Who would have known that embarking on a solo journey from Riyadh to Dubai will not be just a usual (long) road trip, but an adventure filled with scenic landscapes, cultural wonders, and the joy of exploring two dynamic cities. While air travel is a common choice, my recent experience with SAPTCO Bus brought a unique perspective to the journey, offering a blend of comfort, affordability, and an opportunity to witness the beauty of the desert along the way.
It was s sudden decision, I had 2 days off (timeback) at work and I badly needed a break so a trip to Dubai became an option. I scouted for available flights, but the cheapest I found online would cost me more than a thousand Saudi Riyals so I opted to book for a bus ticket instead. I found a roundtrip fare by bus from Riyadh to Dubai and back for 380SR only. Booking thru the SAPTCO website was surprisingly simple and straight-forward. I received my eTicket copy thru email a minute after I paid.
The Departure: Riyadh to Dubai
I took an UBER ride to the Riyadh Bus Station in Al Aziziyah District. I arrived 2 hours before the scheduled departure. There were a lot of passengers at the departure hall. As I boarded the SAPTCO Bus in Riyadh, I couldn't help but feel a sense of anticipation. The journey promised not only a destination but also a passage through the vast Saudi Arabian desert. We were only 8 passengers during the trip. The bus was modern, comfortable, and equipped with amenities such as Wi-Fi and spacious seating, making the long ride ahead seem much more manageable. The bus left at 4:08PM.
The Scenic Route: Through the Arabian Desert
Leaving Riyadh behind, the landscape quickly transformed into a mesmerizing sea of golden sand dunes. The vastness of the desert, occasionally interrupted by clusters of camels and nomadic settlements, provided a serene backdrop for the journey. As the bus cruised through the desert highways, I couldn't help but appreciate the beauty of the Arabian Peninsula.
Pit Stops and Cultural Encounters: Exploring the Oasis Towns
The SAPTCO Bus made strategic stops at gas stations along the route, allowing passengers to stretch their legs and freshen up a bit. Just before reaching Al Batha border, the driver stopped for a thirty minute break so everyone have dinner at the local rest area.
Border Crossing: Entering the UAE
We reached the Saudi-UAE Border Control area at 11:40PM. First stop was the Saudi Customs. All passengers were asked to step out of the bust and take our bags to the conveyor/ Xray. There were porters and attendants helping the passengers load and unload each luggage onto the conveyor. After inspection, men and women were asked to wait in the two separate waiting areas until the vehicle inspection is done.
At 12:30PM we were lined up for the Passport Check. Each one of us was asked to approach the officer thru the window. The Jawasat Officer asked me for my profession, and he scanned my passport. We were done at 1:16AM.
Next stop was the UAE Immigration Control. An officer checked our passport, and we did Eye Scan at the counter. The UAE Customs officers checked the luggage compartment and then asked for our passports one by one. They finished inspection at 1:23AM.
Crossing the border from Saudi Arabia into the United Arab Emirates marked a significant transition. The bus seamlessly navigated the border crossing process, and soon we found ourselves on the well-maintained roads of the UAE. The stark contrast between the rugged beauty of the desert and the modern infrastructure of Dubai was a testament to the diversity of the Arabian landscape.
Arrival in Dubai: A City of Contrasts
Reaching Dubai after an overnight travel felt like a rewarding accomplishment. The iconic skyline, dominated by the Burj Khalifa, welcomed us to a city that seamlessly combines tradition and modernity. The SAPTCO Bus had not only provided a comfortable journey but also a unique perspective on the gradual transformation of the surroundings.
The entire trip from Riyadh to Dubai took almost 15hours. There’s an hour difference between Saudi and UAE.
The Return Journey: Dubai to Riyadh
As the time came to bid farewell to Dubai, the return journey with SAPTCO Bus offered a different set of experiences. The familiarity of the desert landscape was comforting, and the memories of the vibrant cityscape of Dubai lingered as the bus retraced its route back to Riyadh.
I arrived one hour before the departure time. There were only two (2) passengers waiting inside the office. The associate asked for a copy of my ticket. He then told me that I would need to pay for an additional 40 Dirhams for the driver. I asked him politely for what the additional fee was, but he didn’t reply to me. The other passengers told me they also paid and like me, they didn’t know for what it was.
There were only 6 passengers in the bus from Dubai to Riyadh. I seated in front, and there was a couple with their two small children. The bus left at 3:05PM.
We reached the UAE Immigration at 8:40PM. There were quite a lot of passengers from 4 buses waiting outside the passport hall. We waited for our driver to call us after 30minutes. The Officer checked our passport and did eye scan. We then returned to the bus and moved towards the Saudi Customs.
When we reached Saudi Customs, there was a long queue. Most bags going thru the xray conveyor were being inspected more thoroughly. The Officers asked several passengers to open their luggages. Noting that there are more prohibited stuff in Saudi Arabia, I realized that the patrol guards are required to do more stringent screening.
We spent almost 2 hours in the Saudi Immigration side. It was way past midnight when we left the UAE/Saudi border.
Finally, I could say that my trip from Riyadh to Dubai and back via SAPTCO Bus was more than a transportation experience; it turned out as a beautiful journey through contrasting landscapes, cultures, and the essence of the Arabian Peninsula. The affordability and comfort of the bus service, coupled with the opportunity to witness the beauty of the desert, made it a unique adventure that I would gladly undertake again. For those seeking a blend of adventure and convenience, the SAPTCO Bus journey from Riyadh to Dubai is a must-try, offering a fresh perspective on the enchanting landscapes of the Middle East. So, the next time you plan a trip to Dubai, consider taking the road less traveled – the SAPTCO bus might just turn your travel into an unforgettable adventure.
Solo travel is a unique and rewarding experience that can teach you a lot about yourself and the world around you. It can be daunting at first, but it's also incredibly empowering. When you travel alone, you're in complete control of your itinerary and you can do whatever you want, whenever you want. Solo travel can help you to learn more about yourself, push yourself outside of your comfort zone, and experience the world in a whole new way.
WHY SOLO TRAVEL?
There are many reasons why people choose to travel alone. Some people do it because they want to experience new things and meet new people. I do it personally to challenge myself and step outside of my comfort zone. And of course, just because I also simply enjoy my own company.
No matter what your motivation is, solo travel can be a life-changing experience. It can help you to:
TIPS FOR SOLO TRAVELERS
If you're new to solo travel, here are a few tips to help you get started:
SOLO TRAVEL DESTINATIONS
There are many great destinations for solo travelers. Here are a few suggestions:
Book the best accommodations for your trip!
We reached the Eye Park known in Arabic as Hadiqa AlAyoun by the locals at 8am. The park was empty, with only a few maintenance staff cleaning the area. Like most of the parks in Riyadh, the Eye Park is well maintained and clean. What makes it unique among others is that it is on top of a mountain with facilities provided for free.
There are several concrete gazebos on top of the valley and there’s also three separate play areas for children. Inside each gazebo, there’s a fireplace which can be used for barbeque.
Electric power outlets are available inside the huts which makes the place ideal for worry-free and convenient weekend gatherings.
We also joined the birthday celebration of Faith, daughter of Kuya Roden and Ate Maria who were amongst our very first friends in Riyadh. Imagine halo-halo and freshly grilled burgers at the mountain top?! Awesome!
Spending time with friends is one of the few pleasures in this life that costs us nothing but rewards us substantially. Im glad I had the chance to share a Friday with my diving buddies, and kuya Roden’s family though not underwater, but up in mountain park.
Part 2 - The Sea, the Mountains and Roads of Tabuk
We left Al Ula at half past 11am on 9th March. The drive from the small city of Al Ula to the quite popular Tabuk province of the north is simply breathtaking. It’s basically a long journey from the countryside, but then again there were miles and miles of desert sands before us until somehow it enters an area of outstanding geological wonders. The cliffs and rock formations along the way is absolutely spectacular in a variety of colors of red, brown, green, and grey, with highlights of glistening yellow as the sunlight hits them. Unlike the valleys in Al Ula, those surrounding Tabuk look stiff and pointed from the top, forming cones and triangular shapes of all sorts.
We arrived at the hotel a bit past six, then headed to the Dive Time PADI Center which was a 7 minute drive away. We booked our dives for the next day.
We had an early dinner at one of the local arabic restaurants and watched a movie at the hotel to wrap up a long day and our first night in Tabuk.
There were some incomprehensible arguments at the coastguard office, but finally we were allowed to dive at 11am. We had all the diving area for ourselves so we easily set up our tents, ready to enjoy the sun and the sea.
As per Eric and RDA’s account, the amazing visibility at Wasel site (King Abdullah Reef) was the best compared among all other parts of the Red Sea where we have done diving before. We thought the viz at Yanbu and Sharm El Sheikh were the topnotch, but this one beats them for sure.
Sadly though, amidst colorful corals and epic viz, there were less fish and marine life in the site.
Two dives at 135ft, an hour each at 15C water temp and we’ve ticked off Tabuk diving from our bucket list.
We noticed a lot of signages and ongoing construction sites related to the $500B Neom project in the area. Neom is a highly ambitious planned cross-border city in the Tabuk Province of northwestern Saudi Arabia.
We passed by another popular site - the Georgios G Shipwreck which is a 40-year-old Greek ship that got stranded near the city of Tabuk on the shore of Bir Al-Mashi in Haql.
The trip back to Tabuk City took us almost 3 hours, due to quite a lot of detour/ traffic in the highway.
Visiting the Tabuk Castle was first on our list on our third day. It was an open museum and with free admission. We were the only visitors at the fort that morning so we enjoyed our self guided tour at the simple, yet picturesque architecture of the ancient castle which dated as far back 3500 BC though known origin was from year 1559.
So we opted to head back northwest instead to see the popular Moses Well also known as Bir Al-Sa’idani in Bad’a. It is believed that Moses frequented this well and settled with his wife in this place after he was exiled from Egypt.
As I have been interested and curious to know more about the Nabatean people and culture, visiting Madyan was definitely a plus to our tour. Also known as Mugha’ir Shu’ayb, Medyan is still mostly unknown compared to Jordan’s Petra and Al Ula’s Madain Salih, although it has some of the most beautiful monumental tombs typical of the architecture of the ancient Nabatean kingdom.
After visiting the necropolis dug in the hillsides of the Jebel Mussalla, we drove farther west side on to Maqna (or Makna) to check out the springs on top of the Valley of Moses. It was a short trek up to the valley. Villagers say that Moses brought his people from Egypt through the Red Sea and when they asked him for water, they found the little springs where crystal clear water comes out of the ground in several places as if by magic. The spot is surrounded by beautiful palm trees and its water runs downhill towards a lush palm grove.
It was already late afternoon and we decided to head back to the city. It was delightful and serene to watch the sun slowly setting down to the west, painting the sky orange and red, and the mountains glimmering of yellow and brown hues.
A hearty meal among Filipino friends at Western Road Steak & Grill concluded our third night at Tabuk City.
Our trip to the north of Saudi Arabia was a much needed break. With all the covid related restrictions since last year, our family hasn’t traveled as much as we used to. And after traveling to almost 50 countries around the world, it is indeed surprising to discover hidden jewels of history, culture, and amazing sea and landscapes that Saudi Arabia has - all within our reach.
Certainly though, seeing and knowing more about Saudi Arabia - its rich history, culture, people, geological wonders and even its future plans like the Neom project, makes me feel proud and humbled at the same time. To most people around the world, Saudi Arabia may just be a sandpit, a mere land of desert and oil, but for me and my family, it has been our second home and I will forever be grateful for the opportunities and privileges that this kingdom has given me.
Part 1- Al Ula Journey
We were due for annual vacation in Philippines but due to Covid restrictions, we decided to stay in Saudi Arabia and travel north/northwest of the kingdom instead.
We left Riyadh on Saturday, 6th March, at 6:30am. Our gps was set to Al Ula showing 1,070 kms on a 10.15hrs travel time.
The girls and I were mostly asleep half of the trip, waking up at pitstops along the way. My husband and our dear friend RDA shared driving. We had our quick lunch at a small park along Qassim Highway. It was a smooth road trip on a perfect sunny day.
As we approach the northern part of Al Madinah province, we were amazed by the gorgeous landscape of crazy beautiful rock formations in the high desert extending for miles upon miles in every direction and passing numerous small towns, most of which still retain a strong indigenous presence.
We reached Al Ula past 7pm and bought dinner from one of the local cafeterias. There were neither big or fancy restaurants in the area and it was rather dark and quiet. It kinda reminded me of my childhood in the province where we used to have dinner at 7pm and sleep early during night time.
We arrived at the Winter Park at 8:10am as we were asked to be at the bus 8:20am.
First Tour: Hegra Tour including Hejaz Railway Station and Mada’in Salih
Second Tour: Dadan and Jabal Al Ikmah Tour
Free Admission/ Need prior booking
Note that a confirmed reservation is required to enter the Elephant Rock site. We were allowed to get in only at exactly 6pm as mentioned in our passes.
We ended a long day with some local food from the city center.
For our third day in Al Ula, we didn't schedule any pre-booked tours. We opted to drive around and discover more about the town by ourselves.
We drove to the Maraya Concert Hall which is also known as Glass Building of Saudi but it was closed for renovation and we were not allowed in.
We went to a citrus farm and the owner let us pick some orange and lemon fruits by ourselves. There were at least 10 different varieties of citrus in the farm and we had a blast picking and eating and of course we took a bagful home too.
It was definitely surreal being so up close to the majestic rocks and actually touching, and climbing some.
On the fourth day, we got reservations for an early Al Ula Old Town Archeological Tour.
We paid 70 SAR for each ticket. We took the bus at the Winter Park at 8:20am. It was a 1.5hr tour.
The numerous gates surrounding the previously existent village and the 40 meter fortress opened our eyes to the secrets of how this little town has adapted to changing times and developing perspective around it - of life itself and Arab traditions that circles around hospitality, family and also survival.
Im not sure when my thing for canyons actually started. But I have always been fascinated with canyons, either underwater or in the ground or high upland.
Last Friday, right after our usual biking routine at Wadi Hanifa, the #ocampers (lol i’ve just made that up to call Ocampo fam campers) headed a bit quite far down southern Riyadh to see the infamous hidden canyon.
It was almost lunch time when we reached the area. We decided to park on the right side facing South. There were few vehicles already in the area and while we were fixing our picnic mat and whatnots, two more cars came in with at least three western families with kids.
What makes the Hidden Canyon special? Also known as Mawan Valley, the Hidden Canyon of Riyadh is considered to be one of the most important archaeological sites in Saudi Arabia.
Located near the city of Ad-Dilam, not very far from the center of Riyadh, it is also a site of stunning natural beauty which cannot be seen from a distance but only by standing at its head unlike many other canyons that we see on our way out of Riyadh.
The majestic view from the top of the hidden valley consists of two stone structures on both sides. The foundations of the wall were supported by high stone slabs while the wall itself is around 6 meters high or even more. The tower-like structures are conical in shape, with their centers open to the bottom, and they look like a cave without a roof.
I was contented from staying on top watching my kids go deep down the canyon all the way down to the center where the deepest part is. I could imagine how in many million years back, this very same colossal landscape was underwater and slowly forming its now magnificent shape.
We spent a few more hours relaxing in our newly found spot outside the city. We also had a share of freshly cooked chicken biryani from our Indian friends.
Taking one last look at the canyon before we leave the place, I somehow realized what makes a canyon special. Being such a vast, breathtaking spectacle as it is, a canyon is formed after many years of struggle from harsh environment and weather conditions - which I guess makes it a happy ending. Indeed, this not so “hidden” canyon with its stiff and stepped terraces, sandy bottom and scattering of smallholdings is worth the admiration.
People. Everyone around me who believes and inspires me.
Life itself is a happy experience. The world is a happy place.
I had my own share of struggles, life was not easy for us back then but my Dad taught me how to believe in myself, work hard , be kind and to be strong. He inspired me to go out of my comfort zone. He used to tell me that the possibilities in life are endless and so I believed him.
l Iost him quite a few years ago but he has left me with so much inspiration to follow my dreams - to visit places I have only dreamt of or have seen in the movies when I was little and to do things I thought were only for the privileged few.
Wherever I go, I always remember my Dad, wishing he could see me from afar and somehow be proud of me as I have always been so proud of him. Life is short and I promised him that I would make the most of mine.
Travelling makes me happy and in all other things, I choose happiness. We all should- always..