I've always enjoyed travelling. There are always interesting things to find out, fun people to meet, and the inevitable change of your own perceptions. Some experiences even ended up being life-changing for me. Perhaps that was exactly what I was looking for in Saudi Arabia – a new look on the world. I have already been to Africa on a few occasions, visited the UAE, and decided to take the path less trodden. Here's what I've found out.
Rules are rules
Out of all the countries I've been to, I must say this one has the longest list of rules by far. Being a man is an extreme privilege here, at least according to my opinion. However, that doesn't mean you can walk around wearing a t-shirt and shorts. The latter is out of the question, and long sleeves are preferred. Also, if you have two passports, just leave one at home, or it will be confiscated at the airport. You're welcome.
Expats vs tourists
On the one hand, this country is definitely not touristy, so coming here definitely paid off as I was able to see a lot of things none of my friends have. Saudi Arabia has started to become more open to tourists, but you still need to apply for Saudi Arabia visa. As opposed to not having so many western tourists, this country is a real Mecca for expats from all over the world (pun intended).
As usual, it's cool to go big and visit the biggest cities in the country. My first stop was Riyadh, and I managed to check everything off my itinerary.
What interested me the most was Al-Balad, the ancient neighbourhood from the 7th century. And when they say ''old town", they really mean it here. You'll just have to see it to believe it. Another inspiring building, but for all the different reasons, was the Floating Mosque. Make sure you visit during high tide!
Shopping malls abound, so if you wanna shop or hide from the heat, enjoy yourself. As for food, you can't say you've been to Saudi Arabia without trying Al Baik. It's super crowded, so takeaways are always a better option.
Naturally, I had to take a look at the world's highest fountain in the Riyadh waterfront, the famous King Fahd's Fountain. I was in luck that it was working, as sometimes maintenance takes over.
As usual, I kinda liked the smaller city better. Jeddah is famous for being cosmopolitan, liberal (as much as it's possible), and Jeddah Waterfront is definitely recommendable for a relaxing walk and people-watching (but don't try to photograph anybody. Once again, rules are rules.).
Luckily for me, there were plenty of private or hotel beaches (yes, women are allowed two-piece bikini in some, which speaks volumes). Silver Sands was one of my favourites. Really cool, easy-going atmosphere, beautiful water. There are plenty of restaurants and cool cafes, and you can definitely enjoy yourself and meet lots of expats if you wish to have a friendly chat.
Have you ever been on the edge of the world? Well, I have, and it's a sight to be seen. The Edge of the World is a cliff outside the city giving you a breathtaking view. It's located some 90 km outside of Riyadh, but don't worry, your ride will also be exciting if you hire a 4x4 vehicle.
The red sand dunes (close to the Al Khararah Park) are what is considered as a perfect barbeque spot, so if you're keen on grilling your meat in the desert, be their guest.
So, would I go to Saudi Arabia again? Definitely! Yes, there are lots of do's and don'ts, and you have to wait for a visa, but the efforts more than pay off.