3 days exploring Oman
Now this may seem odd to many and even though I only got to spend 3 days there, Oman is one of my favourite countries! I visited Oman as part of a cruise, spending 2 full days in the capital Muscat, and 1 day in the northern town of Al Khasab. Oman is such an unknown place, I don’t know anyone else who has visited there, and most people I mention it to don’t even know where it is, which is unfortunate because it is such a wonderful place with so much to offer.
As I said in my post on what to wear in the Middle East, which you can find here: https://www.the-global-gay.com/post/what-to-wear-in-the-middle-east , although Oman has no pro-LGBT laws, it is an extremely safe country and the crime rate there is extremely low, according to the Global Crime Index, Oman ranked as the 5th safest country in the world!!
I'll include as many pictures as I can but I lost the phone that I brought with me shortly after the cruise, (If you know me, not surprising really) so I'm relying on what I had put on Facebook for pictures.
Al Khasab is a tiny town, in fact it's more a local village than a town. It can be found in the northern tip of Oman. Its closer to Iran than it is to Muscat. Myself and my friend decided to go on a dolphin tour here. Now this was no Seaworld bullshit, this was a traditional Arabic boat called a Dhow, where we all took off our shoes and sat on these big cushions on the deck. The tour was about 4 hours long and included dolphin watching and snorkeling. We were also randomly given fruit and fruit juice...
We left the port in a mini bus and were shuttled around the bay to the smaller port that handled the fishing boats and the Dhow boats. This dock had one pier and literally about 30 boats piled in, so we had to cross the decks of 5 other boats to get to ours (this is a common trend in Asia) We sat on the boat in port for at least 45 minutes while we waited for the boats surrounding us to leave and to gather more passengers. The following 3 and half hours were spent lounging on the deck, watching the dolphins swim literally directly below the boat and we even got lucky and witnessed a few high leaps from the water!
My first time ever snorkeling was on this trip, when in Oman I suppose! The crew on the boat supplied the mask and snorkel. Its questionable how well they were cleaned after each use, which at the time I didn’t care about, but now in a COVID-19 world, seems crazy. The water was crystal clear and warm and there were beautiful fish swimming all around. A few people on our boat didn’t get into the water, and honestly, I feel they missed out. I 100% recommend getting in, because then you can say that you swam in the Strait of Hormuz. If you watch the news, you know that Iran and the USA love to tempt wars of this piece of water
Muscat truly is such a beautiful city, and unlike all the other capital cities in the Arabian Gulf, Muscat has absolutely no skyscrapers. In fact it is against the law to build that carbon copy western style glass and grass. The entire landscape is filled with low rise sandstone buildings that are all sandwiched between rocky mountains. It’s other worldly. I was lucky to have two days in this city but it's on my list to go back.
We spent the first day just walking around and exploring the area on our own. The cruise port for Muscat is in the South Eastern district of Mutrah. This was so handy for us as the most famous souq in Oman is located right here, the Mutrah Souq. Mutrah is the Arabic word for darkness. The souq is named this because back over 200 years ago, there was no way for the natural light to get in, so people had to carry around lamps to see their way inside. You’ll feel like your senses are being attacked the minute you walk inside! There's hundreds of shops selling spices, perfumes, dried flowers and whatever else so prepare for your nose to be under attack. Think of the LUSH shop x10. Not unpleasant, just intense!
There’s lots of juice bars and cafes along the waterfront (Remember no alcohol here unless you're in a hotel) They sell smoothies and juices in massive cocktail like glasses, perfect for sipping and people watching as people come and go from the souq.
Muscat is also home to the world’s largest incense burner. I know that it doesn’t sound that amazing, but it really is. It’s absolutely massive and was built to honour Oman’s 20th National Day. It is surrounded by a public park, and offers amazing views of the bay.
The second day is when we truly packed the most in as we could. Mainly because we realised there was so much to do and we had mistakenly left it all to our last day!
Just outside the port gates there are at least 70 taxis waiting. We simply went up to one taxi man and said that we wanted to go to all the popular sites in the city for the day. Basically we hired a regular taxi as if it were a tour bus. Bougie? Now I am not sure if we were just extremely lucky, but we managed to get the friendliest, kindest man possible. He not only was more than happy to bring us to the destinations...... but he would even get out with us and give us a personal tour! This man was so knowledgeable and proud of his country. I mean if I was Omani I would be very proud too. He took us to 5 places before dropping us back at the Mutrah cornice.
We visited Al Alam Palace, Muscat Gate, the Royal Opera House, Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque and Qurum Beach. When we were dropped off back at the corniche, we then headed up to the Mutrah Fort for a look over the city.
Al Alam Palace
The Al Alam Palace dates back over 200 years and it is surrounded by 16th Century Portuguese forts. The current palace was built in the 1970's. It’s a beautiful building painted blue and gold. Its styling is more reserved compared to other grand palaces that can be found throughout the Middle East. In my personal opinion, the whole place seriously reminds me of the palace in Shrek 2... It's so pristine and clean and there were so few people around. All the plants are perfectly manicured and absolutely nothing was out of place. Today the palace is used more as a ceremonial Palace for welcoming incoming heads of state and other dignitaries. At the other end of the red brick laid plaza, opposite the Palace, you'll find the National Museum of Oman.
It was about a half hour drive from the Palace to the Grand Mosque. On the way we drove by the Muscat Gate and the Royal Opera House.
Muscat Gate & the Royal Opera House
Muscat Gate is located literally on the road (as expected, it IS a gate after all). There is also a museum here which opened back in 2001, called the Muscat Gate Museum, showcasing history of Muscat from the Neolithic times until now.
The Royal Opera House was closed the day we there, so we drove by with our taxi man who slowed down as much as he was legally allowed to on the highway. This gave us some time to grab some pics while he told us briefly about the history of it.
In 2001, the then Sultan of Oman (Sultan Qaboos) ordered the construction of the Opera House as he had a particular interest in Classical music. In 2001, it officially opened with an opera performance by Spanish tenor Placido Domingo. Since then, the Opera House has had many prominent guests and performances such as cellist Yo Yo Ma, Andrea Bocelli, the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Swan Lake by the Mariinsky Ballet Company.
Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque
The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is the primary Mosque of Oman. Sultan Qaboos, ordered the construction of the Grand Mosque in the 90's. It opened in 2001 after 6 years of construction. Its main dome is 160ft high and the main minaret is 300ft tall. The mosque is absolutely massive and can hold up 20,000 worshipers at once! Surrounding the mosque are many manicured gardens and flowerbeds.
Inside the Mosque there are two main important features. A gigantic handwoven carpet, and an equally massive chandelier (don't tell Sia). The carpet contains over 1 billion knots, weighs over 21 tonnes and took 4 years to make. It was once the largest single piece carpet in the world but this title has since been taken by the Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi.
***The chandelier which hangs above the main prayer hall is also absurdly massive weighing in at 8.5 tonnes and containing 600,000 crystals. It is 46ft tall and even has its own mini staircase inside the structure for Maintenance. (Like what??). It was also once the largest chandelier in the world but unfortunately for Oman... This title was also stolen by the Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi (ruuuuude). The mosque is also the only one in all of Oman that is open to tourists. It is only open to visitors until 11am... so unfortunately we didn't chance to go inside as it was the afternoon.
*** EDIT *** After doing research for my post on the Unite Arab Emirates, I have found out that the chandelier in the Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Adu Dhabi is actually the third largest in the world. according to Classicalchandeliers.co.uk The largest in the world title is still held by the Sultan Qaboos mosque.
Going to the beach is probably not the first thing you'd think of doing in a place like Muscat, but boy am I glad we did. I was totally not expecting to turn up to such a beautiful beach. It honestly looked like we had somehow driven across Africa and the Atlantic and ended up in the Caribbean.
Qurum Beach is in the upscale area of Muscat called Qurum. Here you'll find big glamorous malls, a small theme park called Marah Land and Qurum Natural Park. The beach itself is lined with tall luscious palm trees, grass and wooden cabanas. Upscale villas line the beach front, each with private access gates straight onto the beach.
The waves here are super big and powerful and unlike the Caribbean … The water is dark and cold (rage!). If you're going into the water be careful because it has a big drop when you're only a foot in. You go from shin deep water to shoulder deep very quickly (the big waves are a giveaway for this)
We wore our swim wear under our clothes before heading out for the day, so on the beach we only had a quick change. After the swim, my parents changed quickly and discreetly in one of the free wooden cabanas. Myself and my friend just dried off slightly in the sun and then put our clothes back on over our damp togs.
Mutrah Fort was built the 1500's by the Portuguese. It was used as a military fort for centuries due to its strategic location high above the harbour. There's not a whole lot to see in the fort apart from some old cannons with information plaques on them. The most spectacular part is the unobstructed view that you get from the top! You really feel like you're taking in a place that's untouched by time.
LGBTQ+ Safety Tips
· Unfortunately for the Omani LGBT people in our community, homosexuality is still illegal in Oman. It carries a prison sentences of up to 3 years. As recently as 2018, men were arrested for dressing in women's clothing in a private house setting and posting the images on Snapchat.
· To avoid any problems while visiting Oman, it is best not to show any kind of affection with members of the same sex. For straight couples PDA should also be avoided
· Surprisingly Grindr works in Oman! However as being yourself carries a prison sentence, I 100% do not recommend using it. Same goes for Tinder, Scruff etc
· As I’ve said before in other posts, like Qatar (https://www.the-global-gay.com/post/what-to-wear-in-the-middle-east ), do not dress overly flamboyant. Dressing in line with the local culture is extremely important
· As I already mentioned, Oman is extremely safe and the Omani people are extremely friendly. Once you respect their culture, you'll be fine.