Hello fellow travelers… or at least people in Riyadh who want to discover Saudi Arabia more! We’ve been trying to visit some provinces in Saudi Arabia and we’ve done the usual route of Dammam, Alkhobra, and Jeddah. We’ve also visited Al Ahsa and Abha. We want to go to more places but our schedule has been pretty busy this year. However, there’s this photo of a shipwreck somewhere in Tabuk that kept on haunting us. I mean that in a good way. We were so enamored with it that it didn’t leave our minds. Someday, we said, someday we’ll see it with our own eyes!!! And yes, we did!
Last Saudi National Day, Saudi Airlines came up with a promo. For just 8880 Alfursan miles, we can avail of a round-trip ticket to any of their domestic destinations. It usually costs 10,000 miles one-way so it’s a huge “discount”. Reina and I thought this as a good opportunity to travel domestic and see one of the wonderful places that Saudi Arabia has to offer. The choice is a no-brainer. Of course, Tabuk and we have only one goal in mind: to see that shipwreck! Hahaha.
Tabuk, Tabuk Region, Saudi Arabia. Tabuk Region is in the northwestern part of Saudi Arabia. Its capital is Tabuk City with a population of half a million. Tabuk is close to the Jordan-KSA border. The largest air force base in Saudi Arabia is in Tabuk that’s why it’s no surprise that most Filipinos, or expats, work in military hospitals in the area. Tabuk remains as the “gateway to North Arabia” and the region is rich in antiquities and archaeological sites. The remains of the main station of the Hejaz Railway line is located in Tabuk.
How to Get There? On normal rates, roundtrip flights to Tabuk are around SR 1000 in Saudi Airlines and Fly Nas. Budget airlines flyadeal offer it at around SR 600. Of course you can travel by land but it will take around 12 hours or so to reach Tabuk from Riyadh. SAPTCO has buses plying the Riyadh-Tabuk route. A roundtrip bus ticket costs SR 460. One trip costs SR 230. You can check their schedules in their website.
We flew to Tabuk via Saudia and that’s it right? Simple, fast, no hassle? Hmn. What’s a Pink Tarha trip without a challenge?! We found out that Reina and I can’t travel at the same time in our flight going to Tabuk. When I got the evening flight of the date of our choice, Reina proceeded on booking hers. Alas, the time that I chose was already sold out! WHAT! Or at least, the promo seat is no longer available. ANO BA! The good news is we still have the same flight going back to Riyadh. She just had to book an earlier flight to Tabuk.
So with our flights booked, we researched on how to reach the shipwreck. Turned out, it’s a 2-hour land trip from Tabuk City to Al Haql where the wreck is. Knowing Tabuk (and well, Saudi Arabia), there’s probably no way of commuting to the place. Learning from our experience in Abha (remember that winter???) when we didn’t ask locals first, we reached out to people living in Tabuk in our Facebook page to inquire. Thank you to those who messaged us back and gave us vital information. Ultimately, it was sir Jonathan Abellanosa who came to our rescue. He was a Riyadh resident before being stationed in Tabuk for work. He introduced us to some of his friends via Facebook and they planned our trip to Al Haql on a Friday. Thank you for these kind people!
Where To Stay? Tabuk is a small city and there are not a lot of options when it comes to hotels. However, I discovered Rafahyat Alfakhama Furnished Units in Booking.com. It looked new and based on the high ratings it has in the website, I booked a room good for 2 that was priced at just SR 441 for 3 days and 2 nights. Not a bad deal. For more familiar hotel brands, there’s Holiday Inn Tabuk, Hilton Garden Inn, and Swiss International which cost around SR 700 per night. Pretty fancy but we didn’t need anything fancy. Also, it turned out that Rafahyat Alfakhama is more than what we paid for. It was a really nice hotel and our “room for 2” turned out to be a flat good for 10! Haha. We will write a separate review on this hotel later.
So with our Tabuk plan at least ironed out for the weekend, Reina flew in the morning and I flew in the evening of September 27, 2018 to Tabuk. We were met by sir Jonathan’s friends in Tabuk and they were really warm and friendly. We planned our trip to Al Haql in the morning. They told us they’ll fetch us at around 5:00 in the morning the following day. Now, they asked us to choose between two places. And this is where we got stumped for sometime.
Where To Go? Of course, Tabuk Province has more sights and scenes to offer apart from the Al Haql Shipwreck. Tabuk City is actually the gateway to a lot of Saudi Arabia’s natural wonders. Al Ula and Madain Saleh are to the South while the nearer tourist attractions are divided in the northwest of Tabuk City. Al Ula is too far from Tabuk City and Madain Saleh is undergoing renovations until 2020 so we had two ‘nearby’ options: 1. Go up north to Al Haql and see the beach and shipwreck or 2. Go west to Al Bad to see Moses Well and Biak na Bato and swing by Jebel Al Lewz. For a whole day, you can visit both choices but since our friends only have half day to spare as they have other chores and activities, we can only choose one. Again, it would have been a no-brainer to choose Al Haql but Al Bad is the place mostly visited, according to our hosts. They told us they didn’t know about the shipwreck in Al Haql while Reina and I don’t have an idea on what Moses Well and Biak na Bato are. Haha. And so, we ended up choosing Al Haql because it was what prompted us to go to Tabuk and our hosts can also see the shipwreck for the first time.
In the morning of September 28, 2018, we journeyed to Al Haql. It was really early when we traversed Highways 394 and Highway 55. The ride was quiet and very serene. As the sun rose to the sky, we were treated to wonderful views in the road. Rocks and rock formations delighted us and piqued our interest. It was one of the nicest road trips ever. These sights reminded me of our trip to the open-air museum of Turkey. We stopped by to gaze at the formations of rocks in the distance in Cappadocia while the guide pointed out which rock looked like what. Saudi Arabia can do this to this area!
The two hours went by because of these views:
By the time we reached Al Haql, our hosts spread a small picnic by the shore of the Gulf of Aqaba. Again, very much like our trip to Ras Ta Nura and Jubail, I was taken aback by how blue and clear the waters of Al Haql. OMG! It was beautiful. We also noticed the weather here. It’s near the sea but it’s not humid unlike the “wet” weather of the Eastern Province. There was a dry, cool breeze in Al Haql and we enjoyed taking photos and touching the water. We couldn’t swim because we didn’t bring extra clothes and it was also a public beach. There were resorts in the area and it would be a nice idea to stay overnight in one of those resorts for a quick swim. Our hosts also informed us that they actually snorkel and dive in this area. Super interesting!
We journeyed for another 40 minutes to the shipwreck site. By this time, we noticed that our STC signal was faltering until it vanished and was replaced by one of the cell networks of Egypt! Turns out the “mountains” we were seeing in the distance was already Egypt! You can pretty much ride a boat to go to another country! But of course, that’s an illegal thing to do. So unless you want to be captured in the border, you can’t cross the Gulf of Aqaba to Egypt that easily. Jordan’s border was also nearby, a mere 2-5 kilometers from Al Haql. Wow, two countries that were so near yet so far, if you know what we mean. Haha. It could be nice to visit them one of these days. Although we’ll probably choose flying over land trip, haha.
And then we finally reached the shipwreck in Al Haql. It was a mesmerizing moment. THIS IS IT! From the photo we’ve seen to reality!
The last time I saw a real shipwreck was when I was in Coron, Palawan in the Philippines but that was underwater. This shipwreck, on the other hand, was just there. A mere meters away from the shore! Our hosts asked us what’s the story of this shipwreck and Reina and I burst out laughing! In our earnestness in seeing it, we didn’t even research about it. We just really wanted to see it and went! Haha. Now that we have time to read on its history, here goes:
The Georgios G is a Bristish-made cargo ship that ran aground off the coastal city of Tabuk, north-west of Saudi Arabia almost 40 years ago. The ship was built in England after World War II and was launched as a cargo liner. A Greek company owned it during its doomed trip. The ship was stranded on corals off the Saudi coast in 1978 while carrying a cargo of flour. Staff had a hard time manuevering the ship out of the narrow route. Saudi businessman Amer Mohamad Al Sanousi then bought the ship but the ship caught on fire and the flames lasted several days. The fire destroyed the ship except the iron parts which remained up to this day. They decided to leave the ship where it is and the ship has since been known as the “Saudi Titanic.” (from AlArabiya English)
Shipwrecks are usually “spooky” in nature. They usually have a tragic past and eerie stories surround them. However, Georgios G doesn’t seem to have this kind of story even though the article above mentioned it. No specific story was divulged apart from these facts. Anyway, the blue skies and clear waters helped the entire tableau. It looked peaceful. The shore was filled with families and friends on a day-out. We were told that people cannot stay overnight in the shores near the shipwreck so when you visit, make sure that the sun is still up. Of course, there were trash all over so please, if you ever visit and stay to eat and drink, do not litter and pack up and clean as you go.
Was it worth traveling to Tabuk just to see this shipwreck? YES. It would have been better if we had our own drone. It would be cool to take photos from above. But we’re okay with our phone cameras and DSLR. To those who are thinking of going, just make sure that you have a car to travel to Al Haql. Again, there’s no way to commute unless you get a trusted driver from Tabuk city to take you. Remember that it’s 2 hours worth of land travel and there are a lot of empty or rocky spaces in between. Go with people you trust wholeheartedly.
Where To Eat. When we got back to the city, we were a bit tired so we enjoyed the hotel’s bed and slept! Haha. We only left to have dinner after a few hours. Since Tabuk is not like Riyadh in terms of size and activities, international restaurants seem to be scarce too. We found Western Road Steak & Grill in Foursquare and decided to try it. It’s a decent steak house and we liked their meats. We like their cowboy-themed restaurant and the swinging doors in their booths. There was a palpable energy inside the restaurant and when we left, it was quite packed already with a long line of diners waiting.
The following day, we had brunch at Friday’s. It’s the only other international restaurant we saw. We wanted to try local restaurants but Foursquare didn’t seem to have good suggestions. The people in the hotel couldn’t speak English so we couldn’t ask them and our hosts/guides were Filipinos so they don’t know any good local restaurant. Reina had a quick lunch in a Filipino restaurant named Speed Meals at Al Khalidiyah, Tabuk city’s version of Batha. Dishes were okay. And so on our last day in Tabuk, we ended up in Fridays. In all fairness, it’s been a while since I ate in Friday’s and I was surprised at how good their appetizer platter is. Their chicken wings were phenomenal! Love it!
We wanted to visit the Hejaz Railway Station but it appeared to be close. We only got pictures while passing by.
We also visited the Tabuk Park Mall. It’s new and most of the stores are still closed by the time we went. The main reason we went to this particular mall is the I LOVE TABUK sign, haha. It was early in the morning and we sneaked in a few photos in the sign. I mean, it’s there for picture-taking right? Haha.
So, did we actually love Tabuk? This city has its charms. When it comes to modernisation, it’s far from Riyadh of course but I guess that’s a good thing too. Not all cities in Saudi Arabia need to be as modern or techie as Riyadh. Tabuk’s charm lies in its natural beauty and warmth of their people. Most of the Careem drivers we rode with were polite and friendly, even as far as extending their services to drive us to the tourist attractions. While small, Tabuk runs in its own pace. Most people’s grind is home-work-home with a few and quick visit to the store, restaurant and mall in between. We like how laid-back it is.
We will be back, Tabuk! Next time, we’ll make sure to visit Moses Well, Biak Na Bato, Jebel Al Lewz, and of course, Al Ula and Madain Saleh!
Acknowledgment: We would like to thank Mr. Jonathan Abellanosa, Mr. Mark and Mrs. Jocel Alcober, and Mr. ad Mrs. Mariel Ragosta for the help, support and guidance they have wholeheartedly given us during our stay in Tabuk. We would also like to thank their organization for their warm welcome. May God bless you all.