Difference between revisions of "Oman"
Revision as of 13:54, 23 August 2008
The Sultanate of Oman  is in the Middle East, on the eastern end of the Arabian Peninsula. It borders the United Arab Emirates in the northwest, Saudi Arabia in the west, and Yemen in the southwest. Oman has two external enclaves separated from it by the United Arab Emirates
Roughly from north to south;
Until the ascension of Sultan Qaboos bin Said in 1970, Oman was a very underdeveloped nation. Since that time, education, public works and tourism have taken off throughout the country.
Omanis are friendly people and are very helpful to tourists. In turn tourists too should respect the ways and traditions of the Omani people.
Omanis are proud of their country's rapid progress, and locals will often point out to tourists that the road they are driving on is only 10 years old and that the journey used to take much longer.
A Single Entry visa has been introduced by combining the tourist visa, business visa and short visit visa which now cease to exist. Upon arrival at any air, land or sea terminal, the citzens of the following countries can obtain a one month visa after filling and presenting the visa application form;
EU citizen including Iceland, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Norway, San Marino, Switzerland and Vatican but not Cyprus and Malta. Citizens of Albania, Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, China*, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, Ecuador, French Guyana, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Macedonia, Malaysia, Moldova, New Zealand, Paraguay, Peru, Russia*, Seychelles, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Suriname, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey*, Ukraine*, USA, Uruguay, Venezuela.
The fee is 6 OMR (unless you are on an expatriate GCC visa, in which case it is 4 OMR) and your passport should be valid for no less than 6 months.
Citizens of Egypt, Iran, India, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Syria and Tunisia can apply for a one month visit visa only at air terminals arriving individually or by tour.
The visa can be extended another month by submitting your passport to the Royal Omani Police in Muscat, however there is one line, and the wait can be as long as 2 hours. Your line mates will not be bothered by the idea of maintaining constant physical contact with you while you sweat during your wait, nor by the idea of slowly attempting to take a place in front of you in the line since there are no line markings. If you are on a budget and need to extend your visa, I highly recommend taking a trip to the UAE. Buses are RO 10-12 return. A same-day round trip flight to Sharjah on Air Arabia runs around RO 50. Even a taxi would be an option.
Israeli stamps are not a problem for entry, but Israeli passport holders are not permitted into Oman.
Virtually all international flights arrive at Seeb International Airport (MCT) in Muscat. There are also a small number of regional international flights to Salalah (SLL). Purchasing a visa on arrival in Salalah can be quite difficult, as the airport is very small and immigration officials tend not to have change for larger notes.
There are scheduled services by numerous airlines, including but not limited to Oman Air, Emirates, Gulf Air, Etihad, British Airways, Kuwait Airways, Saudi Arabian Airways, Swiss International, Lufthansa, Qatar Airways, Air India and Air France. The most frequent connections are via Dubai (DXB).
There are also direct flights from various Indian cities by airlines like Air India, Indian, and Jet Airways (recently).
The port in Muscat is used by cruise ships, however there are no regular passenger sevices to Oman.
There are some border crossings from the United Arab Emirates into Oman. Roads are excellent and the border crossing is quite easy. Don't forget to bring along some cash as you have to pay for the visa to enter Oman. If you are taking a car from the UAE into Oman you will need to produce evidence at the border that the car is insured in Oman. Note that there is a 20 Dh departure tax when leaving the UAE by car, and a 2 OR tax when leaving Oman by road.
There is a regular bus service between Muscat and Dubai (UAE). There are private operators as well as state owned Oman National Transport Company (ONTC) and the ride (which usually takes between 4 to 5 hours) is quite comfortable, thanks to the excellent roads.
Additionally, make sure that your passport is stamped with the relevant entry and exit stamps. This should go without saying, but some border officials will forget part of the procedure and cause administrative hassles later. Additionally, crossing from Oman to the UAE is often a chaotic business, so it is easier to miss out on the all-important stamp than one might expect.
Crossing from Oman to Yemen is significantly more challenging, and those of an adventurous bent should familiarise themselves very carefully with the regulations regarding that border. In previous years, there has been a law that no solo female travellers can exit Oman to Yemen. Additionally, bear in mind that the easternmost parts of Yemen are exceptionally remote.
While a border (unmarked) exists between Oman and Saudi Arabia, this is a very unadvisable crossing, as it involves going through most (if not all) of the Empty Quarter.
Going from one place to another is difficult here as there is no regular bus service. You have to depend upon taxis or share-taxis. Taxi drivers are very nice in Oman. All of them are Omanis as this profession is reserved for nationals. As all the Arabs have their own vehicles, the taxis are always used by the foreigners. From Biladishuhoom to Ibri you can hire one taxi for 10 Riyals or, if lucky, you can share one for only one riyal.
But all the local village cars are very simple and take grass and goats inside. Omanis carry one of their cattle when they go to Ibri because they consider it a sign of prestige. Coming back from Ibri to Biladishuhoom is often a problem because taxi drivers simply refuse to go there. Most of the Omani teachers drive their own luxury cars for coming to the school. But they come only up to Mokhniyath village and park their vehicle under the trees. Then they share a four-wheel-drive Toyota cruiser and come across the wadis(=mountain waterflow) and hills to Biladishuhoom. It is possible for them to drive all the way to Bilad but they don’t want to spoil their new cars. .
Our motto" to make Oman a memorable name to travelers ".VISIT US AT www.edentours.net
Oman Air  is the national carrier and flies regularly among the two airports in the country (Muscat/Seeb, and Salalah). Air Arabia now offers flights to Salalah and Muscat from the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
There are regular, daily bus services connecting the bigger cities within Oman (Muscat, Salalah, Sohar, Sur and Nizwa). There are several, daily bus services from Muscat to Dubai. There is one bus a day from Muscat to Abu Dhabi. For details see the pages of the Oman National Transport Company.
All Taxi drivers in Oman are Omani nationals. In Muscat there are call/telephone Taxi services. These are very reasonably priced, safe, and generally turn up when you want them to. Look for "Hello Taxi" and "Muscat Taxi" amongst others.
The Orange badged Taxi's are usually owner operated, these are unmetered with negotiated fares before departure. If you get a very cheap price, then do not be surprised if the Taxi stops to add extra passengers unless you request for it to be private. You may ask for ENGAGED, just say 'engaged taxi' to the driver, and you will pay for all the seats(4) and now have the taxi to yourself. Women must always sit alone in the back, or in the front if there are unknown males sitting in the back. This is for your own safety and comfort.
There are also taxi buses/cars (Baisa buses), the principle is you share the bus or car with others and pay a lower price as a result. Women generally try and sit up front. Women have to right to ask a male to move from the front seat to occupy it themselves.
Driving around Oman in your own (rented) car is quite easy. A six-lane highway connects Muscat and Nizwa and a single lane partially lit road, goes from Muscat to Sur. This is an extremely dangerous road as animals do wander onto it day and night. Not to mention reckless racing drivers and poor lighting in large sections towards Sur. Get insurance.
There are still large parts of the Sur - Muscat route that has no mobile phone signal. If you break down be prepared to wait it out. Or hitch a ride to the next town and find a mechanic to bring back to your vehicle.
Women should wear a headscarf when driving in these parts as it aids in deterring local males from following your vehicle and trying to make contact with you while you are driving. Yes this does happen, and there seems to be nothing discouraging them. They are friendly, but don't seem to understand that this kind of attention is unwanted.
There is a coastal road being built from Muscat to Sur, it is also single lane, and not lit at night. Lovely seaside camping can be found off the edges of this road. Best to take the paved route to SUR, then over to WADI SHAB to find your way safely into this coastal road. If you intend to drive in wadis (unsealed valley roads in river beds) a 4WD is highly desirable. You can never be sure how the road will be and if it starts raining the wadis will turn into rivers quickly.
If at all possible, hire a 4 wheel drive. There is spectacular off-road driving to be had in Oman, and you will want to veer off the tarmac again and again.
Since about 2001 Oman has been experiencing severe flash flooding annually. The force of the water rushing down the rock hard treeless mountains do push even LANDCRUISERS off the road and upside down. BEWARE. If you see dark clouds or rain starts. Find high dry ground, shelter and stay put. You can put a call into the local authorities to see if they can advise you better. The problem is the flash floods move quickly from town to town, it is easy to get trapped by washed out roads.
If you managed to get a map of Oman regard it as how Oman would like to have the roads. Some roads might be drawn as well-built streets but are not even paved. Roads not being visible on the map might just end and may even be painted till the end!
Dimensions in Oman are relatively big. The problem is the limit of kilometers of the typical rented car of 200 - 250 km per day. Prepare to pay for extra-kilometers. My price was 50 Baisa (OMR 0.050) per km (October 2007). Monthly rates are sometimes unlimited kilometers. NEGOTIATE.
Since 2006 in order to try and limit the rather frightening road death toll, the motorways/dual carriageways are littered with speed cameras. In the centre of Muscat they are every 2 kms, not all look like they are active - but be warned.
Arabic is the national language, however most Omanis will speak good to excellent English, particularly in major tourist areas and cities. In the southern Dhofar region, a Semitic language called "Jibbali" is spoken. Swahili and Balushi are languages spoken by ethnic minorities in Oman especially in the capital Muscat. The historical presence of Indian traders has meant that Hindi is understood in some urban areas. An English-speaking traveller should have no difficulties seeing most of the country unless he or she really travels "off the beaten track".
Biladi Shuhoom is a small village with only a few hundreds of people. There is a Juma mosque but Friday prayer is a new thing here as the mosque is of recent origin. Formerly, it was customary to have the noon-time prayer during Fridays as the long trip to the next village of Mokniyath was a difficult exercise. Even now the Zaid bin Al-Kathab senior secondary school, is the only building here showing off the green, red and white national flag. All government establishments have the privilege to carry the national flag. Mokniyath is a little bigger village with one more flag-bearing building, a public clinic. But even there there is no post office or public telephone. For all these higher services, you have to travel another 100 km to Ibri which is the nearest town and the headquarters of the wall who is the district collector here. Ibri itself is 500 km. or so from Muscat hut it is only two hours by car to Dubai across the border. Biiadi Shuhoom is a village without roads, telephones and other modern amenities. Electricity is there, but it is a recent development like the Friday prayer. During the annual mountains floods, the village is totally marooned from the outer world and essential food supply is provided by helicopter. The villagae Bedouins are engaged in wheat cultivation, sheep rearing and there are plenty of wheat farms. You need a four-wheel drive vehicle to reach there and you can drive across the mountains in an as-you-please manner. The houses are quite small and the biggest house is my own quarters which is leased out by the Ministry of Education from the village sheikh. The sheikh also provides water pumped from a wadi or mountain steam. Sending letters is a big task here as there is no letterbox to drop them. You have to entrust them with some Omanis going to the Ibri market. Incoming letters end up in the post box of the Ministry in Ibri and the principal brings them during his weekly trips. Some visitors carry their mobile telephones to the village but it is impossible to make or receive calls as the signals are blocked by the mountains surrounding the village.
Visitors to Oman should have a look into the monthly published Omani lifestyle magazine Oman Today, available everywhere in Oman.
The currency in Muscat is the Omani rial (OMR). One rial is made of one thousand Baisa. The rial is officially tied to the US dollar at 1 rial = 2.6008 dollars; exchange rates on the streets are a percent or two lower.
There are ATMs at the airport and plenty of them in Muscat and every main town, although not all of them take foreign cards. You can change foreign currency at the counters inside the airport and at money exchanges throughout Oman.
The Omani national symbol is the silver-sheathed dagger known as the khanjar. These vary widely in quality and cost, but almost every shop will stock several different models. Most of the modern ones are made by Indian or Pakistani craftsmen under Omani direction, while many are actually made in India or Pakistan.
Another reminder of the country's tribal past is the walking stick known as arsaa. This is a cane with a concealed sword in it, which can prove quite a talking point at home. Unfortunately, in many countries, it will prove a talking point with customs officials rather than friends and family.
Omani silver is also a popular souvenir, often made into rosewater shakers and small "Nizwa boxes" (named for the town from which they first came). Silver "message holders", often referred to in souks as "old time fax machines" are often for sale as well--if you object to buying religious artefacts as souvenirs, you might want to give these a pass as they were originally created by Jews in the region to carry scripture verses. Many silver products will be stamped with "Oman" on them, which is a guarantee of authenticity. Others will not, and will be the subject of many interesting stories explaining why the government does not in fact require stamping for authenticity.
The distinctive hats worn by Omani men are also commonly sold, particularly in the Muttrah Souk in Muscat.
Particularly in the Dhofar region, frankincense is a popular purchase as the region has historically been a centre for production of this item. Myrrh can also be purchased quite cheaply in Oman.
As one might expect, Oman also sells many perfumes made from a great number of traditional ingredients. Indeed, the most expensive perfume in the world (Amouage) is made in Oman from frankincense and other ingredients. It retails at somewhere around the OR50 mark.
Opening hours during holy month of Ramadan are very restricted. Supermarkets are less strict, but don't rely on being able to buy anything after iftar. At noon, most shops are closed anyway, but this is not specific to Ramadan.
The food is mainly Arabic, Lebanese and Indian. Many Omanis make a distinction between "Arabic" food and "Omani" food, with the former being the description of the standard dishes found throughout the Arabian Peninsula.
Omani food itself tends to be slightly spicier and served in quite large portions - whole fish are not uncommon at lunch in some local restaurants (sticking to local food, it is quite easy to eat a substantial meal for less than OR2). As benefits of a country with a long coastline, seafood is quite a common dish, particularly shark, which is surprisingly tasty.
Omani sweets are well-known throughout the region, with the most popular being halwa. This is a hot, semi-solid substance which behaves a little like honey and is eaten with a spoon. The taste is similar to Turkish Delight. Omani dates are among the best in the world and can be found at every social place and at offices.
In Khaboora you can get Pakistani Porotta. They are double the size of Indian Porottas and look like pappadams. But they taste like porottas and are much thinner and declicious. Three porottas are available for the equivalent of Rs.11-00. Omani Khubz is not tasty and it is made up of maida. In Sohar you may get an excellent lunch with Ayla curry, Ayla fry and Payarupperi. Expect to pay only 400 Baisa (Rs.44-00) which is considered very low lunch price here.
Bottled drinking (mineral) water is easily available at most stores. Tap water is generally safe; however, travellers unused to higher mineral content should stick to the bottled variety.
Alcohol is available only in select restaurants and large hotels and is usually very expensive. Non-Muslim Travellers are allowed 2 litres of liquor as duty free baggage allowance. Travellers can pick up liquor at the duty free shop in the arrival lounge.
Please note that drinking alcohol in public is strictly prohibited.
During Ramadan, drinking in public is also prohibited, even for foreigners. Take care to drink in the privacy of your room or car.
Oman has the full spectrum of accommodation - from ultra-luxurious hotels to extremely rustic huts in the desert constructed from date palm leaves.
In recent years, Oman has been attempting to turn itself into something of a five-star destination for well-heeled travellers. This does not pose a problem to the budget-minded in Muscat, and even outside of the capital there is still a range of budget options. In some parts of the country, however, accommodation may be limited to higher-end hotels and resorts.
Working in Oman requires that you hold a residence permit. In common with other Gulf countries, you must be sponsored by an employer to obtain a residence permit. It's not uncommon for people to enter on a tourist visa then look for a job - this is fine. Penalties for the employer are substantial if they are caught employing illegals, although this naturally varies depending on how good their connections are.
The majority of positions are filled by expats from the sub-continent. Positions for Europeans tend to be restricted to upper management levels or specialised occupations, so don't expect to pick up a position as you pass through unless you are prepared to work for very little!
Oman is a safe country and crimes rarely happen as the Royal Oman Police is very efficient and honest.
In the recent past however there have been rumours about children being kidnapped, abused and even killed in and around Muscat area. In March 2008 the Royal Oman Police also sent sms messages to residents in Muscat asking them to keep an eye on children. So its always better to keep an eye on your kids and be careful as in any other place in the world.
Driving in Muscat can sometimes be a problem, although this is due more to congestion than bad driving on the part of the locals. Outside of the major cities, a common driving risk is falling asleep at the wheel due to the long stretches of featureless desert. Driving in Oman calls for attention to the unexpected. It has the second highest death rate from traffic accidents in the world (surpassed only by Saudi, followed closely by the UAE). Omani drivers outside of the cities tend to drive very fast and pass with impunity. Driving at night is especially hazardous as many drivers fail to turn their headlights on.
Oman is warm year-round and summers can be extremely hot. Always carry drinking water with you and be wary of de-hydration in high temperatures. If you're not used to the heat it can sneak up on you and cause serious health problems.
Several people have tried to cross stretches of the Omani desert on their own in a rented 4WD. Some of these people have died or got rescued just in time.
Travelling through a desert requires proper preparation. It looks easy from a modern air-conditioned 4WD, but if that fails you are suddenly back to basics.
Never go off-road alone. A minimum of two to three cars (of the same make) is the rule. Leave your itinerary with a friend with clear instructions if you do not return in time. Take at least: - recovery tools: spades, rope (and attachments), sand mats or ladders - two spare tires and all required equipment - a good air pump (high capacity) - sufficient water (at least 25 litres more than you think you will need for drinking) - sufficient petrol: there are no petrol stations in middle of nowhere
If you have – or can get – a satellite phone, take it. (Mobiles work only in limited areas.) Check your car before embarking on such a trip.
The Omanis are generally very humble and down-to-earth people. The usual rules of respect when travelling in a Muslim country should be followed in Oman, even when locals appear to be a little less "uptight" than their neighbours.
Do not discuss or question the Sultan's sexuality; while this is a subject of rumors in the West, it is not an acceptable topic in Oman.
While Omanis may not say anything to foreigners who dress in tight or revealing clothing, it is quite disrespectful. Yes, some visitors push the goodwill of the Omanis in choosing their attire, but a little sensitivity goes a long way. It is best to cover one's shoulders and knees, and to avoid low cut necklines. Swimsuits are really appropriate only at the beach--even at a 5-star resort, wearing a loose covering between one's room and the beach is considered a courtesy. Women will get additional respect if they cover their heads and wear clothes covering their bodies...
Staring is quite common in Oman; children, men and women are likely to stare at you simply for being a foreigner, especially if you travel off-season and in out-of-the-way places. This is not meant as an insult, it rather shows an interest, and a friendly smile will leave the kids giggling and showing off, and the adults happily trying out their few English phrases.
The country code for Oman is 968.
Dialing out from Oman you will need to dial 00 + International Code + Number
Dialing into Oman callers use +968 followed by an 8 digit number...
These 8-digit numbers generally start with a 9 if it is mobile number, and with 2 for land lines, though other numbers will eventually start to get used.