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Saudi Arabia

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If you saw my recent post about the Middle East and Africa, you might amaze how I manage to travel solo without a car or companions sometimes.

I always feel ecstatic when I captured the best moments in my travel life especially those off the beaten path places and unique experiences I mostly share in my social media accounts where I could tell stories to my followers and family. I also want to highlight that I am a Muslim, so visiting some restricted areas for non-Muslims like in Saudi Arabia is a privilege as an expat too.

“How did you go there?” or “You are crazy” was the first question.

So they proceeded to ask where the place is located.

 

Let us talk about the Middle East

Because we can’t trust the media is saying nowadays, my travel to Saudi Arabia and Morocco (North Africa) were the most remarkable of all. As I travel to different landscapes and weather, while my pen and a journal started to record every single memory of my journey.

Middle East

Hafiz trip by numbers:

1

 

A number common to everyone but I would like to reserve this for respect. Respect is a word I always have wherever I go. People are kind in nature, just treat them with respect and you will deserve a respect you wanted to have whether you are in the Middle East or somewhere in Africa.

 

20,896

 

The number of kilometers I traveled on the road through walking and public transportation. I was on the road for more than two months and spent difficulties in getting the right people to ask when I got lost and experienced those joys with new friends I met on the road too.

 

3

 

The number of mountains I climbed during my recent trip to Al Abha, Al Baha, Madain Saleh, and Taif. Each place has unique characteristics. Al Soodha park in Abha is the highest and coolest place in the Kingdom, while that highest peak of Madain Saleh is the hottest place with amazing  Palace antiquities. Al Baha is one of my favorite cities in the Kingdom and Taif. Jabbal Dakka in Taif never failed to impress me through its valleys and beautiful mountains situated in the West region of the Kingdom.

 

32

 

The number of companions I had a long the way. While I am not the type of traveler who set strict criteria to be with me on the road, I usually ask for a plan on how can we manage to get to a specific destination. I traveled with great people from Europe and locals of the place we are traveling.

Middle East

 

500

 

The number of distance in Kilometers where Madain Saleh, Saudi Arabia is located to the North East of Petra, Jordan. In 2008, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee (WHC) agreed on Madain Saleh site to join the World Heritage List. Thus, the site has become the first archeological site in Saudi Arabia to be enlisted by the WHC of the UNESCO. It is known that the Nabataeans had founded a large kingdom extending from their capital Petra (Sila) in the north to Madain Saleh in the south.

 

 

I’ve heard about Saudi gold from my friends before when I was not yet an expat. Until I went to Saudi Arabia’s most vibrant city and old market in Arab’s world-  The Corniche in Al Balad market. Balad is the commercial center of Jeddah which home to millions of expats from across the world including myself.

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Gold is a good investment for expats and Jeddah City is the best  option to buy. I went to Al Balad and for the first time I checked a lot of shops you can chose from. Jeddah City is undisputed commercial center of Saudi Arabia however shopping golds is something I am excited about.

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Al Balad is an old market in Jeddah and historic center of Saudi Arabia. I don’t need to rush buy golds because I am not in hurry- I want my mom would love it once I go back to Philippines for a vacation. Well, It is for an investment too!

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I had to check different shops for a better price offer. It is where my negotiation skills were tested instead of saying “khalas” in Arabic or “done close the deal” in English.

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I went to 10 shops and there were a lot of them to check. I closed the deal and bought 750 Saudi Riyals for an 18 carats of gold. Not bad!

 

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Two years ago I decided to leave my country hoping for a better opportunity working abroad. I am one of the expatriates all over the world seeking for greener pastures. Yes, you heard it right however that is the mindset of some Filipinos- to provide our family’s needs and that is true.

I got a good job in Philippines, I worked with some of the biggest Business Process Outsourcing as a Trainer in Spanish account. But then something is missing and I am not happy. Something is missing and I felt incomplete. I was lucky to have those jobs but I can’t be like that. I know, I need to do something. But I need to work to sustain my daily needs, I need to support my parents in any way. But I love to travel.

Can I be an expat and do travel at the same time? I took a decision and leave my corporate life in my home country. I  still have a corporate life however I travel. How? that is the question that I would like you to know.

IMPROVE MY LANGUAGE SKILLS

Since I am fluent in Spanish, I want to improve my Arabic language skills by using it everyday. This is one of the perks of being an expat. A simple ” Merhaba” in Arabic for “Welcome” can be rewarding. One of the less tangible expatriate benefits is the fact that a simple assignment or responsibility will improve some skills you might need in workplace. For example, I often learn a new language and perhaps I even become fluent in it. I remember meeting my friend Mohammad from Lebanon here in the city of Jeddah who also speaks Spanish but his mother tongue is Arabic. We talked about anything but in Spanish language.

My bestfriend Khawar who is from Pakistan speaks Urdu. Although we speaks English sometimes but I started to remember some Urdu words including his local dialect which is Hindko. Hindko is the local dialect commonly used in Northern Pakistan. Imagine how these skills can help you communicate with others.

THRIVING FINANCIALLY WHILE TRAVEL

 I got a good chance to received one of those coveted expat contracts when I choose Saudi Arabia in which my particular skill set is in high demand. However, what I can advice is that if you are not set on a certain country yet you need to do a research. Living in Saudi Arabia is not easy- I mean it. However it doesn’t hinders me to pursue what I love to do. My first 6 months were difficult. I need to adjust with the cultures, people, and I learned to extend my patience. Saudi Arabia is a great country to explore. I will write in my next blog on how I save money while travelling here in Saudi as an expat.

Moving to Saudi Arabia was an incredible culture shock. Having been accustomed to an open way of life in the Philippines and Spain, I just don’t know what to think before. Well, aside from the restrictions, I had wonderful experiences.

 

DIVERSITY

Growing up in a small town, I thought that diversity meant that kids from other town and kids in our own town attended my school in equal numbers. My world now has expanded beyond anything from my small town in mind could have thought years ago. I have made friends with people from all corners of the globe, from countries I never been.

 

GOOD COMPENSATION

I know most of the expats will agree that working in Saudi Arabia means you will be earning a good salary. Money and money. Having a reasonable cost of living here is good. I would prefer living in a country where I can save money than I can do whatever I want but with no funds on my wallet or bank account. The reason why I am here is to save money while having a good salary from my employer.

You’ll find that each year’s savings working in Saudi Arabia equals five years working elsewhere.

Although, I will be limited in someways and my boundaries was tested.

 

 

 

 

 

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Saudi Arabia may not have Maldives’ water temperature but in a Middle Eastern geographic location it has a lot to offer especially expats living here. To sum up, I researched nearby spots that you can go as a traveler.

I don’t need to spend a lot of money travelling here so spending is something that needs serious financial consideration.

These destinations are best accessed with your own vehicle-there is no public transportation to Al Baha, and taxi cabs are infrequent.

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I don’t do couch surfing in Saudi Arabia for security purposes. I may say Couch surfing is not really popular in Saudi Arabia. Since my goal is to travel forever even without so much money, I make it decide and to make it happen!

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I got my best friend Khawar who has been my travel buddy wherever I go. Travelling in  Al Aqiq is more fun than sleeping in my room for the whole day.

Okay, we went to Al Aqiq which we visited  a  dam and do fishing. Al Aqiq is located in Al Baha City of Saudi Arabia where the Airport is also located.

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Alright, Al Baha is a cold climate and I dare you to bring sweater and protective suits against the weather.

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Al Baha City is one of the remote spots that is usually underrated. You can also explore hidden highlands that you may not think that is existed particularly on villages. I felt there is so much history on this city, each houses has stories to tell, each silhouette has smile to show.

What will you do when driving to Saudi road?

 

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I visited a lot of places in Saudi Arabia but road trip here is quite different. My first time in driving a vast desert road with no traffic let me thought of something new- It added to my experience.

I have to accept the reality- I wasn’t in the Philippines or in Spain that will make my everyday life so easy as a traveler after my 12 hour work in my company. You might hear some horror incidents but it actually happen anywhere in the world not only in Saudi Arabia. I traveled by car in approximately 5 hours going to Al Baha City  or Abha City for 10 hours.

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When travelling by car whether alone on roads for hours, here are some important tips that I can give:

  • No Driving License Don’t Drive. This is the basic rule you have to remember when you are driving alone. Make sure you have a license with you before exploring the road in Saudi Arabia. What would be the punishment for perpetrators? You will be put on jail in your life.
  • Gas up Your Vehicle. Number 1 is important but this 2nd tip will definitely save you from being a zombie in the road where you will get stuck with camels if you are out of gasoline. I saw a lot of gasoline stations when I traveled down the road here, I also mentioned in my previous blog about  seeing ATMs in every these stations where you can withdraw money when you need it
  • Bring your Resident Card. Now, you got your driving license but never forget your resident card. Both are important because these can save you from any troubles since Saudi Arabia have strict implementation when it comes to illegal residency
  • Bring Instant Foods. During my first road trip, I remember buying a a lot of foods but I never had a chance to eat them all. Only bring water(must) and some breads to eat when your stomach will complain. No need to bring tons of foodies because you can stop over to a restaurant where you can eat sumptuous dishes and drinks

I had a wonderful experience when I traveled the road of Saudi. As a blogger, I did not wasted my time in taking pictures whether in mountains or in Sahara.

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Al Baha City– lies in the southwest of Saudi Arabia, nestled between the resorts of Mecca and Abha. At first, I was curious what Al Baha city aside from its name. I took an unplanned visit to my best friend Khawar, who is also working in one of our offices of the company. It was my 4th visit  but this time I took a road trip approximately 700 kilometers away from the city of Jeddah.I left Jeddah at 12 o midnight with my Pakistani friend and a driver.

To give you a brief description about it’s geographic information:

  • The province is known for its beauty and has green forest, a wildlife sanctuary, valleys and mountains
  • Popular tourist destinations are Raghdan, Ghomsan, Fayk, and Aljabal
  • It has a total of 53 forest
  • Homeland of the Ghamid and Zahran tribes
  • Baljurashi-the largest city in the province
  • The province comprises 13 administrative centres with population of more than 500,000

At around 5:30 in the morning we reached Qunfuda until we are on our way to the first tunnel and I was on awe while entering the cool place. It was a refreshing experience since I have been working from a busiest city in the Kingdom. The Saudi government made an impressive architectural design and engineered with strong foundation to allow the tourist and trailers pass by without any hesitation while enjoying the view of the mountains.

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The 25th Tunnel
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The view

Now, who have thought that Saudi Arabia has a place of beautiful and coolest city like Al Baha? Well the mountain has no trees to look for. Unlike any other country, mountains may have full of verdant trees and wild life, Al Baha is strategically located in a high area which makes it a cool place and perfect for vacation. I spent nearly 5 hours to reach the city with one stop over for eating and praying.

I can feel the cool air touches my skin and my inhale problems came in. The oxygen is low so I was breathing to fast than a usual.

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Foggy street of the city

I finally arrived to my best friend’s room and slept to regain the strength from hours of travel. I need to get up before 12 noon for Jumaa prayer or Friday prayer obligation to solely thank Allah for everything.

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I suggest everyone to have a car if you want to visit a lot of places in Baha. It would be hard when it comes to transportation because Taxis and private cars are not visible here unlike some cities.

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My best of friends Khawar in one of the public parks of Baha City.

Speak Arabic. Most of the locals will not speak English, if you dare you will end up on frustrations. I even tried to speak English but I got a simple nod. So, I used my Arabic communication skills in my entire visit to the city.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Working in Saudi Arabia is more than a usual. As an expatriate, I came to know some of the delicious foods that Indian eat.

I was lucky because a lot of Indian restaurants are within the area of my room. What really makes an Indian food famous? I started to devour and scouted some of the familiar restaurants or “Hotels”  around the corner- and I found it in Sharafiya. Sharifiya is a little crowded business center located in Jeddah. It is called “The Indian and Pakistani” town because of numerous restaurants and stores compressed in one place that is easy to find. I was with my co worker Fahad Mustafa, we walked under the heat of the sun and people bumped against us like a typical Mumbai market. We finally got a restaurant and ordered minimal food to eat (What I need that time is water). The restaurant staff gave us what Fahad ordered which is a spicy chicken curry with wheat bread to dip on. It was damn great to taste and I couldn’t hide my love to this food!

The Price

We paid at around 15 Saudi Riyals in total but it was worthy enough to eat a food like this. You can also check out other restaurants that offers cheap price(If any) so you can save money.

TIPS in going in there?

Well, Sharifiya is a crowded place so I would suggest that you must go with someone knowledgeable about the area like I did. If you want to go solo, you can but make sure you have to research about the place first, it could be asking questions from your friends about the place.

Dine around the corner.. You might not know some restaurants out there that is near and offers good foods to eat. Try to walk down the street and talk to them about Indian foods you want to eat unless you are not shy to ask.