In 2011 we took a short trip to the Musandam peninsula with friends Nathan, Sally and kids for and we had a four-day road trip in Oman between xmas and New Year 2015 that took in Nizwa in the mountains and Muscat the capital.
Oman is the most ‘real’ of the Gulf states as the guide books all say; people are genuine there is plenty to do and the winter temperatures are perfect.
Of particular interest if you live in the UAE, the Musandam peninsula is a popular weekend spot for expats. We went over a holiday weekend with two other couples from RAK in the North of the UAE. From Abu Dhabi it’s under 3 hours to border and you get a chance to drive through some of the mountainous parts of the UAE as well.
Before I go to talk about what a cool time we had, I have to say that we spent around 4 hours crossing the UAE, Omani border, which with three families with a grand total of 6 kids felt more like 4 years. If you are going to do this trip over a holiday weekend, get your visa before you go….
Anyway on to brighter aspects of the trip…. first off Oman is NOT Mussandam, it’s separated from the rest of the country by the UAE and so has a vibe all of its own.
We found a mid-range apart hotel for the duration in Khasab the town on the peninsular, which had a pool and fresh fish on the menu, but was not out of this world. Although I get the impression nowhere really is in Khasab…
We spent our time looking around Mussandam town, scrambling around rocks and going for a dhow cruise. If the kids had been older we could perhaps have gone for some hikes, but on this trip it wasn’t on the cards.
The Dhow cruise gave us the chance to see the area, again it was heaving with people, but once we got on the boat for our half day cruise everyone enjoyed the experience.
The best thing about the trip was being with friends. My mate Nathan is a fellow Brummie and our kids get on, so there was no need to go too far afield to have a good time…
Overall would I rush back to Musandam? Probably not, if there are other parts of Oman to explore, but I would go again if I was in the Northern Emirates of the UAE.
Nizwa is about 2 hours away from the UAE border through rocky mountains that have an austere beauty to borrow a hackneyed phrase, the road is easy and straight away after going through the border you can feel you are in a more rough and ready ‘real’ country than many of the other Gulf states.
We were staying in the Majan Guest House, which was cheap for Oman (around 80 Euro a night) and you got two rooms and kitchenette for your money. It was easy to get into town from here and the breakfast buffet was good with scrambled eggs for Danny and spring rolls for Tommy. The staff were also on the ball and organised a 4×4 trip for us in 5 minutes, so all good.
The city itself has a famous fort and souq, and more importantly a feeling of being populated for more than 5 minutes. The boys enjoyed both the aforementioned sites, we cruised the fort for a couple of hours and the souq had loads of GUNS and KNIVES.
We didn’t manage to see the animal souq which is mentioned in the guide books, but we did get stuck into the craft souq and bought a BIG plant pot for about EUR15 and pistol with handmade holster for Danny. Tommy wanted to buy a real gun of course, or at least a bullet belt, but we managed to convince him that customs might not be too keen on these at the border.
The fort is right next to the souq so you can do both in one go. It’s a museum of Omani culture as well, although I have seen better, but the kids did enjoy the prison room and the cannons.
Our driver picked up from the hotel at 9am for a trip to see Oman’s Grand canyon and Jebel Shams, described in detail with lots of pics in this blog. The tour took in an old stone village or two, the canyon itself and a break for something to eat on the mountain at the Jebel Shams resort, which was a lot less fancy than it sounded, and more importantly had hot dogs…
The day was a bit of a schlep for the kids, but they did enjoy the chance to run around on the mountain. The guide was big on smiles and a good driver, but his lack of English and our lack of Arabic meant the tour was extremely short of information, which was a pity.
The people, the mountains and the atmosphere make Nizwa and around worth a trip, especially if you can just nip over from the UAE.
You can cross the sea from Muscat in a straight line and arrive in India. It may be my imagination but you can feel this in the city, it somehow feels more exotic than the UAE, then again maybe it’s because there are just not as many expats.
The city is not like other Gulf Cities, it’s in mountains that run right down to the water and is low rise, with the old part of town actually feeling like an old town.
We stayed in another cheap(ish) and cheerful (or at least big) in one of the less glitzy parts of town called the Delmon Apartments . This place was even more spacious than the place in Nizwa, with two bedrooms, a lounge and kitchen. The boys had space to run around and the beds were massive. The only glitches were when the hot water conked out for a few hours and the TV that had about 3 channels. Still, the good wifi meant we were able to go with YouTube as a back up plan. As I said the spot was a bit down at heel, but it was next to a main road that connected us to the rest of the city quite easily. We actually ended up not going too far, with Muttrah tasking up nearly the whole of the two days we were there.
One of the main hits for the kids for the Souq in Muttrah, there were lots of goodies to catch their eye, although they found some of the hard sell a bit much. Again the souq felt a lot more real than the UAE souqs and you could wander around for a couple of hours quite easily.
We also got some food just outside the souq, which was slightly pricey Arabic and Indian fare, but it was a good spot for atmosphere at least.
The other hit was hanging out on the corniche itself, the boys enjoyed watching the fisherman and we climbed up to a watchtower that gave a great view of the bay and a chance to watch a container ship park up. Oh and bring some bread as you can see there is nothing nicer to pass the time than feeding the fish!
The watchtower had some cannon and is one of a series, again this makes for good photos and if it’s not too busy a cheeky game of blow the pirates out of the bay may be the order of the day.
Just across from the corniche is the incense burner park, which was empty and with the sound of so many crows a crowing was like something out of spooky movie. Still being empty meant there were no queues and there was a uppy downy slide and some arcade games that the boys enjoyed. Mind you a strong bladder is recommended, I did try and use the loo but the stench almost knocked me out and the kids opted for a tree and I crossed my legs.
A bit further up from the incense burner away from Mutrah were two other cool spots, the museum/big impressive building area and a marina.
The government building area, which is in the old part of the city, has the National museum, parliament and a palace all with some nice gardens, a nice stop for a while to take some snaps in the afternoon light. we didn’t make it inside any of the buildings, the afternoon was too nice to go indoors, but it’s a sure thing for a hot day.
The marina is where you can take boat trips to go dolphin watching. We turned up to see what was happening but the sea was too rough for good watching so we decide to save it until next time. BUT we did have a nice long lunch at the marina restaurant complete with a cold beer or two, my first of the trip. The boys were also well catered for and next time we come for lunch here we’ll bring our trunks so they can have a dip in the pool. Also hopefully some boat action will be on the agenda next time and who knows a bit of snorkelling, I’m just glad we didn’t book in advance this time otherwise we would have been disappointed.
Also just across from the marina there is a small park where you can sit under a tree for a rest or a picnic, or have a scramble up the rocks, me and the boys spent half and hour investigating the rocks and discovering the variety of colours and materials. I think next time a bit of research on the geology would have make our musings and conjectures more interesting.
After two days in Muscat it was to go home and we made the drive back to the border with Al Ain. this time along the coast road via Sohar, rather than inland via Nizwa. This was the ‘quicker’ route but it was built up, full of trucks and nothing like as picturesque as the Nizwa route, so next time we’ll take the extra half and hour and go via Nizwa.