Edits – Various comments based on feedback.
In August, I spent a week in Saudi Arabia. I started in Jeddah, drove to Taif, drove to Abha, and then drove 600 miles to Riyadh. I wanted to go to Mecca and Medina, but as a non-Muslim, it’s haram (at least for part of Medina).
Compared to my other travel writings, this one has a lot more on the history, politics, and economics of its subject. Saudi Arabia has been one of my top travel destinations for years because it’s one of the most unusual countries in the world and it’s currently undergoing a massive transformation. Four years ago, despite possessing a per capita wealth level comparable to Western Europe, Saudi Arabia had:
- Complete gender segregation, including forced gender separation in restaurants, mandatory dress codes for women, and a ban on women driving
- Prohibitions on degenerate Western practices, including music concerts, movie theaters, and most advertisements
- Enforcement of Sharia law by paramilitary religious police who could freely beat people with sticks
Today, all of this stuff is gone. Most Westerners could witness the change with their own eyes in 2019 when Saudi Arabia began issuing tourist visas for the first time. Other restrictions, including complete alcohol prohibition and a ban on any religious buildings besides Sunni mosques (there are a few Shia mosques), remain.