• Expat Life
  • A Bite of Oman Culture

    I’d been eyeing for a restaurant that serves an authentic Omani dishes for a while.Muscat being the center of Oman is the best place to try the local dishes. Many restaurants have emerged that serves and portrays the taste of Oman. Omani food is directly influenced by the trade and fusion of  Indian, Persian, African and other Arab countries which make it exquisite in taste. 

    I tried Al Angham located at Opera Galleria in Muscat.It is a fine dining Omani restaurant. Everything was impressive by first look. The details of the design of the restaurant will blow you away. From the ceilings, woodwork, crystal chandeliers to the traditional Omani décor around the area, the restaurant was spectacular. The place is elegant. I felt like a princess when I entered the restaurant.

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    Such an elegant atmosphere!

     

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    Ohh, I feel like I belong to the royal family with this dining set up!

     

    Look at the chandeliers!

     

    A separate room if you want privacy.

    The local servers looked great wearing their traditional dress. When my friend and I were asked about the menu to take, everything was explained so well. There are 2 set menus on the list. There is also a la carte on their options, but we tried the set menus. While waiting for the food to be served, a fresh pomegranate was given first then bread. All kinds of local bread were placed on our table. Omani bread is sweet and heavy, so I opted to eat it all though I wanted to try everything.

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    Fresh pomegranate!

    Next came the harees soup. I personally like harees, it is porridge made from wheat mixed with some type of meat but most often chicken.I have tried few harees, but their version was the best I have tried so far. The consistency was dense. The waiter said it was intentionally made light compared to the harees served as the main course.

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    Look at the silverware!

    The selection of Omani salads was quite impressive as well. Watercress salad, chicken masanef, and baby shark samosa looked so pleasant and tasted delicious. I never thought a mango pickle would be a perfect combination to the samosa. It was something interesting to know.  

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    The appetizer

    Then came the dish I was waiting to try, the Omani shuwa. It is a slow cooked lamb over basmati rice. I love the biryani samak too! It is a fish cooked in a tamarind sauce. The fish was so fresh with some spiciness on it. A mashed rice with chicken with cardamom and rose water was served next on my plate. It wasn’t my favorite but something appealing to my palate.

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    Omani shuwa

    The luscious desserts look so hard to resist as well! There were four different kinds of sweet served. I like the frankincense ice cream. The server said it is the most liked by the guests. It was mouth watering and yummy.

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    Omani desserts to try.

    I am impressed with the Omani food served with a royal standard.All food was prepared delightfully into perfection. Al Angham is a place to experience an authentic taste of Omani culture and cuisine with a sophisticated touch. 

     

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    An Omani wearing the traditional dress (disdasha).

     

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    Have you tried local Omani cuisine? What is your favorite dish? Share in the comments below.  

  • Expat Life
  • Wadi Shab: A Desert Adventure Paradise

    The Arabian Peninsula is predominantly desert. However, Oman is more varied. Oman is exquisite in natural beauty. Mountains, beaches, and wadis (valleys) surround the country despite being dry.It is a great place for exploration, especially in winter temperature. The winter weather is mild which is the best time to enjoy outdoor activities.

    No visit to Oman is complete without seeing Wadi Shab. Wadi Shab is one of the most famous tourist spots in the Sultanate of Oman.  If you’re a nature lover and outdoorsy traveler, this place should be on your list. 

    The beautiful coastline on the way to Wadi Shab!

     

    The road going to Wadi Shab.

    Getting to Wadi Shab

    If you are coming from Muscat, it is 1.5hrs away from the city. It is in Sharqiyah Region, before the town of Tiwi. You can’t get lost; there is a signage going to Wadi Shab. It is advisable to bring a vehicle going to the place, but you can hire a private car for a day trip. There is a massive bridge under the entrance of the wadi (valley), a landmark you are at the right place.There is a public toilet in the parking area if you want to change comfortable clothes before the hike. There is a small store where you can buy food and drinks. Before the start of the walk, you only pay 1 OMR/ 130 PHP/ 2.5 USD for the boat ride to cross the small lake.The ride is short, and it is good for the two way ride. Make sure to know what time is the last boat ride if wish to go late afternoon. The rest of the experience is free of charge. 

     

    The boat ride is about 2 minutes.

    Outdoor Adventures in Wadi Shab: 

    There are different activities to do for every traveler visiting the Wadi Shab. Here is the list:

    Hiking 

    The hike is less than an hour to reach the swimming area. It is an easy to moderate walk, and I recommend wearing hiking shoes. It is painful on the sole if you are not wearing appropriate footwear. The first part of the trail is flat, and it gets rocky in the middle area. There are marks on the path, so I don’t think you will get lost. You can hike alone if you wish but I suggest you go in pair. Before reaching the wadi, you will pass by to the rugged mountains, plantations, cliffs, oasis and big rocks.

     

    View from the start of the trail.

     

    Rocky mountains at the onset of the hike.

     

    The challenging part, conquering the big rocks on the way to Wadi Shab.

     

    Huge rocks!

     

    Some parts are slippery.Be careful with your steps.

     

    The rocky mountains

     

    You can rest in between the hike.

    Swimming

    The fun doesn’t end once you reach the Wadi. You can swim and start to walk into the small canyon. You can either spend time on the water pools with different depth or swim and walk all the way inside a cave.Reminder, going inside the cave is not for everyone. Never attempt if you don’t know how to swim. To get inside the cave, you have to walk and swim quite long. You should know how to swim at least 50-100meters. The entrance is small that you have to swim through a tiny hole. The water gets deep as you go on, and it ‘s hard to hold anywhere inside.  Yes, it is amazing, but pls don’t dare to swim if you can’t. Inside the cave, there is a rope where you can climb to the waterfall which is said to be the hidden gem of the place.

     

    The shallow part of the water pool where kids can swim.

    And it gets deeper as you go further.

    Cliff Diving

    If you seek more thrill and excitement, another activity to try is jumping off the cliff. The cliffs are tall, perfect for cliff diving. In fact, Wadi Shab was one of the event places of the  Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series in 2012. 

    If you choose not to do it, you can still have fun on the Wadi by relaxing and having a picnic. Pack in and pack out all your gear and trash as you leave the area.

    Conquer your fear! Jump off the cliff.

     

    Or relax by the water pools.

     

    Helpful Reminders and Tips:

    1. Have a proper meal before the hike.
    2. Wear comfortable clothes where you can move quickly. Wear appropriate shoes for the walk.
    3. Protect yourself from the sun. Wear a cap, sunblock, and glasses.
    4. Bring bottled water and food.
    5. Don’t bring a lot of things on your way to the Wadi Shab. Leave it in your car. Unless you want to go picnic at the Wadi.
    6. Bring a waterproof bag if you wish to swim and keep your belongings with you.
    7. Avoid going on weekends. It is crowded with the locals, expats, and tourists.
    8. Wear waterproof shoes if you wish to swim. It is bit slippery.
    9. For non-swimmers who wants to get inside the cave, wear a life vest. The water is deep inside. Never force yourself to get inside the cave.
    10. Bring extra clothes to change after the swim.

    Location:


    What outdoor adventure do you want to do? Share in the comments below. 

  • Expat Life
  • How to Stay in Shape while Working in the Middle East

    Staying fit and healthy while living in the Middle East is a challenge especially if you are new, unfamiliar with the food available, culture and environment. It can be overwhelming. In Oman, locals love to eat shawarma, yogurt, flavored rice like Biryani or Mandi and a lot of sweets! I love the flavors of the food. I also noticed how abundant the dairy products at a lower price like cream cheese, milk, and chocolates. Okay, I became addicted to those. And honestly before I didn’t care about what I was eating as long as I feed myself and I don’t exercise. I loathed the idea of doing exercise. I was lazy and was contented laying on my bed after work. I felt like I am always tired from work and sleeping was the best thing to do. My life was sedentary.

    Things hit me off when I struggled with bad skin, and my weight went up to 7- 10kg. People would quip me “Do you have chickenpox?” “You are gaining weight big time!” Well, it hurts, and for some reason, you will think what went wrong? I was always slim, but when I hit before the age of 30s, I noticed my metabolism gets slow. It was a wake-up call for me to make a change and start living a better and healthy lifestyle. I just realized I need to take care of myself especially I am living alone in a foreign country away from my family.

    For some people, the decision to be healthy and fit can be intimidating. Some might think it is equal to eating only vegetables and being expensive. Geared up with all the information I got online, and from friends, I started eating better food and veered away from my old habits. It was hard at first. It was a real struggle until I made the commitment to myself to start eating better.

    What are the advantages of being healthy and fit? Being physically active helps relieve the stress of being in a new environment. It will improve your mood, help you sleep better and have more energy to do your routine. You look better from the outside and become happier, healthier and stronger on the inside.

     

    So here is the list of what I’ve learned on how to stay fit and healthy while living or working outside of the country:

    1. Find a fitness buddy

    One of the things I’ve learned to stay on track is to find a partner no matter what is your choice of exercise. It can be your colleague or new found friend; these people will push you to stay on the top of your fitness goal.

    2.Walk or Run

    Every country has a different culture. Orient yourself with the new place. Be familiar with the country you are living. In a country like Oman, people are conservative, and adjustment is a must. If you wish to run, it is advisable to wear something loose. Dress in modest. Find a safe area to run. Do it with friends and colleagues. The best season in Gulf countries like Oman is from November until April so take the chance to be out and enjoy the good weather. Adjust your running time according to your work schedule. Run 2-3 times in a week. Or have a chance to walk at least 30 minutes every day.

    3. Join a race

    Grab an opportunity to participate in a marathon or any activities if there is to your place. Explore the regular activities to your new country that the locals or expats do and participate.  By doing this, you get the flavor of the country and also gain new friends.

    Diverse community of expats in Oman

     

    Marathon held in Muscat, Oman joined by Filipinos and other expats last January 2017.

    4. Find fitness places like gyms or sports complex in your place

    Explore your area for possible fitness place you can go on a regular basis. Gyms are everywhere in the Middle East.There are gyms/ sports centers in a co-ed atmosphere and fitness centers exclusive for the ladies. It isn’t surprising to have separate fitness centers for the males and females as it is a usual scenario in countries with a conservative culture. 

     5.Do home workout as much as you can

    If gyms are hard to find or expensive, why not try the home exercise. Try exercise to be part of your daily routine. Give at least 15-30 minutes of your time. Schedule your workout and do it 2-3 times a week. There are thousands of videos you can find online, which is the easiest and most accessible thing to do. Find a way to be active every day.

    6.Do outdoor activities

    Go hiking, biking or swimming. Find an activity that is readily available to the place you are living. Oman is rich in raw natural beauty. It is a fantastic place to explore the mountains, oasis (wadis) and the beaches. Grab the chance to check the nature while keeping yourself fit and healthy. 

    Swim in Qantab Beach, Muscat, Oman.

     

    Go hike and swim in Wadi Shab, Oman.

     

    6. Prepare and cook your food

    If you are new to the country, you want to try everything and resisting the temptations are the hardest thing to do. But be reminded you have all the time to try and explore the different food of the country you are staying. Explore the market or the nearest grocery shop and look for healthier options. Cook your food as much as possible.  Immerse yourself in the culture by incorporating a healthy version of the food. Sometimes fruits and vegetables are cheaper than the pizza or ice cream. In Oman, vegetables like cucumber, carrots, and olives are cheap. Take advantage and eat real food.

     

    Why not bake the chicken instead of frying it?

     

    Arabic salad with hummus (chickpeas), a healthier option if you want to eat out.

    7. Find a balance to what you eat

    Eat in moderation. If you are going to eat big unhealthy lunch, you might as well consider eating a small healthy breakfast and dinner. Learn about portion control.

     

    A healthier version of home cooked pasta. Pasta loaded with tomatoes and olives.

     

    Although living outside the country denotes lifestyle change, never compromise your health and body. Make time to develop healthy habits no matter where you are. Establishing a routine is an important key if you want to stay fit and healthy.

    Any additional tips on how to stay in shape while out of the country? Share in the comments below.

  • Travel Stories
  • Balabac: the Unspoiled Beauty of Palawan

    Staying in my home country for vacation, wouldn’t be complete without doing a local travel destination. I used to go on my own, with family or friends but this time with a twist. I decided to join an organized tour as recommended to me by my friend and the trip was in Balabac, Palawan. Honestly, I wasn’t familiar with the place. All I know is the famous spot like El Nido and Coron but never heard of Balabac Islands from before. But when I saw all the pictures online, I was awed. Without a second thought, I joined the group. At the time I was checking Balabac Palawan, there was only a few available information on the Internet, so I took the opportunity to join a group to save money, time and for safety reason.

    Balabac is a second class municipality in the province of Palawan. It is a group of islands located at the southernmost tip of Palawan. It is 50 kilometers north from Sabah, Malaysia across the Balabac Strait and lies in the Sulu Sea.

     

    Getting to Balabac, Palawan

    I left Manila to Puerto Princesa via Cebu Pacific early in the morning and met my travel group for the first time at Puerto Princesa airport. I was happy to know we were 12 in the group plus the trip leader. Before heading to Rio Tuba which is the gateway to Balabac, we had our lunch in the city and bought additional food for the journey. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner during the full travel were provided in the package. From Puerto Princesa City to Rio Tuba was about 6-7 hours by van. There is a rough road on the way, but if you are used to long travels by land, then it is okay. If you wish to do it by yourself, Rio Tuba can be reached by jeepney, bus or shuttle van which departs daily from the city. We stayed overnight in Rio Tuba,  Bataraza before starting our trip to Balabac.

     

    JJAS Pension House, the place where we stayed overnight in Rio Tuba

     

    The group prepping for our trip

     

    We left early in Rio Tuba and traveled roughly 1.5 hrs to Bangkalan port. Balabac Palawan has 36 islands and sandbars, and the main transportation is by boat. There is no public boat that goes from one island to another as most of the locals have their own boat. A 3-hour boat ride takes a traveler to the main island of Balabac from the port. To save time, we started our island hopping right away!

     

    Bangkalan Port

     

    No fancy port to Balabac

     

    We are so ready for the adventure.

     

    Mangroves near the port

     

    I was mesmerized by the beauty of each island we have visited.  Each is having their own characteristics. If you want to be with the harmony of nature, Balabac Palawan is the best place to be.  

    Here are some of the islands and sandbars we visited:

    Patawan

    Photo Credit: Yob Red
    Clear water and white sand

     

    Look, I got my huge swimming pool!

     

    The Pink Island

    Isn’t it calm and relaxing?

     

    You can always have your alone time.

     

    Or a perfect getaway with friends.

     

    Grainy pinkish sand

     

    Blue sky, clear water, and sunbathing

     

    Candaraman

    Photo Credit: Yob Red

    Photo Credit: Yob Red

     

     

     

    We slept on the hammock for our overnight stay.

     

    Angelica’s Sandbar / Anjela Sandbar

    Photo Credit: Yob Red

     

    Lots of sun basking.

     

    The boatmen chilling!
    Blending colors of the sky and the water. Such a stunning view!

     

    The water is so clear. I have been to many beaches in the Philippines and out of the country, but this place is truly breathtaking! I cannot count how many times I said the word ‘WOW” in a day!

     

     

    Punta Sebaring

    Photo Credit: Yob Red
    The finest white sand I have ever seen!
    The first time I saw a stingray!

     

    Punta Sebaring in Bugsuk Island is one of my favorite islands in Balabac. With its long stretches, powdery white sand it is just irresistible. We were lucky we were able to visit the island as it is already privately owned by one politician and it will be closed to the public soon. To when I am not sure.

    The most sought island is Onuk, a private island owned by the Mayor of Balabac. Due to some misunderstandings to our operator, we weren’t able to visit the island. But even we end up not checking Onuk; I swear all other islands are worth to visit.

    In mainland Balabac, we stayed in Sing and Swing Lodging House. There is no high-end resort available if you are looking for one. But the room is spacious and clean. We stayed in an air conditioned room, but there are also non-aircon room if you are on a tight budget.

     

    Main town of Balabac

     

    The place where we stayed

     

    People are friendly. You can walk around. Habalhabal or tricycles are the main means of transportation within the island. Malaysian products are widely available due to its proximity to Sabah.

    Different kind of tricycle. I find it adorable.

     

    I can’t get enough of him.. so cute!

    There are many beautiful places to visit in Palawan. Balabac is my first place to visit in Palawan, and until now I cannot believe I reached the most remote, isolated and one of those untouched islands in the Philippines. The whole trip was five days; two days was spend for island hopping than the rest for the transfers. The whole trip was short but was so worth it. Now I can say Balabac is enchanting more than the photos I have seen online. It was such a perfect getaway! 

    Our trip leader managed the whole trip so well. We had so much laughed and fun conservations all throughout the trip. Balabac even relatively unknown is truly magnificent and hidden gem of Palawan.

     

    Total Expenses: 12,700 PHP/ 255 USD/ 98 OMR

    9,500 PHP /190 USD/ 73 OMR – Accommodation, rental of private boats , land transfers and food

    3,200 PHP/ 64 USD/ 25 OMR  – Roundtrip airfare Manila- Puerto Princesa + terminal fee in Puerto Princesa

     

    Helpful Tips and Reminders:

    1. Most of the islands are privately owned, proper coordination is a must. Join an organized tour to save money, time and have fun with other travelers. You may contact Yob Red on his Facebook account who arranges travel trips around the If you wish to go solo, research and plan well before the journey.
    2. Buy bottled water and food, probably in Puerto Princesa before the trip to Balabac.
    3. Some of the islands are 2-3 hours away apart, so be prepared to be toasted. Protect yourself from the sun. Bring lots of sunblocks, wear glasses and bring sarong /long clothes with you.
    4. Bring some personal medicines. (Paracetamol, loperamide, and medicine for motion sickness)
    5. There might be Nik Nik (sand mites) in some islands so bring long sleeves, pajama, and socks for protection. Bring insect repellants lotion. Lit a bonfire on your campsite to push away the sand mites.
    6. No ATM is available in Balabac. No establishments accept credit or debit card. It is a must to withdraw money in Puerto Princesa.
    7. Electricity is not 24/7 in the main town of Balabac. The power runs only from 4 pm until 6 am. There is no electricity at all to other islands. Bring flashlight. Bring a full charge power banks and extra batteries for your camera on your trip.
    8. This trip is not for all. It is for adventurous person. It is advisable for cowboy type of people, ready for anything. This trip has lots of sunbathing, transferring from one boat to another,  distant land and sea travel distance and camping out. You might experience heavy waves.
    9. There are phone signals and data in Balabac proper but none to other islands.
    10. If you wish to buy Malaysian products, there’s a lot in the mainland Balabac and near Bangkalan port.

    Video of our Balabac Trip:

    Video Credit: Yob Red

    So do you want to go Balabac, Palawan? Share in the comments below.

  • Travel Stories
  • A Guide to Taal Volcano, Philippines

    I can’t count how many times I’ve visited Tagaytay and admire the view of Taal Volcano from afar. My family used to go Tagaytay when I was still based in the Philippines but never set foot near the Taal Volcano. 

     

    Taal Volcano is one of the smallest active volcanoes in the world. Indeed it is one of the wonders of the world. Since I was in Manila for my vacation, I took the chance not to miss the beauty of Taal Volcano on a closer look.

     

     I traveled from Manila to Tagaytay with my friend by taking the public transportation. We’ve met in Taft Terminal Station and rode a bus from there. There were numerous bus companies offering rides to Tagaytay. We took Genesis bus and passed through Cavite/ Aguinaldo Highway and reached Olivarez (Tagaytay proper) after 2 hours of travel. We paid 156 PHP/ 3.1 USD/ 1.2 OMR for two persons. We left Taft Terminal Station around 7.30 in the morning, but  I suggest leaving Manila early if you plan to go for a hike or better stay overnight in Tagaytay to climb early in the morning.

     

    When we reached Tagaytay (Olivarez), we rented a tricycle going to Talisay and then back to the town proper. We paid 500 PHP/10USD/ 3.8 OMR for the rental. You can also check the jeepney on Tagaytay Rotonda and ask them and compare the price.  

     

    Our driver said we were the first customers to his new tricycle. (Locally known as Bokyo)

     

    We stopped by to this beautiful spot before going to the Boat Station.

    We hired a boat to take us to Taal Volcano Island. We arrived at the boat station around 10.20 in the morning. We registered ourselves and paid a total price of 2750PHP/ 55 USD/ 21 OMR inclusive of the boat, tour guide, docking fee and entrance fee. The boat rented is good for 6 to 7 persons. I suggest going with a group to divide and save up money.  I came up with contacting Angelo (+63 9197280514)who manages a boat rental service in Talisay Bay. We contacted him before going to the boat rental station for convenience.

     

     

     

    The pump boat ride took us around 20 minutes across the lake to reach Sitio Tabla, Pulo Island, Talisay, Batangas.For safety reason, we were required to wear life vests. It was also bit splashy so be prepared to get wet when riding the boat.

     

     

    When we reached the island, we were greeted by a friendly barangay. You will see a lot of tourists, especially Koreans. Visiting the island, reminded me of my town in Bicol where most of the people’s main living is fishing.

     

     

     

    Double on socks to prevent blisters!

     

    You can go for two options going up the crater lake. First, by foot. Second, go by horse.  The horse rides cost 450 PHP/ 8.9 USD/ 3.4 OMR, but we decided to go trek to enjoy the scenery. The hike was overall easy.  The tour guide was also helpful with us. He is quite knowledgeable about the place.

     

    My hiking buddy to Taal Volcano.

     

    Our tour guide

     

    We started our hike around 11:00 am. Thank goodness the weather was excellent. It wasn’t hot and humid. On the way up, there were local vendors who sell cold drinks, and it is expensive. I suggest bringing bottled water.

     

     

    On the way up, there are stations of the cross for pilgrimage.

     

    It took us roughly less than an 1 hour to reach the top. We stopped at some interesting point for picture taking. At the summit, there is a deck to get a 360-degree view of Taal Volcano and Tagaytay.  The crater lake was worth the hike! There were also vendors selling souvenirs such as t-shirts and ref magnets. You can rest, eat or simply just enjoy the view from the top. We stayed a little longer to take photos (of course, hehe).

     

     

     

    There was a strong smell of sulfur that can be smelled once near the summit which means I’m really stepping on an active volcano.

     

    The view from the top: 

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    The trail going up the summit

     

    Helpful Tips and Reminders:

    1.Eat breakfast before starting the trip.

    2.Bring some water or cold drinks and snacks. It is bit costly onsite. 

    3.Wear comfortable clothes and shoes. I prefer to wear my hiking shoes.

    4.Protect yourself from the sun. Wear a cap, sunblock, and glasses.

    5.Bring mask to cover your mouth and nose. It is bit dusty due to volcanic ash.

     

     

    Have you visited the Taal Volcano? How was your experience? Share on the comments below.