Saudi Arabia has just opened its doors to visitors. Back on a trip to Arab land, between Muezzin and luxury car
Saudi Arabia is an uncommon travel destination, and for good reason, it was not easy to get there. But things are changing, the oil kingdom has just opened its borders to the layman, it is now possible to obtain a visa in a few clicks. So it’s easy to get there, fine, but to do it, to see what?
مرحباً المملكة العربية السعودية ، اسمي كريستين ، أنا فرنسية ، وأنا سعيد جداً بلقائك! Hi Saudi Arabia!
mrhbaan almamlakat alearabiat alsaeudiat , aismi krisitin , ‘ana faransiat , wa’ana saeid jdaan bilqayik!
Saudi Arabia’s must-see can be summed up in a few lines
Visit the largest desert in the world, the Rub al Khali, which makes up a large part of the country with in the middle the largest oasis in the world. The country has some vestiges of the past such as the Nabataean troglodyte city of Madahine-Saleh in the north of the country, Tabuk, the village of Rijal Alma in the south-west, some old villages, beautiful desert or mountainous landscapes. The country also has beautiful mosques, lovers of Islamic art will be delighted.
Big-hearted people, beautiful landscapes: the only thing missing in this country is charm
A minimalist ancient heritage, little cultural variety: will Saudi Arabia succeed in attracting visitors?
The government has clearly understood the danger posed by this rentier economy which is in a constant slowdown: demand and production are in decline.
To counteract this trend, the Saudi government is rolling up its sleeves and betting heavily on change with the 2030 Objective.
In 10 years, the country hopes to welcome 30 million visitors and thus become the second Dubai in the Middle East.
The country is putting a lot of resources into it. It sometimes goes as far as expelling the inhabitants of certain areas to transform the site into a tourist park. The bad taste dominates, it is often a rough Disney-like assembly surrounded by car parks as empty as gigantic. But who knows, maybe these entertainment centres will find their audience?
The cities of Saudi Arabia are modern, huge and bubbling. Difficult to fall in love with these mega-cities
Saudi Arabia is a land of Bedouins that has experienced a phenomenal and rapid economic boom thanks to oil. Cities have grown like mushrooms, in a chaotic way. They are gigantic and it is almost impossible to walk there. Without a city centre, they are as heartless as soulless. Very modern, sprawling, totally devoid of charm, the most interesting to see there are the natives.
The population, about 33 million, is composed of a third of foreigners (32%). This cheap labour force from the Philippines, Yemen, Sudan, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan came to build the country. So it is not so easy to meet natives Saudis.
To appreciate Saudi Arabia, you have to take the rhythm
The country is in time slots aligned with the calls to prayer, Adhān, there are 5 of them. Apart from the prayers of dawn (Sobh) and night (Icha), there are 3 of them distributed as follows: Dhor at midday, Asr in the afternoon and Maghrib at sunset. They have to close the shops 30 minutes before, do some ablutions, a prayer of 10 to 20 minutes, chat with friends, drink tea and leave to reopen the shop. The city is thus very quiet during this time there. In the big shopping malls, it’s the same. You have to understand that it is not only forbidden but also punished (usually a very expensive fine) not to do it. Shops have to be closed, work has to stop. It is also obligatory to pray at home for Sobh and Icha.
Cities are not alive during the day. For example, until 5pm, the city of Jeddah is a ghost town. Afterwards, the city is swarming like an anthill and it’s a real pleasure to stroll through the market, the old quarters and observe the diversity that animates these popular streets.
The Saudis are real night birds, they stay up late at night and sleep during the day. It is a rhythm that is understandable, here it is very hot during the day.
Is it difficult to travel in Saudi Arabia?
No, immigrant workers or natives, the welcome reserved for the visitor is jovial and warm. I had no difficulty travelling alone in the country, without a veil, without a burqa, but of course dressed decently: no shorts, no cleavage, etc.
I met generous people, very hospitable and absolutely not dangerous. The hitchhiking trip is easy and safe, the bus network is well organized and reliable. The Saudis go to great lengths to take good care of their visitors and it’s a real pleasure to meet them. They are interesting, caring and have all shown respect for a foreigner. Towards Yemen, in remote villages, the veil to cover the hair was sometimes used.
The Saudis are charming, but you still have to respect the rules
Lodging in Saudi Arabia
شكرا لك السعودية وداعا وداعا اراك قريبا!
Next travel: Let's enjoy Oman!
Oman is a desert full of oases, it is also Persian golf, the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman. Lots of seaside and golden sand with occasional superb cities and very friendly locals.