What To Do in Eastern Province, Saudi Arabia

… other than visit the triumvirate cities of Dhahran, Dammam and Al Khobar, that is.

Riyadhizens have probably been out of Riyadh and into the Eastern Province aka Ash Sharqiyyah. It’s one of the nearest places to visit from Riyadh via land travel. Just go straight Highway 40 and you’ll reach it in 3-4 hours. And what’s not to like? It has attractions that cannot be found in Riyadh. Mainly, the beach. When I was new in Saudi Arabia, Al Khobar was the first place I visited with our family and friends. It has a different vibe from Riyadh and I like how simple, laidback and rustic it is compared to the hustle and bustle of the capital. Don’t get me wrong though; the Eastern Procince is quite busy and also a very progressive part of Saudi Arabia. It is home to most of Saudi Arabia’s oil production (hello Aramco?). But it has its charms.

Apart from Dhahran, Dammam and Al Khobar which are the most popular cities, the Eastern Province also includes other major cities like Abqaiq, Hofuf, Jubail, Khafji, Ras Tanura, and Qatif. As a matter of fact, Jubail hosts the Jubail Industrial City, a global hub for chemical industries. Speaking of Jubail, it’s the place that we visited last year during the eid holidays. And I know, I should have written about this last year but life got in the way and I can’t complain. The good thing is, I can still write about it in the blog and it will never get old. You will still have this as a guide for your travels and trips in and around Saudi Arabia as long as the blog is online. (Sure #excuses to #lateblogging.)

Anyway, why did we think of Jubail to visit? Well, we haven’t visited it. It’s as simple as that. Whenever eid holiday rolls in, we always ask ourselves where to go. If my husband suggests “Al Khobar!”, I usually shake my head no. I’ve been to the place countless of times and while beach = summer, the humidity of the place really triggers my skin problems so I rather skip the beach and go somewhere else. I also just want to “do something new every day” #thepinktarhamotto. But then, we realized we haven’t been to Jubail and maybe it’s a good thing to check out what is has to offer. So off we go with the Luperia family, our dear friends from Riyadh.

Let’s go to Jubail!

How To Go. By Car: We traveled by land in the early morning of August. Traveling by your own personal car is the best way to go to the Eastern Province because you hold your time in your hands. You can go slow or go fast (not to fast as there are A LOT of road cameras and radar in Highway 40). We left the driving to the guys and slept, ate, and talked on the way. We also have 2 years old Yannah at the back so she entertained us and we tried entertaining her too. The gas stations along the way has improved from the first time we went to the EP (OMG horrendous bathroom experiences haha). There’s a huge SASCO gas stop just after leaving Riyadh proper and it’s a good place to grab some breakfast and refill gas.

It looks like this for several kilometers. This, or desert scenes.

Now, if you don’t have your own car, there are other ways to go to Jubail via public transportation. SAPTCO has made it easier to travel from one city to another in Saudi Arabia. Here are your options:

Bus + Bus: Take the SAPTCO Bus from Riyadh to Dammam, then another SAPTCO bus from Dammam to Jubail. You can book the entire trip in SAPTCO’s website directly. Fare is SR 77 (discounted) and SR 89 (regular) one way. That makes it around SR 157 for a roundtrip bus ticket. The trips lasts around 7 hours (the minimum duration) up to 13 hours depending on the trip you choose.

Train + Bus: You can also take the train from Riyadh to Dammam and then ride the bus from Dammam to Jubail. First class ticket to Dammam is around SR 140 (first class) and SR 80 (second class). You can check the fare and schedule at the Saudi Railway Organization’s website. Bus ticket from Dammam to Jubail is SR 21 per person, one-way. If you take this route and add up all fares, you’ll spend around SR 320 per person.

Plane + Bus: You can also fly to Dammam and then take the bus or taxi to Jubail. Flights to Dammam cost around SR 200 or more, depending on the schedule. It only takes an hour to reach Dammam by plane so it you’re in a hurry, this  is the best bet to travel. After landing in the King Fahd International Airport, take the taxi to the bus station to ride the SAPTCO bus to Jubail. Or maybe you can take the taxi all the way. Not sure on how safe is this though. You can also rent a car from the airport if you can/want.

Grabbing some breakfast grub from McDo in SASCO Palms station.

Traveling to the Eastern Province has become easier and faster in the past few years. Roads are better and greeting the sunrise in the road is one of the best experiences in land travel in Saudi Arabia. There was a time that I was so fascinated by the sun rising in the horizon while we’re in the middle of the desert. It occupied my time during the trip.

Where To Stay. There are many hotels in Jubail. I usually just check Booking.com for hotels and accommodations in a certain place. It’s easy to see where the hotels are and the the prices are competitive. We’re not that picky when it comes to accommodations. As long as it’s clean, has good reviews, and affordable, we’re in! Mergab Tower fit the bill. It has a 2-bedroom apartment that only costs SR 400 per night. That was during the peak season. If it’s off-season, their apartment goes for SR 300 a night. Breakfast is also included in the price.

One of the rooms in our apartment at the Mergab Tower.

We like Mergab Tower because it looks new. The flat is also spacious! It’s the perfect flat for families and groups on vacation. It has a spacious kitchen where you can cook. It also has a wide living room which can also serve as sleeping areas if you’re a large group. The two rooms which we got in our flat are the perfect size for our little families. My husband and I got the twin rooms and the Luperia family got the double bed room. The flat is good for children because there are not a lot of decors or stuff that they can bump into. The apartment is also clean. There’s ample parking at the basement of the hotel. And the best part? It’s a few meters away from Al Jubail Mall. It’s truly a great value hotel. #notsponsored haha

The kitchen complete with ref, stove, and even washing machine.

If you’re looking for high-end accommodations, check out Coral Jubail Hotel (SR 1000/night), SAS Hotel (SR 1,175/night), and Intercontinental Al Jubail (SR 850/night). Take note that these rates are for rooms good for 2 persons only. For cheaper accommodations for four persons, check out Varvan Al Jubail (SR 213/night) or Al Mawasem Al Arbaa (SR 245/night). Rates from Booking.com as of February 2019. 

Where To Go.

Tuxy, our car, under the trees in Jubail Corniche. We’re the only persons in the place, lol.

Upon arriving in Jubail, we immediately went to the Jubail Corniche. There are no people around! Well, it’s quite understandable because it was almost noon and the sun is scorching hot!

This is the only covered area in the corniche.

I was impressed by Jubail’s corniche though. It was clean and green! It was also the first time I saw the sparkling water of Jubail’s beach. The water is green though from the moss but it was clear. Just by looking at it gave me “vacation vibes” already.

View of the water from the corniche

The water in this part is filled with green algae.

The corniche has a few benches but I guess the thing that draws people in this part is the grassy landscape that’s perfect for some picnic.

Al Nakheel Beach in Jubail

We traveled to Al Nakheel Beach next, which is one of the most popular attractions in the area. I was quite surprised on how easy was it to set up in the beach side and just swim. I mean, of course for guys it’s easier because they can just go on their shirts and shorts and go to the water. For women, we can wade in but still wear the abaya which is not conducive for swimming. The area is divided into families and singles. There are some areas which are a bit rocky though but there are a few lifeguards around (or caretakers) and they patrol the beach in their jet ski.

My husband with Yannah in the rocky shores (they were careful)

Watching the ferry boats go by from the shore.

There’s also a rope perimeter which keeps swimmers in the areas that are good for swimming. There are toilets and changing rooms too. These beaches are well-maintained and are protected by the Royal Commission of Jubail and Yanbu.

Tropical vibes!

Sunset in Al Nakheel Beach

I was really amazed at how everyone is having fun in that whole stretch of beach. Others have picnic towels on the ground while others erected tents. It’s so fun to see families and friends eating together. Watching the sun set in this side of Saudi Arabia is also a nice experience.

The boat docked along the Fanateer Beach area

Another famous beach is Palm Beach, named after the palm trees that grew abundantly in the area. There’s also Beach Fanateer in the Hijaz district. Then there’s Fanateer Marina. I read somewhere that there’s a boat that can take us into the sea and we went looking for it. Wow, a cruise! Because of the construction in the area, we had a hard time looking for the entrance of the boat dock. We even went inside a restaurant that offers a view of the dock only to find out we were at the wrong side. We eventually found the entrance to the dock and found the ferry boat for a night cruise. You can opt to go with the jet boats that can carry around 4-6 passengers at a time. Price is SR 200 above. It’s a good option for those who want some privacy since you’ll have the boat to yourselves.

Maybe you want this kind of boat?

We opted for the much cheaper ferry ride; just SR 20 per person. And boy was it cheap. Haha. The ferry boat has two floors and most of the guests went up to savor the sea breeze. They give out life vests (not the cleanest). We were also just sitting in plastic chairs. Haha!

Yup, these are the seats in the upper deck. Enjoy! Haha.

But we can’t complain. It did take us into the sea and we had a good view of the Jubail skyline at night. The lights of the buildings were dazzling and the colors were fun to see. The boat ride lasted around 45 minutes and it was a relatively relaxed and steady ride. As for safety protocols, uhmn. Just take care of yourself and mind your companions.

The city lights grow bright while the sun’s light is fading.

Night skyline

The following day, we also visited the beach of Ras Tanura. Ras Tanura is a city located south of Jubail. We don’t hear or read much of Ras Tanura as a tourist destination because it’s more known for its largest oil-exporting terminals and major oil refineries. It’s Saudi Aramco’s major oil operations center. However, Ras Tanura is a hidden gem in Sharqiyyah. It actually has a well-maintained corniche and a – get this – white sand beaches! White sand. Uhuh.

WHITE SAND. In Saudi Arabia… who knew right???

I can’t believe my eyes how blue and clear the water of Ras Tanura Beach is! It was sparkling under the Saudi sun. We set-up our picnic blanket in the grass at the Ras Tanura Corniche. We had a small ice box which we filled with ice cubes and water bottles. We had a few snacks and chips.

All we need in this very hot weather.

There were other people in the area who spent the night in their tents. I can still smell the waft of the lingering barbecue goodness in the air. Parang nasa beach lang sa Pinas! Haha.

Looks good enough to dip in!

Wow this water is mesmerizing!

I just love the idea of having something like this so accessible to the people of Ras Tanura (and Jubail) when they just feel like going to the beach to relax and unwind. It’s truly a nice way to enjoy the weekend. How I wish Riyadh has something like this too. Riyadh has its sand too… sand dunes. Haha.

On our way to Al Khobar

Of course, since you’re already near Dhahran, Dammam and Al Khobar, there’s no stopping you from visiting these places too. Their malls are huge and they also have corniches and beaches. The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, otherwise known as Ithra, is located in Dhahran. It’s a modern arts center where world-class exhibits and conferences are held. It has a museum, library, cinema, auditorium, and exhibition halls. But if you’re crunched up for time, then Jubail and Ras Tanura will do.

Ithra from a distance

Where To Eat. When we got to Jubail, we were hungry for real food so we Googled our way to restaurants in Jubail checking if there’s something unique we can spend our first meal in the city. We searched a few but turned out they were closed. Then we found Pansitan Restaurant.

Pinoy and Thai food at Pansitan

Inside the restaurant

The pansit in Pansitan!

It has a narrow entrance and first floor that we thought this is it? Apparently, they have a wider family section on the upper floor. Haha. Of course, we have to try their pansit right? I mean, we are at Pansitan! We also tried their Tom Yum, Seafood Sisig, and Kilawin (ceviche). They were all delicious! We were full and satisfied. What a fitting start to our Jubail journey!

Tom Yum in Pansitan

Dinner was at Piatto Restaurant in Galleria Mall. We wanted to check out the shopping mall in the area. (We? O ako lang yata ang gusto mag-mall! Haha!) We ended up eating in Piatto because there were not a lot of choices in the food court. What’s not to like in Piatto? It’s one of our faves!

Piatto staples

The next day, we had breakfast in Mergab Tower. Their breakfast was simple; I like that they have an omelet station.

Omelet station at the Megrab Tower. Their breakfast place is just beside the reception, haha.

We checked out of the hotel after breakfast because we’re heading to Ras Tanura and going back to Riyadh after but we decided to swing by Al Khobar first. Why? Because of food. Haha. We wanted to try this unli grill and hotpot restaurant called Boiling Pot. It was a good thing they were open during that time. The price for each person is SR 59. So basically, all ingredients for grilling and boiling are displayed in the middle. Diners can get whatever they want from seafood to meat to veggies.

Whaddya want?

You can get anything! From different kinds of fishes, meats and veggies!

Grill or boil?

One table has a grill and a hot pot so it’s up to you if you want your food grilled or boiled in the soup or both. They have rice and cooked viands to complement the bbq and the soup. There are also juices and fruits. All of these are already included in the price! (*price was applicable August 2018). It was amazing and again, we’re wishing for something like this in Riyadh. Pretty please?

Yummy hotpot!

Back to Riyadh

This entry pretty much sums up our trip to Jubail. We enjoyed it and personally, I was happy to see the beaches it has to offer. It’s something different from the usual Al Khobar beach or Jeddah beach. Now that Saudi Arabia is opening up to tourism, I wish they still improve on the facilities and amenities that these places have. Kudos to the Royal Commission for Jubail and Yanbu for spearheading these projects! Next stop: Yanbu? Hmn. We shall see!

The sunset back to the capital

Places mentioned:

Jubail Corniche

Al Nakheel Beach

Fanateer Marina (where the boats are)

Ras Tanura Corniche

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