Photo Credit to : RLR Imaje Digital Art and Photography
I started 2016 by challenging myself to join a travel writing contest organized by Two Monkeys Travel Group. I may have not won but I made this article also to express my appreciation for Saudi Arabia where God has destined my family to be…. a place where we started building our family’s real togetherness after surviving the 10-year physical distance.
Reposting my article:
Saudi Arabia is one of the Middle East destinations where you can find a big percentage of Overseas Filipino Workers employed. Despite the many heartbreaking work-related experiences of some kababayans (fellow Filipinos) in this country, there are still a lot of people who want to secure a job here.
If your intention is purely to earn money, Saudi Arabia is a good place to go. With the right financial management and discipline, you will certainly enjoy the advantage of working here since tax deduction is not being applied.
However, if you consider travelling here and exploring the place just like a typical tourist, you would probably have the second thought if you get aware of the limitations imposed in this country.
Known for its conservative practices, women are required to wear tarja and abaya in public places.
Men and women are not allowed to mingle with each other.
Restaurants provide separate dining places for bachelors and families.
Only a few Saudi women are employed.
Women are not allowed to drive.
No heavy make-up application is allowed.
All malls, stores, and restaurants close every time Muslims pray which they do it five times a day.
Capital punishment for crimes like public beheading is still done up to the present.
Getting aware of these things, you would not probably include Saudi Arabia among the list of places you want to visit. You may think there’s no way to appreciate this place because of its restrictions, rules and peculiar practices.
Being an OFW family for 5 years in Riyadh, we have considered it as our second home. Aside from the fact that this is where my family gets the main source of income, it has particular attributes that we have learned to enjoy.
The limitations being applied lead to the appreciation of this country’s life simplicity.
Here are some of the things my family appreciates despite being bounded by some constrains.
Consuming pork is absolutely prohibited and considered “haram” (sinful) under Islamic laws. Likewise, alcohol drinking is punishable. However, these restrictions do not deprive us from enjoying the allowed food here.
There are many available fancy restaurants and hotels that provide different international cuisines. The accessible foreign cuisines like Japanese, Asian, American, and Mediterranean food will surely satisfy your cravings.
However, the Arabic menu has distinct appeal to indulge people’s taste buds. Arabic cuisine is influenced by diversified food from India, Mediterranean and Middle East countries. Kabsa and Shawarma are the two most popular and affordable Arabic foods that will surely pacify the hunger of people from all walks of life.
If you are a “rice eater” just like most Pinoys (Filipinos), then you should not miss eating Kabsa. It is a traditional Arabian dish made with rice, chicken and mixture of spices like pepper, cardamom, saffron, cinnamon, lime, bay leaves and nutmeg that give it a unique delightful taste.
This national dish is served in a big portion that 2-3 persons can share.
To make eating kabsa more pleasurable, it is commonly eaten with the hands and prepared directly on a table covered with disposable food plastic instead of a plate.
I personally consider shawarma as an instant healthy meal. The grilled strips of seasoned meat commonly served as a wrap in Middle Eastern flat bread is very convenient to eat everywhere. Accompanied with other fillings like tomato, cucumber, onion, lettuce, French fries and garlic mayonnaise dressing, this may be considered a complete meal.
Aside from eating and traveling, watching movies is another favorite bonding activity of my family. Since there are no movie houses in Saudi Arabia, going to parks has become an additional favorite in our list.
Most of the parks have no entrance fee and everybody is welcome to gather regardless of nationality. Parks appear in various features. There are parks that typically covered with grass to comfortably lay a mat.
Some are rocky therefore it is better to bring portable tables and chairs.
Other parks have additional features to provide entertainment for visitors of all ages like dancing fountain in King Abdullah Park and miniatures of famous landmarks in World Sights Park.
Since Saudi Arabia has a desert climate characterized by extreme heat and low annual rainfall, it is more fun to spend time in parks during months of November-February when the weather is generally cold.
If you are a music lover, listening to loud music is not permitted in public. You’d better bring your headset or earphones.
It is also very important to note that public display of affection is strictly not allowed.
Saudi Arabia has very interesting culture to share among its people and other nationalities. Artifacts and other historical information do not only captivate your eyes and educate you about the past but they also broaden your understanding about the present. They serve as channels to appreciate different factors that influence its civilization.
The National Museum and Royal Air force Military (Saqr Al-jazeera Aviation Museum) are some of highly recommended museums to visit in Riyadh.
It is very important to check from the website the visiting schedule of every museum. Every establishment has specific time and day of visit for bachelors and families.
4. Shopping Spree
If you are a shopaholic person, you will surely enjoy the successive SALES offered by many malls and groceries stores. There is no need to wait for special season to grab discounted prices of branded clothes, gadgets and other accessories.
Unfortunately, this is one of the reasons why many OFWs are tempted to purchase unnecessary items that eventually lead to mismanagement of their hard-earned money.
Since Saudi Arabia is gifted by enormous supply of gold, gold souks (marketplace) is another place people love to go. Saudi gold has a better value than other gold standard. If you love collecting jewelries then you may take advantage of the lower price offered here.
In spite of this, I seldom buy gold accessories. Contrary to what others think that gold is a good investment, I consider it as a dead investment. That is why I only purchase small jewelries according to my mood.
5. Other Outdoor Activities
Exploring places outside the cities gives you the chance to appreciate the utmost beauty of this desert country. Outdoor sightseeing will surely give you breathtaking and unforgettable experiences.
To enjoy better the adventures, it is very important to consider the weather. It is extremely hot during months of May to September. It is advisable to go out on winter months to avoid the harmful effects of heat exposure.
Although it does not snow in this country, travelling to Red Sand is the best way to enjoy the winter season. The fine and smooth sand invites you to play, take a shot or simply savor the entire view while on the top of the dune.
If you are a thrill seeker, going to places like Camel Trail or Edge of the World is highly recommended. The effort you will exert in reaching the top of the ridge is worth upon seeing the path that zigzags its way to the desert floor.
If you suffer from acrophobia or fear of heights then you may prefer going to heritage villages like Ushaiger Village or attend the annual Janadriyah Feast. Here you will get ideas about the way of living of ancient people by seeing some remnants.
These places are free to visit. It may take a few hours to reach it but it is really worth seeing its distinctness.
It may not be convincing to some people the things listed here to entice them to visit Saudi Arabia.
For some, they will still prefer the conventional way of enjoyment.
Perhaps, others are unwilling to experience the unusual practices here.
You may not choose to come here as a sightseer but for certain circumstance that you have the chance to come to Saudi Arabia, take advantage to discover and enjoy this country’s unique qualities.
Respecting the culture and rules is the key to open your eyes to the beauty of this place.
People here may be confined to certain restrictions. However, my family prefers not to complicate things by asking many WHYs. There may be few things that this country offers but the limitations make us appreciate things that matter most especially for the family.
That is why, no matter what, Saudi Arabia will always be a home away from home.