I HAD NEVER thought of visiting Oman and not known any friends who have done so. But boy, was it a trip that was absolutely breathtaking.
I travelled with my long-time friend Nazurah whom I used to share Billabong bags with when we were 13. After a pampering 5 days in Dubai, we took a 5-hour bus ride down from Deira to arrive in Muscat city just shortly after noon.
Right from the start, we were amazed by the landscape that surrounded the city of Muscat. Mountains echoed beyond the roads and big beautiful mosques lighted up the evening sky. So psyched to start our road trip the following day!
DAY 1: Muscat – Nakhal – Wadi Bani Awf – Jebel Shams
We had made prior arrangements with Golden Tours company for a customised tour package as we were not confident of taking on a 4WD road trip on our own. Our guide, Mahmoud, has us picked up from our Muscat hotel – all dressed in his traditional Omani wear.
The driving route was mostly a scenic mountain one – long, winding and occasionally spotting a billy goat gruff.
Guest entertainment room in Nakhal Fort
Our first stop was at Nakhal fort which was built in the pre-Islamic period. The fortress had some stunning views of the village and mountain backdrop. It boasts a mosque, a well, prison, storage room for dates and weaponry cannons surrounding its walls. What I really liked was the residential quarters which featured designated rooms for the Wali, for males, females and children. The guest room and its interior decor gave us a glimpse of what life could be like in the old times. Pretty-looking geometric designs and Arabic scriptures adorned the walls.
We stopped by a little stream on the way and had the pleasure of having tea alongside another group of travellers. An odd mix of us Singaporean girls, Omani locals, two Germans and a British; bonding over Omani tea and English biscuits.
The best thing about leaving home is indeed meeting like-minded travellers. And we had to be so Asian about the chance encounter… with a we-fie!
The road trip continued on along endless scenic mountain routes. It was winter when we were there, and the temperatures were slowly dropping to 12° celsius as the day went by.
Mahmoud showing us the ancient irrigation systems
An old abandoned village overlooking vegetation fields
Ancient irrigation systems called aflaj delivers water from the mountains to vegetations
The old village of Misfat Al Abriyeen
Deep in Oman’s countryside are many villages that still retain their traditional charm. Misfat Al Abriyeen is set in a stunning landscape above terraced plantations of date palms. We went for a short 1-hour hike through the plantations and old village, seeing firsthand the ancient irrigation systems known as aflaj delivering water from the mountains to vegetations down below.
Shortly before sunset, we arrived at Jebel Shams resort at the top of Oman’s highest peak. Jebel Shams or “Sun Mountain” sits at 3009m above sea level. It was freezing cold and we slept like two babies (before and) after dinner with the heater on full blast.
DAY 2: Jebel Shams – Wadi Nakhr – Nizwa – Wahiba Desert
The “Grand Canyon” of Oman
After breakfast, we stopped by for a final spectacular view of the “Grand Canyon” of Oman. This place was so quiet and peaceful, there was not a single soul for miles on stretch.
The feeling of being the only souls on this Earth continued on to Wadi Nakhr. There was virtually no one for the 2km stretch that we hiked.
Nazurah and I were wondering why the rocks had many colours and guessed that they were likely sedimentary limestone formations (threw away all past Geography knowledge from school hahaha). The colours ranged from chalky greys and greens through to sandstone oranges and reds.
Half the other time I was wondering how Mahmoud is so skilled at hiking in his long jubbah and sandals; without a single grime of dirt on its pristine white. Totally amazed.
Nizwa Fort was another beautiful old-world charm. Built in the 9th century, it features a huge watchtower, wells, living quarters and murder holes.
Wait a minute… Murder holes?! So we learnt that the reason why there are gaps above and between doors and gates is so that the soldiers can pour sticky date honey through these murder holes to trap unsuspecting enemies gaining entry into the fort.
I can totally imagine that scene like one from a typical Tom & Jerry cartoon. Genius!
2-year-old Omar at his father’s date shop
An Omani local making rope
The aroma of spices
Surrounding the fort is the Nizwa souk, or local market. One has to get there early before noon to catch most of the stalls. The souk market offered spices, pottery and crafts, as well as homeware. We spent time befriending Omar, sampling dates and buying traditional halwa for the trip home. Omar’s dad was so pleasant, introducing us to the different types of dates one can get from within Oman and beyond the Middle Eastern region. Never had so much dates in a single sitting!
Mahmoud was very accommodating settling us in a traditional Omani restaurant as we had requested to have a taste of local food at lunch. Nothing that my palate cannot handle though – basmati rice, spiced grilled chicken, fried shark meat, fish curry, hummus and pita, raw salad.
In a lot of ways, the Omani cuisine and traditional way of sitting on floor and eating with hands can be seen as having similarities to that of the Malay culture. I still chose to eat with a fork and spoon somehow.
Highlight of the trip was definitely staying at a desert camp (my idea forced unto Nazurah hahaha). We made our way to Wahiba Desert after lunch where we checked-in at the charming Arabian Oryx Camp. I absolutely adore its huge majlis hall and outdoor campfire pit. Occasionally, the resident cat came to join us. There is something about the interior decor of shared spaces and its bold printed patterns that would probably inspire my future home.
Meeting a Bedouin family where mama was knitting
What is desert life without dune bashing right? We had more 4WD dune bashing going on that day. Visited the home of a Bedouin family and chased the gorgeous sunset. After dinner and the sun had long gone down, it was time to retreat to our tent. The desert night was chilly, but nonetheless such a calming starry one.
DAY 3: Wahiba Desert – Wadi Bani Khaled – Muscat
If there was an oasis that surpassed my imagination of what a waterhole should look like, it would be Bani Wadi Khaled. No doubt it is the more popular wadi of all wadis, but I can see so why. We trekked up the valleys to Moqal Cave and I went for a quick wade in the cool green waters. Could have easily spent an entire day in the clear waters!
We completed the trip with a stop at Muttrah Souk in Muscat city, hunting down traditional Omani caps for dad and Danial. Mahmoud was great help of course with the bargaining and size-hunting.
Right the next morning, we left Muscat via a domestic flight on Oman Air. With a country as vast as Oman, there are places down south like Salalah that I would love to have a chance to visit. 5 days and already I feel that I left my heart behind.
The old world charm this beautiful sultanate has to offer is a reason to return again someday.
My recommendations for tour and accommodation choices:
Best Western Premier Hotel http://book.bestwestern.com/bestwestern/OM/Muscat-hotels/BEST-WESTERN-PREMIER-Muscat/Hotel-Overview.do?propertyCode=76750
P.O.Box 786, Dohat Al Adab Street, Way 3341 Building 3157, Khuwair, Al-Khuwair, Muscat, Sultanate of Oman
Visited December 2015, stayed in a twin Deluxe room for OMR87.75/night
No views from the room, but the hotel is conveniently located just 5-minute drive away from the shopping malls. Buffet breakfast had a good variety, wifi fast, rooms were comfortable and I had the chance to go for a short swim in the small indoor pool they had. The hotel also has a decent gym, sauna and a Starbucks coffee chain at its lobby.
Staff from the concierge desk to the restaurant managers were friendly and I would like to commend Mr Raju Lama for his helpful and winsome service right from when we alighted from the taxi. Overall a very pleasant stay and would definitely return. -My TripAdvisor review (NaniSG)
Arabian Oryx Camp http://www.oryx-camp.com
P.O.Box 333, PC 421, Al Wasil, Bidiya, Sultanate of Oman
Visited December 2015, stayed in a twin Standard Tent under Golden Tours 3D2N package
I stayed in a twin room for 1 night with a friend. Though the camp did not offer wifi, I had nothing to complain about as I was looking for a retreat. The place is quiet at night and the room amenities, though basic, were sufficient. Food was good and I enjoyed the lounge areas that were provided for – the big majlis and the outdoor campfire pit. Enjoyed watching the sunset from atop the sand dunes and visiting a traditional Bedouin house in the morning. -My TripAdvisor review (NaniSG)
Golden Tours Oman http://www.goldentoursoman.com
Visited December 2015, 3D2N package for OMR574 for 2-pax
Myriam was helpful in arranging our customised trip and the planning was smooth right from the start. Our guide, Mahmoud, was friendly and very accommodating. Thoroughly enjoyed the road trip via 4WD through Oman – we went from Muscat to Nizwa, Al-Hamra (Jebel Shams) and Wadi Bani Khaled; with opportunities to visit forts, wadis and souks as well as stay overnight at a desert camp.
The price quoted was inclusive of accommodations, meals and drinks, 4WD and petrol, guide. A great way to see beautiful Oman and I could not have asked for better company with Golden Tours. Highly recommended indeed! -My TripAdvisor review (NaniSG)