Jebel Shams and a Grand Canyon or Finally our 4×4 turned usefull

My last blog from the journey itself.

In Nizwa we had to visit the fort of course.
But my true wish was to drive up to Jebel Shams as far as possible through the “Grand Canyon”.

The description we had from our book or from the internet turned out to be quite inaccurate.
You cannot drive through the Grand Canyon but rather one drives almost up to the Jebel Shams and then turn right.
The road then ends on Top of the Canyon some 1600 m higher than the start.
Also the road was marked as graded (i.e. unpaved) but was a 2 lane paved road for the most of it.
The road actually goes up to the very top of Jebel Shams, the highest mountain in Oman, but that is closed to public because there is a radar station there. There is a hike of 6 hours to reach the top (open to public). There and back 12 h. Next time.

Anyway, it was worth the drive. Very neat landscape, much cooler up there, from 45 down to 35. Next time we would probably stay in Jabal Shams Heights Resort in a tent (with heater and AC).

Here the top:
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Here on the left, where it is green, an abandoned village between two walls. There even is a small lake. (see later in text to this).
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And deeeep down
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There even is a place where Nakhr can be seen, some 1200 Meters below.
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There is a track from to bottom valley up there (W6a) and another one right through the canyon to that mentioned abandoned village.
That second stage (W6) we really wanna do one day. Looks awesome.
See Sketch Wadi Nakhr for details.

Back down at Ghool (see link above) we decide to give it a try and drive into that canyon from below, as there were tracks in the Wadi. Nothing on google, a good sign.

And lo and behold, I finally found the Wadi I was looking for:
DSC_6926_Jabal_Shams_Offroad

and we almost got stuck. There was a right turn to leave the wadi for a road that we missed, and the drive-able part ended abruptly with a lot of loose gravel and water. The car beeped like crazy but we managed to pull free.
The road then ended after a small village.

Dates, Turtles and lots of Stones

How to survive Ramadan with Kids:
Kids up to 10-15 Years are allowed to eat and drink.
There are however, no restaurants open till 19:00. Hotels with Restaurants may have open, but we didn’t find any.
So what to do: Go to Lu Lu Hypermarket and by in panic lots of food that does not spoil in 40 degrees.
That is what we did and so we now might have to carry UHT milk back to Switzerland. No problem, we have 30 kg baggage allowance.

There actually is not much to see in Muscat. The town is also spread 40 km along the cost. In old Muscat there are only new buildings. For instance the Sultans Palace:
DSC_6172_Muscat_Sultans_Palace_Blog
Only about 10 years old and made from marble.

According to guide books you need a 4WD (4×4) to do Oman properly. I thought to be on the save side we do so.
Strange: it is actually difficult to find a 4WD on the car rental companies websites. They have them but you cannot search for them and even if you open the cars description, is is not mentioned if they have 4WD. Very weak service indeed.

From Muscat we drove to Sur and finally Ras Al Jinz.
We made a stop at Bimmah Sinkhole. We saw a snake that could actually creep on the ceiling of the cave.
DSC_6276_Bimmah_Sinkhole_Swimming

Well, with a 4×4 you need to drive through a Wadi.
The Wadi we choose, Wadi Tiwi, was not quite as we expected. Rather an Oasis.
And the road was made from concrete, very narrow and steep though.
DSC_6309_Wadi_Tiwi_Blog_Swimming
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Qalhat was close to visitors.
That was quite strange. There are paved roads to everywhere, but not up that famous monument.

We passed Sur and arrived in Raz Al Jinz. That is where the picture from the Tent blogs are from. The tents are acutally marked with “green technology”. The window was open (i.e. only a mosquito net there) and the AC was a full speed. Fortunately it was cold enough to sleep without AC. It can get down to 15 degrees in August there, thanks to monsun.
What is there?
DSC_6413_Ras_Al_Jinz_Turtle_Tracks
Tracks from some beach sport?
.
.
.
.
.
.
No, it is a green turtle nesting resort. We made the evening tour at 21:30 (were in bed 23:30), no pictures allowed, and the very early morning 4:00 tour. After sunrise pictures are allowed.
We saw all stages, coming to the beach, digging a pit, laying eggs, covering stage I and II, going back to the sea and hatching including a fox trying to eat some.
DSC_6440_Ras_Al_Jinz_Turtle_Nesting
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Really great. We then went to sleep again and had breakfast 9:30. We all were very tired the entire day but had to move on to Ibra.

The next day we went to a Souq. Shopping and haggling at 40 Degrees.
DSC_6527_Ibra_Souq_Market_Blog
Like being back in Australia, 44 degrees, but in pastel (instead of red).

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The roads are very good everywhere. And even 100 km through the semi-desert with no one living there the roads are illuminated. That really is stupid.
I tried to find a connection road that was not paved, took me several tries on the smallest roads on the GPS till we finally found a 5 km off-road stretch.

DSC_6577_Ibra_to_Nizwa_Lizq_Car_desert_of_stone
(this picture is staged)

Now in Nizwa for 2 night. The very last stage of our journey.
Met a guy from London who asked us : “what are you doing this time of the year in Oman. Nobody visits.”
Well, it is turtle nesting peak season and the hotels are completely empty. Bad thing: Some are even closed.

Our new tent for the Greifensee

We finally found an ideal tent for our camping site at Greifensee.
Unfortunately it is slightly bigger than allowed.
Thus we have to file a request so that we get a permit.
Good chance to get it, as we know the president.
That is why text below has to be in German, a copy of our letter to the chief assembly of the Genossenschaft (Cooperation).

URL : NFS Zeltplatz am Greifensee

But first something else.
Who said: “sleeping is boring if you do not dream?”
Answer see end of this blog.

***

Antrag ein etwas grösseres Zelt aufzustellen

Endlich haben wir ein ideales Zelt gefunden.
DSC_6498_Tent_Blog
Mit den Massen 6.2 x 6.2 m (ohne Dach) nur etwas grösser als erlaubt.
Sturmfest und wüstenerprobt. Der Spezialstoff isoliert.

Innen gross und komfortabel.
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Für die Klimaanlage bräuchten wir noch ein Stromkabel.
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Für eine Ausnahmebewilligung danken wir im Voraus.

***

Answer to the question above.
Ada : “sleeping is not interesting, if you are not dreaming”
Ada : “schlafä isch nöd interessant, wänn me nöd tröimt”

Muscat

Just Arrived in Oman.
View from the hotel.

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The day only really started when the guy at the Oman Air Check-in asked for our Oman Visa.
Well, after the LA incident (never fly NZ Air!) I had not only double but multy checked every country. Swiss do get a VOA (visa on arrival). So when he asked I was quite startled. So I told him and he never asked again. Phuuu.
Everything else went smooth.
They have a clever system at Bangkok Airport. You have to show boarding card BEFORE the waiting area by the gate. So once the actual boarding starts, it is fast. Why do not all have it like this? Needs more space probably.

Changed all my THB in $. Once done, Astrid and the kids decided to finally buy that frog at a typical completely overpriced airport shop. All $ gone.

So we finally escaped the Bangkok Tailors. I am probably the only tourist that goes to Bangkok and buys shirts from the rack at a price close to what they cost in CH. We were just cheated too much. If you ever try to buy a tailored suit in Bangkok please reserve 4 days and do a lot of research beforehand. And below 200$ must be crap. 400$ seems to be more reasonable.

The Pilot announced that public eating and drinking is forbidden during daytime. Yes, it is Ramadan, we had no clue.
Restaurants all closed, exception at Hotels. Our Hotel does not have a Restaurant.
As always, we are well prepared.  😉

Bangkok Shopping

Sorry guys, I am so tired after a full day shopping, no energy for a decent blog.
A search pic instead from one of the malls, China Land or so. Count the number of caucasians on the picture.

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Now some trivia. The comodo dragon is the biggest lizard in the world and people spend a lot of money to see them in the wild.
Where can you see the second biggest lizards in the world and people do not even notice them and the “advaced tourism” industry does not advise them?
Bangkok? You bet. We saw about 7 of those monitor water lizards and they were huge. The biggest about 2.5 m / 50 kg. When I fist saw one crawling out of a sewer pipe I briefly though the urban legend about crocodiles living there were true. The other tourist longboats just rushed by to see some 08-15 fishfarms.

A dinosaur for breakfast

Traditionally I do a post immediately after flying.

The day started with a dinosaur.

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Then we had to leave this child friendly place.

Again, I could not find a decent family room. Asia just is not child friendly money wise for hotels. The hotel we are in now wants 20$ for an additional bed. A scam.

Anyway, we took a taxi.
Then a catamaran speedboat. Astrid started to look pale. It really was a scary ride.

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I have a video, the pic here does not really look scary, I know.

We were 30 minutes behind schedule. Given that there were only 25 minutes planned to board the plane it did not look good.
The bus started fast and we were only 15 late at the airport. And loo and behold, checkin, 2 security checks and boarding can be done in 10 minutes.

Now Back in Bangkok.

Note: a flight to Ko Samui is about double the price compared to our speedboat-bus-flight combo with nokair.

A strange thing. Rather than getting used to it Astrid gets rather more afraid from flying. And I am as nervous as ever.

Astrid : “they even had food!”
Tom : “what food?” (they had a kind of cold mini hot dog, below the level I consider edible)
Besides that, nokair was good.

Salad : a children’s paradise

This post has nothing to do with Salad.
Rather with Salad Beach Resort.

We left Power Beach Resort, conveniently a stranded puffer fish gave me the right picture to describe it:
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Bloated. These things are big.

We moved to Haad Salad, still on Koh Phangan into the Salad Beach Resort.
A place full of kids and we have nothing to complain about (with the exception of WiFi).
Basically everything is better, the room much superior and yet, including breakfast here, only half the price.
The beach is good and we can go snorkeling directly form the beach. Visibility is limited though.

We went onto a diving/snorkeling trip to the Ang Thong National Marine Park. Well, the tip was mostly for the divers and snorkeling was somewhat difficult with the kids, the water deep and waves. Should have taken a local “snorkeling only” tip instead. But Lena nonetheless now figured out how to see all the fish we were talking about. She does not use a snorkel yet, but till stays below the surface for about 80% of the time.
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We do nothing most of the time. That is also why I do not have the time to write the blog or catch up with other work. If you do nothing you do not have the time to do anything.

Now, the ticker is complete concerning the travel. Back in Switzerland, Zürich Airport 26.07, 19:00.
Why that date? Well, if someone asks how long our trip was, we can say: “More than a year”.

Astrid am Pool : “ahhh, da chönt ich jetzt no füüf tag bliibe, ändlich chan ich mich erholä.”
Thomas teasing : “miir sind jetzt 11 Monat fuurt …”
Astrid : “das sind kai feriä gsi …”

[Astrid: I could stay another 5 days, I can finally relax]
[Tom, teasing: but we are “away from it” now for 11 Month]
[Astrid: that was not a vacation]

If you excuse me now, got nothing to do.
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You get what you pay for (but only if you check)

We are now one island further Ko Pha Ngan in a place called Power Beach Resort.

From now on every travel we’ll do will bring us closer home. After the moment I booked the flight home to Zürich in Bangkok some days ago, it really dawned on us that our adventure will soon be over. And there still is a lot to do. But I guess no one will pity us.
We are currently doing nothing. Just some work like doing this blog or sorting pictures. The days just fly by.

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Now to the theme of this blog. Some people asked me to describe how we travel and give some tips on how to do.
What happened to us recently can serve as a starting point. I might make a special page just on such themes, how to book flights and hotels, especially with children.

You get what you pay for really is true. If something seems to be too cheap it usually is not good. If something was expensive it usually was comparatively good. Value for Money. You need to do a reasonably check. After a short time in a country usually the price level becomes clear.
We were quite proud so far that we never really got cheated in Asia. Ok, we paid 10$ for a towel worth probably 3$ and stuff like that, but never for much money. Occasionally we were tired of haggling and thought 10$ makes them happier than us.
So here how we usually book hotels:

  • Go on booking.com.
  • Search for Hotels at destination for just 1 day on the first round (in $) but at correct date (because price is give as summary, makes comparing difficult)
  • Sort by “review score”
  • Click on some of the hotels especially and then on the map to get an impression where the hotel must be (if well prepared by guide book you already know)
  • Hotels too far out or with no restaurants close by especially if no breakfast included are a problem

  • Set price filter if too many results
  • Now you know the price range and where the hotels are or your hotel should be

  • Now Search for 2 Adults and 2 Kids
  • In many countries this is a problem. This might reduce the answer set to 0. At some places it gives you 2 Rooms as answers but that does not always work. We found out that many hotels actually have family rooms or rooms with 2 double but do not have it on the internet. Most hotels in Asia have a double and a single! If you can live with that with 2 Kids you are fine. Almost all hotels have a “free if using existing bedding below 12 policy”. Otherwise you have a problem we also could not solve. If a policy says: “Kids above 6 are considered adults”, boycott them.
    Note: In Canada and USA you are fine, because all hotels have 2 double beds with kids staying free. If not, skip them.

  • Read the “Hotel Policy” kids section
  • Now enter correct starting/end date and search again, if lucky your hotel is still on the list
  • Now a sanity check. If your 4 people room is more then double the price of a 2 people room, then there is a good chance your hotel will not deliver the proper level for the price! Exceptions: the room is a suite with a kitchenette and the other rooms are much simpler.
  • book
  • Note: some steps get repeated or order might change, this is just a guideline.

    Now, agoda.com. I do not like them, because you cannot search for 2 Adults 2 Kids (you can set it but this does not influence the search result) and because they have hidden costs.
    Booking.com is almost always all inclusive (i.e. taxes, service-charge) while agoda has them separately. Also the additional child bed charge you only see at the very end and some hotel charge almost more for that extra bed than for the room. So you end up paying double as a couple would and have a crowded room. Also at agoda you do not see the actual bed size. Very important with kids.
    Agoda has much more hotels, so occasionally I used them. You can also use Tripadviser but they will direct you to other sites and you cannot search for kids. Was of no much use for me.
    (just for me, to do: score rating, cancellation policy, laundry)

    Almost forgot.
    The story:
    In Bangkok a tuk-tuk driver wanted to show us the 5 usual monuments for just 40 Baht (1.2$). This is impossible. Such a trip should cost at least 3$. So too good to be true. We took it anyway and decided to be on our guard.
    However, he really showed us the promised sites and then asked us if we wanted to see the official government jewelry promotion selling place (forgot name). He told us, he’ll get free gasoline if he brings tourists there. Well, a honest man. OK, why not. What happened there, Astrid has to tell you in person, but all was OK.
    Anyway, we then saw another place and then just wanted to have one of those nice maps he had of Bangkok.
    So he brought us to an “Tourist Information”. For people not used to travel in this parts of the world: A Tourist Information is simply a travel agency. We knew that of course by now.
    A nice guy named Cris of Vancouver Canada (if true) gave us a map for 1$ and gave us a lot of tips about travelling in Thailand. He also knew of the problem of booking hotels for families so he proposed us a fancy resort on Koh Phangan. Very expensive but right by the beach, and the pictures looked really nice. So we decided to indulge in luxury and booked it. Without checking. Something I always did so far. OK, I had not yet mobile internet, but I should simply have asked him for the agoda score and looked myself.
    So we arrived on Koh Phangan and even were picked up for free by not less then 4 employees.
    Then we arrived at our family Bungalow. No words for it. I took some pictures, just one here:
    20130703_144645_Ko_PhaNgan_Beach_Charming_Family_Room_Vat_Sensou_Kharam_blog
    We really payed a lot for it. That room was worth about 1/3 of what we payed for. We then got another room with an extra mattress, somewhat better but still worth only a fraction.
    Now we checked. The agency was difficult to find (on TripAdvisor) because they change name frequently. I had to use the street address and the name on the credit card bill. Sure as hell, full of warnings.
    Also for the Hotel on Agoda and Booking.com, tripadviser, ratings below zero.
    Tripadviser:
    tripadivser_review
    Never saw such a bad review.
    Interestingly, Agoda has it at 6.7 Pleasant (out of 10)
    Agoda also has:
    only_2_rooms_left
    for every available room type.
    The resort has about 90 Bungalows. We only rarely see other guests. No kidding: I think at the moment only 2 Bungalows are occupied. That place even is somewhat eerie, big but no one around. So much for Agoda.
    Booking.com has it at 6, about as low as it gets. More useful then Agoda again.

    So we got cheated, we even booked 5 days, and paid luckily not much more then we would have to pay on Agoda.

    The place is completely strange. Actually only the rooms are enormously overcharged. The rest would be somewhat OK.
    There is a pool table, the laundry pricing is OK (normally a quality sign ), it is decently clean and the restaurant is OK. When they do the room, 6 employees show up.
    When Astrid asked the Manager to have the beach cleaned, actually 2 guys showed up, to our utter surprise.
    Just to throw everything back into the sea.
    Astrid got quite agitated and explained them with a lot of patience what can stay on the beach and what is actually garbage and has to be taken out and put into a bin. It was funny but in a sense also very sad.

    We got asylum on the neighboring resort “First Villa”, we often eat there and are allowed to use that pool and WiFi. We’ll move on once our 5 days are over. We actually would stay in “First Villa” but there is no snorkeling here and it seems there are better places on this island.

    Ko Samui

    The girls were really sad they had to leave Michaels Zoo.
    We’ll all miss Lao.

    After Vientiane we used the entire Lao train rail in existance. Just 15 Minutes to cross the boarder. Then one has to change trains. The night train to Bangkok was quite nice, especially compared to the Vietnam Version.
    Bangkok Train station.

    image

    I Guess not many families arrive in Thailand by train. This might change. We heard the chinese want to make a train from Singapore to China via Lao.

    After a day in Bangkok with some Wats we flew to Koh Samui.
    We now also booked our flight back to CH. That was also a strange experience. Anyway, we’ll be Back in CH 26.7.2013. Before we go there we are gonna spend 1 week in Oman.

    image

    Not another Wat, just our Hotel.
    ***
    Astrid erklärte Ada gerade, warum der tschechische Aschenputtelfilm (dieser Film ist daran Schuld, dass jede schweizer Frau das Gefühl hat, sie könne sowohl ein Lausmädchen sein, als auch den Prinzen kriegen) mit den Schneeszenen, einer der schönsten Filme sei.
    Lena aus dem Off : “Nai, Pippi isch dä schönschti …”