Jan 15

Oman 2014: Landing in Muscat; Al Alam Palace, Mutrah souq and more

Date: 25th October 2014

This past October, I won a chance to fly to Oman, courtesy of Oman Tourism. This wasn’t an invite per se, but a contest win. Indiblogger.in held a contest sponsored by Oman Tourism a few months back and my submission was chosen as one among the three best. Three bloggers won the chance to visit Oman on an all expenses paid guided tour of Oman.

The flight was, of course, by Oman Air.

Bangalore take off foggy skies

My flight was early morning and Bangalore was cold and foggy

Oman Air wing above clouds

But it was all sunny and fine above the clouds

Breakfast Oman Air inflight meal

Soon after take off, we were served breakfast.

Oman Air border sea flight

After a nap, I woke up to the sight of Oman

Oman coast from airplane

Two things Oman is famous for: clear blue seas & rocky landscapes

Oman mountains from airplane

Very mountainous country

Oman village mountains from sky

Can’t imagine life in the middle of all this… but there is

Muscat townships airplane landing

We were about to land at Muscat airport

The visa was arranged by Oman Tourism but we were only sent an e-copy. I had to collect the original from Muscat airport’s visa on arrival section. I had to go back and forth, one counter to another for while, but all was good in the end and I was out in about 30 minutes time. Unfortunately, when I went to the arrivals area, I couldn’t find anybody holding a board with my name on it. It was only after 5 minutes of walking around, I noticed a guy and a girl who looked like they could be Indian bloggers looking just as puzzled. We finally met the man assigned to pick us up as he was holding a board that said “Indiblogger winners”.

The two other bloggers that won the contest aside from me were Aseem Rastogi and Manjulika Pramod. We hopped in the car and made our way to the hotel.

Inside taxi Muscat Oman

Looking out, Muscat didn’t seem as fancy as Manama (Bahrain) or Dubai on first impressions. But still, it felt good to be back in the Gulf :)

Radisson Blu hotel Muscat Oman

We were going to be staying at the Radisson Blu in Al Khuwair the next two nights

Radisson Blu lobby Muscat Oman

I believe it’s a 4 Star hotel

Since it was an early check-in, all three of our rooms weren’t available, so we had to wait in one that was available. I left my luggage in there and chose to step out.

Muscat Al Khuwair Oman

I needed to get a local SIM card

Al Khuwair looked pretty normal, but no matter which GCC country I land in, they all start to the look the same and the sights, the roads, the buildings — all bring back memories of growing up in Bahrain.

Mobile shop Al Khuwair Muscat

I went in to this mobile store and picked up an Oman Tel SIM card and used it to message my family

Meat shops Al Khuwair Muscat

Small businesses all around

By the time I got back to the hotel my room was ready.

Radisson Blu rooms Muscat

The hotel has 153 beds

Radisson Blu hotel room Muscat Oman

For someone who is more used to staying at hostels in his travels, this was a welcome upgrade :)

Inside room Radisson Blu toilet Muscat

The room had all the amenities. A mini fridge with the usual suspects, electric kettle, water bottles, ironing board, steam press. In the toilet though, I found the bath water wasn’t draining out easily. Oh, and they provided all other toiletries — except a tooth brush, but you can always call up reception and ask for one.

After freshening up, we were a bit confused as to where we had to have our lunch. Our itinerary said lunch was at a restaurant called Kargeen Caffe, but we were confused as to how we would get there.

Olivos restaurant Radisson Blu Muscat

So went to the Olivos restaurant at the hotel and sat down there

We were on the verge of ordering food when we were finally contacted by our tour organizer in Muscat and told us that a driver is coming to pick us up and take us to Kargeen. We had to cancel our orders and we waited for our driver at the lobby.

Hills Muscat road Oman

It was the same driver from morning, and we drove a bit to get to the restaurant. Gave us the opportunity to see a bit more of Muscat. Hills all around.

When we arrived at Kargeen, we finally met our tour organizer, and expressed our grief over the lack of communication. We exchanged phone numbers and he would give us the details for the next few days of touring.

Kargeen buffet Muscat Oman

It was a buffet lunch of Omani food… which looked awfully familiar to Indian food

Kargeen arabic food Muscat Oman

I missed Arabian cuisine, so I vowed to make up for it in the next 5 days

Kargeen Caffe restaurant Muscat Oman

The interiors were nice

Kargeen Cafe outdoor seating Muscat

Kargeen has an outdoor area modeled along the lines of a typical Arabian coffee shop

Muscat road Oman

Post lunch, a new driver received us from Kargeen and took us for a tour across Muscat city

Muscat hill view Oman

We stopped for a bit at this view point, which our guide told was an old village

Aseem Manjulika Mithun Muscat Oman

We were the 3 winning bloggers. L-R: Aseem, Manjulika and me. And no, my tummy wasn’t that big after lunch. That’s just wind making its way inside my t-shirt.

Tourists Muscat Oman hill

There were other tourists on the same route

Bait al Zubair Muscat Oman

Our first stop on the tour was at Bait Al Zubair, a museum complex housing 3 attractions.

Unfortunately, no photography was allowed inside and so I had to leave the DSLR in the car. Inside Bait al Zubair was Bait Al Bagh, the main museum. It gives visitors a good run through of the history of Oman. From relics belonging to the sultans, old paintings, maps, coins, weapons, clothes, way of life, etc.

Bait Al Oud Muscat Oman

Bait Al Oud

After that, we went to Bait Al Oud next door. This three-storey building contains a large exhibition hall and reception area on the ground floor, with early European maps of the Arabian Peninsula and typical Muscati furniture on the first floor. The second floor includes early prints of the Arabian Peninsula and photographs of Muscat with an exhibit of historic cameras. The third floor also housed a rather large collection of old coins. Again, no photography allowed inside — which was sad, because Bait Al Oud was quite impressive!

After Bait Al Oud, we went inside Bait Al Daleel, an old house restored and renovated to give visitors an idea of how Omanis lived in the past. The house included a majilis (guest lounge), bedrooms and domestic date store. Bait Al Daleel also houses a coffee shop and art gallery – showing Omani artists work that can be purchased.

Inside Omani house Muscat

This is the living room (and that’s our guide posing for us)

Traditional old Oman house

The bed room

Table Oman house Muscat

The coffee shop area

Muscat museum ibix art Oman

Oryx art installations. The Arabian oryx is the national animal of Oman. We left Bait al Zubair and drove to our next stop.

Ford Mustang Muscat Oman

We were going to see Al Alam Palace

Royal Palace marble pavements Oman

Now for some royalty

Royal Palace lawn Muscat Oman

Al Alam Palace is also called the Royal Palace, but this is not where the Sultan lives

Al Alam Palace gates Muscat Oman

Al Alam Palace is the ceremonial palace

Royal Palace Muscat parade ground Oman

These ceremonial grounds plays host to parade marches and large gatherings for special occasions

Sultan Palace parade ground Oman panorama

A panorama of the ceremonial ground

Behind Al Alam Palace Muscat

We then drove behind the palace

Police army fort Muscat Oman

Our guide told us this was a police fort

Sea hill Muscat

We drove down the marina road

Muscat marina mosque Oman

A mosque by the sea

Marina road Muscat Oman

Our guide parked the car across the road and we walked to the marina

Sultan Oman mega yacht Muscat

That’s the Sultan of Oman’s mega yacht, called Al Said

Mutrah souq Muscat Oman

Next we crossed the road to go to Mutrah Souq

Marina entrance Mutrah square Muscat

I checked the prices for some souvenirs just to gauge what to expect from the other shops inside Mutrah Souq

Perfume shop Mutrah Souq Muscat Oman

Mutrah Souq is one of the oldest souqs (markets) in Muscat. So you find shops selling perfumes, scents…

Oud perfume scents store Mutrah Souq Oman

… and frankincense and a lot more

Mutrah Souq narrow lane Muscat Oman

Mutrah Souq has narrow bylanes on its sides

Mutrah Souq ceiling Muscat Oman

Looking at the roof, Mutrah Souq looks like it has seen some renovation work

Arabian jewelry Mutrah souq Oman

All sorts of funky jewelry

Souvenir silverware Mutrah souq Muscat

The bent sword designs you see are khanjars. A khanjar is a traditional dagger originating from Oman.

Souvenir shop Mutrah souq Oman

You get enough signs this souq easily caters to tourists more than locals

Mutrah souq Center Muscat Oman

You have an extension going left and right. We went left

Mutrah souq glass decor Oman

Loved the decor

General store Mutrah souq Muscat Oman

There are a few general stores, but hardly saw anybody buying their daily groceries here. Many of these general stores looked like they were run by Gujaratis, who have been in Oman for decades

Mutrah souq shop Muscat Oman

Each extension has stores selling more of the less the same thing

Incense shop Mutrah souq Muscat

More frankincense shops

Mutrah souq back entrance Muscat

We reached the back exit of Mutrah Souq

Outside Mutrah souq Muscat Oman

More shops outside

Mutrah Souq lane Muscat Oman

We went back in and made our way back to our taxi

Sweet nut shop Mutrah souq

On the way back, we saw a confectionery shop. I picked up some Turkish (compound) chocolates from here.

Shops Mutrah souq Muscat Oman

Before leaving Mutrah Souq I picked up some souvenirs

Perfume shop Mutrah souq Oman

I was tempted to pick some Arabian scents too, but didn’t know if these shops were all selling genuine stuff

Inside car driving Muscat night

Our tour was done for the day

Fish chips Radisson Blu hotel Muscat

Dinner was back at the hotel, and I ended the night with some fish & chips

First impression of Oman? Not very exciting, but trust me, that would change in the coming days. I went to bed early as I didn’t get much sleep since last night. Tomorrow, we were hitting the seas to see dolphins!

Jan 15


(This is a guest post by a reader)

Dubai is a land of richness and larger than life living that has many tourist destinations and incredible architecture. This region of United Arab Emirates is also famous for its merchandise and other shopping elements. More than one third of the tourists visiting Dubai have a sole purpose of shopping and this notion gave birth to “Dubai Shopping Festival”.

There are many Dubai Shopping Festival packages available in the market today, with which you can easily travel and save a lot of money. After its launch on 16 February 1995, this massive retail event is than considered and promoted as a tourist destination. Considering these facts in my mind, I decided to visit this one of its kind carnival and I instantly booked my package. Continue reading “THE BEST OF DUBAI SHOPPING FESTIVAL” »

Dec 14

Philippines 2014: Little Tokyo, Marikina Shoe Museum, and finally — karaoke!

Date: May 16th 2014

All my major travel objectives on this 2014 excursion across Philippines was over. Now it was time to wind down a bit and just enjoy my last few days in Manila.

For lunch today, Gale took to me to Little Tokyo, located on Chino Roces Avenue, Makati City. When she told me about Little Tokyo, I thought it was going to be like an entire area dominated by Japanese establishments, like Chinatowns elsewhere in the world.

Little Tokyo restaurants Manila

Little Tokyo turned out to be a privately run complex housing many Japanese eateries

Chino Roces Avenue Japanese Manila

Chino Roces Avenue has a few Japanese supermarkets too

Little Tokyo Manila Makati

We went in and checked out the restaurants inside

Eateries Little Tokyo restaurant Manila

Quite a few choices — some exclusive ramen shops, some sushi bars — but mostly restaurants serving all

Shinjuku restaurant Little Tokyo Manila Philippines

We came back out and sat at the more popular Shinjuku restaurant

Tenshindon Japanese restaurant Manila

I had Tenshindon, rice topped with fried egg and crab meat gravy

Kani salad Shinjuku Little Tokyo Manila

Gale had a bowl of ramen and Kani salad (pictured above) — which was very nice!

You can check out the Shinjuku menu on its Zomato page.

Date: May 17th 2014

In my quest to see more attractions within Manila or close to it, I decided to visit the Marikina Shoe Museum today. It houses a large collection of shoes owned by the infamous Imelda Marcos, widow of the former Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos. Aside from the many allegations of amassing immense illicit wealth, Imelda Marcos was infamous for possessing a collection of over a thousand pairs of shoes — most of it from expensive fashion brands. Some of those pairs are now housed inside the Marikina Shoe Museum.

Fortunately being the weekend, my friend Gale accompanied me today.

View from train to Marikina

We took the train to Santolan

From Santolan station, we took a taxi to get to Marikina.

Marikina big shoe Rizal street

Marikina is dubbed the “Shoe Capital of the Philippines” because of the many shoe production houses in the district

Marikina shoe museum building Manila

The Marikina Shoe Museum is right by Rizal Street and is a small building right in the heart of Marikina

Marikina shoe museum bend

There is an entry fee of ₱50 (₹71/$1/€0.90)

Shoes famous Filipino personalities Marikina

Filipino Shoes of Fame(?)

Marikina shoe museum displays Manila

Photography is restricted and I couldn’t take close ups of the shoes, especially those belonging to Imelda Marcos

Gale Villaflor Imelda Marcos

This is Gale, posing in front of a portrait of Imelda Marcos (when she was younger)

Marikina shoe museum attractions

Besides housing Imelda Marcos’ shoes, the museum also houses shoes from famous Filipino personalities

Venus Raj shoes Marikina shoe museum

Venus Raj is a Filipino beauty pageant queen

Mayor Guzman shoe collection Marikina

This is a collection of shoes donated to the museum from a former mayor of Marikina

Inside Marikina shoe museum art

There are some art decor around

Wooden cobbler moulds Marikina museum

Wooden shoe moulds line the pillar

Marikina shoe museum floors shoes

The collection of Imelda Marcos’ shoes is on display both downstairs and upstairs. We went upstairs next.

Marikina shoe museum Imelda Indira Gandhi

They had photos of Imelda Marcos with all the famous leaders and personalities she met the world over. That’s Imelda Marcos meeting Indira Gandhi.

Imelda Marcos shoe collection Marikina

I couldn’t take close up shots of the shoes because it’s not allowed, but you will see all sorts of high end brands of shoes here : Pierre Cardin, Chanel, Louis Vuitton and such

And that was it. We were in and out in just 30 minutes. The Marikina Shoe Museum does not house every single pair of shoe owned by Imelda Marcos, only a handful. But still, I didn’t mind. Manila doesn’t offer too many attractions and coming to Marikina by public transportation isn’t that expensive, so I would say Marikina Shoe Museum is worth a quick look.

Gale big shoe booth Marikina

Shoes of all shapes and sizes, all around Marikina

Philippines footwear center Marikina

We went in here next

Marikina shoe making Manila

This was like a promotion facility for the shoe makers of the region. They had a showroom in the front, and at the back was a workshop with all the tools and material used in making shoes.

Marikina shoe factory materials

I asked them where the leather comes from and a worker there told me it’s mostly from Taiwan and some sourced from across Philippines.

Cafe Kapitan restaurant Marikina

Cafe Kapitan restaurant

Lady of Abandoned Church Marikina

Our Lady of the Abandoned Parish Church

Lady of Abandoned Church Marikina Manila

We didn’t go inside as there was a mourning going on

Classic house Marikina Manila Philippines

Marikina seemed very clean and well maintained

It was a nice visit to Marikina. Feels like a nice neighbourhood to live in, to get away from the chaos of Manila.

Tonight was actually my last night in Manila, and if there was one thing I wanted to do in Philippines but hadn’t yet tried, it was karaoke! Like at a proper karaoke bar. Karaoke is  probably the national past time in Philippines, especially given every Filipino sings in some shape or form :-)

So Gale took me to Trinoma Mall in the evening.

Fish & Co value meal Manila

First we had dinner at Fish & Co. This was a pretty good value meal: fries, crisps, 3 fish fillets and 3 beef sliders… for about ₱350? I forgot.

Redbox karaoke Trinoma mall Manila

Then Gale suggested Red Box for karaoke. Being a Saturday night, we had to wait a bit for our room.

Red Box is a popular chain of karaoke lounge bars in Manila. It’s clean, reasonably priced — I believe it was ₱100 an hour for a room, and they had a great library of songs across genres.

Redbox karaoke machine Let it go

*Clearly* the most popular song of the year but not something I was ever going to sing

Westlife karaoke songs Redbox

Instead, I loved Westlife’s singles from their first three albums. Such good sing-along songs. So I sang them… all of them! :-)

Gale Mithun singing karaoke Redbox

I wasn’t as good a singer as Gale was, but it was fun. I mean that’s the whole point of karaoke anyway.

We ended up singing for 2 hours. She chose her classic favourites, I chose “Easy Lover” by Phil Collins and so on. We could have hung around longer, but it was getting late.

Mithun Divakaran singing karaoke

I’m glad Gale took me to Red Box. I didn’t know about the place and was instead thinking of hitting the many dingy karaoke bars that line Manila’s city streets.

May 19th  2014

I left Manila feeling sad that my trip was over. My 2014 trip to Philippines was better than my 2013 trip, but still not as great as my 2011 trip was. But I doubt I’ll ever enjoy quite the experience of that first trip. This time around I finally got to visit Oslob and have a proper whaleshark experience to make up for the disappointment at Donsol. I finally did the Mt. Pinatubo trek which was awesome and thanks to Gale, got to know about other festivals and places to check out.

But after three trips, I still couldn’t go to Batanes, which is still far beyond my reach (literally). There are places like Vigan I feel I should check out, but I like to think for an Indian tourist, I have covered Philippines pretty damn well. Would be nice to be recognized by the tourism board of Philippines and invited back (for free), but that remains a dream too.

Taking off Manila sky sunset

It was late in the evening when my flight took off from Manila

I landed in Hong Kong on time but my connecting Dragon Air flight to Bangalore was delayed because the plane coming from China was late.

British Airways A380 HK airport

Spotted an A380 for the first time. You wouldn’t get an idea of just how big this airplane is until you see it parked next to an A320 or something smaller.

Bangalore airport immigration queue

I landed back in India later than scheduled but the worse part was this queue at immigration. Fancy new extension and they still couldn’t get enough officers to man the counters.

It took me an hour to get out of the airport. My younger brother picked me up and I spent the night at his place because it was too late to head back to my apartment.

As I slept that night… I was already missing Philippines. The whalesharks, the natural but now familiar beauty, Gale, karaoke, the friendly people, jeepney rides, errr… the food not too much. (Sorry :P)

Until next time Philippines. Whenever that may be.

Previous post(s) in this series:

Philippines 2014: Pahiyas Festival in Lucban; Kamay Ni Hesus

Philippines 2014: Manila Chinese Cemetery

Philippines 2014: Corregidor Island tour

Philippines 2014: Bargain shopping in Manila; Paseo de Santa Rosa & Solenad

Philippines 2014: Japanese tunnel; leaving Davao for Manila

Philippines 2014: Scuba diving for the first time, at Samal Island (Davao)

Philippines 2014: Philippine Eagle Center, Davao

Philippines 2014: Attractions at Eden Nature Park… and getting lost

Philippines 2014: Sky Cycle at Eden Nature Park, Davao

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