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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Temples, Palace, Cruise, and a Lotus

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First look – a typical water lily with cute buds.

We woke up early for our Thai breakfast at 7am. The dish was like a porridge with so many spices. The taste was very flavorful.

We then prepared to Taling Chan Floating Market which was just 20 minutes from the hotel according to the google map. Unfortunately, the taxi only brought us at Taling Chan town and not in the floating market. They advised us for a motorcycle ride for 60 baht to reach the floating market in time.

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The floating market was not so big but we saw bulk of tourist visitors. Like us, we’re here with a common reason. To experience the market venue in a floating platform. The good thing was its free and has no entrance fee.

We saw those women paddling the boat and selling their products. The water was not clear, chocolate in color but those big fishes (catfish?) were smartly living there. One Thai student fed the fishes with bread and offered some bait with us. We enjoyed the life in the floating market and the restaurants as well. The first menu was the delicious and fresh vegetable salad. We also tried  the tasty bowl of noodle soup while seated in a shortened chair with matching table. Our stomach were full when we left the market. There were so many Thai foods and agricultural products on sale.

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We decided to walk up to the temples that we had seen along the way. We didn’t usually know the names of them. After the temples, we hired a taxi going back to the hotel to prepare for our next tourist site. I checked through internet that entering the Grand Palace requires descent clothing. Wearing short skirts and pants were discouraged.

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We arrived at the Grand Palace at 3pm. We were late but we still secured an entrance gate pass for 400 baht each. We were amazed on the preservation of the place and the temples of Emerald Buddha. The stones and the architecture were very impressive and unique. We even entered the temples removing our shoes. Touring and visiting Grand Palace needed more time to explore. And we failed! We didn’t gave such ample time. We lastly visited the Emerald Buddha museum before it closes at 4:30pm.

We followed the flow of visitors exiting the palace. It was directed to the nearest market along Chao Praya river. A cold refreshing smoothies after a tiring walk inside the palace was the best reward.  The foods in Thailand were very cheap and healthy.
We didn’t eat much for we’re preparing for our cruise dinner. For it still early, we walked from the market up to the pier allocated for boats going to Temples of the Dawn. We just glimpsed the temples because we didn’t have time to transfer on the other side of the river.

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The Wan Fah Dinner Cruise was booked through site Bangkok Cruise for 1,300 baht. The starting point was at the River City. Thinking that we’re just along the river, I’m expecting that we’re near the River City pier. I asked a “tuk-tuk” but the driver charged us 300 baht. We didn’t agreed because for me it was overpriced. We dealt with 200 baht. But on the way, I realized that it was really far and the traffic jammed us. The cleverness of the driver escaped us from the crowded traffic. When we arrived at River City Mall after Sheraton Hotel, we handed him 300 baht as silent apology.

At the pier, back of the River City Mall, we couldn’t see the staffs of Wan Fah Cruise. We went inside the mall and saw their booth. We approached the staffs and confirmed our arrival. They pinned us corsages with a number and led us to the waiting old wooden boat at the pier.

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Our dinner cruise along Chao Praya River started at 7pm. Prior for our boarding, a lady wearing a thai traditional costume held us for a picture taking. She then led us to our table number corresponding the number on our corsages. The boat started to move and the dinner was prepared starting with a spicy soup and vegetable spring rolls. After a few minutes, the Thai and Seafood set baskets were served. While the people were busy popping their heavy meals, the tour guide was explaining the tourist sites we had passed like the Temples of the Dawn, Grand Palace, famous hospital, and the beautiful Rama VIII bridge of Bangkok. When the guide is off air, thai traditional music was on the playlist.

On the way back, Thai traditional dances were performed. They also asked some tourist to dance together with them. Unfortunately, my camera was down because the battery degraded. I have no souvenir from those cute dancers. Three different dances were performed but with same dance steps. For me, only costumes and the music were changed but the steps were not. The bill was then given to each table. The drinks were not free except for water. Each delicious drink costs 150 baht. Then the photo shopped picture which was taken before boarding was in frame and costs 200 baht.
The river cruising took two hours and the experience was great. Touring Bangkok will never complete without experiencing river dinner cruise.

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For the River City is very far, we chartered a taxi in going back to our hotel. Our hotel was not that famous because the first driver didn’t know it. So, we rode a taxi to the famous Phayathai train station and from there another taxi to Resort Bangphlat.