Conservative Excursion in Riyadh

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 air flight. My embassy matter was just a few minutes transaction so the remaining hours was taken discovering the capital.

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Riyadh International Airport
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A beautiful building along the road.
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Comfortable bed of Mena Hotel

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.

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King Fahad Library and Al-Faisaliah Tower from the hotel’s restaurant.

As promised, we met our relatives who was 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.

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Souvenir from Batha Market
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Kingdom Tower

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. We continued the unending story telling which was paused after dining at the hotel to end our joyous day.

 

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Dining at Tokyo Restaurant

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. It took us more than five hours to reach the Eastern Region.

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Al Gara Cave Visit

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As what the local Saudi explained, Al-Ahsa is a province and the city within is Hofuf City. So this explanation cleared out my confusion to the place we’re heading to.

Al-Gara cave or widely known to expatriates as Judas Cave is situated in the mountain of Qara, a prominent village of less than 30 minutes away from Hofuf.

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Our journey started from Jubail on which the GPS map calculated to be 3 hours drive passing Dammam. The wide desert and mountains knocked our fingers to click our cameras. Along the way, there are few tents built and camels were wandering around seeking for green desert vegetation.

As we were entering Al-Ahsa, I noticed that the place was a green vast land planted with date palms. No wonder, this place is the producer of the well known fruit “date”. Oases is abundant in this place so they have plenty of plants. Besides one company, NADA Food Company, was also built here.

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We directly headed to Qara village to see the cave. The village is on the foot of the mountain. Al-Gara cave is the famous landmark of the province and said to be cool in the summer and warm during winter. It also aspired to be one of the seven wonders of nature. The place was magnificent and anyone can enter for free.

After caving, we decided to climb up hills to see what the view on the top can offer. Mohammed, a local villager, guided me in hopping those dangerous cliffs until we reached a place where I can see the date plantation as a whole. I wished to see the whole province by climbing up more but stepping on slopes was more dangerous.

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Anyway, Mohammed and his group came here for breakfast. They brought a picnic mat. We disturbed them for he volunteered himself to guide us.

Al-Gara Cave and mountain is a worth place to visit especially when living in the Eastern region.

Desert Camping in Al-Khobar

12-3-2010 267.jpgExperienced the thrills with both 4×4 ATV and car while racing in the desert. Witnessed car exhibitions and more for a one day trip.

Fun: No work. Time to do some odds. Our team decided for a picnic in a desert park. I thought there are food stalls and cottages, but I am wrong.  Two cars parked side by side in the middle of the desert. The picnic mat served as ceiling from direct sunlight.
Beverages and water are the most important things to bring. The sand was calm but it was full of surprises. It looks like flattened but it is weak when the wheels of motorbike passed it through. So many times, I lifted the motorbike’s back and turned it sideways just to remove and avoid to be stuck.
‘The whole day was so tiring and the trip ended by watching hundreds of cars racing and doing exhibitions while climbing the tip of the sandy mountain.

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERASANYO DIGITAL CAMERAHighlights: One of my fellow coworker was accompanied by his wife, a 3-year old daughter and a son who is just started to walk . While the bigger guys were driving ATV and climbing those sandy hills, the young kids were playing and busy molding castle from sand. Unfortunately, desert sand was different from that in seashore so they struggled to build it.

Expenses:
ATV rental costs SR100 and SR20 for camel and horse back riding, respectively. The park has no entrance fee. I hope there should have food stalls build near that site.

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Camel Ranch Visit in Jubail

14.jpgI want to see camels, so when the group invited me for a visit in a camel ranch in Jubail, I didn’t hesitate to agree. It was my first time to touch camel. A Saudi coworker, Mr. Mahmoud, was our guide.

It’s winter. The weather was so good to move yet the wind was cool and chilling. Around 9am when we were fetched from the city and bought “kubos” bread. Camels love bread as was explained. Passing industrial city and penetrating a wide desert for less than an hour was full of stories.

10First stop. We met a group of camels wandering around in the desert. We stopped near them but they fled from us. One camel, with a bell hanging on its neck, stayed on position and was not afraid. We offered the bread by hand and then suddenly all those camels came back and joined! They ate the bread so fast. After nothing left and we’re out of bread to offer, they ran away going to the nearest tent. We followed them and there were young camels. Maybe the father of the camel we encountered rested there. There are goats and chickens too!

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Second stop. We headed to a real ranch where camels were feed with dry and brown hays. I wondered where they took those plants. They were not fresh! Anyway, the number of camels are wonderful. I saw here the cutest camel and donkeys.

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Third stop. Before going back, we visited Fanateer. Flied a kite and enjoyed the green scenario of a clean place with a sea gulf view.

Inspiration. One item was crossed out from the list of animals I wish to encounter.