HFP in Oman: coming up on HFP this week …

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Two weeks ago, I was lucky enough to spend a couple of days in Oman.

This was done in conjunction with Oman Air (who provided me with a complimentary flight) and the Al Bustan Palace hotel, which is managed by Marriott’s Ritz-Carlton brand and which provided me with a free room and breakfast.  As it was Ramadan, I pretty much had the aircraft and hotel to myself as you will see!  Head for Points paid all of its other costs and we were not paid for these articles.

I will be looking at Oman Air and the Al Bustan Palace over the next week or so.

It is rare for me to accept an offer like this – I delegate 75% of the airline-arranged long-haul flight reviews on HFP to my colleagues.  There is an increasing buzz about Oman, however, and I had never been before so I thought it was worth the trip.

I thought I would use this first article to set the scene a little as many people may not be as familiar with Oman as they are with, say, Dubai.

Where is Oman?

Oman is situated on the eastern portion of the Arabian peninsula, with the United Arab Emirates to the north, Yemen to the south and Saudi Arabia on its inland border. It is a country larger than the UK but with a population of just 4 million: much of the country is rugged wilderness, inhospitable due to the dry conditions.

For clarity, it is not part of the UAE.  Oman has its own currency and you need a visa to go there – luckily these can be obtained online for £10 with no need to send your passport away or visit an embassy.

oman map

Oman, unlike many of its Middle Eastern neighbours, generally keeps a low public profile.  Whilst it has significant oil resources like its neighbours, it seems to avoid the ‘brashness’ of the UAE or Qatar.

oman stock photo city on hill

For tourists, what sets Oman apart is its varied landscape.  It has a long coastline, which borders the Arabian Sea and Gulf of Oman, and the capital Muscat is an ancient port.  (It is an ancient port with a brand new super swanky international airport, as you will discover.)

oman stock photo muscat mosque

Inland, vast gravel desert plains fill the central parts whilst two mountain ranges track the northern and south-eastern coasts.

oman stock photo coast

How to get to Oman from the UK

There are various ways of getting to Muscat from the UK.

Oman Air flies double daily from London Heathrow – you may remember that Oman Air paid a record price of $75m a few years ago to obtain a second pair of landing and take-off slots.  It operates out of Terminal 4.  It has an impressive Business and First Class as you will see.

British Airways also flies several times a week, although the route is currently suspended for the Summer 2019 season.  This is due to ongoing Rolls Royce engine problems on the Boeing 787-9 fleet which has left BA short of aircraft.  It returns in late October.

Oman Air also flies direct from Manchester Airport.

Other airlines such as Gulf Air,  Emirates, Turkish and Qatar Airways offer connecting flights from various UK airports.  Oman is not involved in the UAE blockade of Qatar so you can use Avios to get to Oman on Qatar Airways, with an aircraft change in Doha.

oman stock photo landscape

Where can you stay in Oman?

A range of high-end hotels cover both the coastal and mountainous parts of Oman. Shangri La (a ‘three hotels in one’ development) and Ritz Carlton (via the recently refurbished Al Bustan Palace, where I stayed) both have extensive beach-side resorts near Muscat.  Other luxury properties in the area include The Chedi (a GHM hotel) and an InterContinental.

oman stock photo mountains

For something totally different, most experts recommend one of the luxury mountain resorts.  These include Alila Jabar Akhdar and Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort, nestled in a craggy  landscape of the Al Hajar mountains, whilst the Desert Nights Camp is the only luxury desert camp.  Unfortunately my stay was too short to check out any of these resorts, but they come recommended – especially in Summer as the temperature is noticeably lower.

Having been, I think if I returned with my family I would do a ‘two centre’ holiday split between one of the mountain resorts and one of the beach resorts.

oman stock photo desert

We don’t ‘do’ travelogues on HFP – there are literally hundreds of people who can do it better than us.   However, I hope this gave you a bit of background to the country and I look forward to telling you a bit more about Oman Air and the Al Bustan Palace over the next week or so, starting on Wednesday.

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Comments

  1. Gavin says:

    And as usual with most ME states – they are totally homophobic, you can’t share a room if you’re not married and drinking is controlled/frowned upon… so it’s about as much “fun” as the Bangkok Hilton… Save your pennies and go somewhere less oppressive (North Korea anyone?)

    https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/oman/local-laws-and-customs

    • Indiacharliepapa says:

      We stayed at the Shangri-la a few years ago and as a non-married (straight) couple had no issues sharing a room. It’s certainly somewhere I’d be mindful of overt PDAs as with UAE.

    • Pussy Galore says:

      Gavin,

      Whilst there are certainly more conservative cultural norms in Oman and indeed “most ME states” in comparison to the UK, I don’t see how they are particularly different to many other countries/regions. For instance, of the 193 UN Member States, 70 still criminalise consensual same-sex sexual acts between adults. This doesn’t even include countries such as Russia or Indonesia which have a significant de facto intolerance driven at a government level.

      Of the 14 countries where the death penalty can still be imposed for homosexuality only 7 are in the Middle East. In total there are 18 countries in the Middle East. It therefore seems a tad harsh to point the finger with such focus on the Middle East in isolation.

      I assume you would also recommend places such as Barbados and Tonga are best avoided? I would recommend the opposite: encourage tourism to drive liberalisation by exposure in the countries concerned and generate greater awareness of the challenges in those counties from which tourists emanate (and which are lucky enough to already benefit from greater rights).

      • Nick_C says:

        “Of the 14 countries where the death penalty can still be imposed for homosexuality only 7 are in the Middle East.”

        Whopee. That’s wonderful. What you will find is they are all Islamic countries.

        I will continue spending my vacations and my money in countries where I feel welcome.

        If others feel happy supporting barbaric countries that suppress their people and execute homosexuals well that is their business I suppose.

        I think Germany in the 30s would have been an interesting place to visit as well. Beautiful mountain resorts. Interesting local culture. Some HFP readers would no doubt have flocked there if a cheap luxury package had been available with their Co-op divvi.

        • Germany in the early 1930’s – well, Berlin anyway – would have been fascinating.

      • Gavin says:

        Pussy galore? Are you gay??? If not then you have no basis for argument and frankly yes I would suggest lgbtq people do not visit those countries or any other which persecutes people for their sexual orientation. Fine to say only 7 have the death penalty because being imprisoned for life or flogged/stoned in the street is SOOOOO justified isn’t it???
        And by your own figures – 7 of the 14 countries which have the death penalty are in the Middle East… not a great incentive to visit that region.

        The article is about Oman – I stated information about Oman being homophobic amongst other restrictions and suggested people may want to go elsewhere – either use the information or ignore it but don’t try to normalise homophobia by pointing out “well other countries have the same rules”

        • Pussy Galore says:

          1. Yes, I am gay.
          2. Not that it makes any difference as to whether I can form a rationale argument or not. To suggest otherwise is homophobic. I therefore do hope that you were asking for some other reason. What was your reason?
          3. I lived in Muscat for five years. A wonderful place where I still have plenty of gay friends and was never persecuted.
          4. My point, which you are seemingly ignoring, is that 70 of 193 states have anti-gay laws. Do you really think not visiting, working in, trading with etc. one third of the world is the way to change attitudes?

          NB. Oman is not one of the 14 countries that has the death penalty for homosexuality.

          • gavin says:

            4. My point, which you are seemingly ignoring, is that 70 of 193 states have anti-gay laws. Do you really think not visiting, working in, trading with etc. one third of the world is the way to change attitudes?
            As i said above – Yes I would suggest lgbtq people do not visit those countries or any other which persecutes people for their sexual orientation. Fine to say only 7 have the death penalty because being imprisoned for life or flogged/stoned in the street is SOOOOO justified isn’t it???

        • Gavin,
          I have been to Qatar, and as a gay couple, we had no problems sharing the same room, albeit with two big double beds.

          Nick,

          Barbados main religion is Christian.

          • Nick_C says:

            Are you saying Barbados has the death penalty for homosexual acts? News to me!

        • https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/barbados/local-laws-and-customs

          You can get up to life in prison, if they wanted to, although not enforced. So not only Islamic countries have this kinds of laws.

          I will go to Oman, and I will respect the local customs.

      • “Of the 193 UN Member States, 70 still criminalise consensual same-sex sexual acts between adults”

        A shocking and depressing statistic 👎

    • You can share a room, and nobody had a problem with me drinking (though I don’t drink that much).

      Btw, there are two Hiltons in Bangkok (and five Hilton brandeds in total)

    • Complete nonsense, even for gay couples, at tourist hotels.

      • Nick_C says:

        What’s complete nonsense Rob? The FO advice?

        “It’s against the law to live together or share the same hotel room with someone of the opposite sex to whom you aren’t married or closely related.

        Homosexuality is illegal in Oman. See our information and advice page for the LGBT community before you travel.”

        • Pussy Galore says:

          Without wishing to presume Rob’s intent think it is fair to assume he is (rightly) suggesting the practical situation in Oman for gay tourists is different from the factual FCO Travel Advice which sets out the legal position.

          • Memesweeper says:

            It’s a real shame the FCO advice doesn’t mention the facts on the ground, just quotes the law.

            If the reality in Oman is a collective turning of a blind eye towards LGBT folk then that’s a whole heap different to systemic persecution by the state. It would certainly influence my decision to travel and I’m sure many others.

            Prior to reading Rob’s piece I was ‘maybe, interested’ about Oman and ‘definitely not’ about UAE and Saudi. Wonder if I’ll change my mind and be more, or less, interested?

        • Bagoly says:

          I lived in the UAE for two years.
          I even had a Sharjah alcohol licence (Dubai residents will appreciate the significance of that!)

          In most of the Emirates (rules vary between Emirates) and neighbouring countries:
          It is illegal for a man and woman not married to each other to share a hotel room.
          It is illegal to drink alcohol without a licence (and tourists never have one)
          The authorities well know that enforcing those rules would kill tourism from the west (and east), so they do not.
          Unless you do something wrong like get into a fight.

          There is NO law against two unrelated men sharing a hotel room per se.
          And that is particularly unlikely to be a problem in Oman.

      • Frenzie01 says:

        You are saying this because you aren’t gay.
        The fact of the matter is that the law isn’t on your side if you get in trouble for being gay.
        To dismiss the possibility of being jailed for it is foolish.

    • Nate1309 says:

      What’s wrong with the Bangkok Hilton?

    • JamesLHR says:

      I’m curious about this reaction.

      I’ve never seen this reaction here regarding reviews of the UAE or Qatar where the punishment is the death penalty in legislation?

      People seem happy to fly with Qatar, but what happens if you’re connecting through Doha and your flight is delayed or cancelled or you misconnect and you have to stay there in a hotel?

  2. Sapiens says:

    Oman is an incredible and unique place. Good to drive around (roads better than the uk) but rent a 4×4 so you can go to the more wild places. Huge amounts of history and tradition.

    A three centre trip is common for a week in oman. 1) beach/muscat, 2) desert camp 3) mountains.

  3. Jens Jensen says:

    Let me start by saying, I’m not a lover of Dubai, but I know that we’re all different. So, when my wife used our 2-4-1 voucher to fly to Oman I was initially now well pleased. Please go – its a fantastic country and so much different than Dubai. The first you notice is the landscape with the mountains and no ego enhancing steel and glass skyscrapers and the people are very friendly. Not many places you’ll get beach, desert and mountain holiday in one.
    Yes, alcohol is expensive as in all other countries in that region, however, both the Sangri-la and Chedi, with free minibar and 1 hour drink party before dinner.
    Would I go back – YES!

    • In the UAE, you’ll never interact with any Emiratis unless you are trying to do business at a high level. In Oman you will interact with many Omanis and that makes a big difference to me, at least.

      Oman seems to have avoided much of the “Islamist” problems of recent decades, and the only really dangerous parts are on the Yemen border which you don’t need to go to, (though driving in the wet season is another sort of danger).

      For me Dubai is basically a sanitised version of the Philippines and India/Pakistan. You can visit the “Arab” bits in half a day, recognising that they are now geared to tourists. I wonder how many HFPers have visited Indian construction workers’ residential areas in Dubai.

  4. Gilly says:

    I am guessing you’ve never been Gavin – lumping the whole of ‘the Middle East’ together is almost as offensive and stupid as referring to ‘Africa’ as a single political entity.

    Tell you what, next time you visit I’ll take you down to a couple of bars where I can assure you you will meet local and expat LGB people, and can also down a few pints at the same time.

    Rob – yeah I’d recommend the Anantara Jabal Ahkdar as a 2nd stop if you visit with family – lovely family-friendly luxury resort in the mountains. I was there at the weekend – watching the sunset while drinking sundowners in our villa’s infinity pool, followed by Singapore slings in the bar (…. during Ramadan…. staying with people I wasn’t married to;….feeling sad and oppressed, obv.)

    • Gavin says:

      “lumping the whole of ‘the Middle East’ together is almost as offensive and stupid as referring to ‘Africa’ as a single political entity”
      (quote from wikipedia) Homosexuality is illegal in 10 of the 18 countries that make up the region; and punishable by death in six of these.
      So is Oman not part of the MAJORITY where it is illegal to be gay? or is my maths totally incorrect???
      PS> I’ve been to israel and jordan where it is accepted and had a great time…with no fear of arrest or imprisonment or death….such a relief

  5. Mackem says:

    No mention of their horrific human rights record then? No to worry eh..

    https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/middle-east-and-north-africa/oman/report-oman/

  6. Frenzie01 says:

    Seriously Rob, you and the Middle East…
    What is next? Saudi Arabia ? 🙂

  7. “especially in Summer as the temperature is noticeably lower”

    I’m pretty sure you meant Winter not Summer. Because it gets very hot in Summer (e.g. 50 degrees).

    • Nick_C says:

      I think what Rob meant is the temperature in the mountain resorts is lower (than the coast).

      • Gilly says:

        Yup – the marketing slogan of the mountain hotels is “always 15 degrees cooler”

  8. AmandaB says:

    For any SCUBA divers I can thoroughly recommend Oman as an unspoilt and up coming destination. The Musandam peninsula is amazing with the biggest shoals we have ever seen, warm water and good viz. A recent dive in Muscat was also great although viz was poorer and water temperature lower. Beware of any issues with domestic flights with Oman Air. Their customer service was shocking.

  9. SteveG says:

    Respect other countries customs and values even if they are different to your own. Have travelled to ME many times over the years and am off in September to MCT/DXB and Ras al Khaimah. As a gay man I steer clear of walking around in rainbow flag Speedo’s and holding hands ( I never do anywhere btw!). Travel is for broadening the mind, if we didn’t travel to all the places where we disagree with their politics or religious believes we’d be severely limited…..shall we add The US now to our list of countries not to travel to as a result of their recent draconian laws on abortion and gay rights coming thru? No I wouldn’t go to Brunei, Yemen, Saudi etc same as I’d never go to Kingston in Jamaica or Alabama. Every time I’ve been to the ME I’ve only ever come across friendly locals, unlike travels within The UK or US! It’s all about respect. Go and enjoy but leave your
    card carrying flag waving agendas at home or don’t and go to Eastbourne 😀

    • Frenzie01 says:

      Whilst I agree with you that travel is for broadening the mind, if you choose to support the economy of the country where gay people like you can be jailed or in some countries killed, that is entirely up to you.

      • Jonathan says:

        I’m not sure they’ll be executing anyone for being Gay in Oman anytime soon since it’s an open secret that the Sultan is Gay!

        • Frenzie01 says:

          Oh please, like that matters. Of course lots of them are gay, lots of them drink alcohol etc.
          I love it when in BA First they ask their Whiskey served in a mug.

  10. Mark Gray says:

    We travelled to Oman last year staying in the Chedi and then the Alila Jabal Akdhar.
    We are a gay couple and never once experienced any issues in hotels or out and about at restaurants or sightseeing. The people are warm and friendly and the country is stunning.
    I would thoroughly recommend a holiday to Oman – the hotels are among the best we have ever stayed in.

  11. Maretha Kritzinger says:

    You can only visit the desert camps in winter, not summer as you mentioned. Winter has lower temperatures and there’s many desert camps. Most of them close down during summer due to the extreme weather conditions.

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