I am travelling alone in Saudi Arabia, aside from Khalid, my driver and guide. We had dinner in one of the best known fast food establishments yesterday evening. An entrance and dining area for ladies, an entrance and dining area for families, no men allowed unless accompanied by a woman or girl older than about 12 years old, and an entrance for men. This is where I had to go being the solitary man.

I revisited the UNESCO World Heritage site of Madain Saleh in Al Ula. I walked the site investigating the old mud brick farm buildings with their deep stone lined wells, looked inside the carved fronted caves, many with tombs cut into the floors or walls and climbed the huge rock mountains, again many with tombs cut into their plateau tops. For the majority, the highlight of a visit here is Al Fareed (The Unique). It is a towering carved rock facade surrounding a cave in gigantic isolated ball shaped sandstone. I had the place to myself. The only sound was the ringing in my own ears. A solitary place for a solitary man.

I went to the bazaar today in Tabuk. Not your usual bazaar. There were many shops selling ground Arabic coffee beans and the spices that accompany it, mainly cardoman. Others selling everything a local Bedouin or a casual desert jaunt out of town would require. How about a feather lure to catch a falcon and when caught, a hood to cover its head. There were curved sticks, rather like Western walking sticks, for cajoling camels or just to carry and look smart. A satellite TV in a box, a snip at SAR2200 (USD590) to keep up to speed with the latest soap opera. A glorified picnic basket, with cutting knives, a large metal plate, a gas stove, coffee pot, plastic container jars and metal dishes to name but a few. Water containers of all shapes and sizes. There was even a pannier that fits over the ridge between the two front passenger seats with a hole for the gear stick, two if you have another stick in your four by four, with zipped pockets. All essential items it appears.

To travel in Saudi Arabia for anything other than a business trip is a rarity. I have seen no other Western tourists at any of sites I have been to. Yes, it is Ramadan but even then, outside this period figures are in single numbers – perfect for a pioneering solitary man.

Thanks for reading

Paul Craven in Yangshuo, China

Author: Paul Craven