Oman: The land of forts, towers & castles

21 02 2020

When a friend told me years ago that she had a wonderful vacation in Oman, I was cluelessly asking her what does Oman offers. She showed me wonderful photos and told me that I need to go and see for myself. So 3 years later when I was trying to fill 5 free days in my Middle East trip, I decided to “squeeze in” a visit to Oman.

Muscat, the capital of Oman, is a beautiful city. The most famous sight is the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque located in western Muscat. This is a magnificent piece of art and used to be the world’s largest mosque until Abu Dhabi decided to build one bigger one. A total of 20,000 worshippers can attend the mosque at the same time. Do not miss the main chandelier, the large carpet and the beautiful painted tiles and marbles and do allocate sufficient time for your visit to slowly admire the beautiful works.

The old town to the east of Muscat is a contrast to central Muscat. Known as Mutrah, this old town area has a few old forts built in the 16th Century by the Portuguese such as the Mutrah Fort, Fort Al Jalali and Al Mirani Fort. There are a few other places of interest in Old Muscat worth seeing. The Sultans Palace or the Al Alam Royal Palace with a blue and golden façade is beautiful. The area around it is worth a short stroll. Not far away are the Muscat Gate and the Clock Tower. If you love to shop, there’s a big souk nearby.


Rustaq, the old capital of Oman, is well known for its healing hot springs, the most famous one being Ain al-Kasafa. Many people across the country travelled all the way here as it is known to cure rheumatism and various skin diseases. The famous Al Hazm Castle and Al Rustaq fort are surely Instagram worthy and should not be missed. It’s not too far from Muscat and well worth the trip.

A short drive from Muscat will bring you to Nizwa, a city at the foot of the Green Mountain.The city is of many rivers, orchards and palm trees, the city is famous for its fort, Souq (aka market) and Birkat Al Mauz, well known for its cool irrigation system.

Green Mountain
Just above Nizwa is the Green Mountain, famous for…. you guess it correctly… green mountain 🙂 The beautiful photos that you see online, with the green terrace fields will entice many tourists to make the trip. But well, the mountain is not always green, surely not in winter lol. So it’s not surprising when I reach that the green mountain looks dull yellow (and bare). Its official name is Jebel Al Akhdar. Here, you will see many fruit orchard laid out terrace style along the slopes of the mountain, thus creating a “green” look during the warmer seasons.


  1. There is Visa-on-arrival for many nationalities. If you travel from Dubai and will be returning to Dubai for your flight home, you could qualify for Visa-free entry. It is worth checking the details with the embassy as you could save quite a fair bit from the Visa cost.
  2. Oman is generally a safe country and practices moderate Islam. Tourists do not have to be covered up. However, it will still be respectful to wear modestly so as not to attract unwanted attention.
  3. The Grand Mosque is free for visitors. However, one need to dress appropriately before allowing entry. For ladies, head scarf are needed and all hair need to be tucked inside the scarf. All other parts of the body (minus the face) has to be covered with no skin expose. Man also needs to dress conservatively (no shorts and no slippers). If you do not have appropriate clothings, you can either buy and one of the market or buy one outside the mosque.
  4. Public transportation is almost non-existence except for taxis. You could grab a taxi from the airport to the hotel or within Muscat. But if you will like to travel out of Muscat, I suggest that you either rent a car or engage a local tour guide to take you. The road conditions are pretty good with well-paved expressways connecting the various cities and the roads are not congested so it’s quite easy to travel around the country.
  5. Oman offers a good variety of different sights and landscape – from old cities/ruins to mountains to sea side to desert. You should be able to cover Muscat city in 2 days. Depending on what you will like to cover outside Muscat, you will likely need a week or more in Oman.
  6. Things in Oman is not cheap (though not as expensive as the Nordic or Switzerland). Many places may not accept credit card so make sure you bring sufficient cash. I will say that excluding hotels and tours, budget at least US$70 a day on average.
  7. Hotel: I stayed at Raddison Blu and love their modern and clean rooms. There are many restaurants around the hotel so it’s Super convenient to get food (including my favourite Turkish House and a nice local eatery). See food section below for more details.


    Cuisine in Oman is somewhat similar to Indian food. This is not surprising given the close proximity to India. Do try out biryani. Compared to the Indian version, I find the Oman version less spicy.

    There is a lot of Turkish food in Muscat. One of my favourite restaurant which I highlight recommend if you visit is Turkish House. The grills are really good and you can have a decent meal for less than US$20.

    If you are on a budget, try out the local restaurant serving the typical Arabic food. The Arabic meal typically consists of rice, meat and some soup and this will cost you between US$2 to US$5 depending on the type of meat you order. You will find that it tastes yummy so long that you like spices. To many who are not used to spices, Arabic food tastes somewhat similar to north Indian cuisine but less spicy.

Fancy Dubai

5 12 2018

Fancy architectures, stunning skylines, fast cars and glittering gold, all these are what come to my mind when I think of the “desert land” Dubai. The largest and most populous city in the United Arab of Emirates (UAE), it is really amazing how such an amazing city can be built (and they are constantly building) in the middle of the desert!

You will surely not miss Burj Khalifa, the tallest structure in the world. Located beside the Dubai Mall, this you can get up to the observation deck to take in stunning view of the city. Do remember to book the tickets online in advance to save you some time queuing and be prepared to queue, queue and queue and get up there. The Dubai Mall is also another place that you will likely hang out pretty often during your trip, a good retreat from the desert heat. For the shopping lovers (like me lol), you can really shop till you drop at this mall. Even if shopping is not your cup of tea, the mall has a giant aquarium with an underwater zoo and numerous restaurants that will make you want to go back. The mall also has a fountain show every 30 minutes in the evening similar to the one at Bellagio in Vegas. If you want to catch a nice spot to watch the show, do go earlier to “reserve” your spot. But for those who has seen the show in Vegas, the Dubai’s one may pale in comparison.

The other “must-see” is Burj Al Arab. This 7 stars hotel can only be assessed if you are willing to spurge around USD 2,000 a night for a room here, or to go with the “cheaper” option of dinning in the restaurant at the hotel. For those who are unwilling to dig so deep into their pockets, you can get a good view of Burj Al Arab from the beach or the souk (see tip below).

Another famous site is the Palm Jumeirah. Like the name suggests, this place looks like a palm tree from the air and is said to be the only structure created by man (apart from the Great Wall of China) that one can see from space. The famous The Atlantis Resort is situated at the end of the Palm and is a nice place to spend a day or two for the whole family. See my tip below on how to get there.

The Dubai Creek, the old city and the famous gold and spice souks are also worth a visit. The old Dubai area is a huge contrast to Dubai’s modern and stunning skylines. I will recommend that you start your visit at the old fort (Al Fahidi). From here, it’s about 15 minutes walk to the water taxi berth and you can then take the water taxi for 1 AED across the creek to the spice and gold souks, which are 5 minutes walk from one another. Alternatively, you can take the metro to Al Ras station and walk to the souks.

Also, less than a hour drive from the city center will take you into the Arabian desert where you can ride the camel, do some sand-boarding or go on a four-wheel drive into the desert. I will strongly recommend this even if you have seen other deserts before.


1. Getting to/from the airport: The metro connects well the airport and the city. This is the cheapest way of travel though taxi (the most convenient way) is not that expensive compared to the European and US cities. You can get a day pass which allows you unlimited rides on metro, buses and trams.

2. Getting around Dubai: The metro is an efficient and cheap means for of transport around central Dubai. However, the taxi is not expensive compared to Europe or US so for those places requiring you to change to a bus after the metro (eg Atlantis, Burj Al Arab), it may be a wiser choice to take the taxi to avoid the hassle.

3. The best time to go will be during the winter season where the weather is pretty cooling unless you fancy the dessert heat.

4. Dress code: Dubai like the rest of Middle East region is an Islamic Emirate, though it is one of the most liberal of all Emirates. It is advisable that you dress modestly. For women, dress should be below the knees and wear top with sleeves. Avoid tight fitting or revealing clothes. If you are visiting a mosque, you will need to wear a head scarf and ensure your arms and legs are covered up.

5. Getting to Atlantis: Take metro to Damac Properties station and change tram to station 9 (Palm Jumeirah). Thereafter, you will need to follow the marked pathway (through a carpark) to the Atlantis light rail station and take the light rail across to Atlantis. You will need at least a day in Atlantis if you want to try out the rides at the water parks. If you just want to see Atlantis and possibly visit the aquarium, half a day will suffice.

6. You can take in the wonderful view of Burj Al Arab from the beach around it. The one beside it (a private beach of Jumeirah Beach Hotel) is only available to its guests or if you pay a fee to access it. Alternatively, go to the public beach next to Jumeirah Beach Hotel which is free and I will recommend this option if you just want to see Burj Al Arab. You can also catch the view of the building from the soul (which sees the other side of the building).

What to Eat:

Below are my top 3 restaurants (not in any order):

1) Red Lobster at the Dubai Mall – good value for lobsters lover. I love it so much that I dine here for a few meals.

2) The Meat Co – Great quality food with a good view of the Burj Al Arab

3) The Fish Hut – For fish and other seafood lovers, this place serves them well and at a very reasonable price.