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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Exploring Dubai

Dubai is the most famous city in the Middle East. It’s known for its unique landmarks and attractive building structures. Booked via Flydubai which has daily flight from Saudi Arabia, we visited Dubai of United Arab Emirates for the first time.

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I contacted a Dubai based travel agent to work for our guided tour and visa. The agent replied to us and offered us a family tour package. Included in this package are accommodations for three nights, Dubai dhow cruise, entry in Burj Khalifa and Ski Dubai with free transfers. I agreed to a 50% deposit for the visa processing and the hotel as per him was requiring a down payment. The balance will be paid upon arrival in Dubai. In just three days, the electronic tourist visa was granted and was emailed to me.

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We departed from Dammam airport at 8:55am and landed in Dubai after an hour. Our travel agent was already outside of Terminal 2 and waiting for us. After immigration and baggage collection, we stepped out of the airport and met him. He headed us to the Royal Ascot Hotel in Bur Dubai for our accommodation. We waited for half an hour since the checked-in time of the hotel started at 2pm.

Location: Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Where I Stayed: Royal Ascot Hotel

Buddies: Group (4+)

Royal Ascot Hotel is a 4 star rating hotel according to our travel agent. Its location is excellent in term of its distance to the airport. The metro station and shopping malls are just a few minutes by walk. It also a few minutes drive to the most visited places in Dubai. The superior deluxe room which is situated on the 6th floor is so spacious. The biggest room was given to us. We’re so very thankful to our travel agent. It looks like he has a good business relation to the marketing manager of the hotel.

At 4pm, we started discovering the best creations of Dubai. We visited the famous Miracle Garden with an entrance fee of 30 dirhams per head. The place was so amazing with colorful and bunches of flowers in a beautifully landscaped garden. Some of them are so familiar with me and named them specifically. The place was so great for picture taking but be watchful for touching those displays all the time. My wife received two whistle blows from the garden’s staff. One time when she was holding the bicycle with full of flowers and another when she seated on one of the fence. We’re all laughing! For the sake of photo for remembrance, we were behaving badly.

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There were so many talents displayed inside the Miracle Garden. The animals and human structures, the houses, the giant clock, and more. Obviously, all of those are with floral touch. The garden lay-out was so wonderful.

At 7pm, we left the garden and took our buffet dinner at Lamesa restaurant in Aseana Hotel. We have seats reserved for it was always full. At 100 dirhams per head, our craving for pork “lechon belly” had been satisfied.

DAY TWO

At noon,  we visited the Ski Dubai which was inside the Emirates Mall. They provided us winter clothes to be used inside the frozen world. We didn’t stayed so long inside the artificial snow world but we enjoyed walking and tube slide on the ice.

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At 3pm, we left Emirates Mall going to Dubai Mall, the entrance to the famous and world’s tallest building. We took our late lunch at the mall’s food court to feed our protesting parasites. At around 5pm, we joined those bulk of tourists entering Burj Khalifa. The security was so strict because foods and big bags were not allowed. However, they provided a bag counter to where guests can leave their bags safely.

I was amazed on how the building was constructed. This is how technology works. The city can be seen at all angles. Our visit was considered a peak hours so we added 50 dirhams per head from the normal entrance fee to our travel agent. But we were satisfied because we witnessed the sunset and water fountain show from the bird’s eye of view.

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After the sunset, we went down and nailed our time in a water dancing fountain which approximately starts in every 30 minutes. We left the mall at 8pm and took our dinner at Ryu Korean Restaurant in Bur Dubai before going back to our hotel.

Last Day

We took our breakfast at the hotel and prepared our baggage. At 9:30am, we left the hotel and have a quick side tour on the remaining famous tourist spots in Dubai like Burj Al Arab and Atlantis, the Palm. At 12n, we enjoyed the outdoor water park Wild Wadi. We left the park at 3pm and back to the hotel for the final arrangement. Our flight back to Saudi Arabia was at 6:25pm.

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Lifting Towers in Kuala Lumpur

The land travel from Terrengganu province to Kuala lumpur took for 6 hours despite of express roads. There was no training during weekend, so the group decided to visit the capital.

Location: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Where I Stayed: Citin Hotel

Buddies: Group (20+)

Arrived at 10pm and checked-in at Citin Hotel which I think the cheapest hotel within the city. With a rate of MR200 per night with free breakfast is not bad for a two nights stay.

Transportation is not a problem in KL because there are so many taxis. Drivers are honest too and can be negotiated when transportation budget is less.

On the first day, we entered the 4th tallest telecommunication tower in the world, the Kuala Menara tower. With an entrance of MR20, we had accessed on the 221 meters observatory deck and glimpsed on the whole city. The shopping malls like KLCC and Times Square Mall for souvenirs never ignored by our eyes. The city itself was still a forest and there are so many wild monkeys wandering around.

On the second day, I woke up early to avail an entrance ticket to Petronas Tower. Accessing 171 meters sky bridge of the highest twin tower in the world was an achievement.

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