Date of stay: Jan 2012
Where you stayed: Family
Tour or pre planned: Pre Planned
I was in the Middle East for a few months, and their tourist visa's are for 30 days, but luckily for me, you are able to do border runs to Oman, which is only an hour or two drive from Dubai. Since I was going to need to do a border run, I thought I may as well go to Muscat, which is a further 4 hours from the border to the other side of the gulf. There are no hostel's around these places, but just as I have across the world so far, I had a family friend who lived there that I could stay with. I was heading there on a Thursday morning, as the weekend in Oman is Thursday/Friday. It's already confusing enough guessing what day it is not having to go to work, let alone planning it around a Thurs/Fri weekend in Oman, Fri/Sat weekend in the UAE and Sat/Sun everywhere else in the world.
The return bus fare was 90dhms (around $30AUD) and took 6 hours to get there. After a bit of a mission to the bus stop with the taxi driver dropping me in the completely wrong place I finally got to the right bus stop just before the 7am departure. Luckily the tickets were bought from the driver on the bus, otherwise I may have missed it if I had to run around looking for a ticket office.
Being the only westerner on the bus (something I was now used to), the driver was really lovely and spoke quite good English, so with the stops at the UAE and Oman border, he came up to the desks for me and did all of the talking. I just stood there smiling sweetly to the guy, hoping he wouldn't notice that I had just winged the address on the Oman arrival card. I could hear "New Zealand" being thrown around the guys behind the big glass windows, and then I had to move across to another immigration officer. No questions were asked and then the bus driver explained once I get my passport back that there was no fee on the visa for New Zealand citizens. From what my Aunty tells me - we are the only nation that this applies to. The border crossing in general didn't take that long, you had around 4 stops on the UAE, each time having to show your passports to soldiers (it says no photography at the border stops, I'd go along with that as well, as there are guys standing at each stop with big rifles), then you have to unload your baggage at the Oman border so they can search for alcohol. It is illegal to take alcohol in to Oman (but like the UAE you can buy it with a license).
I found it quite amazing the different countries. The UAE is big sand dune and deserts, and once you near the Oman border, there starts to be mountains and rocks and no dunes. I managed to get a bit of sleep, so missed a lot of the drive to Muscat, but was very glad when I awoke and from what I guessed was very close to being in Muscat. All the buildings seemed to be white, and none of them over a couple of stories high. All along the roads there was perfect green grass with gardens of pretty white and pink flowers, and big statues or sculptures in every round-about. We passed the new Opera house that was recently finished, and it was very amazing. My family friend I was staying with had seen a show there, and said that it was such a great atmosphere and there were even real horses on the stage. The Opera house was ordered to be built by Sultan Qaboos who has always been a fan of classical music and arts, so much so that for the first year and perhaps second year he is discounting the ticket costs so that people can also enjoy this. As you start to hear the history of Oman, one of the first things you realise that this is a country that really love their ruler. He ousted his father from power in 1970 after his father had kept a lot of money to himself and refused to modernise the country and almost completely closed to outside visitors. He changed all of this when he came in to power.
After arriving at the bus depot I was to go by taxi to meet my family friend. I asked the bus driver if it was anywhere near where we were, and him and one of the other drivers started pointing back towards the way I came. Confirming that I would need to catch a taxi I started to walk off down the road and began to worry as I noticed that the road was bumper to bumper and there was not an empty taxi in sight. Some yelling started in the direction I had just come from, so I turned around to find the driver calling me back saying "hop in the bus, I'll be 2 minutes". Not really sure what I was getting myself I hopped back on the bus eager to see where I was off to. Soon we were weaving in amongst the traffic and he was yelling to someone out the window. Next thing we are pulling up and he'd taken me 5 minutes down the road, got me a cab and given the cab driver directions to where I was going. I was blown away with how nice this driver was from making sure I got through customs okay, to getting me a taxi.
The next day I was taken on a mini tour of Muscat, with my family friend having lived there for 11 years. We first drove out to the bay of Al Jissah which is home to the Shangri-La and surrounded by stunning mountains. Situated at Al Jissah is the Oman Dive Centre who have a bar and restaurant on the beach. Sitting there having a drink is divine with the clear bright blue sea with mountains and rocks jutting out of it. I would happily stay there forever.
We then went along the coast past the Marina to the corniche area. Driving along I was noticing historic old forts above us - they are old lookouts that are scattered along the mountains that were used in past times for watching for invaders and keeping an eye on boats coming in and out of the gulf. It seems that every place you look in Muscat there is either history or beauty.
As we pulled up at the corniche, Pene pointed out the Sultan's yacht that was docked up in the wharf and all of the old style boats that used to travel between Oman and Sri Lanka/India. Oman is known for it's gold and silver, and the best place to check this out is in the souk (market) across from the corniche. As I had seen my fair share of souks in the last few weeks, we mainly just strolled though ignored all of the guys inviting us to check out the pashima's, frankincense, perfume oils, traditional Omani hats and everything else they had to offer. The jewellery is what I was interested in as the gold and silver souks are unlike anything else you will come across. I found to be very shiny and bright, and not really my taste, but it was still interesting walking through and seeing it all. I managed to find a ring and happy with finally getting a purchase it was time to head to the juice bar in front of the souks and get an amazing mixed fruit juice (a must have!). Add a bit of vodka and that would win awards!
The next day was back to Dubai for me, taking the 3pm bus, it took a lot longer than my original trip. Multiple stops (probably over a dozen) and doing a bit of back tracking at the border mixed with traffic made the trip around 2 hours longer.
Doing it next time I will explore the forts and wadis, head down to Masirah Island and see if there really are all these turtles that people talk of, and travel from there right down to the southern town of Salalah, which has a rainy season leaving it as a garden oasis with lush green trees amongst picturesque mountains. Oman is absolutely beautiful, and I cannot recommend it enough.
Would you recommend this destination: Yes
Overall rating destination: 5 out of 5