The Four Lanterns sculpture in Jeddah

A local’s perspective

A Tourism Guide to Jeddah Through New Eyes

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At just 26 years old, newly minted engineer Ahmed Al Hanboli has had more professional experience than some people do in a lifetime. Like many smart, talented teens, Al Hanboli was tapped for a government scholarship to attend university abroad. (According to pre-pandemic figures from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, there were about 90,000 Saudi students studying on government scholarships abroad.) Al Hanboli chose Tokai University in Japan — as much for its engineering program as for the opportunity to be in that “magnificent” country itself.

In order to graduate from university in Japan, however, Al Hanboli would need to study Japanese (the language in which all of his classes would be taught) in addition to his engineering course load. Al Hanboli caught on to the language quite quickly. In fact, after a couple of years, his Saudi colleagues at school began suggesting that he publish a book to help speakers of Arabic master Japanese. Another book (geared more toward beginners) soon followed.

Emboldened by the success of his second book, Al Hanboli decided to share his work with the Saudi ambassador to Japan. “I was just interested to hear what he would say about it,” he says. The next day, Al Hanboli was invited to the embassy to meet with the ambassador, who suggested creating a guidebook to Saudi in Japanese. The first installment? Jeddah. We recently spoke with Al Hanboli about his experience writing Jeddah, his plans for the future — and his top spots to see in Jeddah and beyond.

Ahmed Al Hanboli in the museum Ahmed Al Hanboli in the museum

Ahmed Al Hanboli in the museum at the Arabic Islamic Institute in Tokyo.

What makes your Jeddah guidebook unique?

 

I wrote about 44 places in 35 days. Each place starts with a small introduction, which is followed by photos, information about hours and an Instagram address when possible. Each location also has a QR code you can scan, which takes you to an image of the place on Google Maps.

 

How did you choose what to visit in Jeddah?

 

I did a survey of my friends. They go out more than I do! It’s a mixture of cafés, Saudi restaurants, diving companies, shopping malls and more — places that are popular and good, such as Medd Café & Roastery. The suggestions in the book are divided into thirds: The first section is historical Jeddah (Al Balad), the second is the Jeddah Corniche and the last is King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC).

 

As an engineering student without a background in hospitality (or publishing), how did you pull this together?

 

Like any project you do, you have to put together a team to work on it. I had a great team, including my friend Naif Al Talhi, who was my designer. It was very time-consuming, though. In addition to my studies, I worked on the book for about six or seven hours a day. 

 

How much will the book cost?

 

I wanted to make it free. My purpose in life is really not about money; it’s about making something meaningful.

To that end, we’ve uploaded the guidebook to Jeddah here for easy access.

Women enjoying the Al Balad area of Jeddah. Women enjoying the Al Balad area of Jeddah.

Can you share a few of your favorite things in Saudi?

 

I would definitely recommend the Al Balad historical district in Jeddah (visit a souq while you’re there). If I had to recommend one restaurant, it would probably be Al Saddah. And the Tayebat Museum, near Al Balad, is very interesting. Also, I love the Corniche. It’s endless; you can have a lot of different experiences there. And for people who love nature, outside of Jeddah there’s AlUla or Umluj.
 

In closing, what do you think makes Saudi so special?

 

We provide an experience that’s totallydifferent from other places. You can touch old culture, and this is hard to explain to people in other parts of the world. They hear about future projects, such as Neom and the Red Sea Project, and those will definitely be competitive tourism spots, but we already offer a unique experience. There’s so much natural beauty. People have to feel it and touch it. And, of course, there is the people. Saudis are very friendly. So yes, visit the museums, but don’t forget to hang out in the coffee shops and talk to people, too! 

Read more about the remarkable youth culture in Saudi here.