Saudi Arabia – Jeddah, Riyadh & Al Ula

The border crossing from the United Arab Emirates into Saudi Arabia took over 3 hours and we were finally stamped in at midnight. Yippee! We were the first overland truck in history to enter the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and it felt great. From the border, our first official stop was the Bir Hima rock petroglyphs and inscriptions. Next up was supposed to be the hanging village of Al Habala but the cable car wasn’t in operation so we just admired the views instead and made our way to Al Yanfa Village which is famous for its traditional mud built slate topped homes and its tunnel system linking neighbors together. The architecture here is certainly unique! From Al Yanfa, we made our way to Asir National Park which is home to the Kingdom’s tallest mountain (Mt Soudah). The temperature dropped as we climbed higher into the mountain and it was a freezing cold night. All of us were in for a rude awakening with the abrupt shift in temperature, especially after getting used to the warm climate of UAE and Oman. The next morning, we were terrorized by a troop of aggressive baboons that tore apart our trash looking for food but the view looking over the valley below more than made up for it. From Asir National Park, we drove towards the town of Abha and were lucky enough to be there for the colorful weekly Tuesday market. After checking out the rest of Abha’s highlights, we tried in vain to leave the city but trucks are prohibited on many of the roads leading towards the coast. In the end, our truck had to do a 200 km detour just to leave the city and it quickly became obvious that we would not make it to Jazan and the Farasan Islands in a timely manner. The group took a vote and it was a near unanimous decision to push on towards Jeddah instead, skipping the Farasan Islands completely. We did get a consolation visit to the heritage village of Rijal Almaa which was very photogenic. Once we reached Jeddah, morale improved dramatically as everyone quickly fell in love with this handsome port city on the Red Sea. The old town of Jeddah is a UNESCO world heritage site with incredibly picturesque wooden balconies and we were lucky enough to visit during the Red Sea International Film Festival. After leaving Jeddah, we stopped by the Al Wahbah volcanic crater and visited the Edge of the World (unreal vistas from this location). From the Edge of the World, we drove onward to the bustling capital city of Riyadh. Highlights from our stay in the city included visiting the excellent National Museum, checking out the infamous “chop chop” square where public executions take place, haggling for bargains at the Souq al Zel, having dinner at the heritage restaurant Najd Village, and checking out the amazing view from the skybridge at the Kingdom Center Tower. But the best was yet to come. On our second free day in Riyadh, we were able to score some tickets to the MDLBeast Soundstorm Music Festival. The city was abuzz with excitement for this 4 day extravaganza where over 150 artists and musicians performed across 6 stages in front of over 720,000 spectators! After dragging ourselves away from Riyadh, we crossed into Qatar for a few days before reentering Saudi Arabia on our way to Bahrain for a few days. After our Bahrain visit, we reentered Saudi Arabia yet again enroute to Kuwait and after our visit to Kuwait, we entered Saudi Arabia for the 4th and final time. On our last entry into Saudi, we had to ditch the truck (mechanical issues) and ride on a bus. Our bus driver made a beeline to the petroglyph site of Jubbah which has some of the country’s best rock art. Then he drove onward to  Al Ula so that we could visit the UNESCO world heritage site of Hegra (Mada’in Salih). Famous for its Nabataean Tombs, this was a highlight for everyone on the trip. After leaving Al Ula, we drove to Tabuk to take PCR tests. No major highlights in Tabuk and we felt our 3 hour tour of the Hijaz Railway Station and Tabuk Fortress was more than adequate. After over 3 weeks in Saudi Arabia, our time in this fascinating country came to a quick end as we prepared to enter Jordan. What an amazing country that lived up to its high expectations. Saudi Arabia rocks!

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