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Getting around

Part 6: Salalah, Taqah, Mirbat, Wadi Dawkah

24.12: Munich -> Istanbul -> Muscat
25.12: Muscat
26.12: Muscat
27.12: Muscat -> Rustaq -> Sohar
28.12: Sohar -> Ibri
29.12: Ibri, Al Ayn, Jabrin fort, Nizwa 
30.12: Ibri -> Bahla -> Misfat -> Ibra
31.12: Ibra, Al Qabil, Wadi Bani Khalid
01.01: Al Qabil -> Wahiba desert
02.01: Wahiba desert -> Sur
03.01: Sur, Ras Al Hadd
04.01: Sur -> Muscat
05.01: Muscat -> Salalah
06.01: Salalah, Taqah, Mirbat
07.01: Salalah, Wadi Dawkah, Nabi Ayoub
08.01: Salalah, Mughsail
09.01: Muscat -> Istanbul
10.01: Istanbul -> Munich

05.01: Muscat -> Salalah
Hotel Hamdan Plaza, Salalah. OR 52.65 (OR 45 + 17% - see the note below at Jan. 9th) for a huge room, actually a small apartment with a kitchen, a small room with table and fridge, toilet with bathtub/shower, huge and elegant room with large bed, sofa, TV, lots of furniture, phone. Free WLAN in the room which however is quite slow. Breakfast included.
The room us actually not bad value. The only problem is the location, in a commercial centre, far away from downtown Salalah (around 5-6km). A car is necessary, but then in the same building of the hotel there are a supermarket and other shops. I booked this place, because the Marriott is too far away from Salalah (around 80km) and the Hilton is too expensive.
The hotel has two restaurants. The one on the 5th floor is good.
Weather: sunny, blue sky, warm. In Salalah a little bit warmer (26C when we arrive), windy.

The wake up call comes at 6:55am. We actually could have slept until 7:30am or so, because the airport is fairly close to the hotel Ibis and there is not so much traffic on the motorway.

By 8:20am we are in the car and drive to the airport. Before 9am we reach the airport, then I remember that the petrol tank needs to be full, so I drive to the nearest petrol station. We are back at the airport shortly after 9am. There we return the car to the Budget car rental, then check in at the Oman air counter.

It's 9:55am when we finally pass the security check and reach the gate area with the shops. This is a relatively small airport - nothing comparable to Dubai airport with its huge shopping centre.

The 11am Oman Air flight takes off with a small delay and lands in Salalah at 12:30pm. Then we retrieve the luggage and proceed to the arrivals hall. At the Budget car rental we pick up a category B car, a Nissan SX4.

For some reason the car navigation system does not work initially, so we ask people for directions. Around 1:30pm we check in the hotel Hamdan Plaza.

Then, while Shirley takes a rest, I bring the two small girls to the pool. Quite a long walk to reach the hotel pool. The pool water is quite cold.

Shortly after 4pm I drive into town alone, while Shirley rests with the kids in the hotel. The plan would be to make it to the beach, but since the car navigation system initially does not work, I drive a bit around, getting lost in dead-end streets. Finally the car navigation system picks up a GPS signal and I'm able to find the way to the beach.

Salalah is a pleasant and laid back town in a very nice setting. It's a mix of tropics (lots of coconut palms, banana trees) and desert. It's a reasonably clean city with a few touristic sights. The highlight is the beautiful white coral sand beach, which stretches for many km and is 30-50m wide. Sand soft like pillows.

Fantastic setting shortly before sunset on the beach, with amazing colours and atmosphere. Colonies of water birds looking for food in the shallow water. Lots of photo opportunities, I need to bring the kids here tomorrow. Sunset here is at 6pm, half an hour later than in Muscat.

Shortly after 6pm I'm back in the hotel, where I have lunch with Shirley and the kids. In the evening we don't do much.

06.01: Salalah -> Taqah -> Mirbat -> Salalah
Hotel Hamdan Plaza, Salalah. 
Weather: same as yesterday: sunny, blue sky, warm, windy.

We get up at 8:45am and have breakfast until around 10am. Shortly before 11am we start driving towards Mirbat. The first stop is a water spring called Ain Hamran (or Ayn Hamran). This is one of the many springs which originate in the mountains surrounding Salalah.

Once the GPS navigation system is operational (for some reason the Nokia 5800 phone this morning needs a while to get a GPS signal), getting there is quite easy. There is a four lane motorway (max. speed 120 km/h) until Taqah. To get to the spring you have to drive towards Taqah, then get out at the roundabout.

In Oman they have two-lane roundabouts, which are quite dangerous, because it can happen that a car from the inner ring wants to get out of the roundabout when a car from the outer ring does not want to get out of the roundabout or wants to use the next exit. I guess you are supposed to change lanes in the roundabout, but this is not a safe mechanism.

The Ain Hamran spring is actually quite unimpressive. The only impressive thing is that there is a spring in the middle of the desert. We spend about 20 minutes there, from 11:20-11:40am and while there we run into a herd of goats who are drinking water at the spring.

The next stop is the city of Taqah.  We reach the beach of Taqah at noon. This is again a nice, wide white coral sand beach, which probably continues until Salalah.

We spend half an hour there. Right now it's very hot - the temperature must be around 30C, but is bearable because there is so much wind. The sun is very strong.

We then drive into Taqah town and have a look at the castle. This is actually a quite small fort built in the 19th century by the local sheikh. The building itself is relatively unimpressive, but the rooms are well restored and nicely set up. Some contain exhibits showing life in the fort and in Taqah.

In the meantime it's 1pm and it would be a good idea to have lunch somewhere. But the only restaurant listed in the navigation system directory in Taqah is full of flies, so we just have a drink there and instead buy some snacks in a nearby shop.

At 1:50pm we continue driving to the next destination, the city of Mirbat. On the way we run into a street sign pointing to the ruins of the ancient city of Samharam, so we make a stop there, between 2 and 2:20pm.

Samharam was a pre-Islamic era settlement, a harbour used mainly for frankincense. The ruins are in a very basic state - just stone walls, no sculpted stones. Interesting however to find such a place in such a remote area.

We then continue driving to Mirbat, arriving there at 3pm after one stop along the way. There is actually nothing to see in Mirbat and it's quite hot at 3pm. I guess in the summer it must be unbearably hot in Mirbat. The only attractions in Mirbat are basically the harbour area which is nicely set up and a local fort, which however is currently closed for restorations.

At 3:50pm we start driving back to Salalah. At 4:40pm we reach Salalah and I spot some stalls selling fresh fruits (bananas and coconuts) along Sultan Qaboos street. Brief stop for some coconut juice and bananas. Excellent small bananas, locally grown in Salalah.

After this brief stop we reach the beach at 5pm. Nice, wide white coral sand beach. Large groups of water birds feeding in the sand. We'll spend the next 50 minutes there, with the two small girls playing in the water with the sand, having fun with the waves.

We then drive back to the hotel, but on the way make an unplanned stop at a KFC restaurant. We end up having some kind of unplanned dinner there, which means that we skip the real dinner in a restaurant.

We are back in the hotel around 7:30pm. Since the day was not long enough, in the evening we go shopping to the nearby Centrepoint mall. I'm surprised at how much energy Alissia, this 6 year old girl has. After a full day out, she still wants to play with the games of the kids corner at almost 10pm.

07.01: Salalah -> Wadi Dawkah -> Nabi Ayoub -> Salalah
Hotel Hamdan Plaza, Salalah. 
Weather: sunny, blue sky, warm, windy.

We manage to finish the breakfast by 10am. After that I ask at the reception where it is possible to see fankincense trees and how to get to Wadi Dawkah. They don't understand what frankincense trees are and have never heard of Wadi Dawqah. After some explaining they understand what I mean and it turns out that the "dawkah" in Wadi Dawkah is actually pronounced the English way as "doh-ka". It's just the spelling which is a bit weird. That was also the reason why I could not find this place in the Navteq maps and the Nokia navigation system - because the spelling is different.

According to the lady in the reception these trees are everywhere, even here in Salalah. Yes, indeed? Sure, there are some near the hotel and she can show me by car where they are.

Back in the room I manage to convince Shirley to visit the Wadi Dawkah frankincense park. She does not know what frankincense is and probably is not interested anyway, but I guess she is not too crazy about spending the whole day in the hotel and does not want to let me go alone anyway.

So, around 11am we are in the reception and the receptionist drives to a place near the hotel where there is a frankincense tree. More than a tree this actually seems to be kind of an oversize bush with thick leaves (similar to the ones of a cactus).

We then start driving to the Wadi Dawkah park. On paper it's just a distance of about 60km, doable in (well) less than one hour. In practice we'll reach this place 1 1/2 hours later, and here is why.

First of all it's not all motorway, or road along which you can drive fast. Partly the road is winding up the mountains, but more significant is that the fact the for most of the stretch the road is full with roadworks. Apparently they are building the motorway from Salalah to Muscat and they are adding the second couple of lanes. There are speed limits in many parts of this road.

Then we make a couple of photo-stops along the way. The terrain is quite cool and would be even more photogenic if everything was green (as is the case during the monsoon season). Now everything is mostly brownish.

Another problem is that there are no street signs at all regarding this place. Without a GPS navigation system or somebody who knows the place, it is impossible to find Wadi Dawkah.

Later we understand why. Wadi Dawkah is currently being rebuilt. The road is being repaved, and the site facilities are being built. I guess this is why the local government does not want people to go there.

So, initially we miss the exit (let's say the place where you leave the motorway, because there is no motorway exit yet). Then we ask some locals, turn back and finally find the spot where you have to leave the motorway and after passing through rough terrain we reach the place, which is actually very close to the motorway.

Wadi Dawkah, or let's say the part accessible to tourists, lies in a plain with many frankincense trees. The site is fenced-in, perhaps to protect the trees against the animals.

We spend 20 minutes there. Shirley refuses to leave the car - too hot, sun is too strong and she is not interested anyway. Then, at 1pm, we drive back to the hotel and this time the trip takes just 50 minutes. At the hotel Shirley and the kids get out and enter the hotel.

Shortly before 2pm I start - this time alone - to the next place. This is Nabi Ayoub, the tomb of Hiob. This is supposedly an interesting place, 20 minutes by car from Salalah. In practice there are just a few not so impressive buildings there, none of which is interesting.

So I drive back to Salalah, but before I make a stop at the Ain Jarziz spring, which I noticed while driving to Nabi Ayoub. It takes a while to find this place, because nothing is properly marked with street signs and the navigation system fails about 100m from this place.

Ain Jarziz is a popular recreation area for local people from Salalah. It certanly is much more impressive in the rainy season, because right now very little water is coming out of the spring.

It's almost 4pm when I drive back to Salalah. I call Shirley on the mobile phone. Would she like to go anywhere? Nope, the kids are still sleeping. So I key in the next tourist attraction from the Navteq list, the Salalah bird park.

It turns out after some careful checking that now this bird sanctuary has been closed and the maps of the navigation system are once again outdated. Apparently this bird sanctuary no longer exists or it is being rebuilt.

By 5pm I'm back in the hotel room. The kids are still sleeping, so I leave again and head to the beach, this time the beach in west Salalah. I'll be on this beach and on another one until after sunset at 6pm.

Lots of local people on the other beach at this time of the day. There is a beach football match going on. By the way, lots of beach football here in Salalah. I'm surprised Oman has never won anything or participated in the world football championship.

At 6pm I drive back to the hotel. At 7pm we have dinner in the Chinese restaurant, at 8pm we drive into town. Window shopping in the souq area. Lots of frankincense for sale. I wonder what the going rate is.

Copyright 2011 Alfred Molon