Sunday, May 17, 2009

Muscat, Oman

Ops Jalan Sakan (Mission: Travelots) - UAE and Oman, Spring 2009
Part 7

April 6th, 2009.

As early as 9am we were already out of our hotel in Muscat and was heading towards Muttrah Souq. While searching for parking we decided to drive along the corniche and check out the view. We finally found a parking spot (note: get your coins ready, you need to buy parking coupons at a machine) and walked towards one of the few restaurants that was already opened for business. The restaurants along the corniche serve typical fare that would attract arabs and westerners alike : Fast food like burgers, hot dogs and pizzas, much to the delight of my children :)
After a quick breakfast, we entered the souq.

The souq was a bustling place, but I was relieved to find that the shops were quite well arranged, not arranged in a maze like Khan El Khalili (Cairo). Shops in the souq sold all sorts of souviner items, from wooden frames (for pictures, mirrors or windows), to statuettes (camels, elephants, cats, etc), to urns made from all sorts of material (clay, brass or silver, painted or embellished with glass beads or precious stones), to perfumes, to embroidered skull caps, to t-shirts, to shawls, to textiles, to khanjars (the curved daggers), to all sorts of boxes and containers from metal or wood with mother of pearl inlays, and there were also the ocassional knick-knack store that sells cheap made-in-china items.

Coming from Saudi, I have seen most of the souviners sold in the souq, but I suppose if this were your first visit to the middle east, you would be spoilt for choice.
I would suggest:

Khanjars - the curved dagger usually made from silver, either on it's own, or readily framed. This might cost you a tidy sum of money (prices are usually more than OR100, depending on it's size and decorations), but if there's one thing that is a symbol of 'middle east', the khanjar would be it. If you are not ready to invest in the real thing, you could always buy khanjars in other forms, i.e. smaller replicas and as key chains.

Silver items - be it jewellery, coins, incense containers or pill boxes. Oman is renowned for its silversmiths. Silver is sold by weight though, and prices fluctuate, and they are not cheap. A small pill box about the size of your thumb could cost about OR2.5(SR25). Bracelets with semi-precious stones would be about OR10-OR25.

Camel figurines - comes in all sizes and adornments. Some even have small camel bags with mock treasures tucked in , on them. Price vary, depending on material (wooden ones cost less) and of course size.

Middle Eastern teapots - my husband's favourite. You can get them in either brass or silver, but the brass ones looks more traditional. Try to find one with the distinct pointed spout and a pear shaped body. You get bonus points if the bottom of your teapot has a stamp in arabic (this means it wasn't made in china or india or indonesia).

Embroidered Skullcap - the trademark of an Omani man. These skullcaps are distinctly Omani. They come in different colors and different patterns. The handmade ones are more expensive and can cost from OR8 up to tens of Omani Riyals, but you can get machine made ones that costs as cheap at OR2 riyals. One size doesn't fit all, so measure the person's head before you come to Oman if you're planning to buy it for someone else.

Dish-Dash - the traditional Omani male robe. In Saudi, it's called a "thaub". This comes in different colors and materials and you can even find one that matches the color of your skullcap, but white is traditional. I don't know exactly how much this will cost, but I am assuming that it's almost the same as in Saudi, so a comfortable cotton dish-dash would cost around OR3-5, depending on the material and tailoring.

When I got bored (and confused) of looking at souviners, I enjoyed the souq's architecture. It is quite a stunning building, with exposed rafters decorated with carvings, middle eastern chandeliers with colorful glass panels and 2 'courtyards' covered with stunning stained glassed domes. The colorful domes are decorated with pictures of traditional middle eastern items like the khanjars, teapots and jewellery. The courtyard provided me a much needed respite from the calls of the shop owners to step inside and check-out their wares.

We left Muttrah Souq to meet up with Taufik's Omani friend for lunch. Mohammad lives in Barka (an hour from Muscat, and he drove all the way to meet us!), and he doesn't know any good Omani restaurant in Muscat, so he brought us to a Turkish seafood restaurant instead. Seafood is really fresh in Muscat, and the fish are exported even to Saudi. We were treated to fish that were grilled and also fried, and they were all so yummy. The fish was served with a starter of lentil soup (my first time trying this, and I loved it!), and the usual side dishes: arabic flat bread, rocket salad in balsamic dressing, hommous (chikpea and tahini dip), spicy dip (i dont know the name) and rice. Suffice to say, we were stuffed!

After lunch, we followed Mohammad's car to Al-Bustan Palace Hotel, which boasts a really grand architecture, but we couldn't go in to look because there was a ministers' function going on. So, we drove on to Qantab instead, a small fishing village nestled between mountains. It was quite amazing to drive up and down along the mountain road, to first see nothing but rocks, go around a turn to suddenly see this little village with its stark white houses against the blue of the sea and sky. We spent a few minutes here because Taufik wanted to see if he could find a vantage point where he could take a picture of the Al-Bustan Palace Hotel. We picked a few interesting pebbles and Izani managed to get himself wet before Taufik came back, dissapointed.

We followed the signs to Shangri-La's Bar Al-Jissah Resort and Spa (picture above), which is a beautiful beautiful hotel that I'm sure I could never afford to stay in.
By that time, it was already a bit after 4pm, and Mohammad needed to go home to pick up his wife from school (she's a teacher), so we said our thankyous and goodbyes, and parted ways.

We headed to the other side of town, to the famous Sultan Qaboos Mosque, for solat.
Sultan Qaboos Mosque is huge (the biggest in Oman) and grand, you could see it from the highway. It is a relatively new mosque, built in the 1990s.
It is reputed to have the biggest chandelier in the world, standing at 14 meters tall. It also has the biggest single-piece handmade carpet in the world, which took artisans 4 years to make over a million knots, using 28 different colors of vegetable dyed wool. The intricate detailing on the main dome alone is mind boggling.

The toilets were modern and very clean and well maintained, and the best part is the ladies prayer hall is actually a huge hall, in it's own building, so unlike most mosques I've visited in the middle east. We had to walk a bit to get to it from the ablution rooms, but we walked under grand arches and crossed a marbled courtyard lined with shady green trees that added to the already peaceful atmosphere, so we didn't mind.

After solat, we did a little grocery shopping for the next morning's breakfast. We were still quite full from lunch, so we decided to have a light dinner, and the kids were screaming for 'civilized' food after days of eating traditional fare, so we stopped at a McDonald's :P
Thus ended our trip to Muscat, for the next morning we left early for Dubai, with a short detour at Rustaq and Nakhl.

Useful Information:
The accomodation we stayed in was nothing to shout about, but it was one of the cheapest accomodation we found in Muscat. We rented a two-bedroom apartment in Darsayt, a very convenient location for it was just a 15 minute's drive to Muttrah Souq, and has a hypermarket close by. Rooms were okay, but the water pressure was a little bit low, and I discovered too late that the oven doesn't work. The electric stove worked, but they did not provide pots/pans (nor plates & cutleries), so I had to use a baking pan (came with the oven) to 'fry' nuggets for breakfast.

Nuzha Hotel Apartments .
Two bedroom apartment OR50/night, room only.

Next: Muscat to Dubai.


  1. you packed a lot in - how nice of your friend to come from Barka it makes a great difference when seeing a town .

  2. We tried to pack as much as we can. I really wish we had had more time. I want to go again! I love love love Oman.

    And we were really grateful to Mohammad, our Omani friend, he was very helpful and accomodating. A really great host, even for only a few hours. I now truly believe in the Omani hospitality that many people have been raving about.

  3. I would go crazy if I were in that souvenir shop....
    By the way Lan luvvvvsss the Oman kopiah. The man in the shop is wearing one. Did Taufiq buy one?

  4. Anonymous9:34 AM


    Do you know "Halwa Muskat"? I heard originally it was from Muscat, Oman. Ada ke kat sana?

  5. Sham,
    Sudah semestinya we bought the kopiah :) Taufik bought one for him and the boys. Tapi yang murah punya lah... As you can see, in one of the pictures of Sultan Qaboos Mosque, Ilham is wearing his.

    I had the chance to try Halwa Muskat in Ibra .
    Berlambak lah jual kat Oman.

  6. elisa, best kan oman.. i dont mind driving there again... kalau ada rezeki nak pergi tenguk dolphin kat qantab..

  7. Put down on wish list...Oman...Muscat erm...bilalah agaknya ya.

  8. kaya jugak the country eh? the hotel and the masjid look so grand!

  9. Ummi,
    Qantab ada dolphins ke? Or maybe you mean 'Khasab', on the Mussandam Peninsular? I want to go there too... puas nak convince Taufik, but he said dia dah tak larat nak drive and we are running out of time.. :P :P

    Aza a.k.a. BF,
    if you dream it, it will come...
    tee hee

    They are rich ever since oil was discovered. Tapi yang nice nya kan, the sultan still keep development in check.. takde lah terlalu terkejar2 nak bina building tinggi-tinggi. He invests a lot in good roads (best gila jalan dia! Smoooooth aje).

  10. owwhhhh... bilalah i nak sampai sana hhuhuhuu... another place i would love to go is morocco!

  11. elisa, kat qantab pun ada.. according to some bloggers better than khasab.. when i was in muscat, the hotel suggested us to go there too but we just came down from khasab the day before...

    tak pe next time u drive to khasab.. a journey you shouldnt miss while you are there in middle east. or go up the mountain safari. i am sure lollies can tell you more.. superb scenary.

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