Arabian Adventures Video

Here is a video of some of my travels this summer in the Gulf States United Arab Emirates, Qatar and a little bit from Bahrain. Mystically enough all of my videos from Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and nearly all of my videos from Bahrain has disappeared from my computer, so this was pretty much all that was left and I hope it will give you a little taste of my Arabian Adventures.

Doha, Qatar

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Our flights had been booked with a two night stopover in Doha and me and my brother had been looking forward to the activities and sights that the city had to offer. We had been planning our short stay for a long time and had decided to spend the first day at Villaggio shopping mall and see the city in the evening. The second day we had planned on playing golf, then go dunebashing with quad bikes and then to end the day with a visit to Doha Aqua Park. The plan would have been perfect for us, but because of a sandstorm coming in on the second day and because it was a friday (which is a muslim holiday and family day where also women were allowed into Aqualand) none of these activities were possible for us to do. Instead we repeated the program from the day before, which also worked out for us.

 

Villaggio Mall was quite impressing with its indoor amusement park and its channels for gondola rides. It also had a great amount of shops with good prices on western clothing brands. Souq Waqif, which was the local marked was also a good place for shopping. It was a good place to get souvenirs and a good meal in a comfortable environment.

The Corniche is a waterfront promenade and was also a great place to spend the evenings. Lots of local people were sitting in the parks or along the water for a picnic, having a good view of the lit up city center across the water, the many fishing boats drifting by and the museum of islamic art which looked like a floating building that was lit up in the evenings.

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Doha is a place which is well worth a stopover, but I think two full days was enough for us to see what the city had to offer. 

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Kuwait City

Kuwait was a country that I had been looking forward to a lot. Not because there was a lot of things there that I wanted to see or do, but because I had gotten in touch with a local guy on couchsurfing who was going to host me and show me around in Kuwait City.


My couchsurfing host was so kind to pick me up at the airport and was waiting for me as I walked out of the airport terminal. The first thing my host did after greeting me was to give me a serious look into my eyes when he said “lets make a deal: for the time you are here you should not spend any money. The whole stay should be on me, okay?”. At first I was a bit hesitant but when he started to explain how people from Kuwait get money from the government for working instead of paying tax I decided to accept the generous offer.


We took off in his car and drove straight into the city. In Kuwait the cars function as peoples living rooms since the gas is so cheap and since it provides cool air-conditioning in the extremely hot summers. The malls are their second living rooms so we spent the whole time driving around with his friends drinking home destilled liqor(because alcohol is banned in Kuwait) and walked around in the biggest mall of the Arab Peninsula, “The Avenues”.


During the two full days I spent in Kuwait, I spent most of the time in the car. When driving I got to know two (Kuwait City and al Jahra) of the three cities in Kuwait fairly well and through talking to my couchsurfing host I also learned a lot of the fascinating way of life in Kuwait.


Most people in Kuwait seemed to be quite rich and everything seemed extremely commercialized. I have not even seen such a high concentration of American fast food restaurants in a US city as I saw in The Avenues Mall, and the many clothing stores were flashing with the most expensive American brands. Even though Kuwait is bordering the conservative Saudi Arabia in the South and Iraq in the North, the country had a quite liberal feeling to it. And even though I did not get any Arabic cultural experience I still got a good peak into the Kuwait way of life. It was some good two days spent in Kuwait, but two days were also enough to explore such a small country.

 Kuwait2 Kuwait3

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

After two hours of waiting in the immigrations queue, a tall dark Eritrean guy came up to me asking “are you Jorn?”. I knew who he was and said “yes I am!”. He was the driver of the Norwegian Embassy in Riyadh who had come to pick me up at the airport. A few weeks earlier I had contacted the embassy to ask for information about Saudi visa requirements and they had then offered me to show me around in Riyadh if I was every going to come there. Since there are almost no Norwegian tourists in Saudi Arabia they said that they would be more than happy to do so.

Marit, the business trainee working at the Embassy had put together an itinerary for the day and since the Norwegian Ambassador of Abu Dhabi was on visit that day she joined us on the tour.

Ambassadører

Kingdom Tower

First stop was the Kingdom Tower which is a tower built on top of a shopping mall looking like a giant bottle opener with colorful lights in the middle. The elevators took us up to the 156th floor where there was a bridge across the tower with transparent walls. From the top it was possible to see almost as far as the city was stretched and even though there were signs saying “no pictures” I still had to save the magnificent view on my camera. When walking through the shopping mall on the way out I noticed that the shops had no fitting rooms and that there was no music playing in the background. When asking Marit about it I was explained that women had to first buy the clothes and then try them out when coming back to their own homes. And music was simply not allowed in the malls because it can offend religious customers.

business disctrict saudi
As it was already past lunchtime we headed towards our next stop on the program which was a traditional Beduin restaurant close to the old city. The Saudi Arabian food and dining experience was excellent with the highlight for me being the Arabic coffee. It was very unlike other coffee I had tasted as it had a light greenish color and a totally different taste. As we had a closed room the women were also allowed to take off their head cover and enjoy the meal in a comfortable atmosphere.

During the couple of hours spent talking over the dinner and coffee the two women shared their unique experiences about life and diplomatic work as women in Arabic countries. They both had very interesting stories to tell, giving me a deeper understanding of a country that people know little about.

The last stop on the program was old Riyadh where all the buildings looked like pale gingerbread houses. This traditional way of building houses was totally different from the buildings in the business district that we saw earlier. The stop in the old city had made my visit to Riyadh complete. I had gotten to see the modern Saudi Arabia as it is today and the old way that it used to be. I had been given a unique opportunity to experience a country more or less closed to the outside world. I have been left with an impression which will forever stay with me and that has changed my view on Saudi Arabia. 

old city saudi

saudi meal

Getting a Saudi Transit Visa

 
Many rhumors on the web has it that a Saudi Arabian visa is one of the worlds hardest visas to get a hold of.
 
First of all tourist visas are extremely rare and only possible to get if you purchase an organized tour by a government approved agency in Saudi Arabia. The country seems rich enough on their petroleum reserves, and is therefore not dependent on foreign tourists
 
Business visas requires sponsorship from a Saudi Arabian company, which is not something most people who is intending on staying for tourism purposes will be able to get, therefore the last possible option if you wish to do a casual trip to Saudi Arabia is to get a transit visa which will allow you to stay up to 72 hours. 
 
Working in a travel agency it was easy enough to book a couple of fully refundable tickets for a trip going from Bahrain through Saudi Arabia to Doha, which could be cancelled without airline fees applying. Booking a trip without issuing the tickets should also work, and is something every travel agency should be able to do free of charge (what we do when we send out offers). I booked a full refundable stay at a hotel near the airport which I added together with the receipt for my online application (through the web portal Enjazit) and added this with the application which was sent to the Royal Saudi Arabian Embassy in Oslo.
 
Already the next day I was called by the Consular Section at the Embassy who asked me why I had decided to fly through Saudi Arabia, and wanted me to confirm how long time I would be needing for my visa. I explained that I wanted to go from DOH to BAH and found a cheap ticket with an overnight stay in Riyadh, and that I needed enough hours to get two full days in Riyadh. The excuse was accepted and later that day the woman called me and said that I had been granted 48 hours in the Kingdom. The passport arrived in the mail already the next morning, just three days since I posted it by mail. So as long as you dont have an Israeli stamp in your passport, getting a visa for shorter than 72 hours should not be a problem for anyone who wish to visit the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Visa