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 70 countries and I'm always on the lookout for new adventures inside and outside of Saudi Arabia!

What are the best and most popular restaurants in the Eastern Province? Blue Abaya in collaboration with Suzanne Greenfield, the founder of the Foodies groups, recently conducted a poll among members of the ‘EP Foodies’ Facebook group, to find the most popular restaurants in Dammam, Al Khobar and Jubail area. The EP Foodies are an international group of food lovers and avid restaurant-goers residing in the the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. All types of restaurants were included in the poll and each member was allowed to vote for three of their personal favorite restaurants. The criteria for nominating and voting for the restaurants were: Quality and taste of food, service, ambiance, and price-quality ratio. Altogether 54 restaurants were voted for and there was clear winner which you can see from the list below.

*Disclaimer* This top 10 list does not represent the personal opinions or restaurant reviews done by Blue Abaya. The listed restaurants were the winning restaurants on a poll done in the EP Foodies Facebook Group. This group consist of over 4000 food living people living in the Eastern Province who voted for their favorite restaurants.

EP Foodies

The Eastern Province Foodies group is an active, informative and fun group of food lovers residing in the EP area. The love of good food brings together different nationalities.

If you’re on Facebook I highly recommend you join the ‘Foodie’ groups! There’s one for Jeddah and Riyadh as well, all founded by Suzanne Greenfield who herself currently lives in the EP. Suzanne has really done a tremendous amount of work in these groups to make them so enjoyable and she was also kind enough to provide the short descriptions of each featured restaurant on the top ten list. They’ve quickly become a valuable source of information for locals and expats alike to find the latest and greatest restaurants, read member reviews, help in finding specific food items, recipes, foodie group dinner or lunch meetings and much more!

I had the pleasure of creating the Foodie group logo and banner images. Suzanne asked me to design the banners for the different foodie groups each with own color theme. The logos have as a combining factor the globe ‘fruit” in the middle, which symbolizes what a diverse group of people, from all corners of the globe, ‘the love of food’ has brought together. For the different cities I chose the color scheme according to what each city brings to mind. Jeddah is the most colorful, as are it’s inhabitants! Beautiful corals, spices and the orange sun setting behind the turquoise sea..Riyadh is the most conservative of the three, dark blue hues combined with greys and light colors, symbolizing Riyadh at night, the city lights and silver skyscrapers, and of course the desert! EP is different hues of greens like the colors of the Corniche and the Arabian Gulf.

The Top Ten Restaurants in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern (according to EP Foodies) province are:

1) La Gondola

The winner of the Eastern Province Foodies poll is an Italian, casual dining restaurant popular with everyone in the area, from families to groups to couples. It is particularly praised for the excellent quality of authentic dishes prepared by the Italian head chef Mr Raffa, with the specials board always full of unique, appetising dishes. All diners are offered complimentary warm, flavoured pizza bread, alongside homemade tomato sauce and olives. The service is attentive, the food utterly delicious and the ambience laid back. Located just off Corniche Road, Al Khobar.

From La Gindola website: “Step into the world of La Gondola and let the Food, Service, the Music and the Atmosphere whisk you back in Italy where life and culture remains still what La Gondola offers to you any day of the week.””Images from La Gondola Facebook page gallery:

2) Outback Steakhouse

A chain of US casual dining restaurants serving American dishes but with an Aussie twist! Attracting both families and bachelors, one of their most ordered dishes is “Bloomin’ Onion” which revamps the humble onion ring side dish by frying a whole onion and serving it with a dip. Branches in Al Khobar are located in Mall of Dhahran and Fouad Centre.

3) Gulf Royal Chinese

One of the oldest chinese restaurant in the area but for good reason, as it consistently serves delicious Chinese dishes in a restaurant surrounded by fish tanks with friendly staff. Located in Rashid Mall, Al Khobar.

4) Paul

A fashionable French bakery and cafe, Paul is a real crowd pleaser. From the excellent range of authentic French patisserie and breads in their bakery to the simple soups, salads and main dishes served in their cafe. Located in Mall of Dhahran, Al Khobar.

5) Chilli’s

A famous US chain of restaurants serving American casual dining dishes. Very popular with the younger crowd and families. Its known for its array of cocktails, nachos, burgers, chicken fried steak with mash and gravy and the indulgent chocolate molten cake. Branches in Al Khobar are located in Mall of Dhahran and Corniche Road.

6) Blue Strawberry

This award winning restaurant is well liked by many expats in the area and is known for it’s excellent, eclectic range of modern dishes from around the world. They also offer seasonal menus which are praised by many of it’s diners. Located in the Rezayat Village Compound, Al Khobar.

7) The Steak House

This much loved steak house is celebrating 20 years in KSA and has won Best Casual Dining Restaurant from the Saudi Tourism Awards several times. It has a bountiful salad and soup cart and is very welcoming to little diners as it has a dedicated play room adjacent to the family section and offers free kids meals on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. They also offer a unique way serving certain steaks off the menu by cooking them in front of you on specially heated marble slabs. Branches are located in Al Khobar, Dammam and Jubail.

8) Mangiamo Italian restaurant

This sophisticated Italian restaurant and pizzeria has authentically created dishes by an Italian chef. The food is always of a high standard, the service impeccable and the decor is similar to that of a stylish trattoria in Italy. Located on King Faisal Road, Al Khobar.

9) Soul Kitchen

This restaurant’s menu offers all things seafood, steak and sushi. It is particularly popular for its freshly prepared sushi and array of fresh fish and seafood dishes which are cooked and served in a multitude of ways. Located on Prince Faisal Bin Fahd Road, Al Khobar.

10) Piatto

The third Italian to feature in the top ten, is one which offers a relaxing piazza dining experience. It serves fresh Italian food, pizzas and has a homemade gelato counter offering a kaleidoscope of flavours. It is popular with both families and groups and all diners are offered complimentary garlic bread and a large bowl of salad. Located in Fouad Centre, Al Khobar.

Suzanne Greenfield’s special pick – Maharaja by Vineet

This gem of a restaurant located in the Movenpick, Al Khobar offers exquisite Indian fine dining dishes that tantalise the tastebuds. Having a Michelin Starred head chef create the menu, the dishes from start to finish expertly balance the spices used in the food perfectly. The decor of this restaurant is opulent, making the diner feel as if they have stepped back in time to a royal Indian palace. The waiting staff are first rate and will recommend or explain any dishes from the menu so that your choices suit your taste and expectation. The Maharaja is a must for all foodies visiting or living in the area as it is sure to impress. Located inside the Movenpick Hotel, Prince Turki Street, Al Khobar.

KSA Foodies Collage


I want to share with you dear Blue Abaya reader an incredible story of courage and inspiration. A while ago a young Saudi woman, with whom I had exchanged emails with a few years ago, contacted me again with some really great news. I had never forgotten about her and the dilemma she was facing in her personal life, being stuck in a forced marriage. She wrote me a very touching message which actually made me cry, I was so glad and relieved to hear she had managed to get out of that situation.

It amazed me how something I wrote here in my own little corner of the internet, could have such a huge impact on someone’s life.

So with the permission of the young Saudi lady ‘D’, I will share her story with you. I want to keep the good karma flowing, by sharing her inspirational story which will hopefully then inspire someone else..and the circle goes on! So please do share her story with your circles too and let the good karma spread :)

I especially hope that those people read this who say they hate my blog and claim that it spreads negativity and a bad image of Saudi Arabia. They could not be more wrong. I’ve come to realize that those people are in fact projecting their own negative feelings and failures in life.

Without further ado, here is the letter…

Dear L,


Not sure if you’d remember me but almost 2 years ago we emailed back and forth. I vented to you about me being stuck in a forced marriage. Your blog has helped me become my own hero and change my life for the better.

I got a divorce and I’m finally getting a chance to pursue me dream of earning a master’s degree. I wouldn’t be able to tell my story without mentioning how your blog has helped me find the strength necessary to stand up to all of society and demand my god given right to chose my own path.

You know, at some point a person reaches his or her breaking point and they decide they’ve had enough of living in fear. That is what happened with me, I was weak, had no alliances, or like minded people in my life. So I looked at your blog like a sort of motivational speaker. I had always known I’ve been wronged so many times in my life but could never find the right words to fend for myself. Your blog charged me with both sheer fury and stealth determination. Long story short, I maintained a firm stand and after 10 months of separation, my divorce was finalized. 

None of this would have happened had I not come across your website on one of those nights I was scouring Google looking for answers to my situation. I am a changed person and with a little support and enough determination I have become my own hero. 


Love, D 

My reply to her:


Dear D,

Hearing this makes me so happy! I’m immensely proud of you for your strength and courage and choosing your own path in life. I do remember our messages and I often thought of you and how you were doing. You’re an amazing woman!! The sky is the limit for you. Your message has touched me and I found the spark to come out of my blog slumber and back to writing, thank you!

Love, L


So how about that? Pretty amazing and inspiring isn’t it, considering she’s restricted in so many ways by patriarchal Saudi society and laws, yet managed to turn the tables around. She was able to get out of a seemingly impossible situation and is now in charge of her own life. Thousands of Saudi women face similar problems and dead-ends in their lives, accepting it as their ‘fate’, but D took fate in her own hands.

She fought for what she knew deep inside her was the right thing to do.

She had dreams. She found courage within herself to pursue those dreams and I am so so incredibly happy for her.

I wish her all the best life has to offer and I hope her story will in turn inspire others.


dream on



This winter we were lucky to be able to spend quality time with family vacationing in Northern Finland. We flew all the way up to the Arctic Circle! It’s holiday season so we went to Lapland to enjoy the christmas holiday break in a winter wonderland white scenery. Lapland is truly a wonderful and magical place. I wanted to share with you ten very cool things we experienced on our Lapland trip.

You’ll notice most of the images don’t have much sunshine in them and the images are blue. This is due to the fact that the sun doesn’t rise very high above the horizon during winter months. In the northernmost parts of Lapland, inside the Arctic circle, they actually experience two entire months of darkness. In other words, there’s no sunrise at all during that whole period of time! But this only makes the place even more magical to me.

During the Finnish summer on the other hand, the situation turns upside down and the sun doesn’t set for two months, which is what we call the ‘Midnight Sun’ phenomenon. To discover the beauty of Finnish summer, read this post.

The constant darkness can also affect your mood. Days might seem to never start and then suddenly, they’ve ended because by lunchtime it’s dark again! I never understood how people cope up there during those loooong winters. At least the snow makes it white and creates more light. If the skies are clear at night, the moon reflects more light from the snow, making it surprisingly bright and easy to navigate outside.

Lapland is the place to be to watch the famous spectacular Northern Lights (Aurea Borealis). Unfortunately the skies were cloudy the entire week we were there and we didn’t get a chance to see the Northern Lights this time.

10 COOL Things from Lapland..

10 really cool things from Lapland Finlandcabin winter forest lapland

1. Going for a walk in the enchanting winter forest. It’s difficult to explain the feeling of peace and quiet out there in the snow. It’s almost as if walking in a huge ball of cotton, all noises from outside are muffled, everything is white and soft, nothing moves.
Pictured is one of my nieces is pulling my daughter in the sleigh. Kids loved to play in the snow and never did complain of cold! In fact the adults have to watch that they don’t get frost bites because children won’t tell you they feel too cold in fear they will have to go back inside and the fun will stop! The air was so crisp and fresh, despite it being mostly -5C weather and snowfall daily, it didn’t feel too cold as long as you’re appropriately dressed. Finns have a saying,’there’s no such thing as cold weather, only the wrong clothes’.

2. Meet the locals! This is what the Saami people, the original inhabitants of the Northernmost parts of Finland, Sweden and Norway traditionally wear. They use lots of reindeer fur in their clothing.

3. Natural snow sculptures. I love seeing all the different shapes that snowfall creates, especially on the trees it seems brings them alive. This one is definitely a bunny sitting on top of the tree!

4. Skiing, not only downhill but cross-country skiing is big and highly recommended in Lapland, the scenery is so serene and peaceful. All of the ski resorts in Lapland will rent cross country skiing equipment and even give you lessons how to do it. It’s possible to do up to 50 km of cross country skiing in the trails that go around the fjells.

5. Huge icicle formations can be seen everywhere. Here’s our cabin roof.

6. Husky sleigh rides are so much fun for the kids and adults too. You could even go on a overnight husky safaris and stay in a “laavu” or then just try it out for a short run. Some Husky farms will let you drive your own sleigh and dogs.

ice tent (1 of 1)

7. Visiting reindeer farms is one of the kids favorite things to do. there are plenty of farms that welcome visitors and do tours and reindeer sleigh rides. Reindeer are very cute but also quite shy natured.

reindeerwhite cute
8. During the winter Finns love decorating their cabins and houses with decorative lights. Because of the long dark period, people want to use as much decorative lights outdoors to bring some spark of light to the scenery.  This is a typical Finnish style log cabin, dressed up in pretty lighting. Another way to bring some light is making “ice lanterns” from snowballs and placing outdoor candles inside.
ice lantern snow
9. Visit an ice castle, hotel or restaurant! The entire place is built out of snow and ice. Most of the skiing resorts in Lapland will have one of these structures built for the winter months for tourists to wander around. There are igloos you can sleep in watching the Northern Lights in the sky and then hotels made of snow, beds of ice and you sleep on reindeer skins! Sounds crazy, but it’s surprisingly warm in there.
ice tunnel (1 of 1)
ice hotel suite lapland  (1 of 1)
ice bear (1 of 1)

10. And finally, it might sound very strange to you, but Finns LOVE to walk outside in any weather and we always take the babies with us. There have been studies which found that babies sleep much better and longer outside in the freezing temperatures! P.S Don’t worry, we dress the babies in clothes that insulate all the cold, they’re all snuggled up and comfy in there, remember that Finnish saying!


Last weekend we were driving around a village West of Riyadh looking for a plot of land we wanted to check out. Because of the beautiful sand dunes nearby and lovely weather, we decided to explore the area further. Following a small road past some majestic rock formations we proceeded on to a dirt road and soon came across a picturesque valley surrounded by Red Sand dunes. The area was truly breath-taking and best of all, blooming with flowers!

This year the desert has gotten plenty of rain water which has resulted in flowers and grass sprouting out from the sand and rocks everywhere. Further down the valley a plethora of different flower species could be found. Surprisingly, there was nobody around. Usually places this close to Riyadh (such as Kharrarah National Park nearby) are packed with families having picnics and hoards of youngsters on quad bikes creating clouds of dust and noise. Most unfortunately, there’s lots of trash and garbage scattered around the dunes.

The only people around were on a small farm and a goat herder tending to a large pack of black goats. We later saw camels on their way up the dunes, going to who knows where?

We let the kids ‘on the loose’ and they were absolutely thrilled with the vast open space. They jumped, crawled, dug into and swam in the sand dunes, running around like headless chickens squealing with joy. My heart and mind were at peace as I watched the children frolicking freely.

It was a cloudy and chilly day and this area can get very windy. I can imagine that during the upcoming sandstorm season this area would become very dusty. We found a place amidst the dunes where the strong wind didn’t reach but on the higher ground it was quite strong. There should be flowers in this area for another month or two depending on the weather. The ground underneath the sand was still wet which means the underground water reserves are full. There’s a barbwire fence and behind it there’s more sand dunes and a track which could only be done with a 4×4. The fence can be passed on from the right side.

blooming desert flower power saudi

Directions from Riyadh:

From the Diplomatic Quarter take the Mecca highway West, pass the large check-point and continue down the escarpment. You will pass the exit Dirab, then after a few more km you will reach Muzahmiyah, this is where the Lake Kharrarah is. Still continuing along the Mecca highway, you will soon reach a town called Jauw. Shortly after you will see a HUGE farm on the right side of the road called Aziziyah farm. Right after the farm wall ends there;s  a tarmac road that starts next to it on the right. Turn on this road and continue straight. You will see some large rock faces in front of you, drive past them and the road begins to curve to the left. Soon you will pass another huge farm with a mile long wall on the right side. Continue until you see the sign for a village that turns left and the road you’re on becomes a dirt road. Go on the dirt tracks and drive past a few small farms until the end of this road. You are now in the valley and the Red Sand dunes will be to your right and directly in front of you. Most of the flowers are to the right hand side. If you drive to the left there are some nice trees to picnic under.

Please don’t leave any trash behind, take everything with you back to the city!

Google map location I pinned where we parked the car.



The story of Sinta, a remarkably strong and kind woman that had become a prisoner confined in a small hospital room somewhere in Saudi Arabia continues. For part one click here. Sinta’s story ends in the final part which can be read here. 


As time went by Sinta came to terms with her new environment in the hospital. She developed a very strict daily routine for her ‘Mama’, making sure all daily needs were properly taken care of. Occasionally some nurses would try changing some of her routines to save their time, but Sinta would adamantly refuse.

Before doctor’s rounds each morning, Sinta wanted to have everything ready and prepared with the patient. In reality the doctors could not have cared less about this particular patient, they wouldn’t even step inside the room most of the time. There were no plans for physical therapy or mobilizing the patient in any way. God only knows how much the mama’s condition would’ve improved if she were viewed by the doctors as a human being instead of a vegetable.

At the minimum there should have been daily physical therapy to prevent bed sores and stiffening of joints which is common in paralyzed patients. The only thing preventing the patient from getting a severe bed sore was Sinta’s tireless care. it was actually quite a miracle that the patient, even after years of laying in that bed, never got a bed sore. The patient did however develop stiffening in her joints which must have been painful.

There was of course no knowing if ‘mama Ameenah’ could actually see, hear, feel or understand. It was easier for the medical team to determine the patient to be without understanding or sensations. Sinta was convinced the patient heard everything and maybe even understood, but she couldn’t move or talk or express her needs. What an awful fate that was. The thought of that being true made it even more touching how Sinta kept trying and treating her like she were ‘awake’. Sometimes Sinta just sat next to her talking and stoking the mamas hand.

At times it was clear the mama was trying to move her eyes, she would know when Sinta left or came in the room by opening her eyes and trying to look to the door. Since the mama could open and close her eyes, Sinta would sometimes ask her to blink if she understood. This didn’t work most of the time, but she kept trying.

The nonchalant attitude was unfortunately widespread among the nursing staff when it came to this patient. I noticed how a lot of nurses didn’t seem to like Sinta at all, some even loathing having to be assigned to her room. A few of the Malaysian nurses kept her company because of common language and sometimes they shared meals. Sinta had a tiny space in the patient room’s separate foyer set up where she had a couch and small table.

As months went by and my Arabic skills improved I would chat with Sinta more and more. We laughed because we couldn’t always understand each other, having to resort to sign language when trying to communicate. We would talk about her family back home a lot and sometimes we would talk about the big life choice I was about to make: Marrying a Saudi. Despite her having mostly negative experiences with Saudis, she always supported me in my decision and encouraged me when times were rough. When 99% of the people around me were saying I was crazy to even think of marrying a Saudi guy because they’re all such ‘animals’ or whatever derogatory term they could think of, Sinta firmly believed in us. I remember how she would always say ‘halli-walli’  about such people. Sinta had faith that things were going to work out someday despite all the difficulties my then fiancee and I were facing.

Sinta soon began to tell me how she wanted to start working for me when I would be happily married and we had our first baby. We would find someone else to take care of the mama and she could move in with my family as housemaid. She insisted I would be needing help after having kids. At first I just smiled and thought it was a way for her to be nice to me. After some more thought it started to become more of a reality. That might be exactly how we could get her out of this situation!

But of course things were not as easy as it sounds like. There was the sponsorship system which at the time made no sense to me. The family would never let her change sponsors or give back her passport. I had decided in my mind that when that day came, were Sinta still held a ‘prisoner’ in the hospital, I would do everything I could to get her out of that room and take her in my home.

The times that I spent talking to Sinta soon made some of the nurses envious. It became even worse when I gave Sinta some healthy foods, beauty products, credit for her phone, clothes and other random things to cheer her up and show people cared about her. Even a pair of my old shoes would spark envy.

“Where did you get those shoes Sinta”? I once overheard a Filipino nurse asking in English, making sure everyone around heard. “From sister Layla” Sinta would reply. “Ohhh, they must be very expensive then! Give them to me!” the nurse would say jokingly, but with a certain bitterness in her voice. The more time I’d spend with Sinta, the more annoyed and envious these nurses would become.

I found the resentment to be really cruel and cold-hearted. It was hard to understand why some staff members couldn’t just give Sinta a break. I mean her life was pretty sad in so many ways. How would they handle a similar situation, I wondered? Would they even last a week in that room? Why was there no real sympathy for her? What was it away from them, if I became Sinta’s friend, I wondered. But I didn’t let these people get to me and our friendship continued.

Sinta and I could not have come from more different backgrounds but nonetheless we connected. I became truly fond of her and felt like I had known her for a very long time. In the end we are all the same, despite our backgrounds we feel the same joys and pains.

From time to time I gave Sinta cash which she saved to send home. Her mere 600 riyal salary was a shock to me. I could not believe how little she earned and how much work she did in return.  During Ramadan I gave her extra to send home to her family for Eid. Somehow the Head Nurse heard about this and called me into her office. I was dumbfounded when she scolded me for giving Sinta money and spending time with her.  I questioned how my relationship with Sinta and the charity I was giving to her had anything to do with my work performance. Naturally it didn’t because the complaints were generated by pure envy.

I noticed Sinta’s wardrobe consisted of two or three house dresses she kept rotating and washing by hand in the bathroom, so I got her a few dresses plus one really fancy jallabiya for Eid. The spinster daughter, who came once a week to visit her mother, sometimes rummaged through Sinta’s closet looking for God knows what.  On one occasion the daughter found Sinta’s new perfume and the dress I’d gotten her. Instead of being happy for Sinta, and saying “mashallah”, the daughter got angry and accused her of stealing. The spinster daughter then took the perfumes and dress away.

I was appalled by how the family treated Sinta. It made me furious to watch how they came for a short visit once a week and always had only complaints. Gratitude for what Sinta was doing was non-existent. There was no talk of giving her a break, some extra money, a holiday back home or even a day off. I tried talking to the daughter and son about easing Sinta’s situation.

Knowing they only cared for the well-being of their mother, I told them to consider finding another part-time sitter for mama Ameenah. This way Sinta could rest, and not get sick all the time. And if Sinta got very sick, who then would take care of their beloved mother? I suggested hiring just one more sitter or maid that Sinta could rotate shifts or days with. it was pointless, like talking to a wall. Money wasn’t their problem so I just assumed it was either laziness or purely being stingy because how could they not want to give just one day off a week or even a month! All of my suggestions were fruitless and met only with “inshallah’s“.

Sinta on the other hand was so succumbed to her fate that she had become very hesitant of coming out of the room during daytime. She was scared that the relatives would visit and see her out of the room and get angry at her. Venturing out on her own to the main hospital corridor outside for a short walk was out of the question. I encouraged her to start taking short walks during the night shifts while I would keep an eye on the patient and this seemed to cheer her up somewhat.

One day it occurred to me that Sinta had not been outside for over three years! I wanted her to breath the fresh air and feel the warm sunlight on her face. She refused at first but I was persistent and finally one day on my lunch break I grabbed Sinta with me to go outside to the hospital cafeteria. Sinta was literally clinging on to my arm as we walked in the busy hallways. Everyone was looking at us, we must’ve been quite a sight for sure. Sinta in her housedress hanging onto a nurse’s arm, frightened like a little child, her head spinning from all the new scenery.saudi hospital entrance riyadh

I will never forget that day and the smile on her face when we stepped out to the daylight. Squinting her eyes from the bright midday sun, Sinta started crying from joy, thanking God and thanking me over and over again. Her eyes became sore from looking up at the sun. I was so happy for her I couldn’t stop myself from crying with her. Next I took her to to the cafeteria, we sat outside having some ice cream, something she had never tasted in her life. People gave us weird looks but I don’t think she noticed. It was a great day and I wished she would’ve just walked away and never returned to the hospital.

But Sinta was loyal and dutifully went back to her dark room. As time went by her health began deteriorating. She gained weight because of her forced sedentary lifestyle and ‘imprisonment’. Some of the nurses and I tried to educate Sinta on healthy eating habits but it still wasn’t enough. Her blood pressure was dangerously high. In fact it was so high, that were a patient to have the same reading, as per protocol the nurse would have to call the Emergency Response team.

It wasn’t surprising that one night Sinta when her blood pressure was soaring high again, she suddenly lost consciousness for a moment. She was rushed to the ER and diagnosed to have  suffered a mild stroke. It left half of her face paralyzed. That radiant smile would never be the same again.

The health crisis of Sinta gave the family quite a scare. They insisted to have nothing but ‘the best tests’ done for her. The spinster daughter even took Sinta with the wheelchair to her CT scan. It seemed as if they actually cared about her health. In the end it was just concern over who would take care of their mother if something happened to Sinta.

So why didn’t Sinta just run away from this miserable life? She could have just walked out of the hospital one day and never looked back. Probably most people in her situation would do just that. Sinta was too selfless to do that. She also desperately needed money to send to her family in Indonesia. Perhaps most importantly, Sinta didn’t have the heart to leave the mama.

Stay tuned for Sinta’s Story Part Three.


Dear Blue Abaya readers,

As you may have noticed Blue Abaya has a whole new look going on for 2014! After some setbacks the new design is now finally (almost) finished. I ended up designing and building the whole website myself. More on that later! One of the new developments has been setting up a ‘Blue Abaya Designs’ shop, which is currently on Facebook only but later on will be incorporated on the site as well. In the shop we are offering Saudi-themed souvenirs and as per special request from some readers, a wall calendar featuring images from around the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia!

It wasn’t a piece of cake designing the calendar, let me tell you choosing which images to use from thousands was a long process on its own! I wanted the images to be from all around the Kingdom, to be full of life and color and scenes you wouldn’t necessarily associate with Saudi Arabia. I wanted to include some of my favorite portraits of the Saudi people as well.

The finished version is called “The Magic Kingdom 2014”. Designed and photographed by Blue Abaya,  published, printed and shipped by Lulu, one of the leading online publishing services.

There is an ongoing January sale at Lulu marketplace, you get -15% OFF the calendar.

The calendar is in Gregorian format and is easy to hang on your wall.  High printing quality on card stock paper. After the year has passed, the calendar images could even be re-used by framing them!

Here’s how the calendar looks inside, September is themed National Day to celebrate the Saudi National Day 23rd September!

I’m so pleased that the calendar has already made its way all around the world and brought a little slice of the Magic Kingdom into their homes! Thank you for the support! Here’s a recent review from a happy customer:

“…it was a pleasure to receive this as my “official” 2014 calendar. Printed on high-quality cardstock, this calendar contains brilliant photographs by Layla Blue Abaya, a professional photographer whose sharp images portray her love of Saudi Arabia and its many inhabitants, natural beauty, historical crafts and buildings, and its growth over the past 70 years.

With keen insight into culture, natural beauty, and her Arabian surroundings, Layla takes you out of your everyday experiences and brings you closer to her Magical Kingdom. This calendar will transform your days, month by month. Her photos are well appointed, sharp, crisp, and carry with them depth and feeling. If you want a calendar that will take you on a magical journey, this is for you. And if you are Saudi Arabian and live outside the country, this calendar will bring you home. Enjoy!”

Below is a sneak peak collage of the calendar. You can preview the entire calendar online here.

calendar preview

If you’re in Saudi-Arabia and wish to purchase the calendar, please take a look at the Blue Abaya Designs Shop Facebook page, where we currently have the Magic Kingdom calendars in stock. For those in Riyadh, we offer free home delivery! Shipping is with FedEx second day delivery elsewhere within the Kingdom.

Thank you for stopping by and belated New Year’s wishes to everyone!

Camel milk is truly an elixir from the desert. The knowledge of the healing powers and nutritious benefits of camel milk have been known to nomadic peoples from Mongolia to Africa for thousands of years. The Bedouin saying, “water is the soul, milk is the life” may prove to be true due to the miraculous properties of camel milk.

Reports of the healing properties of camel milk have been recorded from the times of Prophet Mohammed (pbuh). There are a number of a Hadith mentioning the Prophet prescribing camel’s milk and even urine as a remedy for various conditions:

“A group of people came to Medina, became ill and their bellies got swollenthe Prophet

d them to go to the herd of Milch camels and to drink their milk and urine (as a medicine). So they went as directed and after they became healthy.”  Sahih Bukhari, (Volume 1, Book 4, Number 234)

The reference to the swollen bellies might be an indication the people were suffering from liver problems. Modern day science has proven camel milk to be beneficial in the treatment of liver diseases such as Hepatitis.

camel herder saudi arabia

camel milk, the elixir of the desert

Camel herder woman in Riyadh holding fresh camel’s milk. Photo: Laura Alho

Camel milk is growing in popularity worldwide and has even been dubbed the new ‘super food’ because it’s so high in nutrients and minerals as well as having numerous healing properties. This ‘wondermilk’ has also shown the ability to help heal food allergies and chronic gastrointestinal problems and diseases such as Crohn’s.

Scientists all over the world have conducted research after other finding new conditions and diseases that can be treated, prevented or even cured with consumption of camel’s milk. The latest studies have found that camel milk inhibits the growth of certain cancer cells; in one study it was found the tumors shrank 56% in just two days of high doses of camel milk. Parents of autistic children have found camel milk to help their children perform better and to alleviate symptoms of autism.

Camel’s milk is by far the closest to human breast milk than any other animal’s milk, yet to most people camel milk still remains a ‘mysterious’ and strange substance which many are afraid to try. Not only is camel milk easier for the human body to digest, making it suitable for lactose intolerant people as well, it’s also rich in vitamins and minerals, containing 10 times as much iron and three times as much vitamin C as cow’s milk.

The most beneficial and nutritious camel’s milk comes from the camels that graze freely on a certain type of grass; they are commonly referred to as milch camels. Freshly milked, unpasteurized milk has the most health benefits; however caution should be practiced as the freshly milked version might in rare cases contain parasites if the camels have not been kept well and healthy. Unfortunately pasteurizing the milk does remove some of the health benefits but it’s still advised to go with the pasteurized version. Especially pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid unpasteurized camel milk.

Camel’s milk has numerous healing factors and a closer analysis of camel milk shows medicinal potential. The milk protein lactoferrin, which is present in large quantities in camel milk (ten times higher than in cow milk), has anti-viral, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties. Fermented camel milk is high in lactic bacteria, which have been shown to be effective against pathogens including Bacillus, Staphylococcus, Salmonella and Escherichia.

There is a traditional belief in the Middle East that regular consumption of camel milk aids in prevention and control of diabetes. Numerous studies from around the world have confirmed this to be true and today probably the most well known health benefit of camel milk is its use as adjuvant therapy in the management of both type 1 and 2 diabetes. The milk actually contains 52 units of insulin per liter and is as a result a very effective and all-natural way to control blood sugar levels in diabetic patients.

fluffy baby camel

Perhaps the most remarkable property of camel’s milk lies in its ability to kill cancer cells and reduce tumor size. In the recent years a Saudi female scientist, Dr. Faten Abdul-Rahman, a well-known researcher of the healing properties camel milk and urine, found in her studies that the most powerful anti-cancer effect comes when camel’s milk and a small amount of urine are consumed together. Khorshid is combining specific amounts of camel milk and urine to develop her medicine, which is undergoing testing to transform it into pill form. She focuses on particular types of cancer including lung cancer, blood cancers, colon cancer, brain tumors and breast cancer.

Dr. Khorshid was awarded a gold medal for Innovation in the Kingdom in 2008 and her research was chosen as one of the top six innovations of the year 2009 at the International Innovation and Technology Exhibition.

In addition to the internal benefits, camel’s milk and even urine can also be used as external healers for the skin. Thanks to the natural moisturizing and whitening properties, camel’s milk and urine as beauty ingredients is on the rise.

Not only does camel’s milk make for more moisturized and supple skin, it’s also said to have anti-aging benefits, thanks to elastin, vitamin C and lanolin. It also contains properties that help treat inflamed or irritated skin, some are even using it as a natural treatment for psoriasis. Camel urine has been used by the Bedouin women for centuries as a beauty product which whitens the skin and lightens the hair.

milking camel baby

Camel milks’ healing properties seem to be endless. This desert elixir, no short of a miracle, will surely play a bigger role in treating a multitude of diseases in the future. Read more about the healing properties of camel milk here: Camel Milk and Urine Medicine and Riyadh Camel festival page. 

To get your dose of the miracle milk in Riyadh check the Al Watania stores which stock pasteurized camel milk. If you’re looking for the raw and freshly milked version, visit Riyadh’s camel souq on Thumamah Rd. during Maghrib prayer when the camels are milked. It’s a good idea to bring your own containers. The milk lasts for about three days in the refrigerator and it can be frozen for later use.

camel family



The weather in Saudi Arabia is amazing during the winter months and perfect for making day trips out to the surrounding desert. Rawdat Khuraim, also called the King’s Forest, is an easily accessible and pleasant ‘getaway’ from the hustle and bustle of Riyadh. It really is like a green oasis suddenly appearing from the desert. And the best part? Even though it’s literally in the middle of nowhere; you don’t need an SUV to reach it!

For more day trip ideas and desert treks from Riyadh, click here!

Read more about things to do (and not to do!) at the King’s Forest in Blue Abaya’s full guide to Rawdhat Khuraim.

Rawdat (which means garden in Arabic) Khuraim is a beautiful and serene park about 100km North from Riyadh. It’s called the ‘King’s Forest’ mainly because King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz has a private farm there where he usually goes for a “spring retreat”. When he was still Crown Prince, King Abdullah inaugurated the Rawdat Khuraim wildlife park back in 2005. Today, the area serves as a sanctuary for various rare species such as gazelles and is a haven for ornithologists! Riyadh universities often conduct studies and research in the Rawdhat due to the diversity of insects, flora and fauna which can be found there.

kings forest kingdom saudi arabia



The ‘forest’ is divided into the area accessible to public and the wildlife park which has been restricted from entry in order to preserve the nature and wildlife. The area meant for public is less green and lush than the part which is off limits but nevertheless it is a wonderful change of scenery from the sand and cement.

The Al-Dahna desert sand dunes can be seen from the park and a number of valleys are nearby such as Wadi Khuwaish and Watheelan which are easily accessible and make for an interesting visit.

sunraysThe public area is huge and grows a variety of trees, bushes, flowers and other vegetation year round.  In the springtime, when the Rawdhat is in full bloom, flowers such as Lavender and Three leaf clover fill the air with their sweet scent.  There’s an estimated 132 species of wild plants and 42 species of animals present in Rawdat Khuraim, some of which have been released into the wildlife sanctuary.

desert oasis



rawdhatkhuraimrawdhat birdThe public park has a pole fence all the way around it and the best parts are accessible by foot only. The area inside is clean and free of trash, which is unfortunately a rarity for picnic places in Saudi. It’s a lovely place to go walking, bird watching or just for a picnic and women can take their abayas off if they so wish. There are large green grass fields perfect for football and other outdoor games. On a weekday you can have the entire place to yourself.fence gardens rawdatkuraim.jpgOvernight camping is not allowed inside the fenced area but on the outskirts it’s OK to pitch a tent and overnight there. Visitors should leave from inside the park before 10 p.m when the rangers start roaming the area.

If you want to make a campfire it’s strictly forbidden to use the forests trees as firewood. On the way there’s roadside vendors selling firewood, charcoal and small fire pits. You will also find kites, toys, blankets, pillows, snacks, water and basically everything you would need to have a picnic. There’s even a tent renting service and on weekends a few Bedouin women come to sell traditional handicrafts and goat milk products.

Directions: From Riyadh take the Dammam highway (route 40E) toward Rumah. After about 40 km turn left to Rumah. Then drive another 55km and you will see signs for Rawdhat Khuraim on the right. Follow the signs and the gardens are easy to spot from the highway ahead of you.

Drive towards garden on the tarmac road and turn right or left off that road to enter the area. if you continue straight on this road, it leads to the gates of the King’s farm and the preservation area which are closed off from public with barbwire fences. To the left of this road you can see Dahna sand dunes. Drive closer to the pole fence and park the car (accessible with a regular car) and then you must continue on foot to reach the best areas.

Lots of locals don’t even bother to walk beyond the fences, so it might seem crowded around the fences. Don’t be discouraged by the crowd, just a few minutes walk away from the fence and you will find yourself the only people around.

For the most quiet places drive off to the right from the road, around to the back of the area beside the fence until you see a nice spot. The forest is so huge you can drive for half an hour along the fence and still not see an end to the park. Alternatively you can go left from the road next to the red sand dunes but this place usually is more crowded because it’s easier to reach. You can drive here with a normal car but if you wish to venture further you will need a 4×4,

For the GPS location and Google maps check out this post.

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This is a long overdue re-post of a very important topic, the use of (or lack thereof) car seats and seat belts in the Kingdom!

The roads of Saudi Arabia are notorious for fatal car accidents with more than 300,000 traffic accidents occurring every year. Traffic accidents account for more than 30 percent of bed occupancy in hospitals and they cost over 21 billion riyal a year, which is 4% of national income. 19 people die in traffic accidents daily. If these current trends continue, Saudi Arabia could have more than 4 million traffic accidents a year by 2030. By comparison, over the past two decades, there have been 4 million traffic accidents, resulting in 86,000 deaths.

The lack of using carseats and seat belts contributes to the sky-high rates of traffic accident fatalities and severe injuries of infants and children in the Saudi Kingdom. In fact, accidents where the baby/child is crushed to death by a parent holding them are so common that medical staff in the Kingdom often refer to these victims as “Saudi Airbags“. In the case of another very common accident, where the child flies from the backseat and out of the window at the same speed of the speeding car, they’re termed “Saudi bullets”.saudikiddriving

It’s a gloomy, harsh reality for medical personnel in KSA who face such car accident victims daily. These patients are so frequent that an abbreviation, ‘RTA’, is used when referring to Road Traffic Accident cases. It’s not an easy job, and most certainly it’s immensely frustrating to see and treat hundreds, if not thousands of crushed, dead babies that could’ve been saved from their fate by securing them in car seats.

Children hanging out of the car from the sunroof or windows, bouncing all over the back seat and sitting on daddy’s or mommy’s lap in the front are a common sight here. Use of seat belts or carseats is still rare, although during the recent years they’ve definitely become more easily available and people are starting to use them more.

The problem for some Saudis is large family size and car seats are quite pricey. So either the family simply can’t fit all the children into seats/seat belts, or they can’t afford them. This problem could be solved by leaving some of the kids home and only taking as many that can be secured in belts. The government could chip in and help make carseats more affordable and easily available like they do in many countries.

Many a times it’s just pure ignorance too. There needs to be more education about child car safety and the benefits of using car seats. Lots of people just don’t know they can really save lives and think they are just a nonsense Western invention that can even harm children. One way of educating parents on the importance of the seats could be to teach them while at the hospital with the newborn. Many countries actually require the parents to have an infant carseat for the baby before they are allowed to leave the hospital.

That said, there are still people who very well know and have heard of the statistics proving that carseats and belts save lives, yet they don’t see a need to use them. Why? Because of the thinking “everything is QadrAllah”, meaning that if a person should die in a car accident, it was their inevitable fate and God’s will and thus a carseat would not have saved them anyways.

Those parents could reflect upon this Hadith:

Anas ibn Malik reported: A man said, “O Messenger of Allah, should I tie my camel and trust in Allah, or should I untie her and trust in Allah?” The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Tie her and trust in Allah.” Sunan At-Tirmidhi 2517

These very wise words of Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) should convey to parents that securing, or “tying up” their children does not mean that they don’t trust in Allah.

My letter to parents in Saudi Arabia (and everywhere in the world..)

”Dear parents in Saudi-Arabia,

I’ve noticed that many of you don’t seem to care too much about the safety of your children in the cars.

I have always wondered how you can have this nonchalant attitude whilst driving among the most insane, irresponsible, reckless drivers and dangerous roads in the world?

You love and cherish your children so dearly, yet you place them under such danger by not securing them in seat belts and car seats!

Don’t you wish to keep them safe in the crazy traffic of Saudi-Arabia? A person is killed on the Saudi roads every 90 minutes. A fifth of them are children under 12 years old.
The next one could be your child. Think about it.

Would you let your child run around on a highway, or play in a busy parking lot? Of course not!
So why then do you let your child jump around in your speeding car? Don’t you think it’s dangerous to let him hang out of the windows with cars speeding by? How about having him sit between yourself and the steering wheel? Were you aware that if the car would come to a sudden stop you would crush your child to death with your own body, while in most cases you would survive the crash alive.

Fathers, do you think because you are such great drivers nothing will ever happen to you? Think again.
Do you realize how many non licensed, inexperienced drivers and even children are out there actually driving the cars?

Have you thought about how many road hooligans there are in the streets chasing women and causing accidents?
There is nothing your excellent driving skills can do to prevent accidents caused by other peoples’ reckless driving habits.
You might think you don’t need a car seat or seat belts because Allah will protect your family. It’s time to re-think this.

Children are treasures given and gifted to you by the grace of God. He has trusted them under your care. It’s your responsibility to protect your child from any harm that you possibly can. God trusts you, are you worth His trust? Parents will be held accountable for this trust on the Day of Judgement.

You wouldn’t let your child enter a lions cage at the zoo and just think Allah will protect your child, would you? That would be careless, irresponsible and potentially fatal. Just like holding the baby in your lap in a moving car and taking the risk of crushing her to death. Or allowing her to stand out of the sunroof while speeding on the highway and taking the risk of her flying out like a puppet.

Equally irresponsible and reckless as placing your child in that cage. Think about it. You know the lion is dangerous and might attack your baby so you would never place them in such danger! Why place them in the same kind of potential danger, unsecured in a car?

In the case of an accident, your precious infant WILL fly out of your lap like a football, no matter how hard you hold on to him. It’s proven to be impossible to hold on to a child in case of collision. Not even SUPERMAN could do it! The force of the crash makes it the equivalent to holding a thousand instead of a few kilos. If you still don’t believe it to be true check this video of an infant flying out of a car moving at only 35mph. Now you might understand the term ‘Saudi bullets’, when cars here often speed at over 100mph, the infant literally moves as fast as a bullet out of the parents arms, piercing through the windshield.

Did you know that car seats and seat belts save lives? According to various studies they can cut the risk of infant fatalities by up to 80%. The tools to help parents protect their child in the best ways possible are out there. Fulfil your parental responsibility and secure your child!

You probably heard the Hadith about the Bedouin that left his camel untied. The Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) said to him: “Be wise [first] and tie your camel, then trust in Allah.”

Wouldn’t this same golden advice also apply to the most valuable of your possessions, your child?
Be wise and tie up your baby in a car seat!
The rest is up to Allah.
Yours truly,
A Concerned Parent. ”


You can read the original post here

CDC Child Passenger Safety Fact Sheet here.

Read how to correctly secure your child in a car here.

More info on how to correctly use child booster seats here.

Help for buying a car seat guide here.

Riyadh’s Top Ten Eats With Kids-this is my article which was first published in Destination Riyadh’s October 2013 issue. Here are some of the best places to eat out with your children in Riyadh! Including child-friendly restaurants, bakeries, ice cream parlors, Friday Brunches and more. Please feel free to add restaurant suggestions! What are your favorite restaurants in Riyadh that you especially enjoy going to as a family with small kids? Do you know of any nice restaurants with a family section, a play area or activities for kids while the adults can (at least try to) enjoy their food in peace? Below are my top ten restaurant recommendations, but Riyadh has a lot to offer and new restaurants keep opening all the time, so likely I might have to make a new list again in a few years time :)

Piatto-Italian restaurant

Location: Exit 5 opposite Chinamart.

Special for kids: Make your own pizza, free Italian gelato from the bar with the kids meal, lots of high chairs and open seating area surrounding a fountain. Children receive an activity kit which is also their menu to keep them busy before the food arrives.. The kids meals are always served before adults. Overall a very family-friendly atmosphere and as a bonus there’s a large play and game area upstairs which will keep children busy for a long time!piatto play areapiatto courtyard

Chuck E. Cheese’s

Location: Olaya Street next to

Special for kids: This place was made for children! Serves great pizzas and other small snacks, two floors full of fun and entertaining activities and games for kids of all ages. Chuck E. the mouse performs every night and they have a small gift shop. Option of hosting your own parties in a private room with Chuck E. the mouse.

chuckecheeses riyadh

Marta’s Cakes Bakery

Location: Next to Pancake House and Salehia dates on King Fahad Rd.

Special for kids: Decorate your own cookies and cupcakes! Children will enjoy immensely the pleasure of creating their own designs combining ready-made decorations, colorful frostings with cool icing bottles! Upstairs can be reserved for private parties and they make amazingly creative cake creations here. Marta’s Cakes offers different ready-made party packages which include activities such as cupcake or cookie decorating, bracelet making, balloons decorations and invitation cards.


Café Ceramique restaurant

Location: Sahara Mall food court

Special for kids: Best of all of course the excitement of making your own ceramic art while eating out!  Children and adults can choose to paint and decorate vases, figurines and other ceramic art. The creations can then be taken home. Café Ceramique also has the option to host private parties.

Outback Steakhouse Australian restaurant

Location: Localizer Mall second floor

Special for kids: Children’s menu, friendly and helpful staff. Every Friday Outback has kids activities such as face painting, balloons and a kids play area with consoles.

Mirage Chinese Restaurant

Location: Takhasousi Rd. next to Euromarche

Special for kids: This place is the closest that Riyadh might come to an aquarium! Large fish tanks all over the restaurant will fascinate the kids and keep them busy. Dine in a private cubicle with its own fish tank! In the center of the restaurant there’s a pond where large colorful goldfish can be seen swimming.  Above the pond there are bridges that lead to small ‘dining chalets’.

aquarium mirage riyadheats-7.jpg

Coldstone Creamery: Ice cream Bar

Location: Hayat Mall second floor

Special for kids: The way this place makes and serves ice cream is like watching a circus performance! Scoops of ice cream literally flying in the air as the skilled waiters throw show off their ice cream bar tending skills. Kids and adults will be gasping in awe! A vast selection of ice cream in all colors of the rainbow which can be combined with new and exciting flavors like real chocolate chip cookie dough or brownies. Create your own ice cream from an endless selection of toppings. Also available are yummylicious ice cream cakes, ice cream cookies and cute ice cream cupcakes.

Munch Bakery

Location: next to Sheraz restaurant on Abdullah ibn Sulaiman bin Hamdan rd.

Special for kids: Possibly the best cupcakes in town, coming in all the flavors you could possibly imagine sold in a super cute shop with a small cupcake cafe. The bakery also sells lots of imported candies and sweets you won’t find elsewhere in Saudi-Arabia. Cake masterpieces on display and the best place to order a professionally made party cake. Choose from hundreds of readymade themes and designs. Bring along your own laptop or iPad with the image you want in your cake or even a toy and they will transform it into an amazing cake!

munch cakerycake

Buffalo’s Restaurant

Location: Tahlia Street

Great food and fun kids menu, especially awesome with kids for breakfast. Order a smiley face omelet or a huge portion of American pancakes. Large kids play area with plenty of activities.

 riyadh buffalos pancakes kids breakfast

 Friday Brunch 

Location: Brasserie restaurant in hotel Faisaliyah Fridays from 12-4pm.

Al-Orjouan restaurant, Ritz Carlton Hotel Friday’s 1230-4pm.

Most of the international five star hotel chains in Riyadh offer very nice Friday Brunches.  One of the best ones to take your kids along is Rosewood hotel Faisaliyah. Kids have their own buffet, there’s a chocolate fountain, popcorn machine and their own cozy area with plenty of activities and a small library.

Another great option is the Ritz Carlton Friday Brunch at their Al Orjouan restaurant. Kids have their own separate play area where qualified nannies watch after them while parents enjoy eating in peace upstairs! The kids have many different activities to choose from and of course their very own brunch. Wonderful service for parents and kids too!