Oman, the prettiest place you've never heard of

Nestled in Arabian Peninsula, the Sultanate of Oman is an often forgotten wonder of the world

"Oman is a place that everyone should visit"

When I tell people I grew up in the Middle East, there's often (not always) a sense of "Oh my god! How difficult was that?" to which the response is "I grew up in Oman. So… not very." Oman is a country that bucks stereotypes and does so in a demure, yet breathtaking fashion. Located on the Arabian Peninsula, it is a country that holds wonder after wonder, and yet is largely unknown to the average person in the street. Filled with natural beauty, man-made spectacle, and a rich cultural heritage, Oman is a place that everyone should visit at least once.

For starters, it has nature for days. If you like beaches, deserts, mountain ranges, or rivers, Oman has you covered. Near the capital city, Muscat, you can find swathes of great beach front, but that's only a fraction of what Oman has on offer. Drives of just a couple of hours out of the city will lead you to miles of gorgeous sand and water, much of it sparsely populated. It's not uncommon to be able to share a pristine stretch of beach with fewer than twenty other people. Capping that off is the fact that snorkeling and scuba-diving are some of the best in the region.

A sample of Oman's underwater wildlifePhoto by Katja Neisius

Travel inland and you will find Oman's mountain ranges, the two best known being Jebel Shams (Mountain of the Sun) and Jebel Akhdar (Green Mountain). Oman is on the warm side, as it lies across the Tropic of Cancer, but up in the mountains the temperature drops to be highly palatable, and the views are to die for. Sprawling, untamed vistas that are open for anyone to walk through, magnificent in their natural desolation. Camping is the adventurous way to see all this, but for those who like their creature comforts, there are several nice hotels and guest houses now available.

Also inland (and easily accessible) are the Sharqiya Sands. Oman's favorite desert. For those interested in dune-bashing, sand-boarding, camel rides and so on, you can find all that and more here, just a couple of hours drive from the capital city. The desert stretches out to the horizons, Lawrence of Arabia-fashion, and offers a beautiful sense of stillness and quiet to its guests. Again, the adventurers can camp here, but there are also purpose built hotel camps (like Al Areesh) that offer a more luxury desert experience. Look out for scorpions, and don't forget to make friends with any of the local nomadic Bedouin who might say hello. They're very friendly.

Driving in the Sharqiya SandsPhoto by Andries Oudshoorn

On offer for the sensational-seekers among you are a few select national natural treasures. The sinkhole at Bimmah is a local marvel. It is a patch of ground that collapsed into a subterranean aquifer, creating a hole 50 meters by 70 meters across and approximately 20 meters deep. The result is a naturally occuring swimming hole of epic proportions, home to clear azure waters and some gorgeous local aquatic flora. You can also jump into it from the top, which is quite a thrill. The Tourism Board recommends exercising caution and safety with regards to this, however, locals can often be seen doing so, and can give you pointers as to technique.

The Bimmah sinkholePhoto by NATURALBORNSTUPID

Oman boasts many other wonders, too many to list here in fact. They include: turtle reserves, wadis (rivers with variable levels of water) that one can adventure down Indiana Jones-style, one of the largest naturally occurring caves in existence, natural hot springs, and the infamous Snake Gorge, to name a few. But the country also has its fair share of man-made splendor. In contrast to neighbor Dubai, the goal is aesthetic, rather than bigger and bolder. The National Grand Mosque can hold up to 20,000 worshippers at a time, has a fourteen meter tall chandelier, and a hand-made prayer carpet that is the second largest in the world. Nearby, the Royal Opera House is an incredible feat of modern Arabesque architecture, and plays host to some of the best touring operas, ballets, musicians, and more that the world has to offer.

The Oman Grand MosquePhoto by DesertFM

But it's not always about the flashy centerpieces. Outside of the city you can find villages carved into the sides of mountains, forts that hint at Oman's long and fascinating history, lost cities unearthed out of rubble, and, again, this only the tip of the iceberg. For your shopping needs, you will also find a cavalcade of Eastern delights in the country's Souqs. Mutrah Souq is the best known, making it a tourist hot-spot, and there are many treasures to be found there, but it is by no means the only one. Trips to the suburb of Seeb, or to Bahla, or even as far out as Nizwa will show you an authentic, thriving local economy which deals not just in arts and crafts, but in local produce and livestock. It's a hustle and bustle that's not to be missed.

Nizwa SouqPhoto by Francisco Anzola

Oman is my home away from my home away from home. Any trip there leaves me feeling refreshed, renewed, and re-emboldened. It has something to offer luxury travelers, and the more modestly budgeted. It caters to those who want to be pampered, and to those who want to rough it and live out an adventure. Whatever you're looking for, odds are that Oman has it, and in a form that you've never quite seen before. This article only scratches the surface of what's on offer. I've barely even touched on local food, the friendliness of the people, the weird and wonderful world of the expatriate community, or its more niche attractions. Really, the only way to get to know it properly is to visit for yourself.

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If you've googled one thing during this pandemic, it is definitely: "Thai food near me."

Thai food has remained one of the most delicious and sought after takeout gems; and in New York City, specifically, there are so many delicious options that it can be overwhelming. Often unlike Chinese food, Thai food offers fresher ingredients and versatile cuisine options. Whether you want some Pad Thai or Pad See Ew, or some coconut milk-infused curry or even just some soup, Thai food is good for any occasion. But with so many options, how do you know you're getting the freshest ingredients at the best price? Here are the best spots to order take-out from, and we even broke it up by borough for you.


Manhattan: Fish Cheeks

Fish Cheeks

Reviewed by The Times as "fresh, vivid and intense," Fish Cheeks offers solid takes on traditional Thai Cuisine. Their speciality remains seafood, so their Crab Friend Rice and Coconut Crab Curry are delicious highlights. Their Tum Yum is also to die for, made with fresh galanagal, lime leaves and lemongrass.

The version [of tum yum] here hums with fresh galangal, lime leaves and lemongrass. Shrimp and knobby mushrooms simmer in a broth that gets extra body from milk, a twist I've never seen before but one I approve of. It could be spicier, but the use of bird's-eye chiles is far from shy.

Manhattan: Lan Larb

thia food

Arguably some of the best Pad Thai in the city, Lan Larb is focused mainly on the food of Thailand's northeast region. As a result, there is often a combo of meat and seafood involved in most dishes, such as the Lao Chicken Soup, which combines fresh chicken with pickled fish and a steamy brown broth. The menu will make your tastebuds whirl if you're one for experimentation, if not, their Pad Thai is iconic and filling enough on its own.

Brooklyn: Ugly Baby

Brooklyn has always been teeming with amazing Thai food joints, but Ugly Baby is the borough's most established success story. The Carrol Gardens sensation was preceded by two long gone Red Hook restaurants known for their authentic Northern Thai cuisine. With Ugly Baby, a name which comes from an ancient belief in Thailand that ugly children bring good fortune, chef Sirichai Sreparplarn had mastered his craft. The restaurant quickly gained glowing praise throughout Brooklyn and New York, and their take on Khao Soi Nuer and Kao Tod Nam Klook remain the stuff of legends.

Queens: Ayada

ayada thai

Ayada's cuisine is so good that it made a New York Times journalist cry at his table. Not out of emotion though, but out of spice. For those looking for a truly bold eating experience, this Queens Thai restaurant holds nothing back when crafting their drunken noodles or Pad Thai, but that spice is what makes it one of the best spots in the city.

Bronx: Ceetay

​While the Bronx isn't necessarily a buzzing Thai food borough, Ceetay's asian fusion cuisine is of the highest quality and will appeal to anyone desperately needing to nom on some noodles. Their sushi is amazing but their Pad Thai is packed with amazing flavor. Seasoned with onions, peppers, cabbage, carrots, mushrooms, peanuts, scallions and cilantro, this Pad Thai is packed with flavors and will slam your taste buds in the best possible way.

Travel

5 Countries to Visit This Fall

As the weather starts to chill out, we're just getting warmed up to travel

It's not winter yet!

So that means, we're all about that fall travel. It's a beautiful time of year to be outside in many countries, soaking up the colorful landscapes and fresh air. Here are our picks for the top places to visit this fall.

1. Germany

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Burg Eltz Castle is a magical step back into the Middle Ages that's been here for more than 850 years.

2. Switzerland

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The red leaves in Bern are absolutely striking.

3. Italy

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Nothing like the sheer beauty of the formidable Italian alps.

4. Peru

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Machu Picchu beckons visitors from near and far this fall.

5. Mexico

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It's not too cold to skip the beach!

Everyone has heard of the murder-hotel where dark shadows creep at the edge of your vision, or the abandoned house where the furniture moves each time you leave the room.

But sometimes the places set up to capture the fun and fright of the Halloween season for paying customers can be far more horrifying than any ghost stories. These "fake" haunted houses will leave you genuinely haunted.



Pennhurst Haunted Asylum

So spoooky!

Thomas James Caldwell

Pennhurst Asylum was in operation from 1908-1987 in the small town of Spring City, Pennsylvania. While we don't have all the records of the residents' experiences there, it doesn't take much imagination to realize that this building was home to true horrors. In many ways, 1908 wasn't that long ago, but in terms of mental health treatment—especially in small-town Pennsylvania—it was absolutely the dark ages. This was the time of lobotomies, straight jackets, and shock therapy. Whatever the jump scares and fake blood contribute to the fear you will feel walking through Pennhurst Asylum's aging, echoing halls, they can't come close to the deep, sinking feeling caused by the deep history of torment that has left its imprint on the very fabric of the place. Four spooky skulls out of five.

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Haunted Trap House

Like this, but less 90s

In Centreville, Maryand, in the year 1989, a group of visionaries were struck by a bolt of inspiration. What if—instead of zombies and werewolves and demons, and all the stuff out of children's nightmares—what if they filled their haunted house with the real-world nightmares that were actually infesting their city, killing their residents, and generally afflicting every corner of the entire nation. Thus, the Haunted Crack House was born. Since renamed the Haunted Trap House, it's ostensibly an educational experience on the dangers of drug use, it features simulations of overdoses, arrests, and shootings, as well as actual former convicts who are paid to draw on their real experiences to make your visit as terrifying as possible. This kind of fetishizing of human misery to capitalize on the Halloween season is as despicable as it is spooky. Four-and-a-half skulls out of five.

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McKamey Manor

He technically consented to this

A $20,000 reward? A 40-page waiver? These figures have garnered a lot of attention in recent headlines. Supposedly this is the "scariest" haunted house experience in the country. Who could resist the temptation of that once-in-a-lifetime experience, combined with the chance to win a big cash prize? Unfortunately, that is exactly what Russ McKay wants. There's a reason he's put so much work into the legal side of his operation. Rather than gassing up neutered chainsaws and chasing you around in a hockey mask, McKay has opted for producing actual, real, straight-up torture. You may not find the decorations and costumes that scary, but you will absolutely fear for your life when you consent to be water-boarded with fake blood. For being operated by a man who is clearly an unhinged psychopath, McKamey Manor ties the Haunted Traphouse, with four-and-a-half spooky skulls.

💀💀💀💀.5/5

Donald Vann's House of Horrors

Donald Vann murdered eleven people. Happens to the best of us, but it does present a problem. How do you dispose of all those bodies? Donald's solution was to open a haunted house and put his victims' decaying remains on display as props. Props to him. For eight months he prepared his fetid, malodorous horrors, before debuting on October 1st. Unfortunately, you won't be able to visit his house of horrors, because he has since landed in some legal trouble—board of health, maybe?—but I'm sure for the lucky few who were able to visit during its brief tenure, and witness Vann's "psychotic smirk," I'm sure the nightmares they're left with keep on spooking.

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Every Hell House in America

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In the same vein as the Haunted Traphouse, Hell Houses are church presentations intended as educational experiences that warn kids and teens away from the path of sin. Their methods for achieving this obviously vary, but according to The Washington Post, you can generally expect the following: "A devil ushers a gay man dying of AIDS into the fiery pit. A teenager who is raped at a drug-filled rave commits suicide and also goes to hell. A young girl hemorrhaging from an abortion repents at the last minute." Awful. Truly sickening. What kind of trauma are they inflicting on these children to prop up their outdated ideologies? Six spooky skulls. Where'd that extra skull come from?? Nobody knows…

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