Author Archives: Laura

Hello there! I'm Laura, the founder of Blue Abaya- the first travel blog in Saudi Arabia, established in 2010.  Travel has always been my passion- so far I've visited 75 countries and I'm always on the lookout for new adventures inside and outside of Saudi Arabia! Follow my adventures in Saudi and beyond on instagram:

I have the pleasure to share with Blue Abaya readers another article from “Anonymous Saudi Man”. It’s always interesting to read his view points as we hardly ever hear the Saudi men’s side to common issues in the Kingdom. This time he is discussing the hijab and what he feels has been lost from its original meaning. Read also these posts from him: Saudi Punks and Thoughts on Tribalism Love and Marriage


Islam requires its faithful to dress modestly and I know many Muslims who apply this tradition to their daily lives. I believe there are several important and positive reasons for modest dress. One reason is modesty stops the poor from feeling any shame for their lack of wealth, and it reminds the wealthy that their money is to be spent wisely and shared with those less fortunate. Another reason is modest dress helps build a friendly, comfortable society. Modest dress also invites creativity, and encourages people – both men and women – to express their individuality in artful and beautiful styles. Modest dress does not mean boring clothing!

For years Saudi women have been wearing the Hijab, Saudi men limit wearing gold and other forms of jewelry or adornment for religious reasons without really understanding the wisdom and implications of their actions.

I believe the spirit and interpretation of the Hijab is currently lost among modern Saudi youth. Perhaps they’ve been following religious leaders blindly without digging deeper into the legislations. Maybe they are simply confused, as I would assume everyone who studies religion in Saudi is. This might sound like a “Soufi” approach to the Hijab. However, I am not associated with any Soufi groups.

Modest Dress in Other World Cultures

Many world cultures have religions that strive to dress modestly. Some notable examples include the Amish Christian sect in the United States, other world-wide Christian sects (including the Roman Catholics), the Jewish settlers in Israel, secular and religious Shinto or Buddhists in Japan, and Muslims from both the Sunna and Shiaa sects in Saudi Arabia and Iran. I also see modest clothing popping up in non-religious societies like in China. I have also witnessed a revival of modesty among feminists in Western societies. It seems to me that the original meaning of modest dress in the Islamic religious tradition is much better understood in other parts of the world that by Muslims themselves.

Taking Back Modesty – Women

Modesty is also important for men. I find that people are easily impressed of other men in the workplace by the cars they drive or by the suits or accessories they wear. That is why I personally wear modest plaid shirts and a pair of simple jeans and sneakers at meetings or other work-related events. When more formal attire is required, I select a simple thobe with simple plain colored pair of sneakers. This doesn’t mean I do not wear clothing that is more fashionable, personalized, or artsy; I do wear what pleases me, just as I prescribed for women. However, I stay away from any excessive display of wealth through clothing.

Plain, simple, and equal clothing allows people to receive credit and respect for something they worked for rather than something they are given at birth. I believe this is so much more satisfying and healthy for a person’s ego and tends to help level the playing field among all people in this life.

Modesty in the Saudi Youth

As I stated earlier, it seems the original meaning of modest dress has turned into a modern phobic reaction against sex. I see the original reason for the Hijab has changed into clothing that people preach about, something that protects women from sexual threats. The Hijab is now designed to cover a young woman’s “check lists” of body parts that could arouse men’s sexuality. This makes the Hijab seem more like a punishment to young Saudi women and a reaction to men’s inability to control their sexuality.

What’s interesting is how there’s no mention in the Saudi justification of wearing hijab on how it’s supposed to limit the vanity of a woman and help keep excessive display of wealth under control. I feel the current interpretation of the Hijab has left out limiting the exposure of brand-name handbags, expensive shoes, or expensive jewelry. Those items are flaunted everywhere. The spirit of the Hijab I believe is now ignored through these displays of excess wealth. I also see this with young Saudi men. The Saudi men drive expensive German cars, wear expensive vanity accessories, brand-name watches, carry the latest cell phones, wear fashionable sunglasses, expensive jeans, designer thobes and gold threaded Bishts (Meshlah or Robes) although Muslim men are forbidden to wear gold. Sadly, I see many religious people tempted by this showing off, and some do indulge themselves in displays of wealth. They justify their actions through religious texts and opinions.

Art and Beauty Does Not Mean Expensive

Beauty does not need to be expensive. This is something that I try to live by. I don’t have to buy expensive accessories and brand names to look fashionable and artistic. In reality, most art and beautiful accessories are very personal and are not sold in stores, nor do they need to be made out of expensive materials. One might debate that expensive name brands and purchased “kitsch” actually diminishes the beauty and artistic value of an accessory or piece of clothing. Bring back modest dress in your life, and stop the excessive display of wealth. Men, you can still look elegant, smell nice, and look professional in inexpensive and modest clothing. Women, if you elect to wear the Hijab, do it for the right reasons. Spread the positive energy of modest dress through art and creativity.

-Anonymous Saudi Man

What do you think? Do you agree with his observations?

There’s no doubt that summer is here to stay. It’s getting hotter by the day with recorded temperatures reaching almost 50C! Lots of women are looking for swimming pools in Riyadh that could be used by females only. There aren’t many olympic sized public swimming pools out there, but a few great options are available for those looking for a refreshing and cooling day out at the pool. Whether you’re searching for an indoor or outdoor pool for women in Riyadh look no further!


top best swimming pools riyadh

Top Ten Swimming Pools In Riyadh-UPDATED 2017 version! 


  1. Outdoor wave pool at Diplomatic Quarters Sport Club. The DQ Sports club outdoor and indoor pool have alternating days for women and men. The huge outdoor wave pool area is more like a water park. It’s located in a beautiful garden and has water slides, kids pools and of course the wave pool. A small restaurant/snack bar inside. Membership required!

2. ESPA at Faisaliyah hotel. Women’s only spa inside the Rosewood hotel has a beautiful  indoor pool with mosaic design. There’s also a steam room and jacuzzi adjacent to the pool area. Access to pool for spa customers and hotel guests.

3. Riyadh Golf Club Sports Gardens pools. A green oasis in the middle of the desert, the Golf club has plenty of outdoor activities for families including the outdoor pool, children’s pool, mini-golf, basketball and others. Membership required.

4. Al Manahil ladies spa in the Diplomatic Quarter has a large indoor pool accessible for non members and by single payment. Modest swimwear required. Swimming classes for children and adults.

5. Al Luthan women’s only Hotel and Spa has a beautiful indoor pool and also offers aqua fitness classes.

top ten pools in riyadh

6. Al Aghar Equestrian Club inside the Diplomatic Quarters has a private pool area that can be rented by the hour for private occasions. UPDATE: Unfortunately the Equestrian club pool has been closed until further notice but might open again 2017.

7. Dirab Golf & Country Club located 44km outside Riyadh is a wonderful haven outside the hustle and bustle of the city. Two outdoor pools and also horseback riding available for ladies, abaya free zone.

8. Al Multaka Ladies Center. In addition to an indoor pool,  AlMultaka offers a spa and beauty salon, library, shops and a restaurant.

9. Many of the private hospitals in Riyadh have women only pools and offer classes with female instructors. Check out Obaid, Hammadi and Specialized Medical Center pools.
10. Private chalet/ villa/ isteraha, For family pool time or pool parties, the area around exit 8 and 9 is lined with isteraha’s (small private chalets/resort). The chalet can be rented per day basis for the whole family to enjoy swimming together or many families can rent one (some have two pools one on men’s and one on women’s side) and share the costs. There are also many new pool chalets around the airport road. 
Yamama Resort and Splash Waterpark near Thumamah have Aqua park open to children only but they also offer private villas and isteraha with small pools. Inside the city luxury villas with private pools can be rented, check for options, Viviendas Hotel Villas is amazing but also pricey.
2017 EDIT
11. Kempinski hotel outdoor pool on rooftop for women and Al Faisaliah resort women’s pool are the latest additions to hotel pools females can use in Riyadh.
12. Compound hotels. Many western compounds have hotels inside them and staying there will give you access to the pools. Check Bustan Village, Ishbilia, Kingdom City.
13. Aquatots has swimming classes for women and children in their indoor pool.
14. Women’s gyms. Check KORE
15. Swim in nature pools. Some people go to Heet cave to swim (expect crowds, graffiti and garbage) or the Hidden Canyon, granted it still has water in it. Swimming at natural rainwater lakes such as Hidden Lake, Secret Lake or Shoiab Luha pools is NOT recommended!

16. Nofa Resort in Tebrak outside Riyadh. Amazing pools to choose from. Corporate or large groups bookings only.

For men I would recommend the Intercontinental hotel outdoor pools (men and children only), Four Seasons hotel at Kingdom Tower outdoor pool, Al Faisaliah resort pool and Ritz Carlton indoor pool (all men and children only).

Intercontinental Riyadh outdoor pool area.


Lake Kharrarah Park and Hifna Waterfall in Riyadh Saudi Arabia

A lake and a waterfall in the desert, in Saudi Arabia? Yes! Believe it or not such gems do exist and of all places, in the middle of the desert. The magnificent red sand dunes outside Riyadh’s city limits hide this surprising and beautiful scenery, little known to the expat community.

Amidst the endless ocean of sand dunes lies “Lake Kharrarah”, also spelled Al Kharrarh or Al Kharaarh National Park (Arabic  الخرّارة) 

A part of the Al Kharrarah national park valley transforms into a desert lake after heavy rains. The massive surge of water rushes down the steep dunes into the valley below, forming a temporary lake, which at times can become deep enough to swim in. After the water has evaporated, the valley lake bed becomes a striking green contrast to the surrounding red sand dunes.  

The red sand valley transforms into a pleasantly green pasture where migratory birds and other wildlife can be spotted, especially in early spring when the lake bed is in full bloom. 

Another desert lake outside Riyadh is the “Secret Lake”, which is remote and unknown location to most locals and expats alike. Find the guide on Blue Abaya: Riyadh’s Secret Lake.

 **Images and text are copyrighted under KSA copyright laws riyadh beach desert lake
Lake Kharrarah Riyadh
Kharrarah Park is popular among locals for picnics, dune bashing, sand boarding and dune buggy riding. On weekdays the park is practically empty of visitors while on weekends larger crowds gather in the afternoons especially in the cooler months. Most people come to the area with SUV’s and other vehicles compatible for the desert.  However normal cars are able to reach the edges of the park because it’s paved almost all the way down to the lake bed. The best places will only be accessible with a 4×4 though.
The lake bed makes for a picturesque picnic spot, acacia trees surround the edges and the deeper end has more lush vegetation year round.  The waterfalls can be found after a short drive along side of the lake. Water gushing down from the arid sand dunes is truly a sight to behold for those lucky enough to witness it. The red sand dune area is huge; they seem to continue endlessly to the horizon billowing like a mass of waves.
The scenery becomes even more astonishing in the afternoons and cloudy days when the shadows begin to color the dunes in a multitude of colors. It’s worth exploring this area further beyond the fenced lake bed valley. There’s a paved road that goes behind the dunes around to the other end of the lake. There are numerous off road spots that can be explored with a 4×4 from here.
Climbing the dunes by foot is certainly a strenuous effort, but well worth the struggle. Going up is a great exercise too!  The views from the top of the highest dunes are spectacular. On a clear day you can see all the way to the Tuwaiq escarpment and the farms far out in the valley.
Coming down the dunes is the most fun part! Some people run, roll, jump, or slide down the soft sand on various items. Special sand boards can be used the same way as snow boards would to ski down the hills. Taking a car out to the dunes needs an experienced driver; getting stuck is a common occurrence even among the more experienced drivers. The tires should be deflated before entering the soft sand and a sand shovel and ladder will be essential in getting the stuck cars out of the sand.  Luckily there will always be friendly locals around ready to lend a helping hand!
To get to the Khararrah park from Riyadh take the Makkah highway west (route 40) proceed passing the check point and follow the road down the escarpment.  Continue on this road passing the exit to Dirab and Dhurma until you reach exit 7 Jau, take the exit and make a U-turn. You are now headed back towards Riyadh and will take the first service road on the right, then you’ll pass by a pink gas station called ZamZam gas station.
After the sign in English and Arabic for Al Kharrarh Park, turn right onto a road in rather poor condition. This road becomes a Tarmac road after a few hundred meters and then passes by some camel farms circling its way into the dune area. As the road
winds up and takes a sharp turn to the right about 4 km from the main road, you’ll see a small white mosque on the right side of the road.
The entrance to the lake valley is directly opposite from the mosque.
GPS co ordinates for Lake Kharrarah: 24° 24′ 20.63″ N 46° 14′ 43.45″ E

The pics on this post with the lake filled with water were taken on 3rd of May 2013. The water was so deep people were swimming and paddling around the lake in various makeshift boats. it’s recommended to go there extremely early on weekends because it gets very crowded, noisy and dusty in the afternoons.


Blue Abaya’s Top 10 list of tourist attractions and sightseeing activities in city of Abha in Asir Province of Saudi-Arabia, and its surroundings including Asir National Park, Jebel Al Soudah, Khamis Mushayt and Rijal Al Ma’a.

Click here to read more Blue Abaya travel articles and destination guides from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia!

Head over to this post Saudi Road Trip Riyadh-Abha to find out more about driving to Abha from Riyadh.

This article and images are protected under KSA copyright laws. Please do not use them without permission.

The city of Abha, located in the Asir Province, is a very popular holiday destination during the summer months due its beautiful scenery, the famous misty mountain tops and cooling breezes.  Tourists from all over the GCC flock here to escape the sweltering summer heat. At an elevation of 2200m above the Red Sea level, the mountainous Abha region enjoys pleasant weather year round. Asir region has plenty of attractions to do and it might be a challenge to decide between all of the fun and interesting activities.

misty mountains asir province ksa

1.  Visit the New Abha resort and The Abha Lake Dam. Stroll around the lakeside in the 300,000 sqm garden and dine at the luxurious Abha Palace Hotel with fantastic views of the lake and the city. You can take a scenic cable car ride from the resort to the Green Mountain.

2. Take a thrilling cable car ride down to Habala, the Hanging Village. This ancient village was built halfway down a cliff face and it used to be only accessible by ropes. It’s believed that the villagers fled the Ottomans here and lived in isolation completely self-sufficiently until they were rediscovered by a Saudi army helicopter. The site is a unique piece of Saudi history but unfortunately it has become quite commercialized in the last few years but it’s still worth the visit. The cable cars usually run only during the holiday seasons.

Habala Rope Village. Photo: Laura Alho

3.. Drive up to the Green Mountain in the middle of Abha city. The “mountain” is actually a hill overlooking the city which is beautifully lit with green lights in the night. There’s a restaurant and café on the top with a nice outdoor terrace enjoying amazing views of Abha. Try the mint tea and sheesha while enjoying the sunset and the cool breezes on the terrace. On the way up be sure to stop at the excellent souvenir shop. There’s also a small restaurant decorated like a traditional Asiri mud house in the basement of the shop.

4. Take a hike in the nature to the various parks inside Asir National Park such asAl Qara’a, Al Souda, Al Wardeh, Dalafan, Al Jarrah, and Al Hassab.Wander around the juniper forests and spot some of the 170 bird species that make this region their home.

5. Take in the jaw dropping scenery in Soudah and marvel at the highest mountains in Saudi Arabia including the tallest peak, Jebel Soudah rising to 2910m. The mountains are famous for the mist covering the mountain tops which makes the atmosphere almost mystical. It’s always cool and serene up here.  Enjoy a picnic in full privacy with only the wildlife to interrupt the silence.


6. Take the Al Soudah cable car ride down to Rijal Alma’a heritage village. Visit the museum and the traditional food restaurant or just take a stroll in the beautiful valley. Don’t miss the beautiful interiors full of al Qatt al Asiri. 

Rijal Alma’a village. Photo: Laura Alho

7. Try some extreme sports in an extremely beautiful environment. Paraglide down from the mountain tops! 

8.  Discover Asir regions traditional architecture by visiting the Shada Palace, Al Milfa Palace and the old mud houses dotted around Abha. Visit the AlMiftaha village turned museum to see how people lived back in the day and check out the local artists displaying al Qatt al Asiri artwork. 
9.  Meet the famous Arabian Baboons that can be spotted beside most of the mountain roads. There’s a population of them near the Soudah cable car ride scavenging food from tourists. Be mindful of children with food in their hands, the baboons might attempt to grab it!

  10.  Explore the legendary Asiri souqs that have been named after the days they’ve been held on for centuries; Abha’s Tuesday market (Souq Al Thulatha) and its sister city Khamis Mushayt’s Thursday Market ( Souq al Khamis). The Tuesday market has a separate women’s souq run by all female vendors and the Thursday Market boasts some of the best gold and silver Bedouin jewelry in the region. Other finds are white or gold honey, colorful straw baskets and hats, traditional embroidered women’s dresses, Jambiyah (daggers), frankincense and ‘shab’ a white powder used by locals as a natural deodorant and antiseptic.

 More travel inspiration from Saudi Arabia: Check out the Wanderlust KSA posts!

Have you been to the Najdi village restaurant in Riyadh yet? I would highly recommended visiting this amazing Saudi restaurant that serves traditional Saudi dishes in a heritage house built like the old houses of the Najd region. Visiting Najd Village restaurant would be a great a learning experience for all expats about the traditional Saudi lifestyle, architecture and of course food! The Najdi Village restaurant is also THE place to take guests visiting Riyadh for the first time.

Al Qaryah Al-Najdiya-The Najdi Village Restaurant
 For the ultimate Saudi experience, a visit to the Najdi traditional village restaurant is a must for all expats and visitors to Riyadh. The restaurants are built in large mud houses, built in traditonal Najd style complete with inner courtyards, water wells, bread ovens, majlis and colorful Saudi doors.
There are currently four branches of the Najd Village restaurant in Riyadh:
-Abu Bakr Road (opposite PSU)
-King Abdul Aziz road (near Kingdom hospital)
-Bujairy Square (Historical Diriyah)
-Takhasousi road
Here is the location of the first branch on Abu Bakr street (images on this post are from this branch):   24°44’33″N   46°42’17″E.
 Najd Village restaurant located on Takhasousi road, I would not recommend going there because most of the time it’s open for men only and gets too crowded in the weekends when they allow women and families to enter. The other branches are much larger and prettier inside.

My favorite Najd Village location is the one set in beautiful surroundings in historical Diriyah al Bujairy square. Read more about Diriyah and find the location of the Diriyah branch of Najd Village in this post: 10 Things to do in Historical Diriyah 

najdi village restaurant

Najd Village restaurant Abu Bakr street branch

The building itself has many interesting details and vividly displays the traditional Saudi lifestyle, decor and architecture.  Guests will enjoy not only the delicious Saudi heritage cuisine, but the entire building and little details which make it almost like visiting a cultural museum. Stepping into the restaurant is like stepping back in time.

The restaurant is divided into singles and family sections. The men’s entrance is lined with intriguing artifacts, colorful old doors, cooking utensils, Bedouin jewelry, spices and food items. Guests are lead to an open air courtyard typical to Najdi homes from back in the day when ventilation and light was provided through it. The courtyard is surrounded by the dining majlis and a watermill.

traditional Saudi majlis Najd village restaurant

The family entrance is from the side of the building, visitors pass by some antique cars on the way.  Najdi style decorations, architecture and friendly waiters dressed in traditional Saudi attire welcome the visitors.

Najd Village restaurant Riyadh

There’s a choice to dine in an open area, tent-like rooms or private rooms decorated to look like Najdi living rooms, majlis. There’s a watermill in the center of an open air courtyard which allows the natural light to enter during daytime and star-gazing during the evenings. The majlis are complete with air-conditioning and fireplaces. The tents are very romantic with lanterns hanging from the ceilings. No chairs or tables here, seating is on cushions on the floor and food is served from traditional plates placed on large straw mats.

The Najd Village restaurant is quiet during daytime but in the evenings and especially weekends it gets very busy and reservations are recommended.

The food is very tasty and reasonably priced allowing the visitors to order many different Najdi specialties. For groups of more than seven people the best way to sample all the different flavorful dishes is to order the elaborate set menu. It includes everything from various freshly baked breads, dips, salads, soups, chicken, vegetable, lamb and camel dishes, dessert and Arabic coffee, tea and dates.

A meal with five dishes would cost around 100 riyals. Portion sizes are so generous that it’s enough for two persons to eat a filling meal and still have some left to take home. Najdi Village is the best place to try unique and authentic Saudi dishes and of course camel meat!

Especially nice here are the Jareesh (barley grain with yogurt and caramelized onions), Haneeni, (wheat dough, dates, butter and milk) Marasiya (Saudi pancakes) and Mataziz (wheat dough pieces cooked with vegetables and meat). The chicken dishes are especially succulent and tender. On the menu are also some more “modern” Saudi foods such as chicken Kabsa.
All meals include complimentary flat bread, Arabic coffee and dates. Eating is with hands, but utensils are available for those not accustomed to eating the traditional Saudi way. The best indication that the food here is delicious and authentic in taste is seeing how many Saudi families enjoy the Najd Village restaurant. It doesn’t get more authentic than this!


Guide To Visiting Janadriyah Cultural Heritage Festival With Children- How to make the Most out of it? 

The annually held Cultural Heritage festival Janadriyah is definitely one of the most important cultural events of the year and a must visit for all expats in the Kingdom of Saudi-Arabia. This is when you can immerse yourself in the Saudi culture, enjoying what the real Saudi-Arabia and the friendly hospitable Saudi people have to offer.

Janadriyah Festival for National Heritage is like a window to Saudi culture, customs, history and way of life. You will get to experience hands on how diverse and rich in heritage Saudi Arabia really is.

I’m always encouraging expatriates to attend this festival, and I wanted to write a guide to ease minds of those going there with children. Janadriyah is a perfectly safe place to visit and free for everyone! 


Visiting Days: Family days are beginning from Monday 8th February 2016 everyday until February 20th.

Visiting Hours: Gates open officially at 4 pm. Usually right after Asr prayer they will start letting people in, everyday until midnight. Arrive early to avoidkids janadriyah guidemassive crowds.

No Entrance fee or parking fees,

Free maps of area in English at entrance.

Janadriyah Village Coordinates: GPS co-ordinates: 24.958592, 46.794462

Location Google Maps:

Moms Bring with you: Stroller, headscarf, wet wipes, hand disinfectant.

Dads/Drivers: Best place to park your car: from main entrance road, drive toward the gates and park on the lefthand side parking lot, opposite to Najran pavilion. Recognizable from the tall tower and giant Saudi flag.

Park to the left of this road.


There is something for everyone at Janadriyah! Here are some tips on fun activities with kids and where to find the best places at the Janadriyah village for families. The vast festival area may seem daunting for first time visitors, there seems to be endless places to see and it might be hard to choose which areas to go to, but this guide will help you make the most out of your time at Janadriyah festival.

 The best time to visit for families with children would be on the weekdays, weekends get super crowded and entering/ leaving the area can take hours. It’s best to arrive as early as possible, so be at the gates when they open. Officially the festival starts at 4pm, but on many occasions they will open the gates much earlier. There are plenty of vendors outside the gates selling everything from toys, all sorts of trinkets, Saudi foods, flags and more. With luck it’s possible to find Saudi ladies who will make quick beautiful henna tattoos for 15 sr on visitor’s hands.

On weekends the festival area will get very crowded especially after Ishaa prayer it’s going to be fully packed. The parking lot is disorganised and can get chaotic. Enter from the front gate, which is directly opposite the highway. Upon entering the area (admission is free for everyone) make sure you take a map from the info stands;

they will have English language maps too. Maps are not available anywhere else!

Staff will provide small children with wrist bands that have the parent’s mobile number on them in case they were to get lost in the area. A stroller would be a must because the area is huge and takes many hours to walk around it.

Start out by exploring the Jizan Province and Farasan area directly to the left from the gates. A large white wall marks the entrance. The Jizan dancers are fun to watch, their dance is very lively and the beat is fast and gripping. Children will love the show, the traditional fishing boats and there’s a camel running a sesame seed mill. From this area you can buy beautifully scented jasmine flower necklaces and flower hair bands for the kids (and why not adults too).

The recommended area to visit next to the Jizan Province is the Qassim region. It’s the one with the highest watch tower and the surrounding marketplace.  For kids there’s camel riding at the square.

Don’t miss the camel caravan, Arabian horses and the traditional black and white Bedouin goat hair tents next to the Qassim square. there’s also a traditional Saudi farm where you can see how farms where run back in the day.

Try these Saudi foods from Qassim Province:

The sweet Kleja breads made by the Bedouin women in a special Kleja-oven on site.

Various kinds and shapes of delicious mammoul (sweet biscuits filled with date paste and jam).

Dates! Qsssim Province is famous for its annual dates festival, ask to taste different types of dates.

 Another must-visit Province area is Medinah al Munawara, easily recognizable from the golden dome. Skip the food here (somewhat overpriced) but try to catch the men dancing the famous “spinning” dances. This area also has a nice bazaar for buying souvenirs such as Arabic coffee pots, tea cup sets, hand-made colorful baskets, lovely oudh and perfumes. You can also get fresh organic herbs and tea, lots of different Saudi spices plus there’s a traditional bread oven to grab some fresh bread from.

Another area children will enjoy is the big Eastern Province marketplace, located on opposite side of the Medina building marked by a large gate with wooden doors. Here you can go on donkey carriage rides, climb on a huge fishing boat, see boa snakes and join in on the Saudi traditional children’s games. There’s also a nice Saudi restaurant here in the middle of the market worth trying out.

Visit the Eastern Province area nearby if you’re interested in seeing the hunting falcons and for a chance to hold one. You’ll also find a replica of the Qara caves of al Hofuf (caves if Ali Baba!).  The architecture is beautiful inside and outside of the houses of Dammam area. Here you’ll see Saudi craftsmanship skills at their best, sandal cobblers, basket weavers, dallah coffee pot makers, fishermen making small sailing boats and much more.

For the girls and moms it’s worth visiting the women’s only hall where you can experience and see traditional Saudi women’s attire, music and dances.

Women’s area entrance Janadriyah

For the boys and dads there’s the Saudi National Guard exhibit next to the Makkah area where you can see tankers, helicopters and other military equipment.
Don’t miss the traditional Sword dancing shows, “Ardha” which can be found in all the province areas.
Aardh Dancing from Ha

Aardh Dancing from Ha’il province Janadriyah Festival

Janadriyah is definitely the best way to take a quick course on the Saudi culture and customs!

saudi girl traditional dress

Complete Guide to visiting Janadriyah, Saudi Arabia’s National heritage and Cultural festival in 2016, click here!

It’s almost time for the annual Janadriyah Cultural Heritage festival, organized in 2013 for the 28th time. I for one have been waiting for this festival for months. I truly love going to Janadriyah and have been there every year since I came to Saudi in 2008 and some years I went on several days. The festival has surely changed a lot over the years but some things remain the same like the cheerful atmosphere.

I think every expat in Saudi should visit this festival, not just to see the beautiful architecture, heritage and traditions of the various provinces, but to experience what the Saudi people are truly made of. This is such a unique chance to interact with Saudis from all over the Kingdom and embrace their culture.  If you plan on going make sure you check out this post for Blue Abaya’s Top Ten Recommended Things To Do At Janadriyah Festival to make the most of your experience!

The feeling of joy and happiness at Janadriyah are simply contagious. One simply cannot go to this festival and leave with a sour face! It’s impossible! Everyone enjoys Janadriyah! Unless of course…

You happen to be member of the Saudi religious police, who do not find this festival fun. At all. But hey, that’s their loss.

Time to take a cultural bath!

Trust me you will be surprised if you thought Saudis are rigid and don’t know (or want to) have fun. Boy are you in for a shocker! At Janadriyah you will see Saudi women men and children laughing and having fun in public some dressed in funny outfits or wearing wigs,  hats and over sized glasses. Many women will be wearing beautiful decorations on their veils and men can be seen donning flowers in their hair! Who would have thought?

At Janadriyah village you will find the young and the old, the city people and the desert dwellers, the professors and the farmers, Sunni and Shii’a, craftsmen and women, Saudis of all backgrounds, colors and regions come together. Millions of Saudis flock here every year.

Janadriyah unites the Saudis.

That is what the true magic of this festival is all about. The national pride, the unity and the sense of togetherness just can’t be experienced quite the same as it can be at Janadriyah.

Janadriyah is like a social experiment. An experiment that exceeds all expectations. An experiment which should be an eye opener to many. Saudis are fully capable of behaving in normal and decent ways despite the gender mixing going on, of course, why wouldn’t they!

I never once was harassed or approached in a negative way there, EVER.

And let me tell you that I’ve visited this festival a total of 13 times with many friends of different races who share the same positive experiences. Everyone was genuinely welcomed and shown respect. No leering, outrageous flirting, passing of mobile numbers and thank goodness no grabbing or groping. All of these on the other hand, I’ve experienced in malls or on the streets in KSA. So how is that for proof that allowing normal human interactions in the public sphere of Saudi Arabia does not result in chaos and men jumping on women (which some people are convinced were to happen if gender mixing were allowed).

To some Saudis at the festival, a foreign visitor is almost as much of an attraction as the actual festival. Saudi women will come up to foreign women (especially blondes I guess) for a photo, or they will secretly film us with their cameras and phones. They might be giggling, in this instance not in a bad way but a genuinely curious and friendly way. The women might be shy to approach you so I would recommend foreigners take the initiative even if you don’t know any Arabic. You will not regret it. They will want to welcome you to their country, know where you’re from and what you think of the Kingdom. Some might want to show you around and explain the things going on.

Notice the “secret” photographers in the background :) We later talked to them and took lots of group photos.
“Welcome to Saudi-Arabia” is the most common phrase a foreigner will hear at Janadriyah. I encourage everyone to embrace the culture, get to know the Saudis. Laugh with them, dance with them, joke around with them. You will soon realize that they are just like anyone, like you and me. Don’t be afraid to make the connection. You will remember these times for the rest of your life as the best moments of your time in Saudi Arabia.
Now I’ve been around a lot of expats here and I’ve heard over and over how it’s impossible to meet Saudis or talk to them and how Saudis are such “insert negative adjective here” people. If you never met any let alone spoke to them, how can you even make a statement like that? There are rotten apples in every country and culture. Don’t be that rotten apple of YOUR culture or country by thinking that Saudis are all bad.

Don’t judge the whole nation just because when you went to the shopping mall a woman cut you in line or a man didn’t open the door for you. Accept that there are differences in our cultures. Now I for one can say this is not always easy. I do rant, I do complain sometimes. But you know what guys? I still keep an open positive mind. I refuse to become bitter, hateful and isolate myself from the culture I happen to live in. Some of us are here voluntarily because we were interested in the culture and the country, many came just for the money, some followed their spouses and were thus “forced” to come.

Get out of your bubbles and compounds and visit Janadriyah with an OPEN heart and mind is my advice to you :) Leave your prejudices at home. Drop your guard. Open your mind.

The following is a photo collage from previous experiences from the festival over the years. Please DO NOT use these images without my permission. These are some of my most cherished memories and moments from the Magic Kingdom and I am sharing them with you to spread the joy and bridge the cultural gaps out there!

Notice the bloke on the left? Definitely not a Saudi but he has joined the Makkah region wedding parade. Looks like he really embraced the culture!

P.S I spent many days compiling this post for your enjoyment :)
P.P.S. The woman appearing in the photos is a good friend of mine who has worked the past five years in KSA and truly loves the Saudi culture!

One of the perks of living in the Middle-East and particularly Saudi-Arabia are the amazing travel opportunities it opens up. Many places of interest become geographically closer for expats originally from the Americas, Europe and Asia. Travel is also relatively affordable and there are direct flights and good flight connections from Saudi and the GCC countries. Some of the cheap airlines have great promos and affordable prices around the Middle East. What’s pretty cool about working in Saudi Arabia is the annual leave. Many expats in KSA get more than 50 days a year paid annual leave. That leaves plenty of time to explore the surroundings, both inside and outside KSA. Here are some of my favorite destinations to visit from Saudi Arabia.

top ten escape destinations from KSA


Some destinations are great for a weekend getaways and others I would recommend for more than a week long holiday. The possibilities are really endless! The following are my personal favorites as a traveler that prefers the roads less traveled and places to connect with nature and wildlife. That’s why you won’t find Bahrain or Dubai on this Top Ten list. There’s nothing wrong with those two destinations, just not necessairly my cup of tea as a traveler who prefers less crowded destinations with lots of nature around. On this list I want to focus more on the quality of the destinations in terms of historical value, local culture, local food, unique nature.

My top 10 places to travel to from Saudi-Arabia: (in no particular order!)

1. Maldives
Maldives, the paradise islands where honeymooners and couples flock from all over the world to spend their dream vacation. Many do not know that the Maldives can be reached with a direct Saudi Airlines flight from Riyadh, making it very easily accessible even for a shorter trip. The flight from Riyadh to Male is just 5 hours! Picture perfect beaches, luxury overwater bungalows and world-class diving await the visitors. Many will be surprised to learn that there are family friendly options in the Maldives, such as the Sun Siyam Iru Fushi resort- which is really the ultimate Maldives resort choice for families with kids. Kids stay for free there so it will not break your bank either. Read more about it here: Maldives Paradise Island Getaway for the Family 

2. Yemen

The current security situation is of course a serious concern, but in the occasion the situation calms down, hopefully very soon, Yemen is a MUST VISIT destination. Purely from the historical point of view, Yemen and especially the capital Sana’a is a unique, world-class destination. The architecture, the landscape, the people, the nature, the culture..It’s too much to even begin to describe the amazingness of what Yemen has to offer. I will only say, If you ever have a chance to visit Yemen, do not miss out on it. Especially Socotra Island, which is to date my favorite destination from all the 65 countries around the world I’ve been lucky to visit so far. There is a way to visit Socotra island without going through the mainland, which might be the only way to visit Yemen in the meantime. frankincense tree socotra island



3. Oman

oman pic collage
IMHO, the world’s most hospitable people are the Omanis. I have never felt so welcomed, my every need and wish catered to with such genuine, overwhelming hospitality than what I experienced in Oman. Some examples of the Omani people’s character: I traveled there alone so I felt a bit awkward at times as a female in an Arab country. However I was not harassed even once while there. One afternoon as I was collecting small pink seashells from the beach, a group of young Omani boys that were playing football on the beach came to help me. At first I found it odd, but after a while I realized they genuinely just wanted to help me. We had fun searching for the pink ones and managed to gather a large amount. I thanked them, and being accustomed to little boys only doing such arduous jobs for tourists because they want our money I thought to myself, they surely want to get paid now! As I was handing over some cash telling them to go buy ice cream they all firmly refused. I was insisting but they declined and smiled and told me it was a gift. I thought it was the perfect example how Omanis don’t see tourists as only walking money machines but as honored guests to their beautiful country.

Oman has many places worth seeing, the capital Muscat has a mystical feel to it and it’s nothing like the other busy, crowded and materialistic GCC countries. The country is full of interesting historical sites and amazing landscapes like the numerous Wadis with emerald green water to swim in. Oman is one of the few places in the world where tourists can be 100% sure to be able to watch sea turtles come to shore to lay their eggs in the middle of the night at Ras al Jinz.

4. Sri Lanka

sri lanka infinity pool beach

Easy and cheap to reach from Riyadh with a direct flight, Sri Lanka is a charming little island in the Indian Ocean. A nice combination of nature,history, culture and friendly people, Sri Lanka has surprisingly many options for the traveler despite its small size. The magnificent tea farms and majestic mountains make for wonderful trekking opportunities! There are palaces and temples to explore, delicious spicy food to enjoy and bustling little cities and towns nestled in the mountains waiting to be explored. And of course some pretty amazing beaches!

5. Jordan Very easily reachable from Saudi even for an extended weekend, Jordan is an absolute must see destination! From Amman the Dead Sea is quick to reach and the spas dotted along its coast are just divine! Movenpick Dead Sea Resort and Spa is absolutely gorgeous! The hotel has a tranquil atmosphere, an amazing spa, several different pools all overlooking the Dead Sea, relaxing treatments and great restaurants.
The world famous tombs of the Nabatean people can be seen in ancient city of Petra, which sis a sister site to the one in Saudi called Madain Saleh. Petra gets pretty crowded with tourists year round and its best to book early for peak seasons. The ancient city of Petra is surrounded by the most strangely shaped, rose-colored mountains. Jordan has plenty of other historical sites, as well as Wadi Rum and a beach destination, Aqaba on the Gulf of Aqaba.

dead sea


6. Hong Kong
The dynamic Hong Kong has something for everyone! Superb shopping, delicious food, beautiful  and surprising scenery. Worth a visit on its own but also great for a stop-over when continuing further East.

7. Tanzania

The best safari experience I had so far has been in Serengeti and Ngorongoro crater. Especially during the great migration this place is truly magical! A visit to Tanzania would not be complete without seeing Zanzibar, the Spice Island! One of those few places left where the only people on the beach besides you are the local fishermen. Amazing diving!

zanzibar fisherman

8. Kuwait
Saudi-Arabia’s tiny little neighbor is greatly under valued as a tourist destination. Only an hour flight away from Riyadh, Kuwait is definitely worth a weekend trip and great for a quick getaway from Saudi. Personally I like the more quiet vibe here which is a nice change to the busy and crowded Dubai for example. Read more about Kuwait here.


kuwait towers

9. Malaysia
Very popular among Saudi tourists, Kuala Lumpur and Langkawi are the best know destinations in Malaysia. But this country has so much more to offer! Diving, trekking, history, rain forests, wildlife, architecture, shopping..Malaysians are known for their courtesy and fabulous food! My absolute favorite place in Malaysia is the tiny island of Perhentian Kecil!malaysia beach perhentian

10. Turkey
Last but definitely not least, Turkey, particularly Istanbul is an amazing destination and super easy to get to from Saudi Arabia. Check out Blue Abaya’s post on Istanbul to understand why you shouldn’t miss it!


Now I’ve caught the travel bug!! What places would you add to the list?


If you’re looking to stay in Saudi Arabia for your holidays there surely is not shortage of places to visit! Start from our Explore Saudi Arabia page to browse some local destinations.



Darbawi- The Saudi Punks. Remember the “Anonymous Saudi Man” who shared with us his insightful thoughts on tribalism, love and marriage in Saudi Arabia? (You can read that post here.)

I’m so excited to share Saudi Man’s candid thoughts on Blue Abaya for the second time. I really enjoy his open and to the point approach of analyzing the Saudi culture. This time he’s bringing a very interesting and unheard of phenomenon to our attention. In his article Anonymous Saudi Man analyzes the sub culture of  the so the called “Saudi punks”, the Darbawiya, in Saudi Arabia and its parallels in the west. It’s my first time to hear the term ‘Darbawiya’ or ‘Darbawi’ and to learn such detailed descriptions from their drink of choice to power dynamics and sexual preferences.

Please leave a comment below and let him know what you think!

Darbawi And Punk

“I like to consider myself an observer of western and especially American subcultures. I am Saudi/American but I always find other sub-cultures fascinating. I have hung out with punks, emo, classical hippies as well as neo hippies, Hip-Hop followers from underground to Hip-Pop (yes they branch out), pop followers and with anyone who really identified themselves as a sub-group of society. It was fascinating and very entertaining.

When I got back to Saudi Arabia I found that I got detached from such interactions, this is part of why I get bored in Riyadh. Lately though I have discovered a sub-culture in my own backyard that I have never observed from a foreign eye. Those are now called Darbawiya, or “the people on the path”. They are a group that share lots of parallels with the punk culture in the western countries. I will, in this article, define both and talk about their parallels.

darbawiya the saudi punks

Darbawi- The Saudi Punks.

So what is punk?

This is a very debatable question, but lets summarize my observation in a couple of points that define “Punk”

● resistance to authority

● lack of sense of danger

● listen to high tempo rock music

● shocking and alternative fashion

● glorification of anarchy and chaos

● glorification of being unrefined culturally

● alternate sexual preferences

● Distinct Brands of Beer that they consume

● some are highly self educated

To me, this is what defines being Punk, regardless of fashion or music you listen to. The punk culture became more of a “for show” scene these days, but many still hold true to the punk spirit. Punk can be a positive force in changing societies and forcing them to question social norms. Sadly punk also became synonymous with substance abuse.
So who are the Darbawiya?
Darbawi in their modern form have always existed under different names. They are a group of male Saudis in the central or eastern parts of Saudi Arabia, they probably exist in other areas too. They are usually from low income, uneducated families and they really didn’t have a chance to become something. They lived a more simple and primitive life compared to city folk and still held tribal values strongly.


They are young men who usually competed with each other on more traditional masculine testosterone driven traits and challenges like physical strength or fearlessness in the face of danger. This translated to their love of drifting with cars dangerously, love of firearms, constant fights and glorification of old tribal feuds.

Like in most male dominated societies, many prisoner social dynamics start showing up. For example, domination of softer males through homosexual acts, similar to those that we see in high security prisons. These acts do have a presence in the darbawiya scene.

These people were called many things in the past, some call them bedouins, “sand dunes”, or nomads by city and educated folks. I was surprised to hear that lately they started to call themselves, Darbawiya or Darbawi. 

So where does the word “Darbawi” come from?

 It’s relatively new. After doing a little research I found that it’s in reference to a web forum called “darb alkhatar” or “path of danger” where people post their drifting videos and talk about their adventures with other people from that same group. So people who attended that forum regularly started calling themselves the “Darbawis” or “Darbawiya”. Soon everyone who shared their interest started having the same name. I also backed up this theory by asking many people who have interacted with Darbawiya.

How is that Punk?

Darbawi have some traits that are very similar to Punk. So what are the shared traits you ask?

● Resistance to authority

Many Darbawis do illegal drifting and escape from police and drink and drive as a way to prove their “I don’t care” and “I don’t give a F***” attitude, which is the core principle of being punk. Some of them also hold illegal firearms. Since at its core darbawiya are more traditional, they still hold tribal authority dear to them and stay close to their tribal roots, which is a contradiction that is very fascinating to me. I wish to dig deeper into that one day. It would be an interesting topic for the discussion in the comments.

● Lack of sense of danger

High speed Drifting is scary enough, especially when people die regularly as spectators to races at illegal drifting parties. Also drinking home made alcohol, smoking cigarettes hashish and shooting guns while drifting is an extreme challenge for many darbawis.

● High tempo music 
Many love more traditional songs that are sped up to be on high tempo. Of course there are some known musicians that Darbawis hold to higher levels, like “Azazi”. Sped up traditional music really resembles how punk might have started, and it has become a core Darbawi trait. Many sub-cultures get defined by the music they listen to, and this is no different with Darbawis.


● shocking and alternative fashion

Darbawis wear traditional garments and thobes. They choose not to wear fancy thobes or designer shoes, but rather wear really cheap traditional clothing and cheap eastern sandals, which makes them look raggedy and dirty. They also started showing up wearing only their undergarments as to shock people. They often use their shumaghs to cover their faces. that is also very punk of everyday life, and tend to commit many traffic violations.

● glorification of being unrefined culturally

This is a new trait that I started noticing, being proud of being uneducated or being from unrefined backgrounds is a really scary thing to see glorified. Here is where I see some differences between darbawis and punks. Most Punks have a cause or a purpose. Some of the punks I have met are highly educated and opinionated about politics and are very aware of the political atmosphere, but with Darbawis, it’s different. I can’t help but wonder, will an educated few from them be the leaders of the pack in the future? Will it evolve to a movement with a cause later on?

●  glorification of anarchy and chaos

I think that goes without saying with the first point I made. Glorification of anarchy and chaos gives them more credit in the resistance to authority arena. They don’t follow rules of ignorance. Being uneducated is a good thing for them as that feeds into the first points again, resistance to authority.

● alternate sexual preferences

In high security prisons we find people abusing others in homosexual acts due to power dynamics. Sometimes it’s not about the sexuality but about the power trips. This happens with Darbawiya. Not all of them participate in this of course, but there are some incidents that rose that supports this as a thing that happens in the scene of darbawiya.
To me what people do behind closed doors is their own business, but once rape and pedophilia comes into play it starts to get disturbing. Many kids go to these Drifting parties that darbawiyas organize and they seem to get mesmerized by these “strong” “manly” men who do these dangerous things that they start following them and idolizing them. In many cases this leads to pedophilia since at the end, prison dynamics take place and the man with the most “pets” gets to be the most manly.

Distinct Brands of Beer that they consume

While there is no Brand of beer being sold in stores in Saudi, many Darbawiya drink home made alcohol called Araq mixed with their most popular drink, Miranda Citrus. Miranda Citrus has become their Drink of Choice, many drink it warm to show their devotion to the scene.

As for education, this is where I find the difference between Punk and Darbawiya to be strong. Darbawi might not have the education or political awareness as punks, actually they are far from that, but if some of those started to be more aware politically or highly educated, it might lead to a very unique punk movement in Saudi Arabia.

Well there you go everyone, my own observation on what the punk movements and darbawiya sub-culture have in common. Leave your comments below and lets start the conversation!”

-Anonymous Saudi Man

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For a nice day trip out of Riyadh, the village of Raghbah North West of the city is worth a visit. The old mud village has some interesting buildings and architecture, an ancient mosque and a watch tower which is possible to climb up and admire the views down to the city and the magnificent mountains in the background.

raghbah village Saudi Arabia

 This charming little mud village is located about 120 km outside of Riyadh and is easily accessible even with a small car. Nearby are date farms, red mountains and lovely rolling sand dunes that grow small bushes and other flora perfect for a picnic. In the rainy season small bodies of water gathers in the deep folds of the dunes. 

Raghbah makes for a fun day trip from Riyadh and it’s really easy to find because of the prominent watch tower. The ruins of this town (built in 1669) are vast and the visitor can take hours to explore all it has to offer.Many of the houses can be entered and explored from inside. Some have interesting details and there is one building especially well preserved with amazing detail inside. There are also wells and ruins of castles and walls on the outskirts of the town. The town has historical significance, it plays a role in the Najd history and it was invaded and destroyed by the Turks in the 19th century.

There are two mosques and the larger one is called the Al-Tali’ mosque, which is, like all the other buildings here made out of mud and straw. It’s worth going inside the mosque and checking out the courtyard, small well for wudu (washing for prayer) and the amazing prayer hall which is lit by natural sunlight.

The most interesting part is the Marqab watch tower on the west side of the town. The tower is quite tall and surprisingly narrow! It’s possible to climb the tower’s spiral staircase all the way to the top to get a great view of the whole town and the beautiful mountains and sand dunes in the distance. The climb up takes time because the way there is extremely claustrophobic experience! Not for the faint at heart and only one person can go up at a time, otherwise you will get stuck.ragbah watch tower saudi
Nearby the town are beautiful sand dunes, reachable with a small car if you don’t venture out too far. With a 4×4 it’s worth driving further out for better views but in general this place is has few other people around.

Be careful when driving, there are sudden holes and there might be water in them too!

To get here from Riyadh, from exit 4 take the Qassim road (65W) until you get to the exit called Huraimila. Then continue until you see the sign for Raghbah. The drive takes about an hour. Drive until you come to the small village and you cannot miss the mud village on your left hand side because of the watch tower visible from the road. The village is not more than 200 meters from the main road. Turn left when you spot the tower and you can drive into the village from any place you see fit.
Google maps: Rughabah Rughabah

To get to the sand dunes just continue on the road that lead you to the mud village and the dunes are best on the right hand side.