Road trip to Salalah

Just returned from a trip to Salalah in Oman [Wikipedia], if you have never been there and are planning to go by road then there are few things you need to know, this post is meant to serve as a guide, hope you find it helpful.

Before you go

Remember that Salalah is located at 1000Km from Muscat and that is probably going to be the longest drive you did in one go (it was for me) so prepare yourself and the car. An SUV/4×4 is recommended but not required, the point is if you have a comfortable and reliable vehicle then you are good to go.

Do yourself a favor, pick up a full map of Oman and Salalah each, I got the map of Oman from the reception desk of our hotel in Muscat from our last trip and a friend gave me the detailed map of Salalah, these two turned out to be valuable resources.

Leave early in the morning, we left at around 7-ish and reached just before sunset (October) at 6pm.

On the way

There are few petrol stations but there are patches where you wont find any, I didn’t let the fuel tank reach even half before I filled it up again, I recommend you do the same.

Speeding: It’s a single road to Salalah from Nizwa, you can go as fast as you like without worrying about speed cameras, because there are none (at least at the time of this writing, so don’t blame me if you are fined :). Note that some parts of the road are under construction so you’ll need to slow down. Also a big part of the road needs repair so the ride there will not be very smooth and comfortable, be ready for that.

There are 4 Omani Army check posts on the way, that’s something we were not aware of and they come out of no where. Keep your passports, drivers license and vehicle registration card handy, you will need to show it to the officers at each post, also you might be asked to open up the trunk of your car to check your luggage, don’t panic. Common questions were (in Arabic offcourse) “Why are you visiting Salalah?” & “Where are you coming from?” be ready to answer them.

About half way from Muscat to Salalah, there is a relatively big town name “Hema” or “Haima”, we spotted few restaurants there and it was almost lunch time when we got there, that made it a perfect spot.

Sight seeing

Salalah itself is a small coastal city, it’s the neighboring Dhofar mountains where all its beauty is.

Mugsayl beach – is located at 47km west from Salalah on the way towards Yemen, the road goes through mountains and the drive is very scenic.

Marnif cave – it is located at Mugsayl beach (just turn left on your way up on the mountain), though we couldn’t find the cave (partly because I read somewhere that its not worth visiting) it’s the view of the beach and the mountains that made it a great spot for some photography.

Ain Homran – is located on the east of Salalah on the way to Taqah and Mirbat, though we couldn’t find a spring “ain” in October

Wadi Darbat – is the most beautiful of all, its located in the east on the way to Taqah and Mirbat, the place is surrounded with trees and has miles of unspoiled greenery, on the top it also has a lake that is surrounded by mountains.

Towi Attair – is located on the way to Wadi Darbat, we went up for quite a while before we decided to return, there is a Sink Hole (and a cave that we couldn’t find), the road goes left just before the police station and is signposted after that, ask for directions if you are unsure.

Taqah Beach – is a beautiful bird watching spot.

Nabi Ayub’s Tomb – is located on the north east of Salalah, though we didn’t go there but the road is quite pretty.

Ain Jarziz – on the way to Nabi Ayub’s tomb you will find the way to this valley on your right, it has a natural spring and is surrounded by mountains on three sides.

Khawr Rawri (Samharam) Archaeological site – its located on the way to Mirbat and is worth visiting, specially if you are interested to know the history of the place which dates back to 5 century AD.

Magnetic Mountains – is the place where you car speeds up to 50km by itself, because the place is not sign posted I couldn’t get there even though I asked for the directions few times (its located near Al Maha petrol station on the way to Mirbat, that’s what they say)

Haffa Souk – we visited some shops in Haffa souk near Sultan’s palace in downtown Salalah, was surprised to see so many women shopkeepers.

Al Balid/Baleedah Archaeological park – I couldn’t see this one but my local contact told me that its worth a visit.

That’s all the major locations in and around Salalah.

On the way back

If you are coming back to Dubai through Muscat-Sohar-Hatta route and are in mood for an adventure and want to drive on the road that goes through mountains, then before Sohar turn left from the roundabout in Al Khaburah town, the road to Al Ghizayn is not very smooth and first it might not feel like a good choice but it gets better before the mountains, the road can be long and tiring but we loved it, this road takes you to Ibri then turn right to go to Mezyad border in Al Buraimi, the treat is that this road is speed camera free so you can speed up.

Enjoy your trip!

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Lost my music player

Today I realized that I have lost my lovely Sansa e280 Music player that I use at work, in the car and and sometimes at home. I even extended it with a 2GB microSD card that I lost with it 😦

It was my 3rd music player that left me, I’m not sure what’s with me and the Sansa players that we can’t go together for a long time before something bad happens.

The first player was replaced with a new one after it refused to start a couple of weeks later, second was soaked in tea accidently by the wife when we were on a long drive till Jabel Dhanna and there were no radio stations in range, thank God I had my better half with me.

Though I’m not superstitious but I think I should finally switch to an iPod, I’m eyeing iPod touch, let’s see.

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Stealing credit card info – ‘thieves busted’

Wonder if publishing news like these help gain customer confidence or only make the matter worse in a region where online credit card transactions are already very low compared to the rest of the world.

I think credit card information thefts are not uncommon anywhere else in the world and publishing such news here only adds insult to injury.

My two cents.

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Trip to Muscat – Day 2 and 3

On this day we decided to visit the historical city of Nizwa that is around 174km from Muscat. The road to Nizwa is really pretty, it goes through mountains and many small towns with breath-taking curves and bends.

We stopped at few of the many beautiful locations to take photographs.

Nizwa

Here we explored a modern Souk that has the architecture inspired from ancient times, we visited few shops in this souk. The wife wanted to buy few clay-pots here that she can color but they were little pricey.

Visit to Nizwa is not complete without visiting the recently opened Hoota cave so we then drove another 30 or so kilometers on a single road outside Nizwa.

The Hoota cave

This cave is said to be around 2.5million or so years old, was found in the 50s and opened to visitors in 2006. We reached little early and had to wait that provided us an opportunity to watch the video playing in the waiting-area that told the story of how one of the fisherman found the cave, interesting.

The total length of the cave is around 4km but visitors are only shown about 800metres. Temperature inside the cave is around 20-25c throughout the year but the humidity varies according to climate.  Our guide showed us the different formations and explained how they were formed millions of years ago.

One of the many interesting formations inside the cave and the center of attraction is one depicting the Lion. Interestingly the cave is still active and can be dangerous during rainy season so it’s closed to visitors during that time but fortunately it wasn’t affected by storm Gonu.

On the way back

While the wife was entertaining herself with the map and occasionally telling me the next town on our way and the distance we had covered so far, I was enjoying the drive on the road which was only more exciting in the evening, though the permitted speed limit is 120km/h but one can easily manage to do 160km/h at times.

We stopped at a gas station, by this time it was getting dark and temperature had dropped to 19c, we also wanted to visit the historical towns of Rustaq and Nakhal that has a natural hot water spring in Winter and cold in Summer but unfortunately it was too late by the time we were there so we decided to go straight to Muscat.

Final day

We checked out from the hotel in the morning and visited the Old town, Al Alam Palace, the beautiful corniche and the famous Mutrah souk. We finally said goodbye to the beautiful city of Muscat at 2.20p and reached home at 7p.

Here’re more photos

 

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Trip to Muscat, Oman – Day 1

Trip to Muscat, Oman

Me and the wife were planning for this trip during Eid Al Adha vacations. We left Dubai at Friday 5am and decided to offer morning prayers at Hatta, which is a UAE-Oman border town and avoid the weekend rush at the border. We offered our prayers just minutes before Hatta and headed straight to the border, we stamped our passport at UAE border and drove to the Oman border, after a swift customs check we paid a small fee, stamped our passport and off we go.  We then reached a small town near the sea name Shinas at 7a took the right turn and were on the Shinas-Sohar-Muscat highway.   

After a couple of minutes on this dual-carriage way we stopped at a gas station to purchase a SIM card but unfortunately was told that the mini-mart will open in an hour, without waiting we took the highway again passed a few small towns on the way and reached a small and beautiful city Sohar at 9p, we stopped at a market to get our legs straight again after a few hours’ drive, I reached a Nawras telecom shop here but tough luck again.

After passing Sohar, for the first time I crossed few cars with Dubai number plates on this side of the border. We were now heading straight to Muscat which is around 135km from Sohar.

In about 45 minutes we entered the Muscat’s suburbs and found myself driving among many Omani number plates, after observing their driving pattern for a few minutes I realized that it’s not much different, so being the only Dubai car number plate in sight and having the experience of driving on the deadliest roads in the world(Dubai 🙂 I felt like the king of the roads so I jumped to the fast lane and started driving Dubai-way :).

We were on the same highway which goes right through the city and takes the names Seeb street, Sultan Qaboos str among others. Muscat is a beautiful city, this is what we realized as soon as we entered within the city borders, on the way we found Muscat City center and the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque where we had decided to pray Friday prayers. We reached our hotel at 10.45a, after the check-in formalities were over, we landed in our room. While the wife took shower I switch on the TV and changed few channels.

We then took the same road back to the Sultan Qaboos Grand mosque – what a beautiful mosque this is. I parked the car, took a few pictures of the magnificent architecture of the mosque, this was only the beginning of my excitement. I was then told that photography is forbidden here, so I put the camera in the back pocket of my trouser and entered the main hall.

I was literally shocked to see this beautiful mosque from inside and could hardly wait to take the pictures. After the prayers were over it was time for some click-click, I didn’t stop till the same guy told me to stop. This mosque had the biggest hand woven Persian rug until very recently until this record was taken over by the new Sheikh Zayed mosque in Abu Dhabi.

By that time we were starving, I was dying to taste some any authentic Omani cuisine but at that time the only place I knew is the MCC, we reached and filled ourselves with two Hardees burgers. I then purchased a Oman Mobile SIM card, called a friend who suggested that we go to Qantab beach, we found the directions with our map (but still took some wrong turns thanks to the exciting road and picturesque Muscat scenery), we finally reached the beach using a beautiful Jabeel-e-hafeet like road but only more breath-taking and exciting. By this time the wife was feeling a little tired but I still wanted to enjoy before sunset so we took a boat-ride along the coast, a nice experience in a long time.

We then headed back to our hotel, took rest then went for dinner, we tried Bin Ateeq in Al Khuwair on a friend’s suggestion and really liked the food and their service. After a day roaming around the city we needed to get some rest so we headed back to our hotel. Click here to view all photos

 

 

 

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Signed up for Emirates National ID Card

For those of us who live in the Emirates there is this latest buzz about the ENID cards. In October just when the deadline for signup was announced I registered for an appointment and forgot about it until yesterday when I got this SMS reminder.

Emirates Identity Authority reminds you of your appointment: Booking No. XXXXX Date: 23/11/2008, Time: 21:05, …..please attend 15 minutes earlier

I reached home from work at rushed back to the center around 8.30p and found that the center was closed, the security guard told me that their operating hours are between 7.30a – 8.30p (then why the hell I received the appointment for 9p ?) he told me to come tomorrow morning and show it to Mr. XXX in Customer service.

This morning I left the house at 6.55a and reached at 7.15a to the Al Barsha center which is on my way to work and was feeling lucky until I saw a long queue in front of me. I was no. 148 (according to a unofficial list being passed around to whoever joins the queue where I wrote my serial number, name and time of arrival). I thought I have to spend a couple of hours in the queue until the security guard came and announced that whoever has an appointment (not confirmation) to form another queue (and whispered to us that we’ll go first…yuppy), lucky for us we were only 4 in the new line and I was number 3 after a couple.

 

 

After the gates opened I got the ticket from the reception and waited another 10m before my number was called. I presented the form to the Emirati guy at the counter and he started adding this info to his computer, not a single word was spoken by any of us until I heard him saying ‘Male ?’ (I said to myself what kinda question is that do I look like a female to you dumbo 😉 I nodded.

I paid the fee and was sent to another room with my form and the passport to take my finger/palm prints. When I entered the room I found another Emirati sitting there playing with his Blackberry, after I greeted him he told me to sit. I sat in front of this digital camera pointed straight to my face, after a couple of minutes he finally told himself ‘let’s get started’ put his phone on the table, started the software on the computer and opened up my form. The finger prints of my right hand, one finger at a time were taken then the left hand, then both palms, after the detailed scanned he signed and stamped the paper and said you are good to go, I inquired ‘Will they deliver on the address ?’ (I know it looked obvious) and he responded ‘No, they’ll call you first’. There I go, the entire process was smooth and took about 45minutes.

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Test drive: Nissan QashQai

A friend bought this SUV last week and offered me to drive it today which I gladly accepted since I’m also thinking to change my car sometime next year.

It is a 2.0 liter engine, entry level 5-seater crossover SUV, ideal for a small family and features smooth handling, though the brakes are a bit hard but that’s probably because they’re still new. I took it to SZR and it handled really well.

The steering wheel is small and sporty, the turns are smooth and encourage one-handed drive that is perfect for me though his version lacks cruise- and volume-controls on the wheel.

He surprised by telling me that he took it off-road this morning when coming to work, thanks to its bigger wheels the car did really well.

One thing I liked about the car is that the cabin is noise-free and you have to carefully listen to notice that the engine is even running and on a busy road like SZR it managed to keep the noise in the cabin to a very low.

Unfortunately the most interesting thing in any car once you’re seated and on your way is its stereo that I didn’t get a chance to turn on and listen.

All in all I liked the experience in the car and would recommend it to someone who’s only driven Saloons before and thinking to buy a SUV.

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