Edition 7 | Intro to Oman, a points stay at the Alila Jabal Akhdar, Japan's reopening, and more.
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TMT | EDITION 7
After a few months away, it's time to get back into your inbox. Welcome to The Multidimensional Traveler (TMT).
New here? Here's what this is about.
My travel philosophy is to enjoy the finer parts of travel without sacrificing human connection. How?
First, that means being savvy: Leveraging points and finding cash deals to sleep in luxury hotels and fly at the pointy end of the plane.
But at the same time, it's about digging deeper to find out more about a destination: Connecting with locals, learning more about a place straight from the source, and discovering experiences that are slightly off-the-beaten path.
No matter how you travel, I hope the things that I’ve learned inspire you to be a more Multidimensional Traveler.
In this edition.
Trip to Oman: Initial thoughts, traveling as LGBTQ+ and using points.
Travel news: It's easier to travel to Japan now.
My latest stories: A farewell ode to NYC and more.
Quick ask: Helping a fellow TPG alum in the hospital.
Introduction: A trip to Oman.
Greetings from 35,000 feet where I'm penning this onboard my journey home from Oman. I spent the last several days in this country of stunning geological contrasts and warm and genuine hospitality, or as my new Omani friend and guide, Ali Mohammadi, calls it, "the Switzerland of the Arabian Peninsula."
In 2012, Ali created Omantripper, a blog with a wealth of travel information on his home country. When he's not busy as a project manager, he also hosts the occasional tour — and he agreed to take me around the area surrounding Nizwa, a historic city and former capital, about two hours from Muscat and an hour from the Jabal Akhdar mountain range.
Speaking of Jabal Akhdar, I stayed at the five-star Alila, a Hyatt property bookable with points. The hotel was located in a gorgeous setting. Here's the perfect description of the region, taken from this BBC article:
"Around 195km south-west of Muscat’s sand-fringed coastline, Oman’s dusty plains rise into the limestone folds of the Jabal al Akhdar – a 2,980m-high massif known as the ‘Green Mountain’. This maze of twisting valleys and deep canyons is one of the country’s most remote corners, and as the road loses its asphalt, the only way forward is on foot, by mule or by all-terrain vehicle."
Here's a closer look at a few local and luxury experiences in Oman.
Local experience: Nizwa souk and goat market.
Souk (noun): an Arab market or marketplace; a bazaar.
Exploring a local market is one of my favorite things to do when I visit a place; it's such an easy way to get a sense of how people live. So when I found out there was a goat and livestock market in Nizwa, I put it on my must-see list. (Yes, I love markets that much.)
Every Friday morning, at the crack of dawn, this market is where villagers from the surrounding area bring their goats, cows, and other animals to trade. It's a sight to behold and a total feast for the senses.
We met up with Ali at the market, where he explained the bidding process, how the animals are paraded around on display, and why this is such an embedded part of Omani culture.
Besides the goat market, we strolled around the rest of the souk (open daily), stopping to sample Omani halva (sugar, saffron, cardamom, ghee, & rose water) and dates (which hold a place of honor in national culture and cuisine).
Luxury experience: Alila Jabal Akhdar on points.
There are two higher-end hotels in the Jabal Akhdar mountains: The Alila and the Anantara. Naturally, I gravitated towards the Alila since it's a Hyatt property and I can earn and redeem points (and use my Globalist status privileges).
The hotel is very isolated, with the closest village about 30 minutes away. However, that's part of this property's appeal — it's set high in the mountains (the temperature is fairly comfortable up here even in summer), away from most of modern civilization. It truly feels like a retreat.
It's also a beautifully-designed hotel, incorporating a lot of Omani elements including carved wooden doors, woven mats, pottery from nearby Bahla, local fabrics, and rose motifs (rose water is produced in this region).
In early September, nightly rates hovered around $300, or you can use points for this Category 6 property (21,000-29,000 points). I booked using a combination of points and cash. And every room is a suite with outdoor space perfect for sunrise or sunset, featuring views of the surrounding mountains.
Local experience: Exploring the wild side of Oman.
One of Oman's big calling cards is its beautiful natural surroundings. That includes numerous wadis, which is essentially a valley, ravine, or channel that is typically dry (with some exceptions like Wadi Shab).
Ali connected me with Yahya Nabhani, a local Omani who does guided experiences, including to Wadi Shab, a popular hike and swim that is about 90 minutes from Muscat.
While the hike itself is fairly straightforward, in early September in the blazing sun, it's a pretty tough two-hour out and back trail. However, it's worth it since you can cool off in the natural pools and hidden cave (with a waterfall!).
I recommend going as early in the day as possible, and to go during the week to avoid crowds. I was lucky enough to have the cave and much of the trail to myself early on a Sunday morning (Oman's weekend is actually Friday and Saturday).
After the hike to a little oasis in the desert, Yahya took us to a local spot in the neighboring village of Tiwi for a mouthwatering lunch of fresh fish, daal, paratha, rice, curry, and hummus.
The mix of Middle Eastern and Indian foods is present throughout Oman, and in my mind, is the best of both culinary worlds.
Luxury experience: Oman Air first class on points.
Oman Air is a boutique-y Middle Eastern airline; it's way smaller than Emirates and Qatar but is known to compete with both of these giants in terms of passenger experience. Long story short: It's true. The experience was world-class.
Oman Air flies a very limited number of planes with first class seats. Right now, there is just one daily flight to London (LHR) and one to Bangkok (BKK) with first class (a max total of 16 passengers per day).
Since Oman Air is partnered with Air Canada, I was able to find award availability on Air Canada's website for the Muscat to London flight for the date that I needed. The cost? 65,000 Air Canada Aeroplan points + $50 in taxes and fees.
The first class lounge in Muscat is stunningly ornate (look at those wall details), and the airport itself is compact and very easy to navigate. Besides sit-down meals, first-class passengers also get a 15-minute complimentary spa treatment (operated by the Shangri-La Hotel).
Note: Don't be like me and leave the spa steam room door open too long and cause the entire lounge's smoke alarm to go off.
Onboard, I was seated in 1A on the Boeing 787-9, which features a sliding suite door, three push-button controlled windows, a cute accent lamp, and large ottoman with storage. Even though this is just a seven-hour day flight, PJs and full bedding are available (and these were some of the best airline PJs I've ever received).
My experience: Traveling as an LGBTQ+ individual.
This is a complicated one. Oman, like much of the Middle East, outlaws homosexuality. For some LGBTQ+ travelers, this alone is a dealbreaker that eliminates travel to the country, and I respect that choice.
On the flip side, I want to also be mindful that just because I didn’t have any problems in Oman (or the other non-LGBTQ+ friendly countries that I've traveled to), that no one will. I can be "straight-presenting," stayed only at international hotels, and am generally a pretty private person. Everyone's experience -- and their tolerance for risk -- is different.
My philosophy is this: People in general can be a lot more accepting than the governments where they live. And researching a place beforehand to see if a place enforces their laws should be part of the planning process (of course, this isn't guaranteed).
Part of the appeal in visiting places like Oman is get a sense of who is there and to learn from and communicate with locals themselves. (That still doesn't mean I will wear a rainbow-colored crop top in public, but I probably wouldn't do that in the U.S. either).
Take this experience for instance: One person that I met asked why I have he/him/his pronouns on my Instagram profile. I simply explained that just because someone might look a certain way, they may have a preference as to what they're called. Conversations like these affirm why travel is important, and why I will go to places that others may deem to be unwelcoming.
At the end of the day, there is no clear cut answer, and I will never encourage anyone to get out of their comfort zone if that means risking their safety. However, my belief, coming from a position of relative privilege, is that taking a stance on traveling only to countries with laws that you agree with can become limiting.
Cliche as it might be, travel can (slowly) break down barriers.
Yes, Oman is a beautiful country that isn't flashy or in your face. But what set my Oman trip really apart from many others? The local people.
Unlike in Dubai or Doha, it's really easy to interact with locals (not just other foreigners). Not only were the people (like Ali and Yahya) I met incredibly friendly, they went out of their way to be warm, hospitable, and kind.
Here's another example with Imran, an Oman Air pilot. After seeing an Instagram Story with Ali, Imran reached out to me via DM.
We ended up meeting up for breakfast on my last day in Oman, where he explained what it was like to be a pilot with the national airline, and even took us to the Grand Mosque to give us a tour.
Then, there was Khalid, the security guard who opened up his office and offered Omani dates and Arabic coffee (and air conditioning) to tourists, while also showing two Italian women how to shift their car's gear to make it safely up and down a mountain.
I can go on and on with examples (in just five days in Oman) of hospitality and warmth that people exuded. To me, that was the Omani difference.
Some of my latest stories.
Want to support my work and check out what I've been writing? Here are a few of my recent stories.
I take an overnight vacation from Manhattan to the beach and discover the magic of a city getaway.
I stayed at Daunt's Albatross in Montauk, New York, a perfect late-summer or fall escape.
Consider this your primer into the complex world of annual fees, lounge access and more.
News: Travel to Japan is easier (but expensive).
As of September 7, independent tourists can now enter Japan for the purpose of tourism as long as they have booked a package tour with a Japanese travel agency. Notably, you don't have to be part of a tour group anymore and can wander freely.
However, capacity is limited, there are quite a few steps to follow, and it isn't a cheap process. Check out the Prince of Travel article for more details.
After an eternity of being closed off to the world, Japan will finally allow tourists to enter for independent, unguided travel as of September 7, 2022.
Quick ask: Support Stella Shon, a TPG alum.
If you follow me on Instagram, you've probably seen me post about traveling with my good friend and fellow The Points Guy alum, Stella Shon.
Our love for travel continue to bond us together even after our time as coworkers at TPG.
However, since Aug. 25, Stella has been in a hospital ICU where she was diagnosed with Stevens-Johnson syndrome (SJS), a rare skin condition that essentially shut down her body.
First, the good news: Doctors expect Stella to fully recover in due time. However, she has a long (and expensive) journey ahead of her including hospitalization for several more weeks and physical and occupational therapy.
If you'd like to donate to her GoFundMe, set up by a trusted friend, to help fully cover her medical costs, you can donate here.
(Also, yesterday was her birthday so give her a belated shoutout!)
Anything you want to see in this newsletter? Just want to chat travel or points? Let me know. Respond to this email or shoot me a DM (@thechrisflyer) on the socials.
Until next time.