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The Best Kept Secret of the Middle East

20th September 2011

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Oman. A home from home, and the best kept secret of the Middle East. Very few students have heard of this small Middle Eastern country that borders Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the UAE, three countries that we all have heard of. Yet for the last seven years I’ve spent most of my student holidays, Easter, Summer and Christmas having a little Middle Eastern ‘vacay’.

Visiting the country at least twice a year for the past seven years, I have come to grasp just what it is that makes Oman so special. The friendly communities, the deserted sandy white shores, the souks of Muscat lined with silver, gold, frankincense and Persian rugs, and the hustle and bustle of Ruwi, that is, ‘fake central’ where you can get Ralph Lauren polo shirts for
the price of a snakebite at the Union.

Its paradise for students, half the price of a flight to Thailand or Bali yet just as gorgeous. Within Oman lies Salalah, a southern ‘city’ that has boomed in the last ten years, and by boom I mean its now about the size of Reading Student Union. Lined with the most beautiful beaches one can ever imagine, I have spent many a day camped out on the beaches watching the lapping waves upon the shore whilst my Dad lights the barbie and I open the Corona. It all sounds so perfect…yet it truly is in Salalah. No tourists. No big monopoly supermarkets…although granted Subway now not only blesses Reading, but Salalah also, yet this is the only ‘big’ fast food chain (much to the delight of the ex-pat community living in Salalah.)

Going back to the beaches, the bay of Khor Rori is a favourite with a lagoon on one side and the Arabian sea on another. Just a few miles down from Khor Rori is a beach that my father and I have adopted as ‘our’ family Red Moon beach. Why Red Moon you ask? Well, clad with our jeep full of camping gear (literally everything but the kitchen sink) we’ve set up base and watched a red moon appear across the bay as the sun has set. It is undoubtedly the most beautiful sight I’ve ever seen, and soppy though it may be, sharing this with your Pops is always a beauty.

Camel Central in SalalahExploring Salalah in the jeep, (and by God you need one with ‘roads’ being something they’ve only developed the last few years) has become a real pastime, not knowing where the road may lead and where we might end up (ok, so granted sometimes we’ve ended up in the middle of nowhere) gives a sense of adventure I’ve come to relish every moment of. Only once, have we got lost amongst the mountains of Salalah…at night…and never again…so that may not be such a fond memory, but back to the good stuff… 

Salalah is a place you can still find the most amazing shells, and you have to admit this is a great thing; we all love to find ‘pretty’ shells and the sense of achievement it brings us, childish though it may be. It’s a place where the desert in the Khareef, that is, the monsoon season, turns from dry brown stony land to land that resembles the Yorkshire moors, perhaps this is a factor I should have mentioned sooner, that Salalah is often denoted the ‘eighth wonder of the world.’ One cannot explain the transformation in the summer months, yet it attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors during the rainy wet season. Yet it’s the dry hot season I love the most, for its peace and quiet, its sun and sand, and the adventures it brings. There is only one more thing that one must mention about Salalah (and if you know me you know what is coming)…food. Whilst visiting Salalah there are two must have local restaurants…Norman Tebbits (yes, as in the British politician) and the Turkish Restaurant.

Concentrating on Tebbits (and undoubtedly my favourite), this is the stuff dreams are made of. Indian and Sri Lankan cuisine galore, you can literally order any and every curry. Rice never tasted so good and don’t even let me get started on the vegetable pancake rolls, let alone the Naan and paratha bread…I better stop myself before I get carried away.

Its not just the awesome food, the beaches, the people or even the shells that I’ve found (and trust me I’ve got some crackers that have even made my thirty year old sister throw a tantrum over) that have made Salalah and Oman my second home and a place I would recommend, it’s the memories the country have given me, the endless trips with my father, only memories that could have been formed in such a idyllic place. Granted Oman is not your typical student or ‘tourist’ destination, yet it is the most beautiful, friendly and heavenly place to visit in the Middle East that I would recommend to any student. 

Students can steal themselves a bargain flight for around £270 when lucky, £350 the rest of the time to Muscat from London, and you won’t get stung with airport or visa taxes. You can find 5* hotels in Salalah for the price of a 2* in Europe, or stay in one of the more low budget hotels for pittance. There are hundreds of places to explore, the markets of Nizwa, old Muscat and more rural Salalah and, despite the alcohol free zones everywhere but hotels, I’ve spent half of my holidays in Oman either hung over or drunk! Oman is different, and a surprisingly awesome destination. For a change make it a stop on a gap year, a summer abroad or if you’re like me, for any holiday you can grab!


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