RIYADH: The Kingdom has a distinctive charm that envelops you, according to award-winning iPhone photographer and traveler Anna Aiko.
French-Japanese Aiko was the latest guest on “The Mayman Show” and had nothing but praise for the Kingdom following a recent visit.
She said: “It’s the mix of everything: the moment, the energy, the people, the beauty, the bonheur.
“I don’t know how to say…it just rubs off on you.”
Aiko, who has been traveling around the country, added: “I really like how the architecture is. It integrates with nature and keeps the heritage.
“The heart of people, how people are welcoming you, the hospitality. Each time I come I discover so many things and I know that there’s lots of hidden sites, hidden beauty in Saudi Arabia.
“I really wish to discover more and more. This is my dream.”
Aiko is excited about the Kingdom’s burgeoning tourism sector after traveling in the Arabian Peninsula on the back of a camel, while taking photographs.
She said: “I am really happy that Saudi is opening [up], and growing.
“It is bringing technology and heritage together. This is similar to Japan, which is looking to the future while conserving heritage.”
Aiko believes Saudi hospitality is unmatched, but shares similarities with Japanese customs.
She said: “In Japan, when somebody is coming, it’s like first we’ll have tea, coffee and dates, and then maybe Japanese sweets.
“[Saudi Arabia] is really, really similar and all about respect for people and respect for the family.”
One of Aiko’s most memorable journeys was when she experienced the Darb Zubaydah.
She said: “It’s a trail most important in the Arabian Peninsula, a trail from Kufa to Makkah.
“There were some ancient sites and mosques that I really want to rediscover because Saudi Arabia is very big and I traveled a lot in Saudi in 2019 and I know that there are lots of gems in Saudi Arabia.
“Traveling in the Kingdom is always amazing because I discover different parts of the regions.
“In Hail I had tears in my eyes when I discovered the landscape. A huge landscape, infinite, and lots of mountains and colors. And it was springtime so there was nature and lots of flowers.”
Aiko left her career as a director in the luxury fashion industry in Paris to start traveling in 2015.
She said: “I traveled the Silk Road, taking pictures by iPhone. Then, since 2018, I’ve won lots of iPhone photography awards, international photography awards.”
The chance of traveling by camel came when a friend was looking for a man to cross the Empty Quarter in the Arabian Peninsula.
Aiko said: “I didn’t know how to ride on the camel, but I said it’s going to be me as a woman, and 72 hours later I was flying to Saudi Arabia to cross the vast desert on camelback.
“I wanted to travel like our ancestors to have this deep connection with nature and the camel. It was natural; we became one.”