I know, I know, here we go again with the eid vacation and we’re all thinking, where to go? Reina and I along with our friend Jamila went to Morocco last week. We have 2 weeks off from work so we decided to go out of the Kingdom for a week and come back to spend another week of vacation here in Riyadh. We flew out ahead of the eid vacation and flew back earlier to avoid the rush in the airports. So here we are back in Riyadh thinking of what to do (I’ll be writing about our Morocco trip soon). Good thing, my husband decided to visit his brother who was recently stationed in Shaqra, a place I have no knowledge about until uh yesterday. I quickly Google mapped the place and I was excited to know that it’s near the Ushaiger Heritage Village which I have always wanted to visit.
My father who usually goes to Majmaah for work suggested we use a different route back to Riyadh and that’s when I found out of a route for a quick road trip outside Riyadh for those who are still finding things to do this vacation. Of course there’s a huge probability that you’ve probably known about this a long time ago because you’re more into traveling than me but it’s still nice to have this article here for those who just want to know about it. Hehe.
So here’s my map courtesy of Google Maps and my mad Photoshop skills. Haha!
So of course we started our road trip from Riyadh center (because we live in the Riyadh center, yes). The pink line is our first route going to Shaqra and then to Ushaiger Village. We were in the Makkah Al Mukarammah Highway and we passed by the “Grand Canyon” of Riyadh, which you’ll probably know if you’re a suki to Red Sand and Hidden Valley because this is the scene that will greet you just after you pass through the checkpoint out of Riyadh proper.
We turned right after the Al Moqbel Palaces and straight towards Dhurma, a small town located 73.4 kilometers northwest of Riyadh. It’s one of the smaller towns in the Al-Batin valley. So from here on, you can either chat non-stop with your co-roadtrippers in the car or you can take your earphones/headphones out and listen to some old tunes while looking at the dry, hot desert outside your car window. Yes, it does get boring. Haha!
We passed through the town of Dhurma and because it’s the first day of eid, there were no people outside. It looked like a deserted town with stores closed and streets empty. The only fascinating thing we saw are the plants in the middle of the roads snipped to perfection. You can skip this town and head on to the next town which I suggest should be your first stop.
Stop 1: Marat
Marat is a smaller town compared to Dhurma. It has a population of around 9,000 and is approximately 130 kilometers away from Riyadh. Again, the streets are empty but I find Marat more interesting than Dhurma because of its Hollywood-like sign on a hill. Haha! And on top of the hill are permanent concrete umbrellas so I’m thinking there’s a park on top where people can get a good view of the town below and the desert surrounding it. If you have time, this is a good stop. You can venture out into the hill and let me know how good the view is there. Why didn’t we go there and get down the car? Because it was too late when I realized there might be a view deck and park there we can visit. We were already cruising on to our destination. (And you know how fathers/husbands/brothers aka drivers are when they cannot be bothered to turn back just to visit a park in this hot weather yeah?)
There’s another town in between Marat and Shaqra and it’s called Tharmda. However, it’s not along the highway and you won’t be able to visit it unless you go inside the town proper so I suggest you skip this and go straight to Shaqra. It’s a nice thing to note that these small towns in Riyadh province have really nice, decorative roundabouts. They remind me of Morocco where there are a lot of roundabouts and not a lot of traffic lights. They don’t have problems with traffic though.
Stop 2: Shaqra
At first we were worried that my brother-in-law was moved to a far-flung town with no electricity, wi-fi, and modern civilization! Lol, kidding. We were just worried that his new work place is out of reach when it comes to modern facilities and all that jazz because his first request was jasmine rice (and if you’re a Filipino, you will understand the need for this for every day living). So we thought oh no, his new place is a small town with no hypermarkets and grocery stores. Er, wrong. Haha! Shaqra is actually a moderately modern town. Of course compared to Riyadh, it’s not that huge and malls are nowhere to be found but they have fairly decent fast food restaurants and an Al Othaim to boot plus vegetable and fruit markets that are of walking distance. I suggest you take your lunch here either in KFC or Kudu.
Stop 3: Ushaiger Heritage Village
Fifteen to twenty minutes from Shaqra, you’ll reach the heritage town of Ushaiger. I’ve written about this place in our Where To Go During the Eid Vacation (Riyadh Province) entry and I told you there that while I was suggesting the place, I haven’t been to the village itself. So here I was with my family and seeing the wonder for myself. It’s 200 kilometers outside Riyadh and a good 2 hours of travel. It’s worth venturing this far though because it really is a great place to learn and see Saudi Arabia’s history. The village is open all day but the small museums and houses inside are closed during the holiday. It’s a good thing that Al-Salem Museum, the one near the entrance, is open during our visit. It’s a quaint museum full of antique and vintage stuff.
Even though this museum is small, I think I like this better than the National Museum. I like how there’s a guide that explain some of the old items and how they were used back in the day. There is a 70-year-old huge water jug made of camel skin, a map that depicts Riyadh 150 years ago, a soap that’s 70 years old (has lost all its fragrance but not its form), a dried puffer fish that retained its round shape (don’t know why it’s there), women mannequins that scared the crap out of me (because I thought they were real, just sleeping in the corner), and a key that looked like a toothbrush (to me) and a comb (to my father). This museum is just a trove of treasures!
The village has also a small market where mud houses serve as little bakala (stores). I was like a kid finding retro candies and Coke in small bottles. This place is really a walk down memory lane. Literally. I’ll be writing a separate entry on the Ushaiger Village with lots of pictures from our trip.
After the Ushaiger Village, you can choose to go to the road you came with but what’s a road trip if not finding other roads to travel? The father suggested we drive through King Faisal Road (Highway 546) and we’ll eventually end up entering Riyadh Center through Diriyah in the North. This is the red line on the map above.
Stop 4: Al-Qasab or Huraymila
These two towns are along Highway 546. You can choose to either stop in Al-Qasab or Huraymila (you’ll find signs with the spelling of Huraimla, same same sadik) for a gas or bathroom break. Most of gasoline stations along the highways of Riyadh don’t have clean and decent bathrooms but some of the small mosques do. Just ask the gasoline station guys and they will direct you to them. Bring tissues which you can also buy from the stores in these gas stations.
Stop 5: A choice between:
Edge of the World
It was only when my father asked where the Edge of the World is did I realize that we’re kind of near. I mean, it lies in between the valley that we were seeing from the road. Of course, it’s a track off the major highway and if you still have time, you can go and visit it in this road trip. Here is our entry on the Edge of the World. Again, you need a guide and a 4×4 vehicle to visit this place.
Al Thumamah National Park
If you want to visit the Al Thumamah National Park, you’ll have to venture out into the route of my map. If you’re the outdoorsy kind of person, you’ll enjoy this park because it has a lot of outdoor activities to offer like hiking, camping, and rock climbing. We haven’t been to this park so I cannot say for sure if it’s really worth going to. Haha!
Stop 6: Diriyah Historical District
The Diriyah, the traditional mud house village, restoration is still in full force so we just have to wait for a few more months or years (who knows?) but you can still visit Diriyah for the Al Bujairi District. You can have a picnic in these grounds or just enjoy an early dinner in one of the restaurants in the area. I wrote about the Al Bujairi district here. You can pass the time and wait for the sunset in these grounds.
So that’s it, after Diriyah, you can already head back to the urban concrete jungle of Riyadh and head home. This road trip will eventually eat up one day of your eid vacation and it’s gonna be worth it because hey, you just went around Riyadh Province and came back with lots of pictures and memories of this desert we all love to love and hate (kidding). Haha! Have a great eid vacation, Riyadhizens!