There are good times, bad times, and times of change. 2012 was that year of change for me. We migrated to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that spring and I was distraught. I didn’t want to leave my friends and school and the awesome life I had back home in Jamnagar. I feared change but it came nevertheless. However, it did help build this post – Saudi Arabia travel guide.
First international flight, immigration scans, and the absolute grandeur of the Dubai airport were just too much for my little brain to process. We took our connecting flight from Dubai to Dammam, a city on the east coast of the Saudi Peninsula. I was supposed to be super excited as per the script but I just slept all along the route.
We lived there for 4 years and looking back, my first impression was rather overwhelming.
Travel Guide to Saudi Arabia
The kingdom does not issue a travel visa. You merely can’t travel to Saudi Arabia because you wanted to see the King’s palace or dive into oil wells.
Most people are issued a Pilgrimage visa for Hajj and Umrah to Mecca and Medina. However, to be able to apply for this visa one has to be a Muslim. Most expatriates happen to have some level of working visa based on their qualifications.
The law of the land doesn’t permit practicing any other religion than Islam. This blog is thus, intended for people who might have recently migrated to Saudi Arabia and for people who would care about having an unbiased perspective of the actual lives of the inhabitants.
For the newbies on the land:
- Go to desert camps and ride camels, desert bikes and ponder over the night sky.
- Go to beach camps and enjoy the calm sea with jet scooters, surfing, and the Sun.
- Attend flower shows on the beaches in winters.
- If you have kids then take them to amusement parks like Sparkys and King Fahad.
- If you are a non-muslim, then accustom yourself to the prayer calls 5 times a day.
- Spend a weekend in Riyadh to get a glimpse of the richest capital city in the world.
- Experience the beauty of Ramazan as the entire country comes to life in the evenings.
- Appreciate Al-marai as much as you can! ( for those who don’t know, check out Al-marai right now)
- Eat out the chicken rice at a gas station. (for some reason, all gas stations simply have the monopoly over the best chicken rice)
- Also, please invest in a car because public transport is almost inexistent.
Renting a car during your stay is also a great option. Rental Cars
*The voice of my conscience*
I know Saudi Arabia has always been in news for all kinds of terrorist associations, misogynistic policies, and chauvinistic image. And I’m no one to comment on the authenticity or fallacy of these reports. However, I’ve always had this desire to present a perspective that apparently no one has bothered exploring.
Along the way, I’ll have you journey the country in a caravan: Dum Dum!
The Arabian Food,
One of the highlights in this Saudi Arabia travel guide is food. We are vegetarians.
The entire notion of Arabs munching kebabs is so inaccurate that I find it super funny. Vegetarian options especially bakery products are such a delight that for someone who’s only accustomed to packaged bread it’s a delight.
The tameez bread, khabooz bread , zatar, hummus, falafel and afghani dal with khabooz is just so indigenous that I haven’t yet been able to find zatar back home.
For the chicken and mutton lovers, no one in the world has figured out how to make broasted chicken like Al-Baiks. Also, Showarma and Ghava(Arabian tea) deserve a special mention.
Middle eastern food is often criticized to be bland and rather undercooked. I guess it all arises out of people trying middle eastern food out of the country of origin.
Also, food is so cheap and so wonderful in quality throughout the country, primarily due to government subsidies that no one there sleeps hungry.
Breaking the Saudi Arabian nomad stereotype
The infrastructure and quality of life that Saudi Arabia offers to people of all classes and incomes are way better than some of the first world countries like the US. This country knows how to deal with its poor.
Be it the Jeddah Tower or the Riyadh Skyline, be it the Saudi Bahrain cross-link or local beaches. Everything is well maintained and speaks volumes about a young nation’s journey towards development.
Here are some of the best deals for accommodation in Riyadh from booking.com:
People of Saudi
Travel guide to Saudi Arabia wouldn’t be complete without its people. They speak Arabic and most locals don’t understand Arabic. However, at the stores or in govt offices there’ll always be an English translator to get you through. The locals are a well-nurtured population. The monarchs have looked after their people. Education is free in the country for its citizens and so is healthcare.
Till day most men wear the white flowing robe and a gutra on their head. Women are obliged by the law of the land to wear burqa or abaya and cover their heads. This is in my opinion a breach of the freedom that I’ve been taught of. However, there’s something I realized during my stay. Everyone has different notions of freedom.
I personally loved the abaya as I never had to worry about what to wear and how do I look when leaving the house. I’m lazy and a uniform helps. However, I don’t promote the compulsory nature of this law.
A blog on the Arabian land looks rather incomplete without a mention of rebabs or belly dancers, doesn’t it? I’m really sorry to disappoint you but Saudi is a very strict country and publically dancing and singing is frowned upon. It’s an alcohol-free country and the only cheap thrills you might lay your hands on might be a Hookah! Blown away?
I made some of my best friends on that land and experienced a diversity and world view that I feel privileged to have.
I in no way support them.
This blog is my experience of living in that country. A 12-year-old girl in a country with a bizarre world image and a culture that’s not just different but also contradictory to her inherent values of right and wrong. Be it me being the only vegetarian in the class or the only Modi obsessed Hindu among a highly leftist Muslim friend circle.
Friday Saturday weekends and Sunday schools, not having to think about driving a car because women weren’t allowed back then and a culture that pampered women in return for their freedom. I don’t know how much of it is unfair and how much just plain ignorant. All I know for sure is, it’s a different land with very different ideals.
Other articles of mine to check out:
On a closing note
I really hope you all really like this Saudi Arabia travel guide. It’s a very personal piece of thought for me. Hope you followed along! Please feel free to contact me if you’d like to know more about Saudi and its ways.
2020 is finally coming to an end. It’s been a rather rough year for so many people and I pray everyone gets to start afresh, strong, and blessed in 2021.
Do check out this blog on Indonesia for another localities perspective.
Cheers for the New Year!
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