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Tabuk - Tayma - Al Ula

Continuing south

View Saudi Arabia 2022 on Grete Howard's travel map.

I wake at 05:00 to what sounds like an old-fashioned landline phone ringing in another room, or somewhere in the hotel. It does not get answered, and the ringing goes on for another forty minutes. By this time the hotel-neighbours-from-hell have woken up, and the dad is coughing, clearing his throat, and slamming doors. We escape by going to breakfast.




Today David orders something called Gazmaz Eggs, which those of you who have read yesterday's blog entry, will know that they are exactly what I thought I was getting yesterday when I ordered Shakshuka.


I, on the other hand, e joy a dish of Labneh with thyme, and ask for extra zaatar to go with that. It is served with zaatar bread too, and is incredibly yummy.

Best labneh I have ever had!

Zaatar overload this morning

Soon after breakfast, we are on our way south again. We stop at a service station for a desperate David, and although he claims the toilets were disgusting, he does come back to the car with an ice cream each. Result! I have been craving ice cream for a couple of days now.


We drive around and around this small city, with no sign of the local guide we are meeting up with. Bacha makes a phone call, then reverses around the corner, checks google maps, and phones again, but no guide to be seen. Finally, in frustration, he takes a picture of what he can see out of the window and sends it to the guide. Still no sign. Eventually, we do meet up with the guide on the main street. Abdullatif introduces himself and explains that our guide, who is a friend of his, had to go to Riyadh, and asked him to look after us instead.

Haddaj Well
The well is the main attraction in the city, and something I have been looking forward to seeing. Guess what? It is closed for restoration, so all we are permitted to do, is to take photos from the outside.


Constructed in the 6th century BC, this enormous well has a diameter of 18 metres and is one of the largest water wells in the world. 75 camels were used to draw water from the well – you may be able to see some of the 40 pulley wheels in this picture.

Al Taqqa Palace


While this place is also undergoing restoration work, we are permitted to enter. It is just one big building site, and is a bit of a health and safety nightmare, especially for someone with a knee injury.




Abdullatif has a friend with him, who records our every move on his mobile phone. It is hot, I am still feeling disappointed that the well is not open, I am trying to negotiate my way around a dangerous ruin, and this idiot is filming me! I finally lose patience and snap at him to stop it!


Post note: Some two months after returning to the UK, while researching Google Maps for this blog, I found this image of me – and the one below which was taken a little later after I calmed down.



This palace is where Abdullatif's father and grandfather were born. This, the original door to the palace, is 500 years old.


Abdullatif's ancestors, despite being of humble origin, were/are part of the local royal family, making him a sheikh.


Sheikh Madi Altalaq Palace
We are invited to visit the family's current palace, which is accessed through an impressive-looking gate, into a walled compound. The building itself, while large and sporting a splendid entrance, is reasonably unassuming from the outside.

The reception room, however, is anything but. A huge room, with extravagant chairs along the walls. We are invited in to take a seat.


An Irishman called Andrew, who we met outside the older palace, tags along. He is travelling independently, in his own car, having previously lived in the KSA.


Bacha appears suitably impressed. This is the room where Abdullatif's grandfather would entertain visiting dignitaries.

Post Note # 2: Since arriving back in the UK, I have seen videos of such visits.


We are offered Arabic Coffee, of course.


Also individually-wrapped cookies, dates, and apple juice.



In the small library, we are shown pictures hanging on the walls of famous people visiting this place. Abdullatif takes lots of pictures of us, promising to add them to the collection of VIPs. Should you be lucky enough to get an invitation to the palace, look out for our picture in the 'Rogue's Gallery', and let us know if you see us.



The whole experience has been surreal as well as humbling – I never thought I would be invited to a sheikh's palace here in Saudi Arabia!

Bacha has been given directions to a suitable lunch place for us, and we invite Andrew to join us. The restaurant is very traditionally Arabic, with floor seating in individual little cubicles only. Explaining about my knee injury, Bacha asks if they can find me a chair, but they have none. We decide to look for something to eat elsewhere, and after a bit of driving around, we end up in a fast food joint, where we all enjoy 'zinger sandwiches'.


After lunch we say goodbye to Andrew, and head further south to continue our journey. We enjoy a post-lunch snooze for the first few miles, but then try our best to stay away as the scenery becomes increasingly more rugged, with some fascinating rock formations.





I am disturbed to see the amount of graffiti that has been scrawled on the rocks.



I am totally blown away by the outer-worldly scenery that has been sculpted over the millennia by wind and water.





Just outside the town of Al Ula, we turn off the main highway onto a sandy track leading to our camp for the night. Bacha explains that previous customers have complained about the approach road to the hotel, and the management is now trying to improve the road. We see a number of road-work vehicles, but no workers. Bacha is concerned about getting stuck in the loose sand here, so drives very gingerly.



The track may be a basic sandy lane, but the breathtaking approach to the resort takes us between staggeringly steep cliffs and golden sand dunes basking in the late sun.


Sahary Resort


Amusingly, the sandy track turns into an elegant cobbled road as we enter the resort compound.


The reception area

Bacha, our lovely driver

The resort is large, with different types of accommodation offered.



It looks like we are staying in the Al Gazal Village part of the camp.


David walks along with the porter transporting our luggage, while I hobble behind with my walking stick, taking photos.


It seems we are right at the end of the path, the furthest away from reception, the restaurant and the car park. Oh well, I shall be giving this poorly knee a bit of a workout for the next couple of days.


Well, almost at the far end.


Our room is made to look like a traditional Arabic nomad tent, but the interior is anything but basic.



After settling in, we wander down for an early dinner, as we want to try and photograph the stars later. The restaurant looks like a wedding set-up, with white cloth-covered chairs, and it is almost empty.


For a buffet, the food is surprisingly good. We both normally hate buffets with a passion, but this has some decent meat dishes - we choose stuffed chicken in a cream sauce with rice. They also have a good selection of vegetables, which to our surprise are not overcooked, but still offer a delightful al dente texture.


As for the dessert buffet – wow! It all looks so delicious that I try one of each. Thankfully they are very small portions.

Chocolate-filled eclair, baklava rolls, honey cake, cream-filled sponge (very light and surprisingly delicious), baklava, kanafeh (sweet cheese-filled pastry), kiwi custard tart.

After dinner, we return to the room and sit outside for a while, admiring the stars, and trying to photograph them. The local light pollution in the camp, while looking very pretty, makes it hard to get a clean image.



In the end, I manage to create something by combining two images.


I would like to offer a huge thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this amazing trip for us.


Posted by Grete Howard 21:10 Archived in Saudi Arabia Tagged breakfast sheikh graffiti library rock_formations stars ice_cream saudi dates astro fast_food saudi_arabia ksa undiscovered_destinations astro_photography labneh arabic_coffee tabuk banan_suites zaatar tayma haddaj haddaj_well taqqa_palace neighbour_from_hell gazmaz_eggs dignitaries zinger_sandwiches rocky_outcrops al_ula sahary_resort nomad_tents buffet_dinner sheikh_madi_atltalaq_palace

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The reception room in that palace reminds me of my own visit to the Presidential Palace in Abu Dhabi, which unfortunately I wasn't permitted to photograph (and I was there for work so couldn't risk getting into trouble by sneaking any shots!) It had room after room on that scale and at least as grand!

by ToonSarah

Fascinating photos as always Grete. I am always amazed at all you can get done even with a knee brace.


by littlesam1

Thanks Sarah, I (nearly) always abide by the "no photography" rules.

Thanks Larry, I try not to get a little injury stop me from enjoying my travels.

by Grete Howard

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