Ever been to a country that has no movie theaters, clubs, or bars? This is Saudi Arabia! With about 9 out of 10 workers in this country being expats, we must creatively find ways to have fun. If you happen to make it to the capital city of Riyadh, here’s some tips to make this city feel a little more like home…
1) Hike w/ the Hash
Most major cities around the world have Hash House Harriers (HHH), a group of hikers that get together and explore the local terrain. What makes Hashing in Saudi so special, is the differing landscapes of the desert. With the permission of authorities, it gives foreigners-only the opportunity to mingle freely, sans abaya (black cloak women wear), and build valuable contacts to make life in Riyadh much easier. The best part is stumbling across unique finds, like desert diamonds, hieroglyphics, or desert roses. To seal the memory, end your hike next to a campfire, feet in sand, watching the sunset.
2) Hamam at Direm Beauty Center
Basically, during Hamam, an old lady gives you the best bath of your life! You can find everyone from soon-to-be Saudi brides to curious expats getting this treatment done. It can be compared to the body scrubs of Turkey or the jjimjilbangs of South Korea. The entire treatment is done in a wet sauna, where the woman slathers you with mixtures of soap, oil, and mud. After she removes a layer of your DNA, you may find that you are a shade and a pound lighter. It’s an interesting experience that has you walking away with skin so soft and clean, as if you were just born yesterday.
3) Eat at Najd Village
If you want to experience what ancient Saudi Arabia was like, you must visit this restaurant! When you first walk in, the stone walls encase you like an old fortress. Simple rarities here, like the rich color patterns found in the painted doors, gold Arabic antiques, and plush green grass, are a joy to see. Every group is given a private eating room with wrap-around floor seating. The meal is started off with the traditional Saudi dates and tea. And then you are served huge dishes that meant to be shared. Here’s one of your few chances to try camel!.. Don’t forget your camera. This restaurant is a unique experience that you may want to capture.
4) “Visit another country” at the Diplomatic Quarters
Similar to compounds, but on a grander scale, the Diplomatic Quarters is an expat’s road to freedom. These mini international neighborhoods are neutral grounds, where foreigners can do various activities that may not be available on the outside. Often, different embassies will throw a festival for any given holiday, have outdoor movie showings, or BBQ’s. For runners who are confined to the “dreadmill”, the greenery of trails is a dreamland.
5) Shop and Eat at Al Faisaliya Tower
If you’re looking for a fancy night out on the town, you must pay a visit to The Globe restaurant at the top of Al Faisaliya Tower. Here you can taste a variety of European meals, High Tea, and deserts, at a table that overlooks all of Riyadh. If this doesn’t fit your tastes, step over to Il Terrazo restaurant, an all-you-can eat Brazilian barbeque. This open-air, but misted, restaurant plays music (which is absent in most public places) and is a mixed gender zone. Once the sun sets, step out onto the observation deck for a 360 degree view of the city, with the desert in the background. Then walk off the food, in the expansive mall below.