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Saudi Arabia

 
 
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Author christravelblog
Partaker
#16 | Posted: 7 Sep 2019 08:35 
Will tourist visa finally come?

https://www.arabianbusiness.com/travel-hospitality/427145-saudi-arabia-said-to-start-issuing-tourist-visas-on-september-27

Zoe; did you drive the country solo? Everything UNESCO related possible for non-Muslim to visit?
I'm planning a road trip to all the places.

Author Zoe
Partaker
#17 | Posted: 7 Sep 2019 20:40 
Hey that's good news for travelers!

I did travel solo and I wore a hijab outside of the towns because people are not that "modern" there and I got bad looks if not, but none of the places were muslim-centric anywayand they don't discriminate really, in fact the tourist offices at the site welcome tourists and invite you to tea with them before you enter the site! Madâin Is closed for renovations (still possible to visit if you find someone to do a tour though) and quite a few tentative sites need to be booked ahead of time which can be tricky to arrange especially without speaking Arabic. Also keep in mind that the car rentals have limited miles, very limited. I met a guy on the plane out who told me you can get packages so you prepay more but with a lot of driving it's worth it so maybe you can find something like that.

If you just want to visit the WHS I would rent in Riyadh for the rock art, taking a bus to Al Ahsa and go around with local taxi, bus to Jeddah and tour to Madâin. The west coast is a nice drive though, green hills and mountains - definitely beats the mudane miles of road stretching through the desert.

Author Solivagant
Partaker
#18 | Posted: 8 Sep 2019 05:41 | Edited by: Solivagant 
Zoe:
I wore a hijab outside of the towns because people are not that "modern" there and I got bad looks if not

Out of interest to understand how things might have changed.since we were there.
I presume you wore a black abaya all the time whether or not you also wore a hijab?
My wife and I were there in 2002 during an earlier "attempt" by Saudi at encouraging tourism and issuing tourist visas. That was after 9/11 but subsequent World events, struggles among contending views for influence in SA etc put an end to that initiative.
We had to travel as a "group" and the females wore the abaya (black??) all the time - actually this was no "problem" as it avoided the need to consider what to wear! In fact, although my wife had bought one she was also "issued" with one by our tour company on arrival!! The hijab (also black) was still required at all times - even for my wife's visa photo (as more recently, though of any colour, it was for her Iranian visa photo) - what was your experience in that respect? In Iran in 2016 her adoption of head covering was somewhat perfunctory - she wore a coloured head scarf but plonked her usual crumpled bush hat on top of it -with no criticism or obvious "comment"!
We didn't actually face them personally, but the "Mutawa" or "religious police" were noticeable in Saudi. Particularly at prayer times they would drive round and "encourage" shops to close (many shops were of course at least staffed, if not owned, by South Asian and other immigrants.) Did you see any sign of the Mutawa?

Author Zoe
Partaker
#19 | Posted: 8 Sep 2019 08:19 
I only wore a pink hijab thanks to Mohammad bin Salman reforming the country on a massive scale. Riyadh had local women without hijab but I found in Jeddah most women only wore black or dark blue for young girls, but again I'm foreign and they seem to forgive a tourist's ignorance somewhat. I wasn't sure how it would be but the line for the Formula E visa counter had other women and I talked to them about it. We only need to wear it at religious places. Best idea is to always carry one.

Haven't seen any Mutawa but all the shops closed quickly when I was visiting Jeddah at one point so that makes sense now, but I didn't see anyone actually drive around give them orders.

Iran has very few men still enforcing the head to be covered. I think it will actually disappear in the next 20 years.

Author christravelblog
Partaker
#20 | Posted: 8 Sep 2019 08:35 
Tnx for the advise! I talked to an expat family (lived there 5 years) and they said that Abaya: yes need mostly. But Hijab they used ONCE in the 5 years in some very conservative village. (forgot the name). So I guess just having one would be good just in case.
For men, anything is fine actually especially if touring as tourist.

Anyone; although I go mainly for WHS I also what to get to talk to some locals so we all might dress up more or less out of respect.
going to make an itinerary the next days just in case when it opens I'm ready to book :-)

Author Solivagant
Partaker
#21 | Posted: 8 Sep 2019 08:53 | Edited by: Solivagant 
Thanks Zoe.
Although the word "Hijab" can be used to refer to the totality of Islamic dress I was adopting the normal convention of differentiating between the "Hijab" and the "Abaya" as being the head covering and the robe or dress in Saudi . See all the types defined here - . https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Types_of_hijab
So, whilst I understand that you didn't wear a head covering, I am not quite sure if women tourists still have to wear the "Abaya"?? If not then what "gets by"? Jeans and shirt?
Regarding the visa photo I presume that you didn't actually have to provide a separate photo to get your Formula E visa? My wife's passports contain the photos for Saudi and Iran as a part of the visa as a "permanent" record!

Zoe:
Iran has very few men still enforcing the head to be covered. I think it will actually disappear in the next 20 years.

I think that depends very much on how the country "goes" politically. See this article from July 2019 (i.e 2 months ago!) indicating a current "tightening" of enforcement There is absolutely no argument that, without such pressures, large numbers of younger/westernised women would cease to wear it. But "disappear"? I suspect not. Many others genuinely see it as a religious duty. UK TV has a totally westernised/UK born/highly educated (inc LSE) newsreader/reporter wearing a full hair covering. Body "taboos" are very culturally determined and even vary as between Western countries - the US is particularly "concerned" about public display of nipples for instance - far more so than elsewhere! We discussed the matter with our "westernised" guide in Iran and he indicated that female "hair" was regarded as being particularly "sensual" within Iranian culture. His wife (in her mid 40s?) would certainly never consider being seen outside her family without a head covering - and there was no "compulsion" whatsoever. She wore one when we saw her and her family at home.

Author Zoe
Partaker
#22 | Posted: 8 Sep 2019 21:05 
I did wear an abaya on top of my clothes. Some ladies arrived in jeans and t-shirt. Legally it's not required to wear but seems disrespectful. As a foreigner you usually get a pass but then you also don't blend it at all and offending the ALL-MALE tourist officers at the WH spots would be idiotic. Outside the Riyadh airport I didn't come across many tourists and only 2 were ladies. I forget what they wore and they were Thai so I think they covered up not to get a brown tan lol

The evisa needed a passport photo online but they only give you a small stamp in the passport - ironically my next US entry stamp was made right next to it and they didn't ask any question about it. I take it yours was a full page visa. Iran does everything online and no stamps due to the US travel restrictions limiting visitors afraid of them finding out, or so I think. Almost like I was never there.

Author kintante
Partaker
#23 | Posted: Yesterday 09:48 
Zoe: how many days did you travel to cover all these sites (whs and twhs)? E visa could come this month, so it starts to get interesting.

Author Zoe
Partaker
#24 | Posted: Yesterday 18:35 
It's been a while but roughly:
Day 1: arrived Riyadh early morning, rent car, drive up to Al Ahsa, look around ~2h, back to Riyadh for the Formula E.
Day 2: long drive to Al Faw, closed, drive to Hima Wells (closed off but you can sneak in or bring a good lense/binoculars), overnight in Khamis
Day 3: Rijal, Zee Ain, overnight in Jeddah. Driving down here is nicer than the cross-country highways.
Day 4: eygptian Hajj road, Badr, Al Ula plus nearby train stations
Day 5: tour of Al Hijr and surrounding rock formations, long drive to Hail
Day 6: Hail rock art, Darb Zubayda, overnight in Riyadh
Day 7: Turaif Quarter, national museum, fly out

For an extra day I would go to Sakaka and see the Rajajil columns and the Al Jouf oasis.

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