A HALF-DAY TOUR OF MUSCAT

MUSCAT | OMAN

[MUSCAT, OMAN] — When I told people I was going to Oman, they first nod, then shake their head. “Wait, Oman?  Where’s Oman?”

I felt that too when I first saw pictures of the incredible hotels in my previous posts. But Muscat, was a great surprise to me, as well.

I was just planning to be in/out of the city in a short time, so really didn’t expect to see much. But once there, I realized that I hadn’t planned well — I had booked the trip just ten days prior.

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Oman ranks right up there with Singapore as the cleanest and safest country on earth. No crime, no graffiti, no trash, no car honking. No discussion of politics or religion. If your car is dirty, the police will escort you to a carwash or give you a ticket.

Originally an isolated backwater with barely any electricity, running water or education and only six kilometers of paved roads, the country is now run by the most-beloved Sultan Qaboos, the 14th generation of his family to rule. Foreign-educated at Sandhurst and an RAF-trained fighter pilot, he kicked his backward thinking father out in a ‘70s coup and has brought this country into the most modern age.

He decided to use the country’s new-found oil revenues to modernize everything. Building schools, hospitals, roads, phones, ports and other amazing infrastructure — all from scratch. He gave freedom to the press (somewhat) and free education and housing for all, with no discrimination on the ground of gender, color, language, religion, sect or social status.
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Oman ranks right up there with Singapore as the cleanest and safest country on earth.

 

I didn’t plan well for Muscat — pronounced MoSCAT — after a long and luxurious flight on Emirates Business Class to Dubai, then a long layover and short forty minute flight to Muscat, I’d only planned to luxuriate in the luxurious Chedi Muscat and take a short half-day tour before heading out on my two week slog through Oman’s stunning interior.

I told my guide I didn’t want to do that standard see-everything tour, just show me the good stuff. So he did. And that’s what I’ve recapped here. They have a souk, but he said “You know, people like to go to the souk, but it’s not as cool as it was. Now it is mostly run by Indian immigrants and the goods are often not Omani.”  

“Okay, fine, let’s skip that. I don’t need to buy anything.”  So we did.

But what we did see was very special. And this is a recap of my short visit to Muscat. I didn’t get a chance to go into the city center to dine and walk around. I plan to come back again and spend more time exploring the city.⠀⠀⠀⠀

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When you fly from Dubai, you fly over the glistening Vegas of the Middle East, then the barren rolling deserts, seeing camels from sky.

But soon, the landscape changes and you realize why you’re here. Endless brown mountains, crinkled like cardboard below.

 

 

When I first landed… and knew so little about Oman. All these beautiful white houses… everything white to reflect the hot desert sun. And all mostly the same, to reflect Oman.

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Look again at the video ⬆⬆⬆ Sultan has ruled that Oman will not be like Dubai, with modern skyscrapers and overwhelming development. Buildings must be six stories or less and built with traditional Arabic design and materials. No over-development. Oman to keep like Oman.

The Sultan’s Royal Palace

Oh maaan, do I love a well-fortified city. This is so cool. This is the ancient palace and old section of Muscat. There’s a whole giant sparkling clean city of 4million over the hills, but this is where it all started, nestled in these protective gnarly hills.

You can barely see it here, proportions are all out of whack, but there is a protected harbor with twin burly Portuguese-built forts high on those far hills protecting the narrow harbor entrance and the Sultan’s gleaming palace.

A giant stone entrance squatted over the only narrow road that lead into this busy beehive. They would shut its massive gates each night, sealing off the world so everyone could sleep better. Protected.

 

Muscat Sultan Qaboos Palace

This is the Sultan’s palace, used for recepting foreign guests, they can pull his yacht right up to here, protected by the ancient Portuguese forts that guard the entrance to the bay. Note the cannons on right and left, they also help.

 

 

Oman coffee shop.

Make sure you stop for an Arabic coffee or cool lime mint drink that is ever-present throughout Oman.

 

Where to Stay in Muscat

Without question, stay at the luxurious Chedi Muscat — one of the best hotels in the world. You can see more of it in my previous post. 

You’ll never want to leave. Some people in Dubai and the UK fly here just to stay here and see nothing else.

I think they said this is the longest lap pool in the Gulf, appropriately named The Long Pool. Something like 100m — an American football field in length.

 

A Visit to the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque

One of the coolest things to do in Muscat is visiting the gigantic Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque.

In Oman, they practice a moderate and accepting form of Islam that welcomes all religions, called Ibadi. I love this Wikipedia line because it sums up my whole experience in Oman:⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Ibadis have been referred to as tolerant Puritans or as ‘political quietists’ because of their preference to solve differences through dignity and reason rather than with confrontation, as well as their tolerance for practicing Christians and Jews sharing their communities.” At the mosques, people are not Sunni or Shia or Ibadi, all are Muslim. It’s practically forbidden to argue about religion or politics.

Until recently, it used to be the biggest mosque* in the world and about the only one non-Muslims can visit in Oman.

It was such a beautiful and majestic place, with polished Italian marble outdoor tiles that were cool to the touch on your bare feet because they are all water-cooled underneath.

Such soaring architecture and every corner in elaborate and intricate detail. With a capacity of 20,000 worshippers it is gigantic, with what was the largest carpet* and chandelier* in the world. (all of these * eclipsed by the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi.)

 

 

Walking around with my guide, I had so many questions. Finally he said: “They have an Islamic Cultural Center here where they can answer many of your many questions, shall we stop in?” And that’s how we got to one of my favorite experiences of my two weeks in Oman.

One of my favorite experiences of my two weeks in Oman.

There we sat in the cool shade, sharing sweet dates and Arabic coffee, with one of the most well-read, friendliest and funniest oracles I’ve ever talked to. I’ve shaken the hand of two popes, which was cool, but no person ever explained the differences — and shared beliefs — of all the world’s different religions. He was like they called down to Central Casting… “Send up a Wise Man looking man” — serene in his Omani cap, long white beard, big welcoming eyes and a wall-to-wall smile.  His story telling was as riveting as listening to Scatman Crothers. ⠀⠀⠀

With a calm voice and hearty laugh, I spent 40 minutes in rapt attention, listening to stories and quotations and explanations of questions I’ve had for decades. I wish I got his name, I don’t even know what title to call him, but I will remember him for the rest of my life. If you go to Oman, you must stop in.  And don’t rush. You’ll learn about the world.

 

When I read in the guidebooks that this mosque had the world’s largest chandelier, I yawned. Yeah, okay.

BUT then I saw it in person. Wow. You can’t tell but it is ginormous. 1,500 lightbulbs, draped in Swarovski crystals, hanging in this muted dome. That intricate blue filigree hypnotized me for twenty minutes. Wow.
If you’ve been to St Peter’s In Rome or seen the big hoop lamps hovering inside The Hagia Sophia or Blue Mosque in Istanbul, this is equal to that experience. Maybe even more so since there’s hardly anyone else around. Wow.

This whole mosque was built in 2001, so it’s pretty state of the art and pristine. Hidden vents in columns and recesses make the inside keep everything cool, that’s important when it typically gets 50C (120F). Tip: visit Oman November to April.

 

 

Last visited November 2017

Other Oman Travel Resources

Here’s link to a Google Map I made tracing the route I took over my two weeks in Oman. You can bookmark it to use for later.  You can also zoom in to check out the incredible satellite maps of Oman’s changing geology.

I used Louise Brooks at  Scott Dunn Travel to book my entire trip and she was amazing. They have a fantastic website that has tons of pictures and details and different itineraries for what you’re in the mood for.  I wasted a year and a half trying to book through another well-known British travel company and they kept giving the run-around, or forcing me into a fixed two-two-two trip — which would have been a total waste.  I swear, I spent half an hour on the phone with Louise Brooks and just got exactly what I wanted, full detailed two week itinerary in half a day. Easiest vacation I ever planned, a full two week trip planned in half a day, bought and then I left the following week!  (DM me if you want my agent’s contacts).

Here is Conde Nast Traveller’s Oman Travel page.  I think the UK version has a lot more destinations and detail in it than the US version… which just repeats the same 12 travel places every year. And an even better Oman Overview that has tons of stuff I’ve never seen before.  Gotta go back!

Here’s a good overview article from the US Conde Nast Traveler on Why You Should Visit Oman, then Gulf’s Undiscovered Gem.

A brief article in Vogue on why you should go to Oman. If Vogue is suggesting it, you know it’s a safe country!

Here are some perfunctory facts and helpful info from Travel & Leisure on How To Travel to Oman.

Lonely Planet’s Guide to Oman.   And a short article on 9 Reasons to Visit Oman from CNN Travel.

terrific collection of articles from The Guardian on Oman.  And from The Telegraph Top 10 Reasons to Visit Oman.

Here is the Alila Jabal Akdar’s website.  And the Canvas Club Luxury Tents’ website.

And lastly Fodor’s deep guide on Oman.

 

 

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2 Discussions on
“A HALF-DAY TOUR OF MUSCAT”
  • Love this. Beautiful writing and photographs, I never before today thought I would remotely enjoy the Middle East. On my list now.

    • Thank you, Pete! I was that way, too! The place, the food, the hotels, the people, the geography. Everything was amazing. I can’t get it out of my head. Go soon, everyone says it’s the new Morocco. Get here before everyone else does.

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