Saturday, July 05, 2008


So I just got back from a five-day trip to Oman. It was a business trip that was only going to take two days but I loved my visit to Oman last year so I took some time off and extended the trip. My two colleagues who attended the business meetings with me did the same.

This time we really lucked out, the business hotels were offering rates of around $250 a night but one of my colleagues knew someone who worked at the Shangri-La resort there (one of the nicest resorts in Oman) and found out that they were having a special that was cheaper than the business hotels. So I booked myself four nights at the Shangri-La resort and had an awesome time. I won't get into the details of the amenities, if you're really interested you can look it up yourself online. Needless to say the only hotel I have ever stayed in that compares to it is the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi.

The organisation that we were meeting in Muscat were really gracious hosts. Despite the fact that we weren't even meeting them until the fourth day of my trip they provided us with a car and driver the whole time to take us around the city and into the countryside. We went down to the Souq in Muttrah one evening, where my colleagues and I went shopping for various Omani goods. Oman is historically famous for its silver jewellery and silversmithing so one of my colleagues picked up some silver jewellery for his wife, while another one of my colleagues started pricing out traditional Omani daggers. The daggers are not cheap, a real one generally costs around $500-$800, but it was interesting to look at them. My colleague plans to come back to Muscat with his wife later in the year so he will probably purchase a dagger then. He has to be careful though as some of the daggers have handles made of rhino horn so would likely be illegal to transport to the West. We also purchased some frankincense (Oman is where frankincense comes from) as well is a traditional Omani dessert called halwa. Halwa is difficult to describe, it is somewhat like a sticky pudding made with various items like sugar, dates, and rosewater. During our meetings our hosts also provided us with halwa to snack on so it is apparently a popular food in Oman.

On Sunday we did a day trip to the old capital Niswa to see the old fort there as well as visit the Al-hudda caves, one of the largest cave systems in Oman. Considering that Niswa is approximately 200 km away from Muscat it was really nice for our hosts to have provided a car and driver to take us all the way there and back. The trip didn't take as long as I expected as the driver was averaging around 150 km/hr the entire way, as is typical of highway driving in the Middle East. We visited the fort and toured the museum there. It was hot, around 40°, but as we were in the interior it was a dry heat as opposed to the humidity on the coast so it was bearable as long as you had some water with you. We then went to the caves which were not very busy as summer was the off-season. So my colleagues, the driver and I had our own guide to give us a tour around the caves. The caves were only 25°, which at first was quite refreshing, but it was quite humid in there so after a while it felt quite muggy. I think in the cave we walked close to 1 km so we were sweaty by the time we were done. At the end of the tour we were actually glad to be back out in the dry heat! It was a nice cave though and even had a lake with blind cave fish in it. Turned out that guide has a brother who is studying at the University of Toronto and he hoped to visit him one day in the winter so that he could see snow. I told him that winter in Canada is definitely an experience but that if he gets the chance to go Toronto to really prepare himself for the cold weather. Somehow I don't think most Arabs adequately prepare themselves for -20°.

As was typical of my first trip there Oman was clean and the people generally friendly, much more so than in other countries in the Middle East. I am sure I will go back there again for a vacation. Maybe next summer I will go to Salalah in the aouth, Omanis have told me that in July and August it is actually quite pleasant there as it is one of the only places in the Arabian peninsula that gets rain during the summer, helping to keep it cool. Hopefully I will find out myself.