THE FIRST OF MANY FORTS // Nizwa, Oman

Our first night on the road in Oman was spent in Nizwa, a city located less than two hours away from Muscat. It was easy to get to by the main freeway, even with a short detour.

Nizwa has plenty of restaurants, supermarkets, hypermarkets (a novelty for us), and is a good base for exploring the mountain regions of Oman. You can easily make a day trip to Jebel Shams (Mountain of the Sun) for some hiking from Nizwa, but as we had a night booked in the mountains we spent our afternoon exploring the city.

The main sites of Nizwa are the fort and the souq. Somehow we managed to completely stuff up the opening hours of the souq and never managed to experience the market in full swing, but we were able to wander the lanes and eat some delicious (and cheap) shwarma and fresh juice for lunch (look for the dodgy plastic tables under a tree near the gate into the souq, I no idea what the cafe was called!).

Within the walls of the souq is the entrance to Nizwa Fort, and dates back to the 1650s.

After reading the Lonely Planet we were under the impression that entry would only be a few dollars. However, apparently the price has since increased and it now costs 5 OMR ($16 AUD) per person to visit. If you are on a budget, I would honestly recommend skipping Nizwa Fort and heading on to the nearby town of Bahla to visit the fort there – it was a tenth of the price and far more beautiful.

Sure, the Nizwa Fort was nice, but it did feel very renovated and was full of tacky souvenirs and outdated museum exhibits.

At least the views from the top of the fort walls were worth it! Those mountains are just the beginning of what was to come.

We ended up having a little bit of time to kill before we could check into our accommodation, so after some frantic googling we drove to another site in Nizwa – the Falaj Daris Park. The park is quite small, but offer the opportunity to see a traditional falaj, which is a UNESCO world heritage listed irrigation system. The park itself was quite small, but it was interesting enough for a short stop.

An afternoon looking around Nizwa was plenty of time, but it would be a good base location for exploring the surrounding region. Our accommodation had information about various day trips and hikes and I left wishing we had more time to explore! But the mountains were calling…

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DESERTED VILLAGES & DATE PALMS // Birkat al Mouz, Oman

One of the greatest benefits of hiring our own car for our trip on Omani was having the freedom to detour to smaller sites and explore lesser known areas at our own leisure. This does take some additional planning, it is totally worth the effort. One of our first stops on our road trip was the oasis town of Birkat al Mouz, where we were able to explore a ruined village and walk among some date plantations.

A few notes on finding the ruins:

  • Getting there: Birkat al Mouz is located off the main freeway, between Izki and Nizwa, around 1.5 hours from Muscat. The town is signed (note the variations in spelling – Mouz/Mawz/Mauz), but the ruins are not. We went to Birkat al Mouz Ruin 2 on Google Maps. The back streets are narrow, but we were able to find a side lane to park on.
  • Entry: there is no signage for the ruins, but you are free to explore as you please. We were able to climb to the top tower, however proceed with caution as some buildings are not safe to enter.

I also found this blog to be a great resource for visiting the town.

Admittedly I did no know about the google map location for the ruins when we drove into Birkat al Mouz, but after pulling over and some frantic googling we managed to work out where we had to go. Pro tip – buy an Omani sim card!

If you can see the above, you have come to the right place. This is the view of the ruins from the laneway we parked on. There was a small entrance just to the right.

There was no clear path through the village, but rather a maze of crumbling staircases and narrow walkways. We popped our head into some of the buildings but avoided walking through them – some had second stories that were on the verge of caving in, whilst others had suspicious piles of rubbish in the corner. We figured it was safer to follow our way up towards the top.

Our destination was the crumbling watch tower at the top of the village, which you can see above. From there we were treated to stunning views of the surrounding valley, date plantations, and the village itself.

We only encountered one other person whilst in the village, and they appeared to be living in one of the less run down buildings. Otherwise we had the place completely to ourselves.

There was another watch tower in the distance, which is located near another ruined village. I struggled to find the information about how to visit it, but I think this post has some details.

Another stop worth making in Birkat al Mouz is at the date plantations just before turning off to the village ruins – you can see a large plantation to your right as your enter the town from Izki. We parked on the side of the road and had a short walk under the palms.

From Birkat al Mouz, it is a short drive to Nizwa, a larger city with further attractions, food options and accommodation. It is definitely worth the detour to visit this village!

– Reanna

THE GRAND MOSQUE // Muscat, Oman

Even if you are short on time in Muscat, like we were, the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is definitely worth visiting. Located just off the busy Sultan Qaboos Street, the mosque is a gift to the nation from none other than… Sultan Qaboos. Finished in 2001, the mosque is a great deal newer than others we encountered on our travels, but it is a beautiful piece of architecture.

A few notes on visiting the mosque:

  • Opening hours: the mosque is open to non-Muslims every day from 8am to 11am, except Friday. Plan to get there early to avoid the crowds – we arrived around 9am and there were quite a few tour bus groups arriving.
  • Entry: is free, and cameras are allowed. We were free to walk the grounds and explore the buildings by ourselves.
  • Dress code: You will need to dress conservatively, otherwise you will not be allowed entry. We saw quite a lot of tourists turned back at the entry for wearing shorts. Wear a long sleeve top and pants/long skirt. Women are also required to wear a headscarf (it is always handy to have a scarf tucked in your bag when traveling!). If you do not come prepared, there are some skirts and scarves available for hire at the gift shop, however these are expensive (about 3 rial, or $10 AUD). Shoes need to be removed when entering prayer halls, so slip on sandals are a good idea.
  • Getting there: Oman is not very walkable, so the easiest way to get there is via car or taxi. There is a parking lot out the front.

There is very limited signage inside the mosque, so we mazed our way through the buildings and made our best guesses about where to go. Occasionally we over heard a tour guide explaining something in English.

There are two main buildings that can be entered – the above being the women’s prayer room. Whilst beautiful, it was substantially smaller and less elaborate than the main prayer hall. You will see the difference below!

I really love the arches of Islamic architecture. Here are some of my attempts at being artsy! Maybe I really should just take some photography classes…

The mosque is an active place of worship for Muscat, and is able to accommodate some 20,000 worshippers! Perhaps not all in the ablution room above.

Throughout this holiday I started to actively attempt to take more photos actually featuring Chris and/or I. As you can see, Chris puts his heart and soul into taking photos for me. We will have to work on his #instagram skills.

And of course, the main prayer hall! The level of detail inside was next level, from the tiled ceilings, to the giant Persian carpet, to the giant chandelier.

I only took photos of the chandelier from 20 different angles in attempt to display its true glory. Not pictured: Chris rolling his eyes next to me.

The above photo is possible one of my favourites from the day – Muscat is surrounded by rocky hills and I love that you could still see them from the mosque itself.

We probably spent about half an hour or so exploring the mosque, and that allowed for plenty of photo taking. If you want to avoid the crowds, arriving at 8am would be your best bet.

– Reanna

EXPLORING MUTTRAH CORNICHE // Muscat, Oman

Whilst traveling through Oman we were often asked why we had decided to visit in the first place. Thinking back, I honestly think it was because Chris found an article about driving through Oman in the travel section of the Sunday paper (which we buy, like, twice a year when we want to appear slightly educated). I remember Chris showing me the photos and being blown away by this country that I knew nothing about, let alone how accessible it was for travel. Fast forward six months, and we were flying in Muscat, the capital of Oman!

We spent six days, six nights in this wonderful country and it was a good amount of time. A few more days would have meant we could have packed in a few more things to our itinerary, but there is always next time!

We only really had one day in Muscat, and after some research decided it was best to spend our time in Muttrah, a district of Oman that features a picturesque bay and bustling souq. If you look at a map of Muscat you can see it almost split into distinct ‘cities’, and with the limited public transport options, it can be quite hard to explore the city on foot (our usual preference). Hence, we made the decision to stay in Muttrah and loosely follow the walking tour from the Lonely Planet.

After checking into our hotel, we set out towards to water, stumbling across Muttrah Fort (below) along the way. We climbed up the stairs, only to discover that the entry was blocked for work, but the climb up was worth it for some stunning views back towards the corniche.

As you can tell, there are no high rises in Muscat! All buildings are required to be built in a traditional manner, with domed roofs and curved windows. I even heard that the colour of the buildings is regulated! Either way, it makes for a beautiful looking city, particularly with the rocky hills framing the pale stone buildings.

We followed a (very immaculate) path along the coast through some (very immaculate) gardens.

Eventually, or I should say, after a few kilometres, we reached the Muscat Gates, which mark the beginning of Old Muscat, another district of the wider city. This area houses a number of museums, forts and the Sultan’s Palace.

The Sultan’s Palace. Quite an eclectic combination of buildings, looked out across the water towards an the island fort Al Jalali.

After stopping for some fresh juice we decided to walk back the way we came so as to check out a few places we missed on our walk in. One of them was the below watchtower, one of many such buildings dotted throughout the hills surrounding Muscat. We were able to climb up to this one and take in some views of the surrounding area and the corniche in the fading light.

Eventually we set foot on the Muttrah Corniche, and made our way towards the souq. We had timed our walk to ensure we arrived during opening hours – most shops close for trade between 1:00pm and 4:00pm, so we always had to plan ahead!

The main part of the souq was quite touristy, however if you slip away from the main alley ways into one if the significantly smaller side streets you will find the souq alive with local trade. Many of the stores are full of gold jewellery, whilst others sold frankincense and local spices.

For dinner we went to Bait Al Luban, a restaurant with amazing decor and an interesting menu that service traditional Omani food. Most food in Oman is more Middle Eastern – think kebabs and shwarma, with the odd Indian curry floating around – so finding ‘traditional’ Omani food can be difficult. We were treated to an amazing sunset view over the corniche from the restaurant, and ate some very interesting food – I had what I can only describe as chicken porridge with date sauce!

Whilst I do wish we could have had a bit more time in Muscat, I found Muttrah to be an excellent area to really get a feel for the city and some of its history.

– Reanna

DEIRA OLD TOWN // Dubai, United Arab Emirates

And just like that, holidays are over again! After months of planning, perusing photos and blogs online, and discussing this trip non stop with Chris, our three weeks away flew by. We landed back in Melbourne yesterday afternoon, and I am attempting to keep my jet lag in check with copious amounts of washing, cleaning the house, and going through alllll my photos.

We spent one week road tripping through Oman, with a couple of stops in Dubai, and two weeks traveling through the South Caucasus – Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan.

In planning our trip we were headed to Oman and Iran, we decided to have some stop overs in Dubai as a means of breaking up our trip before Oman and before Iran. We kept these stop overs after changing our trip destinations, however in retrospect we easily could have done without, or perhaps with only one stop over. Either way, it was a bit of fun to explore another city!

As we had two stop overs of roughly one day/one night in Dubai, we spent one day exploring ‘Old Dubai’, and the next time exploring ‘New Dubai’. ‘Old Dubai’ can be thought of as the neighbourhoods on either side of the Dubai Creek – Bur Dubai and Deira. We loosely followed a couple of DIY walking tours from here and here, though following them in reverse and starting in Bur Dubai after lunch at Arabian Tea House.

These first photos are from in and around the Al Fahidi historical area. The streets are for pedestrians only, and apart from the odd souvenir shop, cafe and gallery, were largely empty. Whilst beautiful, the area did feel quite artificial and touristic – however, it did make for some nice photos!

Afterwards, we mazed our way along some busier roads and back streets to the Dubai Museum. We were keen to get out of the sun for a moment, so we paid the minimal entry fee and had a wonder around. It was interesting, though a bit outdated and run down.

Our next stop was the Textile Souq in Bur Dubai. We wandered through a few different areas and had a bit of a laugh at all the stall holders throwing scarves over Chris as an attempt to literally pull him in to their shops.

We followed the creek away towards where it meets the sea, as I had read there was another historical complex further along. After walking for half an hour in the blazing sun we realised that this historical area was perhaps still under construction, as there was no one around apart from a few workers. At lease we got a good walk in!

Well, at least it was deserted and beautiful.

After applying more sunscreen and trudging back the way we came, we crossed the Dubai Creek to Deira on a local ‘abra’, a wooden boat that crosses to various stops on the other side. It costs 1 rial to cross, and you pay the driver once you hop on board. There were plenty of boats around and they appeared to leave as soon as they were full. I would recommend catching an abra from the Old Souq stop rather than the nearby Al Ghubaiba stop, as the latter seemed to be a destination for large tour bus groups.

The ride across to the Gold Souq stop only took a few minutes, but made for some great views.

In the above photo, I initially thought the white speck in the top right corner was a bird, but it is a plane! With Dubai airport in located in the city, there was a constant stream of departing planes in the distance,

From the Gold Souq stop we went to… the Gold Souq! Being more of a silver gal I wasn’t interested in any of the wares, though Chris was offered Rolex watches by numerous men lurking around the centre walkway.

From the Gold Souq it was a short walk to our final destination for the day, the Spice Souq. As we arrived around 4:00pm, not all the shops were open (keep in mind that most shops close between 1:00pm and 4:00pm!), but there was enough around to enjoy our walk through. The colours and smells were amazing, and I certainly couldn’t identify 80% of the spices and herbs on offer. Any ideas what the blue balls of spice are?!

We caught the metro back to our hotel, given we were functioning on zero sleep from our 13 hour flight. However, there was plenty to do in Deira if one had more time/energy.

– Reanna

FINAL EXPLORATIONS // Singapore

At last, the end of our holiday photos! Considering we were only gone for ten days I still managed to take a ridiculous amount of pictures.

We had a 9pm flight home on our final day, so we still had a lot of time to spend exploring before we had to head out to the airport. We had a slow morning at our hotel, before checking out and setting off towards Arab Street in search of coffee. We came across this Old Malay Cemetery on the way – this was an aspect of Singapore that I found really beautiful, that in between all the buildings were little pockets of green.

We had coffee at a cute little cafe (Artistry Cafe, a decent brew if you are in the area!) a block down from the beautiful Masjid Sultan mosque.

After out caffeine fix we wandered towards the Bugis district. Chris had heard that the National Library had some decent views, so we wandered in and caught the elevator up as high as we could. We could only see across the Bugis area, but it was still a great view.

Bugis is known for it’s cheap shopping, in particular, Bugis Street. We had a quick walk through, but neither of us were in the market for any cheap goods!

We continued on towards the city centre, wandering past the Parliament and Supreme Court. Eventually we found a small hawker centre and spent approximately $3 AUD each on a massive plate of stirfry vegetables and rice. I miss Singapore…

Admittedly we had little else planned and we were running out of sights to see, so we somehow ended up at some horrifying apartment/underground shopping centre/nightmare at the Suntec Centre. It was good to get some airconditioning (and bubble tea) but damn capitalism is terrifying!

Okay, maybe we did eventually find some more good views among all the shops!

For the remainder of the afternoon we decided we desperately needed to do something indoors and out of the humidity, so we checked out the Asian Civilisations Museums. They had some great permanent exhibits about the extensive history of Singapore, touching on colonization and the multicultural influences on the present day country.

Of course, our final dinner in Singapore before going to the airport was another hawker hall. This one was located about 100 metres from our hotel, and was just as quick and delicious as we had hoped. I don’t think I would ever cook lunch for work if I lived around the corner from a hawker hall!

And that brings an end to our quick trip to Singapore and Indonesia! It worked out perfectly as a ten day holiday from Melbourne, with cheap flights, and a perfect combination of hectic sight seeing in Singapore and beach relaxation in Indonesia.

But one question remains… where to next?!

– Reanna

LITTLE INDIA // Singapore

I didn’t fully elaborate in my previous post, but returning to Singapore from Sugi Island required a private boat from the resort to Sekupang Ferry Terminal on Batam Island, and then an international ferry (taking around 45 minutes) to Harbourfront in Singapore.

We had just disembarked from the ferry in Singapore, when it began to rain heavily! Thankfully we had arrived around lunch time and were happy to sit tight in a little food court at the ferry terminal for a little while, before getting an Uber to our hotel. I also had the hottest satay sauce of my life at the ferry terminal! Turns out the ‘satay’ sauce at home is pretty pathetic.

Our hotel was at the other end of town from where we had previously stayed, near Jalan Besar. We were next to the Thekchen Choling Buddhist Temple, and across the road from a very hipster looking coffee shop.

The weather still looked grim overhead, but we ventured out in the afternoon after checking in to our room. Our destination was the nearby Little India, a historic ethnic district.

Little India was amazing colourful, with painted buildings, flags, and colourful food and wares being sold on the sidewalk.

One of the many attractions in the area was the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple. As with the rest of the area, it was beautifully colourful.

We had no real distination, and were happy just wandering the streets and taking in the sights.

I am sure the apartment buildings below aren’t anything special, but they were just so bright that they really caught my attention!

All in all, it was a pretty quiet and eventful afternoon. We didn’t want to check too much off our ‘to see’ list, as we still had another full day before flying home. Plus we were still emerging from the peaceful mindsets we had adopted at Telunas Resort!

We finished the evening with a Japanese dinner and cocktail, before taking it easy and having an early night back at our hotel – we had an overnight flight back home so we needed all the sleep we could get in a bed!

– Reanna