Travel Tips: First Time Oman, UAE & Arabian Peninsula

Top Tips for Your Trip

What to Pack

      •         Hat and sunglasses – the sun is ferocious year-round
      •         Modest clothing – essential for all
      •         A warm layer – locals like their malls chilly
      •         Sturdy, closed shoes – desert hiking is a highlight, and there are scorpions about!
      •         Drivers’ license car is king across the region
      •         Mosquito repellent
      •         Patience – not much happens quickly, except in the capital cities
      •         Make a point of staying in the desert. Organized desert camps and opportunities for driving off-road make it easy to visit this varied landscape.
      •         Accept coffee and dates if invited. Whether in city shops or mountain villages, you’re bound to be asked to pause for a chat – there’s no better way of getting to grips with local culture.

What to Wear

Visitors to Arabia need to respect local dress codes, even in Gulf cities.

For men, it’s unacceptable to be seen anywhere in public, including hotel foyers and souqs, in shorts and vests. Avoid wearing local thobes and dishdashas (floor-length shirt dresses) – at best, Arab people think it looks ridiculous.

For women, dressing ‘modestly’ means covering knees, upper arms, shoulders, and neckline, It also means wearing a bra and loose, climate-suitable clothing. Women are only expected to wear an abeyya (but not cover their hair) in Saudi Arabia.

On public beaches, women will attract less unwanted attention in shorts and a loose T-shirt rather than in swimming costumes. Bikinis (except in tourist resorts) cause a local sensation. Topless or nude sunbathing or swimming is against the law.

Sleeping

Between December and February, and during the eid (Islamic feast) holidays, it’s important to book accommodation up to a month in advance. Except in Salalah in Oman, there are usually special offers in summer (May to October).

Hotels

Hotels range from five-star opulence in Gulf cities to simple transit hotels along major highways. Top-end and midrange hotels offer the best value.

Desert Camps

Organized camps offering tented or cabin accommodation, usually in stunning locations.

Safety

Many people shy away from visiting the Arabian Peninsula, afraid of the troubles afflicting parts of the Middle East. With the exception of Yemen, however, at the time of writing, there is no greater likelihood of encountering terrorism on the Peninsula than anywhere else. The main threat to safety is on the road: Peninsula countries have a very high incidence of traffic accidents. Theft and assault are extremely rare.

Bargaining

Bargaining over prices (except in malls) is still very much a way of life on the Peninsula, although to a lesser extent than in some other Middle Eastern countries. Oman is perhaps the exception, where aggressive bargaining can offend.

Prices rarely come down below half the original quote; a 25% to 30% discount is around the norm.

Tipping

      •         Coffeehouses are Not required.
      •         Hotels Equivalent of a couple of dollars for bags; entirely discretionary for cleaning staff.
      •         Restaurants Discreet tipping for exceptional service only (a service charge is usually included).
      •         Taxis Not expected but appreciated for other than short, metered city hops.
      •         Guides Ask the tour operator before engaging a guide as rates vary in each country.

Mosque Etiquette

The impressive grand mosques that grace each Peninsula capital city are often open to non-Muslims. A mosque tour can be inspirational in terms of cultural insights. The following advice will help ensure no offense is unwittingly caused during visits.

Do…

      •        Dress modestly in loose clothing, covering shoulders, arms, and legs (plus cleavage and hair for women); some mosques require women to wear an abaya (full-length black robe).
      •         Remove your shoes before stepping into the prayer hall.
      •         Sit on the carpet, enjoy the ambiance, and marvel at the usual exquisite interior design.
      •         Take photographs unless otherwise directed.

Don’t

      •         Enter a mosque during prayer times (non-Muslims).¨ Wear frayed denim jeans or any clothing that may be deemed disrespectful.
      •         Enter the women’s prayer hall if you’re a man (women may enter the men’s prayer hall in most mosques open to the public).
      •      Use the ablution area – it’s for the preparation of worship.¨ Touch the Holy Quran.¨ Extend your feet out front while sitting; tuck them underneath in a slouched kneeling position.¨ Speak in a loud voice, sing or whistle.¨ Take inappropriate selfies or photographs of people praying. 

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