Saudi Arabia travel guide
Rijal Alma is an ancient village turned open air museum. It was an important trade center along one of the routes to Mecca. Many of the solid built houses were multiple-story buildings, which also doubled as mini fortresses. Today the village has been partly restored with the use of (unfortunately too much) concrete, and windows and doors are now again painted in bright colours. Getting to Rijal Alma from Abha by car is a separate experience, where a section of the road is very steep with hairpin turns.
The capital of Saudi Arabia has surprisingly few skyscrapers. It's a very spread out city, which can not be described as pedestrian friendly. There are a few historical sites like the Ad Diriyah (UNESCO enlisted historical neighbourhood) and Masmak Fortress, both restored. Deera Square (nicknamed Chop Chop Square) is deceivingly peaceful, but it's here public executions take place. There are some good museums (particularly National Museum of Saudi Arabia) and then there are always shopping, either in one of the many luxury malls or in the traditional souqs - there is even a falcon market.
About 30 km outside Abha, at the top of the Sawda mountain range, the road to Rijal Alma suddenly starts to descend. From then on, it's hairpin turn after hairpin turn. The road is so steep and twisting that trucks are not permitted. Several signs instruct to use the low gear, to spare the brakes. Along the road - and particularly at the few viewpoints - baboons are on the lookout for anything eatable.
Some might expect Saudi Arabia to be covered in big sand dunes, but the Saudi landscape is surprisingly diverse with mountains, rocky outcrops and oases. Even the desert seems to be made up of mostly stones and rocks instead of sand. So where can you see some proper sand dunes? One place is the Nefud desert (Al Nefud Al Kebir), which the road from Hail to Jubbah (where the UNESCO enlisted petroglyphs are) pass through. Here the sand dunes roll all the way up to the road and you have splendid panoramic views from the car. On weekends there are several places, which hire ATVs out.
City of Tabuk is like so many other cities in Saudi Arabia, very spread out. There are a few sights like the fortress (pictured) and the old Hejaz railway station, today both museums. But travellers don't come to Tabuk for the sights within the city, but rather to use it as a gateway to the beautiful "northern Arabia". There are rock formations, mountains, wadis, and even the Grand Canyon of Saudi Arabia just a few hours drive (in a 4x4) from Tabuk.
Taif's traditional souq is a pleasant surprise. It has been renovated tastefully and is still divided into areas for gold, perfumes, abayas (black cloak for women), etc. The maze of small squares and narrow lanes are only for pedestrians, so powershoppers hire a carrier with a wheelbarrow to transport their goods. In the evening the souq gets filled with locals, making it a great place for people watching.