It was not just Iran that I visited during my trip to Dubai last week--I also had the chance to travel across Oman, though my time in Muscat was much more limited than I had hoped for.
Oman has a rich history and is one of the most stable and developed counties in the region. The plan was to travel to Muscat from Dubai via bus--a six hour journey--then spend a half day in Muscat and fly back to Dubai on the late Swiss Air flight. Buses leave from a side street near Deira City Center in Dubai--ask any cab driver and he will know exactly where to take you. There is no need to buy tickets in advance.
Two bus lines, both licensed by the Omanni government, provide service in buses that, well, leave something to be desired. I do not have pictures because the bus was crowded and I already stood out enough, but it was like a glorified school bus with an air conditioning unit strapped on to the roof that was sporadically draining water into the bus cabin during the journey.
Tickets can be purchased at the small bus offices nearby where the buses are parked. Buses leave twice a day, around 0730 and again in the afternoon around 1530. We chose the bus that left at 1515 as opposed to the more comfortable looking one that left at 1545 so we would have an extra half hour in Muscat.
We were under the false impression that the ride would take about 3.5 hours, giving us the whole evening in Muscat before our flight back to Dubai, but the trip took nearly twice as long--over six hours. But even though we had very little time in Muscat proper, I have no regrets about the trip. The long drive gave us a good impression of the country and a couple memorable expreinces along the way.
The ticket collector was a very friendly guy from Muscat and took it upon himself to chat with us, pointing out some points of interest and promising us that we would love his country.
About an hour and a half out of Dubai, with nothing but sand and rock on either side of the bus, we reached the border crossing (I was under strict orders from the ticket collector not to take pictures or else "my film would be ripped from my camera"). We were all required to alight from the bus and line up in front of a small booth where an agent quickly stamped us out of the UAE.
We departed and traveled for about 20 minutes before coming to a Omani border checkpoint. Here, we all had to get out of the bus and take our bags with us. Those who had placed their larger bags in the luggage compartment in the undercarriage of the bus had to pull them out as well.
Three Omani government inspectors, including another friendly guy who warmly welcomed me to Oman, serached through each of the bags. I thought that was it, but after everyone's bags had been inspected, we were instructed to line up our bags in a single, straight line and out popped a drug-sniffing dog (a harmless looking black lab) who spent the next ten minutes going back and forth around the bags and on the bus to sniff for drugs and whatever other contraband he had been trained to detect. Nothing was found and we were soon on our way again.
We were on the road for another 15 minutes before pulling up to what looked like the center of the highway rest stops you see on I-95 in Delaware and Maryland. It was the border station--with a Pizza Hut above and Starbucks below. We filled out immigration forms and presented them to the border official.
When Americans enter Oman by land, they do not need to pay for a visa. Apparently this border guy did not get the memo, because he asked us for 20 OMR (~$54). My friend protested and the agent's colleague leaned over and told him that visas were free for us. He shrugged and stamped us into the country--rather than a sticker, the visa is just a half-page stamp.
We had a few minutes to relax before continuing on to Dubai. The next few hours went by rather slowly, but we drove though dozens of small towns before finally reaching the outskirts of Muscat.
Time was going fast, so we hopped off before reaching the historic city center to have a bite to eat before flying back. Since we were outside the main city center, it was clear we were not in a tourist area and found a nice restaurant filled with locals, where we enjoyed a very spicy Pakistani dinner for about $3 each including drink.
We had a bit of trouble hailing a cab after dinner to get back to the airport (there are no meters and the drivers were quoting prices 3x what the restaurant owner said we should pay), but finally we found one willing to accept our price.
We quickly scooted to the airport to fly back to Dubai--our time in Oman had been short but sweet.