There are two rules which I always keep in mind when holding a camera while strolling in the world’s most conservative culture country, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. These are both applicable to my handy compact camera, DSLR, and even mobile phone. First, I should not take photos on the government buildings in an obvious method. And lastly, Saudi women should be censored from any types of photography.
I visited Riyadh, the country’s capital city, to meet our relatives and to renew my passport at the embassy. It was less than an hour travel from the eastern region by flight. My embassy matter was just a few minutes transaction so the remaining hours was spent discovering the capital.
Location: Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Where I Stayed: Mena Hotel
Buddies: Family (+)
We checked in at Mena Hotel which was located at the famous Olaya Road near King Fahad Library and the Al-Faisaliah Tower. The receptionist’s English accent was excellent just like I spoke to an American in the body of a Saudi local. After a short orientation for our overnight stay we headed to our big and cozy room.
As promised, we met our relatives who were working for several years in Riyadh. The city was full of expatriates who are visible from streets, houses, shops, and restaurants.
We visited Batha Market, the famous local market for everything. Anything we needed was available in the market but the most attraction there was the gold shops. Our eyes glittered seeing a street of jewelry shops without armed security guards and those hanging wide belts, long chains and plates made of gold. For sure, women will surely love the shining shops to be satisfied from all kinds of jewelries and wide selection of gold accessories. The way of selling was amazing. My relative chose one type of a golden chain and the shop vendor chopped it according to her budget and bargaining influence. They also have ready-made sets and packages as best buy souvenirs. The jewelries here are much cheaper and had more options comparing to the other cities of the kingdom.
From Batha, we stopped a taxi but the driver only speak and understand Arabic. There was guilt on my side because I’m working here for many years but I still do not speak the local language. The second taxi understood and brought us to the Kingdom Center, the base of the city’s landmark and a tourist destination.
We headed to the ticket counter to buy entry passes to the Kingdom Tower Sky Bridge. The sky bridge was accessed by paying 60 riyals per head. Children under two years are free. Two high speed elevators brought us to the bridge and let us witnessed the movement of the city at 360 degrees view, 300 meters from the ground. Unfortunately, camera was not allowed and our only option for memory keeping was to avail their photo booth service. The best time to stay is few minutes before sunset but it was already 7pm when we reached the tower.
After few minutes of staying at the highest part of the city, we took a delicious and heavy dinner at Tokyo Restaurant. The Japanese cuisine and its ambiance refreshed our taste buds from Arabic foods and our owned made menus. After dining, we continued the unending story telling which was paused at the hotel to end our joyous day.
Riyadh is not just a deserted land. Aside of being a modernized and developed city, it has a unique culture. Additional to this is the strict rule requiring women to have their hair covered aside from wearing traditional abayas. Compared to other cities like Khobar and Jeddah, head covering is not seriously required for non-Muslim women expats.
The next day, after our buffet Arabic breakfast in the hotel, we prepared our things back to the Eastern Region by road. We did farewell to our relatives thanking them for sharing and spending their hours with us.
The surrounding red sand dunes was the best sight while traveling from Riyadh. Watching the sand made everything so slow that we were not aware that we ran at 150 km/h speed. It took us more than five hours to reach our place in the Eastern Region.