JEDDAH: Video bloggers, or vloggers, sharing their travel adventures in Saudi Arabia are drawing attention to the changing face of the Kingdom — and helping to shatter some misconceptions along the way.
Since the introduction of tourist visas in September last year, more than 77,000 tourists have visited the Kingdom, Ministry of Foreign Affairs statistics show.
American vlogger Peter Santenello has created a series detailing his journey in Saudi Arabia, with the first video attracting more than 1.7 million views on YouTube.
Stepping outside his hotel room on his first day in Riyadh, he said: “It is hot, it’s a different world, and I’m super pumped.”
Santenello soon became aware of changes taking place in Saudi Arabia, catching sight of the Kingdom Tower and seeing women driving in the capital.
“After two hours on the street, I’m seeing tons of development, a lot of new businesses,” he said.
Seeing the Kingdom firsthand was “smashing a lot of preconceptions,” the vlogger added.
Santenello said that he is comfortable in Saudi company, and no longer surprised by the wide-ranging social reforms visible in the country.
On one of his explorations, he tried on a traditional Saudi thobe. “Very stately, I like it. A new look I’m gonna rock throughout Saudi,” he said as he showed off his new purchase.
Walking around in his new outfit, the American vlogger met individuals from different countries who tried to guess his nationality. “It’s super diverse; many nationalities in the region are working here in Saudi,” he said.
Santenello said that excitement at the rapid changes is obvious among young people he met on his travels.
“Even before I was a travel vlogger, I’ve always wanted to go to Saudi Arabia,” he told Arab News. “Anyone from the West going in is a bit nervous at first, just because of what’s presented on the news, but it completely surprised me. Overall, it was a wonderful trip.”
The vlogger described his trip as “excellent,” and said he was surprised by both the country and its people. “Meeting locals, I found them to be very open, curious and friendly,” he said.
Tourism is a fairly recent phenomenon in the country, but the people were welcoming and accepting.
“I realized it is many nations in one and there are many different ideologies,” he added. “It was surprising to hear different opinions on the country.”
Saudi Arabia’s varied landscapes, especially in southwestern areas such as Fayfa, were “different and beautiful,” he said.
Santenello’s visit began and ended in Riyadh, and included Jazan, Jeddah, Abha, Fayfa and Farsan Island. His series will include about 12 videos detailing his explorations.
South Korean vlogger Cho Won Kim, known by his YouTube channel name Chomad, visited Saudi Arabia during a tour of the Middle East.
Since there are no direct flights from South Korea to the Kingdom, Chomad spent his transit hours in Abu Dhabi learning Arabic words such as “Marhaba” (“Hello“) and “Shukran” (“Thank you“) to help him when he arrived.
For his first meal in Jeddah he went to a local favorite, Albaik, which specializes in fried chicken.
The vlogger ordered deep-fried shrimp and a chicken burger. “It’s so delicious,” he said.
“Before I arrived in Saudi Arabia, I was a little afraid of coming here. But from what I’ve experienced today, I’m already anticipating tomorrow,” he said before wishing viewers a good night.
During his trip, Chomad was fascinated by Saudi people’s discipline in maintaining their five prayers. Every time he was out, he would stop by the nearest mosque when he heard the call to prayer.
In an attempt to learn about the country and explore its religion, Chomad visited Al-Rahma, Jeddah’s floating mosque. He couldn’t believe he was finally seeing the Red Sea.
After viewing the interior of the mosque’s dome, with its beautiful chandelier and walls inscribed with intricately detailed Qur’anic verses, he said: “I honestly think the mosque is prettier than the mall.”
On his second vlog, the South Korean’s entry covers his journey through old Jeddah, shooting clips of his drive into the ancient sections of the city.
“Since I was the only Asian, I could feel all the attention on me,” Chomad said — but what he couldn’t understand was how people showered him with welcoming words.
Strolling in historic Al-Balad felt just like any other market as he checked out local produce before settling in to try a traditional beef stew at a restaurant.
“The splendid present and historical past coexist,” Chomad said when he visited Jeddah’s Urth Cafe. “I thought I could get only typical halal food in Saudi Arabia, but there are so many beautiful cafes — the vibe is entirely European,” he said.
“Saudi people are so kind,” the vlogger added. “The country is not scary at all.”
Ending his trip, Chomad stopped by the hip cafe Cup & Couch, where he met a new group of Saudi friends, some of whom even spoke a little bit of Korean.