Mobile phones
Getting around

Riyadh, Najd, Al Ula, Medina, Jeddah, Al Bahah, Abha, Najran

23.12: Munich -> Istanbul -> Riyadh
24.12: Riyadh
25.12: Riyadh -> Diriyah -> Al Qasab -> Tharmida -> Shaqra
26.12: Shaqra -> Ushaiger -> Al Ghat -> Fayd -> Ha'il
27.12: Ha'il -> Jubbah -> Ha'il
28.12: Ha'il -> Al Ula
29.12: Al Ula
30.12: Al Ula -> Medina
31.12: Medina
1.1: Medina -> Jeddah
2.1: Jeddah -> Taif
3.1: Taif -> Jabal Shada -> Thee Ain -> Al Bahah
4.1: Al Bahah -> Al-Malad -> Al Touf -> Al Namas -> Abha
5.1: Abha -> Rijal Alma -> Abha
6.1: Abha -> Tamniah -> Al Yanfa -> Al Habala -> Dhahran Al Janub -> Najran
7.1: Najran -> Wadi ad Dawasir
8.1-9.1: Wadi ad Dawasir -> Riyadh -> Munich

Planning and overall impression

Until a few years ago it wasn't possible to visit Saudi Arabia as a tourist, then finally the country opened up and it became possible and easy to get a tourist visa.
Still, while the country has a lot of tourist potential, at the moment Saudi Arabia is still not yet ready for tourists. There are just too many interesting sites which are either closed or not open when you would like to visit them and inadequate tourist infrastructure (few restaurants, few travel operators). Sometimes I found myself in an interesting site, but was the only western tourist in that place and there were no explanation tables or street signage which would make it easier for an independent traveller to explore the site.
In several places I visited, restoration works were ongoing, or had been completed. In the latter case I found an immaculate historic place, where everything looks shiny and new.
On the other hand Saudis, perhaps because so few non-Muslim foreign tourists visit the place, are very hospitable. Sometimes people would spot me walking on a street and would stop and offer to show me around and/or invite me for lunch or dinner.
Distances in Saudi Arabia are huge. Many place you want to visit involves a long drive, so I ended up driving almost 5000 km in a bit over two weeks. On the other hand, long distance roads and other roads in Saudi Arabia are in a very good condition and there is a good motorway network.
While there are many sights in Saudi Arabia, compared to Europe or Turkey the density of sites is much lower, probably because of the lower population density in the country.
Due to the climate, the best time to visit Saudi Arabia is the winter or early spring or late Autumn.


To my surprise, cost were not that high, or to put it differently, it was possible to travel without spending too much. For hotels I paid between 24 and 84 Euro per night, the car (a Hyundai Elantra) cost 35 Euro/day and it was possible to find moderately priced restaurants. Even the tours in Al Ula, the main tourist highlight of Saudi Arabia, were not too expensive.


This was one of the problems, because outside of the big cities there was a dearth of restaurants. I used to go to sites, do my sightseeing, then could not find a cafe or restaurant where to sit down, eat something and relax a bit. So basically I had to go to supermarkets in the evenings and buy food and drinks for the next days, which I would then eat in the car after my sightseeing was finished.
When I found a restaurant, often it was an Indian one or a fast food place.
It's a chicken and egg problem: not enough tourists come, so it's not worth opening a restaurants.


Not exactly plenty of hotels everywhere, but except for a few places (for instance As Sulayyil) I could easily find reasonably priced hotels with the international booking portals. On the other hand I didn't manage to find accommodation in the empty quarter, for instance around the Oroug Bani M'aradh wildlife sanctuary. Probably to get there an expensive private tour would have been necessary.

Money  / Exchange rate (December 2022 - January 2023)

At the time of visiting 1 Euro = 4 SAR

Mobile phones and prepaid cards

I got a SIM card at the airport in Riyadh in the arrivals area (a SIM card from STC with 20GB of mobile data and 500 minutes of calls for 80 SAR). Later I read in an online forum that travellers arriving in Jeddah, who didn't get the SIM card at the airport, couldn't manage to find a SIM card elsewhere. So it's a good idea not to leave the airport without a SIM card. The network coverage of STC was good.

Internet access

WLAN in hotels was often unreliable or even not available, so I used the mobile phone as a Wifi hotspot.


In spite of the desert environment, during my stay it rained surprisingly a lot. Streets in Jeddah were flooded after the rain, because there were no adequate drainage systems.
Then, in some desert areas it became really fresh (as low as 6°C during the rain), so I caught a cold. Although most of the time daytime top temperatures were around 20°C or higher. In Jeddah temperatures went up to 32°C during the day, and in some desert areas the temperatures reached 25°C. At altitude, in the southwestern mountain range above 2000m, daytime temperatures were above 20°C.

Health / Vaccinations

No vaccinations were needed and there were also no more Covid checks.

VISA / Entry requirements

I applied for my visa online and got it within 10 minutes. The cost of the visa was 143 Euro.


No problem at all. Saudi Arabia is a very safe country.

Getting around

I rented a car for the trip (a Hyundai Elantra costing 562 Euro for 16 days) and used that for the complete trip, totalling almost 5000 km on the roads. I never used a taxi or public transportation (picked the car at the airport, returned it at the airport). Getting around by car was easy, because Saudi Arabia has a good road network.
I didn't choose the smallest car, because I needed something capable of driving on steep mountain roads.

23.12: Munich -> Istanbul -> Riyadh
Hotel Dahab by Warwick, Riyadh. 274 SAR for a large room with attached bathroom with shower, A/C, heater, fridge, LCD TV, table with chair, sofa chair, cupboard with ironing board but no iron. The hotel is not bad, but a bit ageing and not so well maintained (the table for instance is shakey). But the bed is soft. Parking available.
Weather: overcast in Munich, mild, 10°C. Some light rain after 11am. Mild in Riyadh at night (I can walk around with a T-shirt).

We leave home at 8:15am and drive to the Trudering train station. I manage to catch the S-Bahn train at 8:24am, then change in Leuchtenbergring and get on the 8:31am S8 train to the airport. Everything proceeds smoothly and by 9am I'm at the airport. There I proceed to check in. Short queue, another short queue at the security check. Shortly after 10am I'm at the gate.

We board the plane late. The plane starts rolling at 12:15pm and takes off at 12:23pm (43 minutes of delay). The plane, an Airbus A320, is almost full.

We land in Istanbul at 4:35pm local time with a delay of 20 minutes. Then I get the boarding pass and have a meal.

Long wait until the 9:25pm flight to Riyadh. Around 9:15pm the boarding starts, at 9:35pm I'm in the seat. Same Airbus A321 plane. Quite full. I also spot a number of western tourists, although not so many. Boarding completed at 9:40pm.

The plane starts rolling shortly before 10pm, then finally takes off at 10:23pm, with almost an hour of delay. It is completely full, I can't see an empty seat. Very strange that so many people fly to Riyadh over Xmas.

We land in Riyadh at 2:15am, then reach the gate at 2:23am. Getting through passport control is quite smooth (the name of my father in the middle of my name on the visa seems not to be a problem; but they take all my fingerprints and take pictures of me), but it takes a while until I get the luggage. While waiting for the luggage, I get some cash from an ATM.

As soon as I have the luggage, I rush to the exit. It's because I had booked the car for 1:30am and a couple of days ago the German agency which handled the booking told me that I must show up within 30 minutes of the declared pickup time, otherwise Avis might cancel the booking.

In the arrivals area I see counters of STC, Zain and Mobily, selling SIM cards and still staffed after 3am. I manage to be at the Avis counter around 3:25am, and it's empty. I ask at the nearby Sixt counter and the guy tells me the Avis person is sleeping in a car.

So I wake this guy up and confirm that the booking is still valid. Then I walk back to the arrivals area and get a SIM card from STC (20GB, 500 minutes of calls for 80 SAR). The procedure is quite fast (passport and thumb fingerprint needed) and the card is immediately activated (after I install the Jawwy app).

Back at the Avis counter the guy tells me to wait. At 4am he drives me from the international terminal (T1) to the domestic one (T5), where after 4:30am I finally get the car. It's a Hyundai Elantra, sort of mid-size, in any case much bigger than a small car. Hopefully the engine has enough power to drive on the mountain roads.

It then takes a few minutes of time to familiarise with the car, then I start driving to the hotel. There I check in and finally sleep after 6am local time.

24.12: Riyadh
Hotel Dahab by Warwick, Riyadh.
Weather: sunny with thin clouds layer, some wind. Mild/warm enough to walk around in a T-shirt, even in the evening.

I get up at 11am local time (could have slept longer, but set the alarm clock to 11am) and get ready. When checking the car rental contract, I see it mentions a mileage of 200 km/day and 0.55 SAR/km beyond that. But my booking clearly mentions 250 km/day and 0.46 SAR beyond that. I call Avis, who insist that the contract is correct, then email a scan of the contract and of my booking both to Avis Saudi Arabia and billiger-mietwagen.de.

At 1:25pm I leave the hotel and get into the car. I key in the Masmak fortress as my first destination.

Driving in Riyadh is relatively easy, because the streets are quite wide and today there is little traffic. But I need some time to familiarise with the environment. For instance, the numbers are Arabic, so at the beginning it's a guess game what the speed limit is. The digit 5 looks like a 0 and the 6 like a 7 for instance.

In any case shortly after 1:40pm I park in the parking of the Masmak fort (5 SAR/hour). Then I walk to the fort.

The Masmak fort is actually quite simple - a rectangular structure with dried mud walls. The entrance is free and inside there is a museum and a coffee exhibit. There is not big internal court, only a few small ones and you can't climb up the walls.

I was hoping to find some restaurant near the fort, but there isn't much and most places are closed. Actually I can't find an open place where they sell food. I have a quick look at the (photogenic) Al Safa square, then get back to the car and around 2:30pm drive to the national museum.

This turns out to be closed, so I drive to the next place, the Kingdom centre, where there is a mall with a food court and the Sky Bridge. The mall contains a number of high end shops selling branded clothes and articles.

I have a meal in the food court at 4pm, then walk to the Sky Bridge. 69 SAR for the ticket, a bit pricey, but nice view from the top.

I'm in the Sky Bridge until after sunset. The bridge fills up with people, who come here to take pictures. At 6pm I'm back in the food court. I buy some food and drinks in a small supermarket, then have a drink in the food court. I'm back in the hotel around 8pm.

25.12: Riyadh -> Diriyah -> Al Qasab -> Tharmida -> Shaqra
Al-Sulaimi Heritage House hotel, Shaqra. 225 SAR for room with attached bathroom with shower, two beds, some furniture but no table (cupboard, fridge, tea making equipment, A/C. Soft beds. Located in the historical area of Shaqra. Poor WLAN in the room (I use the mobile phone as a hotspot). Cash only (no card accepted), friendly owner.
Weather: sunny, blue sky with a thin clouds layer (thin high altitude clouds). Warm enough to walk around in a T-shirt.

I get up at 7am and check out at 8:30am. A few minutes later I leave by car for the Diriyah area (Al-Bujairi heritage park). I don't have a booking (tickets were sold out, and at 10am it would have been a bit late anyway), but I'm hoping to be able to explore the area nevertheless (I'm relying on feedback of a travel forum, where a poster wrote that on Sunday morning the entry is free).

I arrive around 8:55am, park the car along the street and start walking around. Within minutes I'm stopped by the police, who force me to delete the few pictures I've taken. For some reason the area of which I took the pictures is forbidden (although it's just some mud house ruins). I speculate that perhaps some VIP lives here, otherwise why would the police guard the area.

I walk a bit around, looking for some other interesting place, away from the place where the police is, but find nothing interesting. Then I go back to the car and key in some other attraction in the area, but it is impossible to park the car near that place.

This Diriyah looks like an artificial, almost Disneylandish place. Everything "cutified" for tourists, but also heavily regulated and commercialised. I would give it a miss, because north of Riyadh there are other heritage villages, where you are free to walk around without getting harassed by the police, can take pictures and don't have to pay a  200 SAR entrance fee.

So I drive the village of Al Qasab, about 1:20 hours northwest of Riyadh. The road is mainly motorway, with a top speed of 120 km/h, depending on the section.

Al Qasab, well, turns out to be a disappointment. It's almost only ruins of dried mud houses with collapsed roofs. Most likely, after the villagers left this place years ago (probably no fun living in a mud house), this place slowly degraded because nobody comes back to repair the houses.

I spend 55 minutes in this place, exploring every possible corner of the old town to see if perhaps there is an interesting building, then get into the car and drive to the village of Tharmida to the south.

The road crosses the sand desert. I stop three times along the way, two times to take a photo of the sand dunes and once to take pictures of a herd of dromedaries.

At 12:51pm I'm in Tharmida. This village has a historic area with the same broken dried mud houses as Al Qasab, but there is a nice fort which is not broken. The only problem is that it's closed, so I can only take pictures from outside.

I spend about 20 minutes in this place, essentially walking once around the fort and checking the historic centre, then get back to the car and drive to the heritage area of Shaqra. With a short stop along the way, I arrive in the heritage area at 2pm.

The heritage area of Shaqra is in a much better shape and is also being restored. For instance, I see a group of workers repairing a heritage house. Many buildings are in a very good shape, with clean facades and white borders on top. Also, I see many tourist shops, which however are all closed.

In fact, the heritage area is almost a ghost town. Very few people are around and I only see a handful of Western tourists.

I spend almost two hours in this place, walking up and down the streets. Most buildings are closed, but a few are open. In one it is even possible to walk on to the roof - nice views of the heritage area.

After 4pm I drive to a KFC restaurant for a quick meal, then I buy some food and drinks in the nearby supermarket. With these I drive to the hotel in the heritage area.

At 5:30pm, because there is a nice light and blue hour, I spend some time again walking around, taking more pictures. Shortly before 6pm I check in the hotel.

26.12: Shaqra -> Ushaiger -> Al Ghat -> Fayd -> Ha'il
Hotel Skoon, Ha'il. 167 SAR for a big room with attached bathroom with shower. Some furniture (cupboard, but no clothes hangers; small round table with chairs, another table with mirror and chair), LCD TV, fridge, microwave. No toilet paper in the toilet. The room has an A/C unit which I use to heat the room. Also WLAN, but I don't bother trying it out, because I have 20 GB on the mobile phone.
Weather: quite windy today. Blue sky and sunny, but also plenty of clouds. It rains around 4pm when I'm in Fayd. Fresh in the evening in Ha'il (13°C), probably because we are at altitude (1000m asl).

I wake up at 7:40am, then pack my stuff and at 9am I'm in the car. I first drive to the heritage area of Ushaiger (about 15 minutes by car).

This is comparable to the one in Shaqra, although the Shaqra one is in a much better shape, probably due to all the restoration which has been done. In any case, the heritage area is not small. I spend some time walking around the narrow alleys and walk into the open houses (in some you can walk onto the roof). Also in Ushaiger there are plenty of collapsed roofs.

Around 10am I'm back in the car and drive to Al Ghat. This place should have a cute and restored heritage area with palm trees, according to pictures I saw in the Internet.

When I arrive in Al Ghat shortly after 11am I initially struggle to find the correct place, because Google Maps directs me to a place which doesn't exist (I can't turn right because there is no road right there). So I drive to the museum and park the car in front.

I can walk into the museum, but there are some workers inside and the place looks closed. So I walk out and look around a bit. I only see broken dried mud houses. This place seems not well maintained.

I drive the car a bit further and park behind a building. By the way, this place is a ghost town - there is not a human in sight.

So I walk a bit more around and take more pictures. Suddenly, a car passes by. Interesting, not a ghost town after all. The car stops and reverses. Inside a guy talks to me. He is Saudi, retired, 58 years old, came to Al Ghat to see his mother and now has the entire day off and offers to be my guide.

Very friendly and helpful guy, even offers to bring me by car to a place with a cave or well, somewhere 12km from here. He also suggests he can bring me to a friend's place and they can arrange a lunch for me.

I guess this guy saw some lonely tourist walking around in this empty, desert place and felt sorry for me.

The problem is that it is almost 12pm and I'm on an a bit tight schedule. I'm planning to be in Ha'il this evening (hopefully before dark) and visit Fayd before and perhaps also have some lunch. If I accept the kind offer of this guy, I easily spend another hour of 1 1/2 hours in Al Ghat and by the time I arrive in Fayd it's perhaps already dark.

So I politely decline and walk back to the car. First I drive to an Indian restaurant in Al Ghat which I found with Google Maps (5 minutes from here). The problem is that this place doesn't exist (Google apparently have poor, outdated maps of Saudi Arabia).

So I drive towards Fayd, planning to refuel the car along the way and perhaps have some food in a motorway rest station.

I'm soon back on the motorway (lots of motorways in Saudi Arabia, or let's say roads with 2+ lanes where you may drive 120 or 140 km/h).

Shortly after Buraida, at 1:15pm, I stop in a motorway station to refuel the car. This is a big station with shops and a restaurant. So after refilling the tank, I walk into this restaurant and have some food (big dish of rice and chicken for 24 SAR, including drink).

At 3:20pm I'm at the outskirts of Fayd, before 3:30pm I reach the historical site. There is a cute castle-like building which turns out to be the museum. And, my goodness, it's even open and staffed - first open museum I find in Saudi Arabia. Friendly museum caretaker and the museum is even free of charge.

After watching the interesting exhibits (they explain the history of the area), I walk to the ruins. These are of an early Islamic settlement, along the route from Baghdad to Mecca. There is a segment of a wall, ruins of a mosque, a cistern and of several houses.

While there it rains (interesting, rain in the middle of the desert) and temperatures even drop significantly.

Around 4:20pm I start driving to Ha'il, arriving at the outskirts at 5:35pm. There I spot a McDonald's restaurant and decide to have some food (no idea what kind of restaurants I'll find later).

At 6:20pm I walk to the adjacent Lulu supermarket and buy some food and drinks, then drive to the hotel.

27.12: Ha'il -> Jubbah -> Ha'il
Hotel Skoon, Ha'il.
Weather: partially to fully overcast the whole day, with the sun shining through every now and then, sky opening and closing again. It rains after 12:30pm intermittently - sometimes more, sometimes less. In fact the desert is blooming (lots of vegetation growing on the sand dunes). Surprisingly cold. Top temperatures of just 11°C, going down to 6°C during the rain. Strong, cold wind, especially in the desert.

I get up at 8am and wonder what to do. Whether to first have a look at Ha'il, then drive to Jubbah, or first drive to Jubbah, then visit Ha'il in the afternoon.

Based on posts in Internet forums, I'm under the impression that all places will be closed (forts, palaces), but in the end I decide to give a try to the A'arif fort. If closed, I will just take a quick picture from outside, but I might be lucky and it's open.

So I leave the hotel and at 9:50am I park the car below the fort. Very impressive and photogenic structure, on a small hill overlooking Ha'il.

I'm lucky and the fort is open. Nobody is there, not even a caretaker, but all doors are open, so I walk in. Very nice fort, well restored, plenty of rooms and things to see. Even better, from the fort you have a great panoramic view of Ha'il.

I spend 40 minutes in the fort (and while there, a group of American tourist accompanied by a guide show up), then walk back to the car and drive to mosque next to the Qishlah palace.

The mosque is open except for the prayer hall, but the Qishlah palace is closed, undergoing restoration. Next to the palace I see that a souq / small shop area begins.

Around 11am I start driving towards Jubbah using the road passing by Qina. This was recommended, as being more photogenic than the faster motorway road.

And in fact, after some time I'm in the desert, surrounded by dunes. The problem is that because of all the rain, these dunes are being covered by more and more vegetation and are not as clean as dry dunes where there is only sand. The sky is overcast, and without sunlight the sand colour is not so strong.

Between 12pm and 12:15pm I stop in the desert for some pictures, because the view is good and the sun has come out in the meantime. At 12:50pm I'm at the visitor information of the Jubbah graffiti area.

Actually Google Maps is showing another location, 2km from here, as being the "graffiti area", but Google is wrong again on this. All graffiti are on rocks inside a fenced compound behind the information centre. There are no graffiti in the "graffiti area" of Google.

I walk into the tourist information area, talk to the staff and register. Then I walk into the rock area with the graffiti. It has started raining and a cold wind is blowing. The problem is also that I forgot to bring along the sweater. All I'm wearing is a T-shirt and a thin windbreaker jacket.

Anyway, the graffiti area is quite impressive. If these graffiti are real and haven't been created recently by somebody, they are extremely interesting. There are graffiti of animals and people carved into the sandstone. If these are 8000 years old, they are very special.

At 1:45pm, after almost an hour of freezing in the cold, I drive to the graffiti area on Google  Maps and check that out. There are no graffiti, but I see 4WD cars driving into the desert behind Jubbah. Perhaps some tour guide bringing tourists into the desert.

I key in a restaurant found with Google Maps in the village near Jubbah and drive there. I do find an open restaurant, not exactly high end, but the food seems quite reasonable. I have some rice with curry chicken there.

Around 2:45pm I get back to the car and, after a stop in a petrol station to refuel the car, drive back to Ha'il, this time taking the faster motorway route.

At 4:06pm I arrive in the Barzan area of Ha'il (along the way I saw an accident where one car banged the rear of another car), in the centre of the city, not far from the Qishlah palace. It's still raining on and off, so I walk around with an umbrella.

The ruins of the Barzan castle (dried mud structure; two towers with a piece of wall) are there. Everything looks quite abandoned. I guess this castle ruins need some restoration.

The nearby mosque is relatively new, but next to it there is a soup. Also this quite new, but interesting because there are so many shops, people and life. I take a few pictures of this interesting area.

While there I get approached by two shopkeepers (jewelry shop) and have a chat. One guy is from Yemen. They offer me hot tea and later even invite me for dinner, but I decline because I'm a bit tired and would like to finish the day early.

So I walk back to the car and drive to the Al Othaim mall. This is a modern mall, with many shops selling clothes. I discover a shop selling only black abayas - everything is black. Since this is quite interesting, I take a quick picture of this shop. But suddenly the shopkeeper woman shouts and I have to stop.

After a dinner in the food court, I drive back to the hotel.

28.12: Ha'il -> Al Ula
Abu Ali Apartments, Al Ula. 207 SAR for a big room with attached toilet with shower. The room is non-standard: set up as an apartment with two beds, huge (eating) table with three chairs, microwave, fridge, no LCD TV (but who needs TVs these days?), A/C unit which doubles as a heater. Friendly owner (cash only, no invoices), who insists that he wants to show me around tomorrow. I tell him I've already planned the whole next day, quite difficult to decline, in the end we agree that tomorrow I call him after 2pm.
Update: actually there is persistent human sweat smell in the room, like somebody who has sweated and not taken a shower for several days. Perhaps it's because the beds only have blankets, but no bed linen (and perhaps these blankets rarely get washed). In any case it's really a strong sweat smell.
Weather: overcast and cold (8°C) in Ha'il in the morning. In the afternoon the temperature climbs to 14°C. Strong, cold wind.

I get up at 7am, shortly after 8am I start driving to Al Ula. Smooth drive along motorway and easy roads where you may drive 100-110 km/h. Short stop after 10am, by 12:30pm I'm in Al Ula. Not bad, I was even faster than Google Maps (4 1/2 hours, vs the 5 hours Google Maps calculated for the trip).

Shortly before Al Ula I stop for some pictures (the scenery has actually been nice for a while, I could have stopped before at several spots - impressive rock formations in the desert).

There is still some time before the Hegra tour (this starts at 3pm, but I have to be at the winter park by 2pm). So I drive into Al Ula city and have lunch in an Indian restaurant.

At 1:40pm I rush back to the car and drive to the winter park. There I leave the car in the visitor parking and check with the tour counter. Everything seems ok and the lady checks in my QR code.

Then it's waiting time until about 2:30pm, when I and all other tourists on this 3pm tour to Hegra board the bus and the bus leaves for Hegra.

We reach the souvenir shop (handicraft pavilion) in Hegra at 2:55pm. Five minutes later we board the second bus, which will bring us into the Hegra area. There the bus stops in four places, each with some Nabatean tombs. The visitors can choose to stay longer in one place and pick the next bus (which will go to the next stop). Buses come and go every 5-10 minutes.

My tour is 3pm-5pm, but I wonder if I could have stayed longer in the area, had I taken an earlier bus, for instance the 2pm one (2-4pm tour, but could I have gone back with the 5pm bus, thereby staying 3 hours).

In reality the two hours are enough, unless perhaps somebody plans to carefully explore every corner of these tombs.

The scenery with the tombs carved into the stone hills is impressive, very photogenic and quite unique: these small stone hills pop out like mushrooms out of the desert landscape. Nowhere in the world is there anything comparable to this.

At 5pm we get back into the bus and drive back to the winter park, arriving there at 5:30pm.

Then I drive by car to a supermarket, where I buy some food and drinks, then I drive to the guesthouse.

29.12: Al Ula
Abu Ali Apartments, Al Ula.
Weather: sunny, blue sky the whole day. Top temperatures probably around 20°C. Strong, cold wind.

I get up again at 7am, and get into the car at 7:40am. That is because I have booked the 8:30am old town tour and need to be at the meeting point by 8am. And I booked this early tour because it finishes at 9:30am and I have another tour at 12pm, and there must be two hours between tours on the same day, according to the Al Ula booking site.

Later I realise that I could have taken the later 9:30am tour (finishing at 10:30am), because I only need to be at the winter park by 11:30am and there is an hour of time to get from the old town meeting place to the winter garden.

In any case I arrive at 8:05am at the meeting place. There I park the car and take a shuttle for the next 600m to the place where the tour starts.

It's freezing cold this early morning, so I spend most of the time waiting inside the building, where they serve pastries (with dates) and coffee.

At 8:39am we start walking with the guide into the old town. The lady will explain some places inside the old town. Most houses are broken (collapsed roofs), but some have been restored. The mosque is being rebuilt in traditional style while we are there.

Then we walk up the fort (this has been restored). Nice views from there.

At 9:20am the tour is already over (total of 40 instead of 60 minutes) and I have over two hours to kill. I get back to the car and drive to a parking north of the old city. From there I have to take two shuttles to get back to the old city. I could actually have left the car in the first parking and just explored a bit the old town.

Actually there is not much to explore, because everything is quite fake and constructions are ongoing. Big construction machines with exhaust fumes driving around. So I get back to the car and key in the Burger King restaurant next to winter park, thinking that I might eat something (sort of an early lunch, because the next tour is from 12pm to 2pm).

So I drive to the winter park, leave the car there and walk to the Burger King. Closed, should I be surprised? I then get back to the car and wait inside there until about 11:15am. Then I check in for the Dadan/Ikmah tour.

The tour bus leaves at 11:45am and drops us off about 10 minutes later at some site next to the cliffs east of the Al Ula valley. In theory this place is in walking distance from Al Ula, but here in Saudi Arabia even shortest distances have to be covered by bus or shuttle.

We (the other tour members and me) walk to some kind of information centre. There we are offered some snacks (dried fruits) and drinks (fruit juice). Then the guide explains something about the site and its history.

We walk outside and see the cliffs in the distance (some 200m-300m). On the cliffs some tombs are visible. But we are not allowed to walk there. We are offered some binoculars with which to watch the tombs.

Some tourists who only have smartphones point their smartphones to the eyepiece of the binocular and try to take pictures this way.

I pull out the 400mm lens and attach the 1,4x teleconverter (equivalent focal length of 1120mm) and take photos this way. I bought this lens and the teleconverter from the wildlife trip this August in Borneo, brought it along, but never thought I would have needed it in Saudi Arabia.

Then we walk to the excavation site of the ancient city of Dadan. There are actually not many structures left (only a few walls).

At 1:10pm we get back to the bus and drive to the Jabal Ikmah site. Here, on the western cliffs, there is a place where there are ancient, pre-islamic inscriptions (600 BC?). From these inscriptions the Arabic script evolved. Quite interesting site.

We are back at the information kiosk/souvenir shop of Jabal Ikmah at 1:50pm. Short stop, more cookies and drinks, some shopping. Then we take the bus back to the winter park.

Once there, I get into the car and drive to the Indian restaurant I found yesterday. There I have lunch.

After lunch I drive to the Elephant rock site. This is along the road to Ha'il and can only be visited after 4pm. I'm there are 4:05pm.

This place is really cool and photogenic. A desert site with sand and huge rocks popping out here and there. One is this huge, elephant shaped rock. There is an open air cafe with tables spread in the area and music. Lots of people, who probably came here to relax and wait for the sunset.

In my case, my time is limited here, because I still want to see the Harrat viewpoint.

Shortly before 5pm I get back into the car and drive to the Harrat (Herrat) viewpoint. The road is ok, but a short mountain section is very steep.

At 5:23pm I'm at the viewpoint. Very cool place. There is a cafe with chairs and tables and music. Great views of the Al Ula valley and the surrounding mountains.

The Harrat viewpoint opens after 5:30pm according the Experience Al Ula site, but the owner of the guesthouse told me it opens already at 1pm. In fact, while driving up the mountain road, I see some cars driving down around 5:10pm. And why are there so many people already at 5:23pm? A bit strange.

I stay here well after dark, taking countless pictures. From a photographer's perspective, this is a perfect combination of place and time: sunset, blue hour, mountain top location with great views.

Around 6:25pm I start driving back. Driving down the (steep) mountain road in the darkness turns out to be less difficult than I had imagined. I stop again at the supermarket and buy some drinks, then get back to the guesthouse, arriving at 7:30pm.

30.12: Al Ula -> Medina
Doma hotel, Medina. 332 SAR for a nice room with a big double bed, attached bathroom with shower. Some furniture (table + chair, cupboard), LCD TV, telephone, fast WLAN, A/C unit which doubles as a heater. Garage in the basement. 5 minutes by car from the central mosque.
Weather: sunny, blue sky with a few small clouds here and there. No rain, some wind. In the afternoon the temperatures (in the desert climb to 25°C).

In the morning I check out and drive to the meeting place for the oasis heritage trail tour, arriving there at 9:45am. I get into the minibus. Shortly after 10am the bus drives us into the oasis.

There we get some sandwiches and drinks. We hear an explanation in Arabic about something, but not also in English after that (the group is about half Arabic - half Western). Then there is an activity (planting seeds into small pots, actually quite boring) again in Arabic only. Complaints from a South African female tourist, so they promise to provide the explanation in English as well.

Then walk with a guide through the oasis, quite interesting, followed by the seed planting activity in English at the end. Around 11:40am we get a lunch pack. Not bad, didn't expect that.

Then we are driven back to the parking (around 12:30pm we are there). Around 12:40pm I start driving towards Medina, because I already have had some lunch and there is nothing else left for me to do in Al Ula.

The road is mostly straight, empty desert road with (max.) speed limits of 100-110 km/h. At some point I stop to take some pictures of dromedaries.

I reach the centre of Medina around 4:35pm, then lose some time looking for a parking. In the end I park along the side of the road (and today apparently the parking is free).

I'm actually quite close to the big central mosque, so I walk there. It's shortly before sunset at the place is full of people. I'll spend over an hour here, until around 6:10pm when I'm stopped by the police.

They tell me (with the help of some people who can translate) that as a non-Muslim I can't be in Medina. I explain that Medina is open for tourists and it's Mecca which is only accessible for Muslims. Some more discussion, and in the end they tell me to stop taking pictures.

In fact I've been taking tons of images and my (big) camera perhaps alarmed them. However, later checking in the Internet I discover that as a non-Muslim probably I shouldn't have been so close to this mosque.

After that I walk to the KFC restaurant. There is now a long queue of people here, so I queue up at another fast food outlet adjacent to it. After this meal I walk to an ATM and get some cash. Then, I buy some drinks in a supermarket and get back to the car and then drive to the hotel.

31.12: Medina
Doma hotel, Medina.
Weather: sunny, blue sky with a very thin clouds layer. Some wind, no rain. Top temperatures probably 25°C or even higher. Quite strong sun at noon.

I get up late (8:40am) and leave the hotel at 11am. Seems I got a very light cold, because of the cold weather of the past days and because the last days were a bit rushed (had to adjust to the time zone, get up early in the morning and keep a tight schedule). But from now on the trip is more relaxed.

I've prepared an itinerary for today, touching Seven mosques, Masjid Al Qiblatayn, Uhud mountain, Dar Al Madinah museum, Masjid Quba, Masjid Miqat and the Al Hejaz railway station. These are the locations of the hop-on-hop-off bus and I'll be circling Medina clockwise, going north first.

The first stop is Seven mosques. This is a scenic, photogenic white mosque with a mountain background. Lots of pilgrims, as everywhere in Medina. I park the car in a side street, because the car traffic is stuck in the last 100m, then walk to the mosque.

I spend about 15 minutes in this place (I'm only outside and don't dare to walk into the mosque - perhaps it's forbidden, or somebody might complain about the tourist with the big camera).

When I'm back in the car I realise that I forgot to bring along food and drinks. I check a bit but can't find a supermarket nearby, so drive back to the hotel and fetch the food and drinks I had forgotten in the room. Then I drive to the Masjid Al Qiblatayn.

This is another white mosque, not far from the hotel. Again I leave the car in some side street, close to the mosque, and walk to the mosque.

Turns out that using a rented car in Medina to get from one place to the next is a good idea, because the traffic is manageable and it's easy to find a parking. In addition, somebody in a travel forum reported having to wait a very long time for taxis in Medina.

In any case in front of this mosque there is a small market (people selling dates for instance). Lots of pigeons.

I spend 10 minutes here and at 12:25pm start driving to the Uhud mountain. Getting there takes about 20 minutes, then I lose some time finding a parking, because this place is very crowded today. In the end I again park the car in a side street.

This place has a very nice, again white, mosque with the dramatic background of the Uhud mountain. You can walk up a small hill to get a better view of the mosque.

After 20 minutes I get back to the car and drive to the Dar Al Madinah museum, arriving there around 1:40pm. Then I'm told I have to wait 40 minutes to get in (apparently there is a tour in English language).

We (the other of this English language group) are only allowed in after 2:30pm. Then we have to wait more time until the tour starts.

This museum, well, turns to be not what I was expecting. There is just one big hall with exhibits. The ones we are introduced to are small scale models of Medina, Mecca and the region. The tour guide explains the life of the prophet Mohammed. I look around and in the museum I only see Muslim pilgrims.

It's good that I read about the life of the prophet Mohammed yesterday evening; makes it easier to understand the presentation of the tour guide. But really, if you are not a Muslim pilgrim, you should skip this museum.

At 3:30pm I leave the museum and drive to Masjid Quba. This is again a white mosque, a very nice and photogenic one. I spend 10 minutes here, then drive to the Miqat mosque.

The Miqat mosque is also white, but seems to be a more modern structure. I see some pilgrims wearing white toga-like clothes.

Around 4:45pm I drive to the Hejaz railway station. There I'll wait for the blue hour to get nice photos. By the way, there is a nice photogenic (small) mosque nearby it, this time not white but brown.

After 6:15pm I drive to a KFC restaurant for dinner. Getting there is a bit messy, because several roads are blocked, but Google Maps doesn't know this. It takes some effort to arrive to destination. I'm back in the hotel around 8pm.

1.1: Medina -> Jeddah
Abella apartments, Jeddah. 187 SAR for a nice small apartment (perhaps 30m²) with a kitchen area with fridge, even a pan and some dishes and forks, but no stove or microwave (so the pan is useless). Attached bathroom with shower. A/C unit which doubles as a heater. Table + chair, other smaller (round) table with two sofa chair. Ironing board and iron, cupboard for the clothes.
There is a problem with the hot water: in the morning there is none. Turns out that a switch was turned off. But after turning it on you have to wait a very long time (1 hour?) for the water to turn hot.
Weather: initially overcast in Medina, then the sky turns blue and the temperature climbs to 32°C in Jeddah. No rain until sunset. After sunset there is a huge thunderstorm (strongest after 7pm). The streets are flooded, cars drive very slowly. The temperature drops to 23°C.

I get up around 8am and by 9:30am I'm in the car on the way to Jeddah. After I leave the urban area, it's mostly empty motorway, where the speed limit quickly reaches 140 km/h.

Quite smooth drive, and by 1:20pm I'm in Jeddah. The problem is that the final piece of road to the Bab Makkah gate is missing. It takes me almost half an hour to finally reach the Bab Makkah gate (have to ask people, drive through small alleys).

So at 1:51pm I stop in front of the Bab Makkah gate. I don't park properly, because the idea is to grab some quick pictures and leave. The plan is to later park the car in a parking somewhere closer to the waterfront.

At 1:55pm (4 minutes later) I notice that my car has been connected to a tow-away truck and the tow-away truck is ready to leave (about 10m away from me).

I rush back to the car and explain that I had only been there for a few minutes.

Discussion, a Kuwaiti guy who happens to be there helps to translate. Fine of 230 SAR and the car is not towed away.

Now, my car is not blocking anything or anybody. It isn't an official parking, but later in the evening I see some other car parked where I have parked.

The amazing thing is the speed with which everything happens. Within minutes this tow-away truck shows up and is ready to leave with my car. Had he left with my car (all my stuff is inside), I would have been in the middle of nowhere with nothing (just my camera) and I don't speak Arabic.

After this I'm allowed to park the car here for free (in a real parking spot however).

So I walk into the historic Al Balad area. Quite a few old houses in local style, and quite a few being restored.

I look for a restaurant, but by the time I'm in the area where all restaurants are, it's almost 3pm and the restaurant workers do not really seem interested serving food. So I skip lunch and buy instead some snacks and drinks in a supermarket.

I walk around until 5pm and run into several non-Saudi tourists, so many that I wonder if perhaps a cruise ship just made a stop in Jeddah.

Around 5pm I sit down and decide to wait for the sunset and the blue hour. But then I get bored and at 5:40pm I start walking back to the car.

Once in the car, I key in the Serafi Mega Mall, which is not too far from the hotel. I reach the mall at 6:27pm. By now it has already started to rain, although the rain is not so strong yet.

In the mall I have dinner in the food court, then buy some food and drinks in the supermarket. By the time I leave the mall, it is raining heavily outside.

The streets are flooded, everybody is driving very slowly (30-40 km/h, some cars even less). I check in at the hotel at 8pm.

2.1: Jeddah -> Taif
Sadeem Al Fajr Hotel Suites, Taif. 211 SAR for an apartment with two big rooms and a bathroom with shower. In one there is a kitchen area (with stove, microwave, fridge, pan, pot, dishes, cutlery - you could cook), sofa, two tables, two chairs. The other room is the bedroom and has a cupboard for clothes with safe for valuables, table+mirror+small stool. A/C, but somehow I can't manage to turn on the heater.
Weather: in the morning in Jeddah a mix of sunny and clouds. Temperatures up to 32°C. After 1pm, a bit outside Jeddah, there is again a brief, strong thunderstorm (cars moving slowly, with hazard warning lights turned on). In Taif, despite the altitude (1679 m) the temperature is still 21°C and it's sunny.

In the morning I try to sleep long to recover a bit from the light cold I caught over the last few days. I only get out of bed after 9am, then there is no hot water for the shower, which causes a delay. In the end I'll check out after 11am.

I first drive to the Alrahmah mosque (the floating mosque). This is about 17km north of the hotel. When I arrive there, all access roads are blocked. I drive a bit around looking for an open road (sometimes a road is blocked because of road works), but only run into roadblocks. Very strange. Then I ask somebody, and am told that the mosque only opens after 4pm. So they remove the roadblocks after 4pm?

Then I drive to the King Fahd fountain, parking the car along the Al-Hamra corniche. But it turns out that this fountain is switched on at 6pm, and right now it's just 12:20pm. Had I known this, I would have visited the Alrahmah mosque and the fountain yesterday.

The Al Hamra corniche, by the way, is unimpressive. It's empty, not decorated and there are no kiosks selling food and drinks.

So I drive to the Jeddah flagpole. That hopefully won't be closed as well. Well, the flagpole is visible, but there is no flag.

In theory, I couild visit the Jeddah Regional Museum of Archaeology and Ethnography, but it's almost 1pm and I have to make it to Taif and am not terribly interested in the museum.

So I start driving towards Taif, taking the road via Ash Shafa, as recommended in a travel forum. Soon after I leave Jeddah there is a short, but heavy thunderstorm.

Then, at some point along the motorway there is a signboard "detour non muslims", because I'm in the road to Mecca. But my road leaves the motorway a bit later, so I run into the police checkpoint and show them my route, explaining that I'm driving to Ash Shada and Taif.

The road I'm taking is supposed to be a scenic one, but at the beginning it's not terribly impressive (we are in the plains). It starts getting interesting when we approach the mountains, and even more interesting when we are in the mountains.

Indeed I'll stop a few times to take pictures, also because the light is good.

Ash Shada is a small town at over 2200m of altitude. From there it's about 20km to Taif.

At 4:25pm I'm in Taif. Seems to be a real city, definitely not a small place. Quite clean, nicely set up, modern. Brief photo stop at a nice mosque.

I drive to the Abdullah Al-Suleiman palace. This exists, but, what should I say, it needs some restoration, because right now it's a total ruin and there are even graffiti on the walls. If it's a significant historical place, why not clean it up, restore / repair it and set it up for instance as a museum?

After that I drive to a parking area close to a restaurant area in Taif. I park the car there and walk to this restaurant area.

I notice that behind the restaurants, there is a souk (area with small shops and narrow alleys). This is not an old souk, it's quite modern actually, but still very nice and with the atmosphere of a real souk.

I explore the area a bit, then walk back to the restaurant I had spotted (south Asian / Chinese cuisine) and have dinner.

Since this trip has started I have basically been on just one real meal per day (breakfast consisting of protein milk and cake, small snacks and cookies during the day, bigger dinner in the evening). The thing is that at lunch time I'm often either driving or in a place where there is no restaurant nearby.

3.1: Taif -> Jabal Shada -> Thee Ain -> Al Bahah
Al Murjanah Furnished Apartments, Al Bahah. 138 SAR for a small apartment with a room with chairs and cooking area (fridge, stove, equipment), bedroom with A/C unit doubling as a heater, bathroom with shower. This is a budget apartment. The one I booked for 114 SAR had no heating, so I upgraded to one with heating. No toilet paper, and initially also no towel (but I get one when I ask for it). No drinking water in the room.
Weather: dark, overcast sky in the morning in Taif. Later it's still overcast and it rains. When I approach Al Bahah the sun comes out and it's mostly blue sky with some clouds in the late afternoon. Reasonably warm (21°C in Al Bahah), considering the altitude (2200m in Al Bahah).

Because of the weather and because I'm not so fit, I end up leaving the hotel late at 11am. Then I look for a petrol station to fill the tank. So I start driving towards Jabal Shada. Should be four hours driving time according to Google Maps.

The drive proceeds without issues and I pass by Al Bahah. The road immediately after that is a very scenic (and also good) mountain road. Nice views of the mountains. At the parking areas along the roads there are baboons, probably waiting for food from people.

The road descends into a valley, then climbs again to Jabal Shada. It becomes quickly very steep and difficult. Don't know what the inclination is, but I have never seen such a steep road. I'm amazed that my Hyundai Elantra can make it.

And by the way, in the lower part the road is full of mud and sand. There are smaller and bigger stones here and there, so you have to drive carefully. Then, in some spots the road is broken.

The last section is basically a one lane road.

I reach the top at 3:50pm. The altitude of this place is about 1530m according to the GPS.

I don't spend too much time here, because there isn't that much to see. Well, there are some chambers below the stone boulders. Perhaps these have been inhabited in the past.

Around 4pm I drive down again, this time to Thee Ain. On the way down, I run into a tourist family (two adults, two kids), who made it all the way up with a car similar to mine in size, but with four people inside. Some maneuvering effort to get past each other, because the road has one lane.

Getting down is surprisingly easier. In the steepest spots I set the car to the lowest gear.

I reach Thee Ain at 5:20pm. The sun is already not shining on it anymore. This is a nice, fully restored village of stone houses. (Free) parking area next to an information centre (many mosquitoes). The village is open (I don't see any gates), so I walk into it and explore it a bit. Quite photogenic place.

I'll stay until after the blue hour and will get nice pictures, because the village at night is illuminated.

At 6:15pm I drive back to Al Bahah. I've keyed in an Indian restaurant where I'm planning to have dinner. I have dinner around 7:20pm, then buy some food. I check in late in the hotel (8:40pm).

4.1: Al Bahah -> Al-Malad -> Al Touf -> Al Namas -> Abha
Qasr Aldabab Housing Units, Abha. 95 SAR for an apartment with bedroom, corridor, bathroom with shower, kitchen with fridge and microwave unit. Cheapest accomodation so far in Saudi Arabia. Not luxury, but the room is reasonable.
Weather: a mix of sunny and lots of clouds. Most of the time there is sunshine, but occasionally the sky is closed and dark. No rain, very windy. Top temperatures below 20°C.

I leave the hotel around 10am and first drive to the Al-Malad fort (16 km from Al Bahah), which actually is a heritage village. On the way I refuel the car.

The Al-Malad heritage village turns out to be quite photogenic. It's in a reasonably good shape (village with stone houses around a fort) and the place seems to be used as a cafe or for events (I see tables + chairs). But there is no information counter.

Then I continue driving, with the occasional photo stop. Shortly before 1pm I see a board with "Al Touf heritage village" written on it. Out of curiosity I drive there and have a look. In Google Maps this place is spelled as "Altouf".

When I arrive at the destination according to Google Maps, there is nothing. I ask a local about this Al Touf village, and this guy brings me there in his car (after I left my car at his home). There he introduces me to all his friends. Nobody speaks English, except for one guy who speaks a little bit. Lots of selfies with me and somebody else, group photos with me.

This Al Touf village is on top of a small hill and consists of a number of stone houses. Right now these guys are restoring it and are trying to promote it. One guy created some videos and posted them to the web. The board I saw along the motorway was placed there two months ago.

I actually came just to take some pictures, but these friendly guys keep me there until 2:20pm (and one even wants to offer lunch to me).

Then it's back to the motorway. Speed limits top out at 100-110 km/h, but often you can't drive so fast because there are many curves, some a bit narrow.

At 3:50pm, while driving through the city of Al Namas I spot a nice fort along the road. That's the Turban palace. A bit behind it there is another palace (the Mishref palace) and a museum.

At 4:15pm I continue driving, again stopping for pictures if there is something nice.

The curious thing is that yesterday when I instructed Google Maps to search for touristic highlights along the road from Al Bahah and Abha, it only found sites in Al Bahah and Abha, but nothing in-between.

I'm at a restaurant (Indian again) in Abha at 6:40pm. After that I check in, then I go to the (big) Danube supermarket where I buy some food and drinks.

5.1: Abha -> Rijal Alma -> Abha
Qasr Aldabab Housing Units, Abha.
Weather: sunny, spotless blue sky the whole day, windy. Top temperature of around 19°C in Abha, 26°C and strong sun (really hot) in Rijal Alma. Perhaps the rainy days are over?

Around 10am I start driving to Rijial Alma, a heritage village 28km from Abha. Google Maps shows over one hour of drive time, so the road probably is difficult.

Initially the road is good and quickly climbs up the mountains, from the 2200m of Abha to 2946m at its highest point. I'm guessing that the highest point can't be that far away from the summit of Mt Soudah. But the entire area is relatively flat, some kind of high plateau and there are villages and houses everywhere. Definitely not a remote area with dramatic rock walls.

Once the car reaches the highest point, the second part of the road starts. This is a very steep road which quickly descends almost 2000m (from close to 3000m of altitude to the 1000m of altitude of Rijal Alma).

Baboons are everywhere, but especially in the parking spots. Probably waiting for tourists to bring food or leave half-eaten food. There are cleaning guys at some parking areas who remove the thrash.

With several stops along the way to take pictures (the steep road part is quite scenic), I reach Rijal Alma at 12:07pm.

Rijal Alma is the most picturesque heritage village I have seen so far in Saudi Arabia. Stone buildings, with white framed windows with a chessboard pattern on top. Quite possible that what I see has been restored, because the structures behind the frontal view are all broken. 20 SAR entry ticket to get into the Rijal Alma museum.

I spend 40 minutes in this place (later I realise that I should have spent more time here, because there is not much to see in Abha), then I drive back to Abha, arriving there at 1:50pm.

In Abha I have a look at the dam (not terribly impressive, and it's only half-full), the Shamsan Ottoman fortress (also not that impressive, because it's essentially a square shaped structure and it's closed), the Al Basta district (kind of interesting due to the characteristic walls of the houses, but quite small; restoration work ongoing), the Al Bahar historical square (from far away it looks interesting, but I see lots of police cars driving in and out, so perhaps there is a police headquarter here which can't be photographed) and finally the Green mountain (access to the top part with the restaurant(?) is blocked, but nice views of Abha).

At 3:40pm I'm done with all this and I wonder what to do with the rest of the day. I go through my notes, check Google Maps, but I struggle to find something worth having a look. There is also no nice historic centre or nice souk area, where I could stroll around.

So I drive to the Al Muftaha area, but even there, there isn't much to see. I walk around a bit and, when I'm back at the car, some (Pakistani?) guy has washed my car (he only asks for 10 SAR).

At 4:45pm I have a meal (sort of an early dinner) in a restaurant I found with Google Maps. Between 6pm and 6:25pm I'm back at the Green mountain viewpoint for some blue hour shots of Abha. Then I drive back to the hotel.

6.1: Abha -> Tamniah -> Al Yanfa -> Al Habala -> Dhahran Al Janub -> Najran
Oasis Najran Hotel, Najran. 193 SAR for a room with attached bathroom with shower. The room is fully furnished, but a bit old and old fashioned (the hotel looks like a 4 star place). A/C which doubles as a heater.
Weather: a mix of sunny and clouds, more cloudy in the morning and noon, spotless blue sky after 2pm. No rain. Fresh in Abha (14°C in the morning), quite warm in Najran (26°C at 5pm).

I check out at 10am, then key in Al Yanfa. Then on the way, shortly before Al Yanfa, I see a signboard with a Tamniah museum on it and decide to go there first.

For today I have scheduled a long list of things to see. Some are villages between Abha and Najran, others are sights in Najran. Depending on how much time is left when I arrive in Najran, I'll start seeing the Najran places.

Because in Wadi ad Dawasir there is not much to see, I'm planning to spend more time in Najran. Actually there are some interesting sites along the road between Najran and Wadi ad Dawasir, but either it's difficult or impossible to get there with a sedan car (Jabal Sim'r rock art), or the place involves a big detour (Bir Hima Rock Petroglyphs), or the place requires a booking (Qaryat al-Faw).

With more time and the proper authorisations and transportation options, it's probably possible to spend a few days in the area between Najran and Wadi ad Dawasir and also the empty quarter.

In any case, when I arrive at the Tamniah museum, I discover it's closed. But nearby are the ruins of an old city (Tamniah), so I have a look and take some pictures. These ruins are not in a good preservation status, although a few buildings have been restored.

Then I drive to Al Yanfa. This is a very scenic village, with several beautiful houses. Architectural style similar to the one in Rijal Alma for what concerns the windows, but the stone fins on the walls are similar to the ones of the Al Basta district in Abha.

In Al Yanfa I run again into the same tour group of Italians I met the other day in Rijal Alma. It's a group of 5-6 people and they have a guide. Perhaps they have booked a tour. In any case, interesting that we visit the same places.

Al Yanfa is being restored - perhaps in a few years from now there will be more intact buildings.

While walking in the alleys, I run into a local who insists that I come to his place. This guy lives here (interesting), and his house is completely restored and quite livable inside, with running water, electricity, nicely set up rooms etc. He shows me his house and brings me on the roof, so that I can take some pictures.

He doesn't speak English, but even offers some tea or coffee. The problem is that I have no time and need to go to the next place.

The next place is the Al Habala viewpoint, which I reach at 12:45pm. To be honest, I didn't exactly know what this place is before arriving there. I was expecting another heritage village, but if there was one, I probably have missed it (where Google Maps directs me there is nothing, so I key in the viewpoint).

Anyway, this is a viewpoint high above the cliffs, where you can see some kind of big canyon. Quite big drop, impressive sight.

Then I drive to Dhahran Al Janub (DAJ). There should be an interesting old village there. With a couple of photo stops along the way, I reach DAJ shortly before 3pm. But Google Maps directs me to a place in DAJ where there are only modern houses.

Some checking with Google Maps and finally in the satellite view I find some old houses, and am able to see them on the other side of the hill. But this combination of old houses is not shown anywhere in Google Maps, so I can't be sure this is the exact heritage area I'm looking for.

In any case I drive there and have a look. It's a small number of houses, many just ruins, but a few are fully restored. But there is no signage, nothing which would mark this place as a heritage area.

The architectural style is different from the one in Al Yanfa. Dried mud walls, simpler windows (only white frame, no chessboard pattern).

At 3:40pm I start driving toward Najran. I've keyed in the Al Ukhdud site, to check if perhaps it's open.

When I arrive there at 4:48pm the site is already closed, but I can see that there are big, modern facilities. But nowhere is there a signboard with the name "Al Ukhdud" - quite strange. It's as if Saudis wanted to hide their historical sites, or make it difficult to find them. Or perhaps they want people to travel in tour groups, and not individually.

I have a quick look at the place, then, since it's too late for the Raum castle, I drive to the Amarah palace.

This one, when I arrive there at 5:15pm, is still open and is a big thing. 14th century palace, if I remember correctly, perfectly restored, contains a museum and is free to enter. Lots of people are there. Some locals ask me to take a photo of them.

I walk into the palace and have a quick look. Will come back tomorrow, when there is more sun. People tell me Al Ukhdud opens tomorrow at 10am (and closes at 6pm).

Around 5:40pm I start looking for a restaurant. This turns out to be tricky, because the first place I select is closed. I key in another restaurant from Google Maps, but this place doesn't exist anymore (again Google Maps has outdated information).

I walk around a bit, and finally find a kebab place where I have dinner. After dinner I buy some food in a supermarket, then drive to the hotel.

The curious thing is that I seem to be driving along the road for 15 km and urban area doesn't end. It's as if this Najran oasis consists of a 15 km long city. I check in at the hotel after 8pm.

7.1: Najran -> Wadi ad Dawasir
Boudl hotel, Wadi ad Dawasir. 235 SAR for a nice, big room, four star feeling, fully equipped (fridge, LCD TV, ironing board + iron, A/C unit doubling as a heater, lots of furniture). Attached bathroom with shower. The only small issue of this place is that booking.com has the old location of this place (4 km from here, in the middle of nowhere).
Weather: sunny, blue sky in Najran, but also a lot of haze. Some wind. Perhaps it hasn't rained here for a while. By the time I leave after 1pm the temperatures have climbed to 23°C. Towards Wadi ad Dawasir the temperatures gradually drop and reach 17°C in the evening. About 150km from Wadi ad Dawasir the sky becomes overcast.

I leave the hotel before 10am and drive to the Al Ukhdud archaeological site. Closed, still closed. I discover that the building at the site is the Najran museum. But not a single soul in sight.

So I drive to the Amarah palace, to get some daytime pictures. Wow, also the Amarah palace is now closed. It was open yesterday at 5pm, but now it's closed.

I walk around and take some pictures of the palace from the outside, then drive to the Aan palace, arriving at 11:25pm. Also this place is closed, what a surprise. I check and according to Google Maps this place opens at 4pm (although of course you cannot trust Google Maps for opening hours in Saudi Arabia).

So again, all I can do is to take some pictures from outside. The Aan palace is as gorgeous as the Amarah palace and has the same architectural style. Also this palace is in a very good shape (it must have been completely restored).

After 11:40am I drive to the Raum castle. That is, I reach the position at the base of a small mountain on whose top the castle is. But it's a quite steep slope and I can't find the beginning of the trail (assuming a trail to the castle exists).

I spend some time looking around, checking the satellite view of Google Maps, but can't find anything. The other thing is that it's noon, the sun is strong in the sky and I'm not in the mood to do some rock climbing to reach this castle right now. I'm still recovering from this stupid cold I caught 10 days ago.

So, a bit after 12pm, I key in the address of a restaurant I found with Google Maps and drive there. The restaurant doesn't exist, but I see the restaurant where I had dinner yesterday and go there (and have the same chicken kebab I had yesterday).

After lunch (after 1pm) I start driving to Wadi ad Dawasir.

It takes a while to get out of the Najran oasis. This is really huge. But then finally I reach the desert and am on a fast motorway (120 km/h max. speed).

In total it's a bit over four hours of driving time to reach Wadi ad Dawasir. The desert, at least the one I can see from the motorway, is flat and dull. Nothing interesting to see. The motorway is very straight, with very few curves.

About 100km south of Wadi ad Dawasir I stop at the Qaryat al-Faw archaeological site. The road from the motorway is initially paved. The last few hundred metres are a dirt track. Actually a solid one (not soft sand) as I find out later, I could have driven with the sedan car on it.

But because at the beginning I don't know if I will be driving on rock or soft sand, I stop the car here and walk the next 300m. I reach a fence with a board stating "Welcome to Qaryat al-Faw. For assistance pleas call xxxxxxxxx....". Perhaps this is the telephone number of the person who has the key to open the gate.

In any case, from a distance I can see some ruins spread over an area. A pity I can't get in.

It's about 5pm when I continue driving to Wadi ad Dawasir. It's still a bit over an hour by car to the hotel, but I will lose time finding the hotel, because booking.com has the wrong location. Before going to the hotel I have some dinner in a restaurant and buy some antibiotics in a pharmacy (necessary, because by now I have a serious sinusitis - should have bought them days ago).

8.1-9.1: Wadi ad Dawasir -> Riyadh -> Munich
Home, sweet home
Weather: overcast in Wadi ad Dawasir, some rain, temperatures around 15°C. A little bit more rain on the motorway, overcast the whole day. The closer we get to Riyadh, the dryer it gets. Top temperatures of 17°C in Riyadh in the evening.

I get up very late and check out after 11:30am. Today I just have the drive to Riyadh and then the late flight at 2:40am, so there is no need to rush to Riyadh.

I first have a look at the Old Emirate palace in Wadi ad Dawasir. This is somehow interesting, but right now it's undergoing restoration and the entire palace is surrounded by billboards. One of the workers would let me in if I gave him a tip, but I have no small change.

So I get back to the car and start driving to Riyadh shortly after 12pm. It takes a while to get out of the oasis (it's really big). Once on the motorway, it's a straight, mostly empty motorway, only some trucks to overtake every now and then, speed limit 120 km/h.

The scenery is relatively unimpressive. It's practically completely flat, empty desert. Every now and then some vegetation, so apparently there must be water (perhaps there are several small oases along the way).

About 150 km from Riyadh the landscape gets nicer (sand dunes, but only small ones).

I had keyed in some park in Riyadh with a lake, but when I arrive there shortly before 7pm, the access road is blocked by the police. Makes me wonder if the authorities don't want people to go to parks after dark.

By the way, my original plan was to go to the King Abdullah park in Riyadh, but I discover today that this is closed on Sundays.

So I drive to a nearby mall, the Qasr mall. This is a big mall, free parking area in the ground floor, clean but not terribly impressive.

There I have a dinner in the food court, then buy some food and drinks in the Carrefour supermarket.

After 9pm I drive to the airport. Dense, chaotic traffic on the motorway. People driving in a chaotic, some even in an aggressive way. Takes some skill to keep the car safe.

Finally, around 10pm, I'm at the airport. A couple of loops around the terminal until I find the way to get into the car rental area (you have to drive into the parking, then look for the counter of the car rental).

I've driven close to 5000 km across Saudi Arabia and managed to return the car without a scratch. Quite an achievement, considering all the (sometimes difficult) roads I've driven this car on, and all the chaotic traffic.

There are two potential issues with the car. First of all, the mileage I got is 3200 km (16 x 200 km) and I've driven the car for almost 5000 km.

Then there might be speeding tickets, because I remember that when I drove from Medina to Jeddah on the 140 km/h motorway, the radar speed traps flashed a couple of times.

And yesterday in Wadi Ad Dawasir, the speed trap flashed again, not sure why because I was only driving around 65 km/h on a road with probably an 80 km/h speed limit.

Now, fines are steep in Saudi Arabia. if you drive 145 km/h on a motorway with a 140 km/h limit, the fine is 500 SAR.

So, if I count the extra 1600 km at 0.55 SAR/km and two 500 SAR fines, I may have to pay an additional 1880 SAR for the car (1600x0.55 = 880 + 2x500).

But when everything is finished, the Avis guy tells me that everything is settled. No mileage surcharge, no fines. Almost too good to be true.

Ok, so I walk to the check in area. It's still too early to check in, so I wait a bit. After 11pm I check in, then proceed to the gates area.

The plane takes off with some small delay at 2:51am. It's quite full. I manage to get more sleep than I had expected (perhaps almost three hours), despite the tiny seats which can't be reclined and have no headrest.

Can't remember exactly, but we must have been landing in Istanbul before 7am. By 7:20am I'm in the gates area. The gate of the flight to Munich will only be announced at 8:15am.

I kill the time in the food court area, where essentially I stay until about 8:50am and have some food. Then I walk to the gate.

There it's some more waiting time. Around 9:25am the boarding starts and I'm in my seat by 9:40am.

The plane starts rolling at 10:05am and takes off at 10:16am (half an hour of delay). The flight proceeds smoothly and I even sleep again a bit. We land in Munich at 10:40am local time.

Copyright 2023 Alfred Molon