The ship docks at Port Sultan Qaboos which is the biggest port in Muscat. From here the city centre is only a 15-minute walk away, or you can take the shuttle bus that will be provided by the cruise ship, which takes about the same amount of time once you have waited for people to get on and off. The walk into the town is along the sea wall, so it’s very pretty and this way you get to see little parts of the city that you wouldn’t see if you took the coach.
Before the ship had arrived in Oman, passengers on the cruise would come up to me and ask if it was safe, did they need to cover up and did they need to speak a little Arabic. Lots of questions, but the main one on peoples’ mind was about the safety aspect. I spent about 7 days in total in Muscat, and there wasn’t once when I felt unsafe. The locals are friendly and eager to help. All the locals I met spoke English because tourism is how they make their money.
Once you get dropped off at the bus station (or walk there), you will see lots of souvenir shops and right in front of you is the entrance to the undercover market. When I heard that there was a market, I pictured lots of table stalls but they are not stalls, they are air-conditioned shops. In this maze of little shops, you can find anything from spices, frankincense, jewellery, perfume, local dress, western clothing, bags, shoes, scarves, souvenirs. You name it, they have it! Walking through the market can be a little intimidating because of the shop owners trying to persuade you into their shop, but that’s the same in any country. Heck, even going to the market in Birmingham, England you have men shouting at you with their special offer. Remember, you can say No. I found some people are scared to say No because they didn’t want to offend anyone, but these guys are salesmen. Unless they are going to give you the item for free, the choice is yours.
Don’t be afraid to haggle. In fact, you have to, because these guys will set the starting price really high, so if you don’t want to get ripped off, then you’ve got to learn to drive them down. The rule I was told to go by is that you should only pay half the price of what they say the item is worth. So if you’re looking at a scarf and the salesman says its £10, you should go down to £2 with the aim of finishing at £5.
The way you know if you have gone too low, is if they let you walk out of their shop. These guys will do all the can to make a sale, so if they’re letting you go, you went to low.
If you walk through the maze of markets and come to the back, it may look like there is nothing there so a lot of people turn around, but if you continue outside you will come across shops that are more aimed at the locals. Here you will be able to buy spices, fruit, veg for a fraction of the price.
I found the people in these shops didn’t speak English, and if they did it was very broken, but I don’t speak any Arabic so who am I to comment. Just so you know.
After doing a bit of shopping, you might find yourself hungry, and I hope you do because then you can go to the best restaurant in Muscat (in my opinion). Al Rafee Restaurant is a local treasure that I just happened to stumble upon. If you are facing the main entrance to the market, turn right and walk straight for about 2 minutes. The sign is on the second story, and you have to go up a dark staircase to get in. Every time I went there, the small group of people I was with were the only tourists there, but it was full of local people. They serve local cuisine as well as pizza, chips, burgers etc. But be sure to try the traditional dishes. I took someone there who doesn’t like middle eastern style food at all, but I persuaded him to try it, and he is a convert now. Every time I visited Muscat I always ate at the same place because of three reasons. The food is delicious, the wifi is wonderful, and it is so affordable. For a bottle of water, a chana masala (best I’ve ever had), nan bread and dal it was £2.50. Back home I pay that just for the bottle of water.
If you’re not going to do an excursion in Muscat and the day I have described above sounds like it will be similar to yours, then it really doesn’t matter what you wear. The locals understand that we are tourists and we don’t necessarily believe what they believe, so they will not expect you to wear an Abaya and a Burka. As long as you aren’t out in a mini skirt and a boob tube, you’ll be fine. Even if you did wear that I doubt anyone would say anything, but you would just attract a lot of eyeballs.
On the other hand, if you are planning to visit any of the Mosques or religious areas, then yes, you will have to cover up, but every Mosque I have been to, they have always provided me with a head covering. You just need to wear trousers or a long skirt/dress and have your shoulders covered.
Don’t worry too much about what you wear, it’s really not as strict as people make it out to be. It’s a lovely place, and whatever you do here, you will have a great time.