ground, that stories say, any slave who touched it was granted freedom. An interesting fact seeing as Oman was notorious for its slave trade from East Africa and the Sultan in the middle of the 19th century, actually moved the capital to Stone town in Tanzania because he loved it so much and wanted to live there (Facts I didn’t know about Oman before, interesting!).
On the approach to the palace is a long boulevard, lined with palm trees, framed with mountains all around.
The palace itself is closed to the public but we stopped in front of the gates at the end of the approach to take pictures while Fahad was shouting us to get back to the taxi to get going, but we had to do it for the gram first!
Taking in the scenery
Hinged between mountains and sea, Muscat is a haven of tranquility compared to hustle and bustle if the cosmopolitan Kuala Lumpur that we had just left. Fahad took us on a journey through the city towards Old Muscat; through long highways and winding roads with unobstructed mountain and sea views. We had to stop when we saw the most beautiful little town, settled at the foot of the mountains, with the sun shining over. The view was truly breathtaking.
On the way back from the palace, Fahad took us to a spot by the harbour, with the Al Jalali fort in the background. A fort built by the Portuguese empire to protect Muscat after it had been attack twice by the Ottoman forces in the 1580s. The rich colours of the sun setting over the Omani sea were immaculate, just beautiful!
Shop Shop Shop!
Our last stop was the Mutrah Souq, first to change some money and then to shop!
No visit to Muscat would be complete without getting lost in the labyrinthine Mutrah Souq, where traders have been plying their wares for centuries. The rich smell of Oud perfumed the paths, sellers calling out from their stalls with their wares spilling out, oud, Abaya’s, pashminas, and local crafts. Everything you can think of at your fingertips. I spent my last money on some amazing Oud and a pot for my mum and a fridge magnet.
- Stay ready so you ain’t gotta get ready- Pack a change of clothes, underwear and a couple of small toiletries in your carry-on, just in case! This is something I never did before this trip but will definitely going forward.
- Money, Money, Money, Money! – Omani Riyal is the only currency I have ever used that is stronger than GBP! 1 GBP = 0.52 OMR. I was shook. Always carry cash in your home currency or well-known currencies ($, £) when you travel as it makes changing money in emergencies like these possible and you don’t get charged using your debit card.
- I get around- From our experience, taxis are the easiest way to get around Muscat, especially with the intense 35°C+ heat, but there is apparently a bus service, called Mowasalat, which you could possibly look into using.
- Are you ready for your blessing? – Every disappointment could be a blessing in disguise or an adventure waiting to happen! The delay meant we got to explore a third country for free in one holiday.
Even though I only had a few hours, Oman was beautiful and I’m sure I’ll be back. I had an amazing experience there and I would definitely recommend spending some time in this striking country. Have you visited Oman? What did you think?