The third of the three cities I visited on my trip was Salalah, Oman’s second city. Located in the south of the country, I reached it via an internal flight from Muscat, as otherwise it would be a 10 hour journey by road. Not that it’s very, very far from Muscat, but the roads in Oman are of variable quality, especially outside built-up areas. I heard that a new motorway was being built, and that will bring the journey time down to closer to seven hours. And eventually the Gulf Railway will reach Salalah – this will be Oman’s first railway and will head north all of the way to Kuwait when completed.
Salalah is much smaller than Muscat. It’s a port, but is also beginning to establish itself as a tourist resort. I stayed at the Hilton Resort there (this was where the event that I was part of took place) and it seemed quite popular with German tourists. Indeed, German seemed to be the unofficial third language in Oman after English.
Salalah used to be the capital of Oman, and there’s still a large palace there which the Sultan visits every few years. Sultan Qaboos was born in Salalah, but when he came to power in the 1970s he moved the capital to Muscat. Its climate is a little wetter than Muscat which means that plants grow naturally without the need for massive amounts of irrigation. Fruits like bananas and coconuts grow there and are available from various market stalls. There’s also a souk, which we spent around an hour in. Many of the stalls specialised in frankincense, but there were also plenty of clothes stalls and shops which sell the traditional hats that Omani men wear.
I didn’t buy anything, because by this point I realised that I’d lost all of my local currency, and, more worryingly, my passport. Fortunately the tour operators were able to make some phone calls and re-unite me with both later in the day, but I was dreading having to make the ten hour road journey back to Muscat to get to the British consulate.
As part of our visit we went to the local university, Dhofar University. Ranked second in the country after Sultan Qaboos University (albeit from a list of 5), it was only completed in 2010. If you have 15 minutes spare, watch its corporate video which is rather different from the videos that British universities produce.
Our visit to Salalah wasn’t as heavily-loaded as previous days and so we had a bit of free time. Consequently I have more photos of Salalah than I do of the other cities that I visited, and I was able to actually use my Canon SLR camera. Most other photos were taken on my iPhone as that’s all I had to hand.
Whereas most people I encountered in Muscat spoke English quite well, this was less the case in Salalah. With it being a more isolated city away from international travel, I suppose there’s less need for the locals to speak English. A slight issue for me as I didn’t (and still don’t) speak any Arabic.
The Omani government have plans to develop the area south of Salalah as a container port. The photo above shows the view from my hotel room and you may just be able to see the existing port on the right hand side of the horizon. This would tie into the Gulf Railway, and an expanded airport – like in Muscat, a new terminal was under construction. Salalah Airport, as it stands, is just one very small terminal with only three or four gates, but there are international flights from there across the region and out as far as India.
Salalah has its eyes on the tourism market, but right now only really caters for those wanting to stay at a premium all-inclusive resort, or those after something a bit off the beaten track. I imagine that, as the port develops, it will welcome a wider variety of visitor.