By Gaya Traveller on July 9, 2014
Oman has been a dream destination for the Gaya Traveller team since we were schoolgirls, but the lack of direct connectivity from Malaysia to Oman delayed the dream. When we heard the news that Oman Air will soon fly into and out of Kuala Lumpur in 2010, we were ecstatic! Can you imagine how over the moon we were when Oman Air invited us to experience Muscat in September 2013?
Oman Air is the flagship carrier of the Sultanate of Oman and an Official 4 Star Airline (Skytrax 2011). Founded in 1993, the airline has since witnessed massive growth and has played a major role in making Muscat an important traffic hub in the Middle East, supporting the commercial, industrial and tourism sectors.
The airline currently operates direct international flights from Muscat to Gulf destinations. In addition, Oman Air flies to ten destinations in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Kathmandu in Nepal and Colombo in Sri Lanka. Furthermore, Oman Air flies to the Maldives, Bangkok in Thailand and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia and operates services to Zanzibar and Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania. Its European destinations are London, Milan, Munich, Frankfurt, Paris and Zurich.
Oman Air also has codeshare partnerships with several airlines, giving travellers better connectivity and an extended range of services.
Oman Air’s outstanding aircraft interiors include its First Class Mini Suite, which provides each of the six First Class passengers direct aisle access and converts into the longest lie-flat seat in the skies. Each of the A330’s 20 award-winning Business Class seats provide direct aisle access, ample storage space and the latest technological amenities. Economy Class seats offer adjustable head and leg rests, together with generous amount of leg and elbow room.
A state of the art in-flight entertainment system features individual seatback screens, audio and video on demand and live satellite TV. In addition, Oman Air has pioneered both mobile telephony and Internet connectivity on board its flights and this is available in all three classes.
Superb new First and Business Class lounges have been opened at the Muscat International Airport, featuring elegant and tranquil relaxation areas, complimentary spa treatments and à la carte dining. A lounge-to-aircraft limousine service has also been launched for First Class passengers in Muscat.
Oman Air’s commitment to quality, comfort and a seamless passenger experience has resulted in the airline garnering international accolades, including Best Business Class Seat in the World (World Airline Awards 2012); Best Business Class Seat in the World and Service Excellence, Middle East (World Airline Awards 2011); Best Luxury Airline, Middle East (Business Destinations Awards 2011); Technological Innovation of the Year (Aviation Business Awards 2010); recognition in the TravelPlus Amenity Bag Awards 2010 (three Gold, one Silver); the Cellars in the Sky Awards 2010 (Silver); the KLIA Awards 2011; the 2009 Vision Awards (one Silver, one Bronze); the Travel Industry Club Awards 2010 (Silver); TTG Travel Award 2011 as Commended Airline of the Year; Best In-flight Connectivity & Communications award in The 2011 Passenger Choice Awards in Seattle USA; The Airline of the Year Award at France’s Lauriers d’Or du Voyage d’Affaires; Top Resa 2011 in addition to the Best First Class Female Amenity Bag; and the Best Business Class Unisex Amenity Bag at the TravelPlus Airline Amenity Bag Awards 2011. Oman Air was awarded The Best Business Class Airline, Middle East at the Business Destinations Travel Awards 2012.
Muscat is just a six-hour flight away from Kuala Lumpur. Oman Air flies out to Muscat 7 times a week. We were seated in the Economy Class, but amazingly there were only 198 seats on the aircraft, which meant that we had plenty of legroom for passengers – this is definitely the first thing we look out for every time we fly.
> Oman Air’s seats strongly emphasise on passenger comfort, thus the seats themselves are ergonomic, with articulating bottoms that move forward and the backs that slant further backwards to fully support passengers’ lower body, reducing travel fatigue. The personal in-flight entertainment system is also user friendly, which comes with a touch screen that is larger than most airlines and contains various entertaining programmes, games and information to keep passengers occupies throughout the whole flight.
> What we found noteworthy is the fact that Oman Air offers Wi-Fi connectivity in its flights. The service is chargeable, of course, but the service proves beneficial, particularly to business travellers and those who need to get connected to the internet. Oman Air passengers can now simply access and conduct dealings on the web during the journey, thus allowing passengers to use their time more efficiently when they are on air.
> Amenity bags are also given to passengers, which is a special touch to the whole Oman Air experience. Many other airlines unfortunately have stopped giving out amenity bags to all passengers as part of their cost-cutting measures, making the flight on Oman Air more memorable.
> During the six-hour flight, we were served a main meal and a snack. Menu cards were given not long after take-off, giving passengers plenty of time to choose from the three main course options, making the dining experience on Oman Air more personalised.
> We had taken a total of six Oman Air flights during our 10-day trip. The types of aircraft include Airbus A330-300s, Boeing 737-700s and Embraer E175.
> The service by the cabin crew was efficient, courteous and friendly. We must say that we were well taken care of during our journeys on Oman Air. Before we knew it, the entre six hours flew by quickly. We definitely look forward to make another journey on Oman Air!
We touched down in Muscat at around 3pm in early September, when Oman was approaching its winter season. However, the temperature was relatively hot for us, which was around 35°C. September is not the peak season, as visitors usually prefer to come to Oman towards the end of October till December for cooler temperatures.
The first thing we noticed as we drove out of the Airport was that Muscat is an exceptionally clean and well planned city. Buildings were spread out and the city lacks skyscrapers. We later discovered that there is a law that limits buildings to be no taller than 15 stories high. We were instantly impressed with what we saw during our journey to the hotel from the airport.
His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al-Said has been the Ruler of Oman since 1970 and revered by the people of Oman. Omanis are indeed lucky to have such a caring and wise Ruler. He is the man responsible in bringing development to Oman and made the country ideal country to live in. Oman is undoubtedly charming, modern yet still retains a strong sense of heritage and culture.
We engaged the services of a private guide as we truly do not know what to expect and naturally, being lady travellers, we were also concerned with safety. We are happy to report that Oman turns out to be safe with very low crime rate. Maybe next time we will explore Oman on our own through self-drive adventure. Driving is on the left side of the road, by the way.
Visiting hours are 8:30 a.m. till 11:00 a.m., except on Fridays. Since this is a place of worship, visitors must wear clothes covering their arms and legs, while ladies are requested to cover their heads with scarf. As we stepped into the compound of the mosque, we instantly felt relaxed due to the mosque’s serene atmosphere. The mosque is surrounded by well manicured garden with ponds and fountains. An architectural competition was held for the design of the Grand Mosque and it took six years to construct this jaw-droppingly beautiful mosque. The main prayer hall was a sight to behold, impressively decorated with a single piece of hand knotted Iranian carpet and a massive chandelier hangs right in the centre of the hall.
The mosque also houses The Sultan Qaboos Centre for Islamic Culture. It is like a sanctuary, where the public can come in and have a chat with the staff about the religion over Omani coffee and dates. Islamic books are also available for the public to read and take away.
Before the discovery of oil, Muttrah was the center of commerce in Oman. It is also known as Old Muscat, believed to be in existence since 900 years ago. Muttrah is still a centre of commerce since it is one of largest sea ports in the region. It has many attractions, the main one being the Muscat Corniche. This beautiful 3-kilometre long beach road is always packed with tourists and locals who come to enjoy its views. Walk along the corniche and travellers might be lucky to see wild turtles swimming close to the walkway! Further walk along the corniche will take travellers pass by the Lawati mosque, alongside other beautiful old buildings.
Muttrah Souk, is called Al Dhalam (Darkness in Arabic) by the locals. It is perhaps one of the oldest marketplaces in the Arab world. It is named as such due to it being crowded by stalls and lanes that sunrays do not infiltrate the market during the day and shoppers require lamps to find their way around the market. Items on sale include the traditional clothing like the Dishdasha (an ankle length tunic for men), shawls, frankincense and Omani souvenirs.
For an interesting experience, drop by at the Muttrah Fish Market, also located along the same stretch of road. This is where the locals come and buy their seafood supplies. Huge fish are being sold cheaply; a tuna as long as your arm would only cost approximately OMR2.
The Sultan does not usually reside in this Palace, but it is mostly used to receive State visitors. It is the most important of the six royal residences of the ruling monarch, Sultan Qaboos, which dot around Muscat, Salalah and Sohar. Visitors are not allowed inside the palace, despite the fact that His Majesty normally lives elsewhere in Oman, but it remains a popular area to walk next to and take photos. On either side of the palace stretches a cluster of impressive government buildings that are huge, snow-white edifices sporting crenellated rooftops, traditional wooden balconies and window shutters. Al-Alam Palace is surrounded by the Al-Jalali and Al-Mirani Forts built in the 16th century by the Portuguese.
Forts and Castles are Oman’s most striking cultural landmarks and together with its towers and city walls, they have historically been used as defensive strongholds or look-out points. The Al Jalali and Mirani Forts are among Oman’s most famous forts that stand at the entrance of Muscat bay. The forts are the Capital’s most prominent landmarks and were built in the 16th Century A.D. Al Mirani was built before the arrival of the Portuguese. Al Mirani soars a notch above the Al Jalali Fort. From its pinnacle, there are breath-taking views of the harbour and the entire old city.
A friend mentioned that Salalah is a must go when you are in Oman, simply because of its remarkable beauty. So we did some research on Salalah and were intrigued by this Arabian tropical oasis. Salalah is situated in the Dhofar Governorate, facing south over the Arabian Sea, which boasts pristine white beaches to accompany its enviable climate. Dhofar is famous throughout the region as a must-visit summer destination, when the khareef (monsoon) season begins towards the end of June. Khareef Festival takes place every July and August, offering the best in entertainment for the whole family. Here, coconut and banana trees replace the ubiquitous date trees found elsewhere in Oman. It somewhat reminded us of Malaysia!
Salalah is an hour flight away from Muscat, or approximately five hours by road. We, of course took the flight, not wanting to waste any precious time. We decided to stay for three days in Salalah, which was ample for a quick introduction to Oman’s southernmost city.
Beautiful hotels, colourful souks and a stunning natural backdrop make Salalah one of the country’s favourite cities for travellers. This part of Oman is blessed with coastline, deserts, springs and mountains… it is hard not to be awed by its nature.
The Dhofar Governorate is rich in archaeological sites including the ruins of the ancient port city of Sumhuram, which is located at Khor Rori. Sumhuram is one of the four sites on the UNESCO ‘Land of the Frankincense Trade’ World Heritage List. Sumhuram has commanding views over the waters of Khor Rori and across the ocean, a key consideration in the town’s planning.
Another must go for history buffs would be The Museum of Frankincense Land. It is considered one of the most prominent historical museums in Oman because it includes historical and cultural facts from different eras. The museum is located in Al Baleed, also part of the UNESCO World Heritage List as an archaeological and tourism park. Al Baleed is considered by archaeologists as the most important remnants of an Islamic ancient city on the Arabian Sea coast. It is also part of the historic home of the frankincense tree that Sultanate of Oman is renowned for, especially since frankincense was the most important Omani export during ancient times. The museum is divided into two main halls: the Hall of History that branches into six sections and the Marine Hall that is divided into seven sections.
Taqah is another Dhofari town with a rich history, having been a major shipping port for both frankincense and myrhh. Both of these fragrances are harvested from locally grown species of trees and at one point, they did worth more than their weight in gold. This led to a prosperous local economy, with the town’s impressive Taqah Castle museum revealing tales of its glorious past in a collection of fascinating exhibits. Built in the 19th century as a private stronghold for Sheikh Ali bin Timman Al-Ma’ashani, it has been developed into a fascinating tourist attraction. You will be brought around by a guide whom travellers can learn from and ask questions about the Omani history and way of life. Taqah is a favourite destination for Omanis as it represents the birthplace of their beloved sultan, His Majesty Sultan Qaboos.
Dhofar is home to many fantastic natural attractions. There are many beaches, lagoons, springs and nature reserves. We have only managed to visit some of them.
Wadi Darbat is an oasis of wildlife and lush green vegetation at the base of the Dhofar Mountains chain. You will marvel at the vibrant contrast to the vast desert regions of the north. During the height of the khareef, waterfalls cascade over the wadi’s rocky slopes and into the river below. Wadi Darbat is very popular with families from all around the region, due to its verdant green grounds suitable for picnics and many non-motorised water activities available for rent. The water of Wadi Darbat is light turquoise, which reminded us of the lakes we saw in Switzerland. It was drizzling when we were in Wadi Darbat and we were able to witness families enjoying their picnic and water activities in the rain!
Ayn Razat is a nice picnic spot. There is garden which is only open on Thursdays and Fridays, but travellers are most welcomed to come and relax in the shade near the natural spring found here. There is also a cave where travellers can safely explore since it is equipped with proper steps and handrails.
Al- Mughsayl is stunning! This coastline of Oman has a view of azure waters combined with dramatic headlands to create an amazing vista along its substantial length. What makes the Al-Mughsayl beach special are the blowholes. Seawater pounds against the faces of the cliff and rushes up through small openings, creating impressive spurts. Travellers need to wait patiently to witness nature’s ‘fountain’ – each time, the spurt reaches differing heights.
Al-Hafah Souq is well stocked with a variety of products, from textiles and clothing, to traditional handicrafts and gold and silver jewellery. It is also the perfect place to buy the best kind of frankincense, which comes in various grades.
Makam Nabi Ayoub alaihissalam (Prophet Job’s Tomb) is located in the green mountains of Beit Zarbij, where it is cool and peaceful, befitting his holy stature. His tomb is four metres long and 1.5 metres wide. There is a stone embedded with footprints and it was said that it belongs to Nabi Ayoub alaihissalam.
Sultan Qaboos Mosque was inaugurated in 2009 and has become one of Salalah’s famous landmarks. This mosque is able to accommodate 3,000 worshippers at one time, beautifully fitted with Iranian hand knotted carpet and impressive chandelier as the centrepiece. Again, remember to dress accordingly as this is a place of worship.
OMANI TRADITIONAL BARBEQUE!
Amidst the desert, we saw some tents with sliced raw meat hanging. Later we learnt that is was camel meat, which was being prepared for barbecue. Intrigued, we decided to stop and sampled Omani traditional barbeque, which was indeed delicious, and interesting. Omanis barbeque their meat directly on top of a mount of hot pebbles – no marinade is necessary, just add salt.
Our short five-day trip to Oman was an eye opener and one that we shall remember for years to come. We had expected Oman to be an exotic country, but we did not anticipate it to be exceptionally beautiful as well. We do hope to come back and explore more of Oman – we hope our readers will do the same too.
For more amazing photos of Oman, follow @gayatraveller on Instagram.
OMAN AT GLANCE
The Sultanate of Oman is the second largest country in the southeast coast of the Arabian peninsula. The Sultanate is bordered by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the west, the United Arab Emirates in the northeast, the Republic of Yemen in the southwest, the Strait of Hormuz in the north and the Arabian Sea in the east.
Oman has a land area of approximately 309,500km2 and a 3,165 kilometre-long coastline extending from the Strait of Hormuz in the north to the borders of Republic of Yemen in the south.
2.69million, including 743,000
Arabic (official), English
(widely spoken, taught in
schools), German & French
(most hotel staff)
For Malaysians, Visa On Arrival is obtainable at the Travelex Foreign Exchange bureau just before the Immigration counters. It costs OMR5 for a 10-day single entry visa and OMR20 for a one-month single entry visa. An automatic receipt will be issued to you. This receipt is to be presented at the immigration desk for your visa.
Omani Rial (referred to as OR, RO or OMR), is divided into 1,000 Baizas. Omani Rial is not available at the Malaysian money changers therefore Ringgit holders need to obtain Omani currency at the Muscat Airport as you pay for your visa-on-arrival. The exchange rate during Gaya Traveller team’s visit was approximately OMR 1 = RM8.70.
Islam is the official religion.
WHEN TO GO
There are only two seasons in Oman: summer and winter. Oman’s climate is typical of the Arabian Peninsula, with blisteringly hot summers and pleasantly mild, Mediterranean winters. During the summer months (March/April to September/October) almost the entire country is scorchingly hot; from May to July the thermometer can often nudge up into 40°C. Visiting during this period is best avoided, with the exception of Salalah, where temperatures remain bearable thanks to the annual khareef (Monsoon season) that descends from June to August or early September. It is a popular time to visit the area, even if accommodation gets booked solid and prices go through the roof. The winter months (October/November to February/March) are pleasantly temperate by contrast, with an almost Mediterranean climate and daytime temperatures rarely climb above 30°C.
The weekend starts on Thursday after noon and Friday, although government offices are closed the whole of Thursday and Friday. Most of the shops and malls open from 9am to 1pm and 4pm to 9pm. During Ramadan, shops close late at night. Banks, embassies and consulates are open from 8am to noon, Saturday to Thursday.