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Taif - Jeddah

Not my best day

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

I slept well last night, it was a nice soft bed. Despite the restaurant “only having croissants” last night, there was the usual breakfast spread of cheese, meats, yogurt, vegetables, eggs etc this morning.

Bacha picks us up as arranged at 09:00 to drive to Shubra Palace, which is literally just around the corner from the hotel (we could see the back of it from our bedroom) where we are to meet our guide.

There is no sign of the guide, so we just hang around taking pictures while we wait.

Shubra Palace
The building dates back to 1905 and was a royal residence until 1995, when it was turned into a museum. As with so many places of interest in Saudi Arabia, it is closed for restoration.


At 09:30 the guide phones Bacha to say he has just woken up, and suggests a place to meet. Meanwhile, Bacha goes off to a shopping area to get some breakfast, while we stay in the car watching the traffic. We notice that nearly a third of all cars have damage to their rear wheel arch, and we discuss why that could be, suggesting that it is not really surprising as lane control seems to be sadly lacking on roads here in KSA.

While we wait, the muezzin call to prayer goes off on Bacha’s phone, prompting David to state that he prefers that to rap ‘music’.

Al Shiokh Rose Plantation
Taif is famous for its roses, and we continue to a rose garden, where we finally meet up with our guide, Abdul Aziz.


In each of these vats, 10kg of rose petals and 25l of water is placed, and a fire is lit underneath with the steam helping to create the resulting rosewater. The whole process takes 2.5 hours.


The factory here is run as a collaboration between 25 local families, each owning a small plot of land. They have 32 big vats between them.


Rosewater is used mainly in skin care products but is also used in cooking (I have a half-used bottle in my cupboard at home), and as a health benefit to aid digestion, as eye drops, it has antibacterial properties to help heal wounds or to soothe sore throats.



Cheesy, but it has to be done!

Al Hada Upper Viewpoint
The view has the potential to be great on a clear day; however, today is not that day, with too much mist hanging around in the valley.



There are some amazing properties on the cliff edge opposite, mostly used as summer houses to get away from the stifling heat in the lowlands (it is considerably cooler up here than anywhere else we have been in Saudi). The price for those homes, however, is outrageous, around 10,000 SAR per m² (ca £2,200) against a mere 500 SAR in the town.


Hamadryas Baboons
Today, the main attraction here is not so much the view, but the baboons that hang around waiting to be fed.



The tourists love them, the locals consider them a nuisance.


The Explore tourist bus arrives not long after us, and they have come prepared with food for the animals, including whole trays of dates.



The baboons squabble over the food, and the tray goes flying, with dates everywhere.



I love the way this cheeky one is holding his hand over one date, while trying to grab another.



Al Shareef Museum
We reluctantly tear ourselves away from photographing the baboons and continue to the excellent and well-laid-out museum showing traditional life in the Middle East.



Water is kept cool in vessels made from mud

Mock-ups of bedouin tents show how men used to make the coffee, while women made butter.



Traditional sitting room - many people still live like this today

The dentist not only did extraction work in the mouth, he was also responsible for circumcisions.

There is a small selection of vintage cars, all of which still work. Once a year, on their national day, the owner takes them out to take part in a parade.




Back in the car (our usual car, not the one in the picture above), and despite the climate here in Taif being much cooler than we have experienced so far (it’s a mere 30° C outside), I am sweltering. The air conditioning is blasting out hot air, and Bacha is unable to switch it off. I start to freak out a little as I have never liked saunas.

Bacha goes off to see if he can find a garage willing and able to repair the A/C on the spot, while we go with Abdul Aziz in his car to the restaurant. Which is closed for prayers. We sit and wait in his car for them to open, when we see the Explore group arrive and walk straight in.

With such a group, they are around 20 people plus a guide and driver, it takes forever for them to order, while we are left in a family room to play ‘I spy with my little eye…’ for nearly half an hour before a waiter pops his head in to see what we would like. Abdul Aziz has gone off to eat with his mate, the Explore guide, and the waiter speaks absolutely no English (which is about the same as my Arabic), so we are grateful when he brings a tablet with pretty pictures.


We order two different dishes that look like kebabs (something that sounded like ‘izmer’ and ‘mattawa’), a fetoush salad, some mango juice, and a sandwich to take out for Bacha.

The food takes another half an hour to arrive, but it is worth the wait. We think the kebabs are beef and aubergine and are both very enjoyable. The salad, however, is a little disappointing, it is not as citrusy as I like it, but I eat some anyway.


Abdul Aziz returns, having spoken to Bacha who has managed to locate a garage willing to take the work on, but they need one more hour to finish it. Using his own private car, Abdul Aziz gives us a guided tour of Taif, first through the posh parts of town, with huge shopping malls, luxury housing, and their very own scale model of the Eiffel Tower.


We can’t believe our eyes when it starts to rain. Rain? In Saudi Arabia? At this time of year? It’s unheard of!


We continue to the older parts of town, where there are several beautiful abandoned mansions from the late 1800s.


Finally, Bacha contacts us to say the car is ready, sporting a new compressor and radiator.


All we have to do now, is for George to transfer the money to Bacha, who then goes off to the ATM to pay the bill for the repair work. It has all worked out very well.


The road leading out of Taif is full of the most amazing hairpin bends, with stunning views of the mountains beyond.




As we near the bottom, I start feeling nauseous. Very nauseous. I ask David for a plastic bag, just in case, and boy do I need it. Thankfully I manage to get everything into the bag, and the bag appears to be waterproof. I can’t remember last time I was quite so violently sick. Several times. It must have been the salad at lunchtime, as David feels fine and he didn’t eat any of that.

I sleep most of the way as we drive past the holy city of Mecca. I briefly wake up to see huge areas filled with covered walkways, and new hotels, all waiting for the influx of pilgrims during Hajj (the annual pilgrimage).

Ibis Jeddah Malik Road
As seems to be all too familiar now, the hotel has no record of our booking. Bacha tries to contact George, but he is in the air on a flight from Riyadh to Jeddah, and is unable to be contacted to confirm our reservation.

Eventually, some 45 minutes after we arrived, we are shown to our room, where I collapse in a heap in bed.

Waiting in the lobby

This private tour was arranged for us by Undiscovered Destinations.


Posted by Grete Howard 20:57 Archived in Saudi Arabia Tagged rain views palace museum farm sick mist roses eiffel_tower baboons saudi jeddah sickness dentist ac middle_east garage saudi_arabia viewpoint vomit nausea mecca vintage_cars taif ksa undiscovered_destinations ibis_hotel air_conditioning makkah shubra roseplantation rosefarm rosewater alshiokhroseplantation alhadaupperviewpoint hamadryas_baboons al_shareef_museum broken_ac sick_bag no_reservation

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