We were driving down into Muscat from the Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa, which is a few kilometers along the coast. There had been a huge storm the night before and as we entered the city, my taxi driver slowed and then stopped in the middle of the road. I looked up to see what was going on. There was team of workers shoveling mud and clearing the road, but one worker had put his spade down and was helping an old local man in his shiny white dishdasha across the road. It was so lovely to see and set the warm gentle tone of the city for me.
I had asked the driver to take me to the Sultan’s palace and thought I could walk from there to the Old City. The friendly driver said he would wait for me and take me to the old town rather, because it was further than I thought. Being a bit weary of taxi drivers trying to make a quick buck I first dismissed his offer, but thankfully reconsidered, because it’s a very long way to walk.
We drove past the impressive new parliament building and down to the Sultan’s Palace, flanked by the Al Mirani Fort and the Al Jalali Fort fort that stand proudly on the hilltops. The palace is actually fairly small and not as grand as you might expect. The Sultan doesn’t actually live there, but apparently does stay over from time to time and I suspect he has a bigger palace elsewhere. In such a quaint city with plenty of small whitewashed homes, it makes enough of a statement though, and the new National Museum will soon be opening its doors across the street.
So after the usual photo burst the driver took me around the coast to the old city. As we approached he pointed out the Sultan’s private yacht, and I proudly said it was very beautiful but not quite as big as the ruler of Dubai’s one, but I was just being facetious because obviously I wouldn’t be upset if I was invited onto the Sultan’s yacht would I?
I hopped out on the corniche that runs around the bay, separating the sea from the beautiful old, low-rise buildings. The whole bay looks like a movie set, that’s been flown in and perfectly assembled between the mountains and the sea. Sure there are cars and people milling about, but it’s a sleepy and tranquil place that’s very inviting.
I walked the length of the corniche taking in the scenery and breathing in the fresh sea air. I passed the Old Merchant’s Houses and popped into the Mutrah Souk, but it was the morning after a particularly bad storm and many of the store owners were shoveling mud out of their stores and trying to clean the mud off whatever merchandise they could salvage. Those with more sturdy roofs were open for business as usual. It is a lovely souk though and definitely worth a visit on drier days. The main passageway has a roof over it, and it has a number of smaller side passages all housing the usual range of clothing, furniture and trinket stores, but it’s an inviting and manageable small city souk, unlike some of the sprawling complexes you’ll find in cities like Istanbul.
After my stroll, and a period of people watching from a sidewalk café, I met my taxi driver down the street at the juice store and he took me on an old back road that offered some great views and photo opportunities. Then it was back along the impressive meandering roads through the mountains to the Shangri La. There are of course other areas to see, and there is a Big Bus Hop-On Hop-Off service that will give you a grand tour of the city if you’d like to take it all in. But if you have very limited time (or just want to relax on the beach), the Old City is your best bet for a quick, enjoyable stroll and you only need a couple of hours to look about and perhaps bargain in the souk.
My trip to Oman was only a very brief escape from the bright lights and busy streets of Dubai, but the laid-back vibe and old Arabian coastal ambiance was a fantastic breath of fresh air in more ways than one. This city is definitely worth exploring if you’re looking for a gentler change of pace and even if it’s only for a weekend, you’ll definitely return home feeling refreshed.