Sunday, August 24, 2008

Life of Leisure on the Red Sea

Jeddah is often referred to as the Bride of the Red Sea and is one of its largest seaports. There is abundant and thriving sea life and coral reefs alive with colorful fish, octopus, sea turtles, crabs, and many other sea creatures. The Corniche runs along Jeddah's Red Sea coastline, stretching along for nearly 100 kilometers. A main highlight of the Corniche is the King Fahd Water Spring, a famous Jeddah landmark dominating the city's skyline, believed to be the world's tallest fountain. Its spray's height reaches over 1000 feet straight up into the air. It is a quite spectacular sight, especially when viewed at night as its water plume is lit up by floodlights, attracting visitors as a must-see sightseeing stop.

The Corniche area is sprinkled with luxury worldwide chain hotels. It is home to several mosques, including the gorgeous Floating Mosque, which at high tide actually appears to float in the Red Sea. The Corniche boardwalk is home to dozens of artistic sculptures, which are all part of the world's largest open air museum located throughout the entire city of Jeddah.

Life along the Red Sea has a lot to offer. There are many resorts available, ranging in price from the very reasonable with bare minimum, older accommodations to the extremely expensive, offering posh accoutrements and a wide variety of amenities, and many in between. Most places are available for anyone and everyone who can afford to pay, where Islamic laws and Saudi cultural observances are adhered to. And some are private beach clubs which cater to foreign clientele, require annual memberships, and where Western ways are allowed, such as women not having to cover.

Some of the lodging available rivals those of the finest resorts in the world, with luxurious bedding, fine comfortable furniture, and clean modern facilities. Pristine beaches, swimming pools straight out of paradise itself, and well-planned lush landscaping complete the total package. Offerings such as boat tours and rides, jet ski rentals, scuba diving, snorkeling, fishing expeditions, and other water sports provide male guests with plenty of activities. I say male guests because, aside from the boat rides, women do not generally participate in those other water activities. If they did, they would have to be properly attired - covered from head to toe in loose fitting clothing so as to not show off the female form. To me, and maybe to most women here, that just doesn't sound very appealing. My guess is that many husbands would disapprove of their wives participating in such activities anyway even if the women wore Islamically acceptable gear.

Last weekend we spent a couple of days of one of these resorts. My brother-in-law went spear fishing, catching lots of fresh fish which we ate for breakfast, lunch and dinner. He cleaned them, added spices and lemon, then wrapped them up in foil and cooked them for about half an hour on the grill we brought. We brought the grill with us and it was placed out on the large balcony. The fish was fabulous. I actually prefer my fish this way rather than baked in the heavy sauces like my husband's family usually makes.

The two bedroom unit we occupied also had a living room, a small kitchen, and two bathrooms. One bedroom had a king bed and the other was furnished with twin beds. The beds were clean and comfortable, however no towels or shower curtains were provided at all. The rattan chairs in the living room could stand to be replaced, but the couch was actually not bad. There were individual AC units in each room which worked well and there was also a regular sized TV which was not the best but adequate. The kitchen had minimal supplies, including an old toaster oven, a few plates and some silverware. Luckily we brought things with us so we weren't in bad shape there. The unit was tiled throughout and when we first got into the room, there were four men mopping the whole place and making sure everything was in order.

The pool below our balcony was occupied by various children 24 hours a day while we were there. Mothers, most of them dressed in abayas and veils and a few dressed Islamically casual in colors, watched from chairs along the side of the pool. In the general pool area was a coffee shack, a snack stand, and a little hut that sold water toys and such. Other veiled women sat on the balconies for hours on end. Bicycles were available for rent and a small open garden area with seating overlooked the inlet.

Two large covered docks jutted out on either side of the property, equipped with tables and chairs where families could enjoy a picnic. All sorts of boats and jet skis constantly drove by, providing some entertainment for those seated on the docks.

When we chartered a boat for a 30 minute ride up and down the inlet, it was just the five of us on board. We passed many other boats loaded with families, many of the women dressed in black abayas and veils, out enjoying the warm day, cooling off in the ocean breezes.

I told my husband that I thought it was a shame that those women will never be able to enjoy feeling the wind blowing through their hair, something I have always enjoyed. By the way, I did not wear my abaya on the boat ride. I dressed modestly and wore a bright colorful scarf over my hair.

During the short trip, we passed many other resorts and huge mansions and stunning villas, along with dozens and dozens of various sized boats and yachts. At one point, a group of maybe half a dozen young jet skiers kept circling around our boat, shooting their jet skis straight into the air for at least six feet or so. Then they would pop back up from the water and do it again. Their antics definitely made our boat ride more enjoyable and exciting.

So far I have only visited four of the many resorts in this area north of Jeddah. I hope to be able to stay at more, especially that intriguing looking one with the
thatch huts!


  1. You should be a advertiser for a resort *lol* Sounds like you had fun! Mmmmm I cant wait to go to UAE's beaches and swim because here in Canada there are no "ladies only" beaches!

    P.S. I like the pictures you take :-D

  2. I am so ready for a real vacation..........

  3. Pictures are great and it sounds like a good time was had by all! Would love to visit one of these resorts. Umm Ibrahim

  4. Very interesting the information and the pictures!. You had a great time there...I hope I´ll enjoy it as well!

  5. Sounds wonderful! I have a friend from Jeddah (more had than have, but we chat occasionally lol) & have been interested in it since we met. The fountain is one of the things there I'd love to be able to see... Oh and that fish sounded yummy! Glad you had a great vacation!

  6. Never would have thought Saudi could have such beautiful resorts!

    BTW, since starting to cover, I really do miss the wind blowing through my hair!

  7. The fish sounds excellent!
    And great to see a man bring home the bacon, Ooops!!! The FISH!!!

    You make it an enviable position, to live in Jeddah, There is so much to enjoy there.
    Pity you have to be encased in an abaya all the time.
    Or most of the time.
    The resort with the thatched roofs looks very interesting!

  8. Hi Aalia!
    Good to hear from you! UAE has Ladies Only beaches? I want to go too! What a great idea!!!

    Hi Always!
    I know you can use a vacation after the busy summer you've had!

    Hi Stranger!
    Thanks! There are many resorts here to choose from. I hope to visit a lot more myself.

    Hi C.Ruiz!
    You're welcome, and thank you!

    Hi MamaKalila!
    Thanks so much. Jeddah is an interesting place. A great mix of the very old and the ultra modern and everywhere in between.

    Hi Solace!
    Thanks! The thing is, most of the women here will NEVER know the feeling of the wind blowing through their hair, and that's a shame.

    Hi Aafke!
    Yes, I'm glad I didn't have to gut the fish - not my cup of tea! It tasted SOOOO good though. Jeddah is a really interesting city and I'm sure I would enjoy it more if I didn't have to wear the abaya all the time. Oh well...

  9. Just found your blog again and love it! You are amazing! I respectfully ask why you cover your hair when many foreign women in Jeddah do not.

  10. Hi Anonymous!
    Glad you found me again! Thanks for the nice compliment.
    I cover my hair whenever I am out of the house or in the presence of my brothers-in-law, etc., because my husband wants me to here. If it didn't matter to him, believe me, I would not want to, but then I don't want to bring attention to myself either. I see it as a small sacrifice to make my husband happy. I went for 55 years of my life without covering my hair, so I really don't get it, but I feel like a guest here and I have to have respect for the culture and my husband's wishes.

  11. Dear Susie,
    I have enjoyed your blog. I wonder if I can ask you some questions. I am an American in London working on a book about Philippine domestic workers and a bit of the book takes place in Saudi Arabia. If you don't mind, please could I ask you a few questions about life in Saudi Arabia? I hope this doesn't sound like prying, but do husbands and wives share bedrooms and beds in Saudi Arabia? If a man marries more than once, are the wives in the same compound or in different locations? Do Saudi children all have their own bedrooms, or do they share?
    Please excuse the rather forward nature of my questions.
    Kind regards,
    Laurie Laird

  12. Hi Laurie -

    Please feel free to email me at

    I'll be happy to answer your questions.

  13. That was a really good description. just wodnering, which resort in jeddah did you mention? was it the Durrah?