Road to freedom: Istanbul academic begins solo motorcycle tour of Africa 

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Asil Ozbay pose for a picture signaling the start of his tour of the African continent. (Supplied)
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Asil Ozbay, 36, from Istanbul Gedik University’s sports science department, has ridden across dozens of countries on three continents. (Supplied)
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Asil Ozbay with a child from a family she met during her travel through Asia. (Supplied)
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Asil Ozbay at Khardung La, a high-altitude mountain pass in the Indian territory of Ladakh. (Supplied)
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Asil Ozbay plans to travel alone through 16 African countries on her motorcycle to reveal Africa “through the eyes of a woman.” (Supplied)
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Asil Ozbay plans to travel alone through 16 African countries on her motorcycle to reveal Africa “through the eyes of a woman.” (Supplied)
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Asil Ozbay plans to travel alone through 16 African countries on her motorcycle to reveal Africa “through the eyes of a woman.” (Supplied)
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Asil Ozbay plans to travel alone through 16 African countries on her motorcycle to reveal Africa “through the eyes of a woman.” (Supplied)
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Updated 26 June 2021
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Road to freedom: Istanbul academic begins solo motorcycle tour of Africa 

  • Adventurer Asil Ozbay has journeyed across three continents to highlight women’s empowerment

ANKARA: A journey of a thousand kilometers begins with a single step, but for one courageous woman academic in Turkey it was also the start of a seven-year adventure that has become a symbol of courage and strength for both women and men.

Asil Ozbay, 36, from Istanbul Gedik University’s sports science department, has ridden across dozens of countries on three continents on her motorcycle to demonstrate the freedom that women can enjoy.

On Tuesday, she began a tour of Africa to highlight the beauty of the continent and provide scholarships to the successful African students who hope to study in Turkey.

“This time, it is not only a trip but also a journey of self-discovery and altruism because I’m planning to provide scholarships to needy African students,” she told Arab News from Kenya.

On previous journeys, Ozbay has motorcycled through countries across Europe, North Africa and Asia.

She made headlines in 2016 after riding her motorcycle over the mountain pass of Tizi n’Tichka in Morocco, regarded as one of the world’s most dangerous routes.

Last year, Ozbay reached Khardung La mountain pass in Ladakh, one of the world’s highest roads, after a demanding 60-day trip.




Asil Ozbay at Khardung La, a high-altitude mountain pass in the Indian territory of Ladakh. (Supplied)

The Istanbul academic has ridden motorcycles for the past 19 years, and describes motorcycling as a “passion and source of freedom.”

She has sought out rarely visited and isolated areas around the world to share her unique experience with people.

As part of a year-long documentary project, she plans to travel alone through 16 African countries on her motorcycle, revealing Africa “through the eyes of a woman.”

Ozbay said that she hopes to challenge stereotypes about motorcycle use being “part of the men’s world,” inspire people about women’s empowerment, and set an example for helping developing countries with schooling.

Long journeys help people to develop a sense of responsibility, listen to their inner voice and increase their problem-solving skills, she said.

Her first stop in Africa is Kenya and she is planning to travel about 30,000 kilometers through Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Burundi and Zambia.

Ozbay said that she will stay in hostels but will also set up a tent in safer areas.   

During her African odyssey, she will produce digital content and shoot documentaries showing village life and traditions.




Asil Ozbay with the child of a family she met during her travel through Asia. (Supplied)

She carries pepper spray with her for security, but has not faced any serious issue so far.

Ozbay will share her videos on her YouTube channel, https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCKBoWVGCDEGuyAxtUkEMGqg

She has already shared her experiences via her social media account.

“Don’t delay your dreams. As a woman who can launch a trip alone, I want to encourage men and women to show that the world is worth discovering,” she said. 

“With my documentaries, I also act as a bridge between countries, helping to show undiscovered and hidden cultures around the world.”

She added: “If a person wants to do something with passion, nothing can stop them.”


Al-Arousa — AlUla’s rocky marvel attracts visitors

Al-Arousa rock formation is commonly thought to resemble a woman standing tall, wearing a dress. (SPA)
Updated 17 February 2024
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Al-Arousa — AlUla’s rocky marvel attracts visitors

  • Al-Arousa, which is about 100 meters high, was formed thousands of years ago and has kept its current shape due to natural conditions

MAKKAH: The captivating Al-Arousa rock formation, located 100 km north of AlUla, is one of the region’s most prominent attractions.

It sits amid a collection of distinctive rock formations, and according to Dr. Salma Hawsawi, a professor of ancient history, the archaeological evidence found in the area is proof of the civilizations that once lived there.

AlUla is located in the middle of Wadi Al-Qura, surrounded by mountains from the east and west.

FASTFACTS

• Al-Arousa, which is about 100 meters high, was formed thousands of years ago and has kept its current shape due to natural conditions.

• The rock formations in the AlUla region are considered natural wonders of the world because they were created without any human intervention.

High temperatures, strong solar radiation and dry continental winds are a feature of this desert area in summer. The temperatures decrease in the mountainous highlands, and in the spring and autumn the weather is characterized by moderate coolness and warmth during the day.

Hawsawi said: “Climatic and geographical conditions have led to the formation of rocks in the area in human and animal shapes.”

Al-Arousa, which is about 100 meters high, was formed thousands of years ago and has kept its current shape due to natural conditions. The formation is commonly thought to resemble a woman standing tall, wearing a beautiful dress.

Behind the figure is another rock formation that could be considered an extension of the dress, especially as it appears the figure is holding onto the hem of the garment. It could also be imagined as a seat with inscriptions on it. The figure has been interpreted by some to resemble an aristocratic woman or a queen due to the shape of the dress, which in local culture and customs would fit a grand occasion.

All the rock formations in the area are considered natural wonders of the world because they were created without any human intervention. Other distinctive rock formations in the area include Ship Mountain, Elephant Mountain and Arch Mountain.

Hawsawi said that AlUla has a rich historical and cultural depth with visitors feeling like they are traveling through different civilizations in time.

The diverse landscape of AlUla and its rich history and heritage continues to attract visitors. From researchers interested in studying historical sites to tourists wanting to explore the Kingdom’s landmarks and engage in recreational and adventurous activities, AlUla’s grand beauty and allure makes it one of the most prominent regions.

 


Baha’s ‘cave resort,’ a new type of rural tourism

Jabal Shada Al-Asfal, where abandoned caves have been transformed, offers unique accommodation in a geological wonderland. (SPA)
Updated 16 February 2024
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Baha’s ‘cave resort,’ a new type of rural tourism

  • Jabal Shada Al-Asfal, where abandoned caves have been transformed, offers unique accommodation in a geological wonderland

RIYADH: The wide range of landscapes in Saudi Arabia are proving increasingly popular with tourists from both inside and outside of the Kingdom, but the southwestern region of Baha is offering a new and unusual attraction with the “cave resort” of Jabal Shada Al-Asfal in Al-Makhwah Governorate.

There, the local people have transformed 10 abandoned mountain caves once inhabited by their ancestors into modern, fully-equipped accommodation with all modern amenities.

Jabal Shada Al-Asfal, where abandoned caves have been transformed, offers unique accommodation in a geological wonderland. (SPA)

The caves are located on Shada Al-Asfal, a mountain rising around 1,700 meters above sea level, and renowned for its agriculture, as well as its caves, and for its Shadawi coffee farms and the annual Shadawi Coffee Festival. The mountain is also an important site for scientific research.

Abdulrahman Nasser Al-Shadawi, owner of one of the revamped caves, said their designs were inspired by the surrounding landscape.

Jabal Shada Al-Asfal, where abandoned caves have been transformed, offers unique accommodation in a geological wonderland. (SPA)

Another owner, Mohammed Saleh Al-Shadawi, explained that each cave includes a living room, kitchen, bedrooms, and spectacular views over the governorate.

Visitors and tourists also have the opportunity to explore untouched ancient caves that were home to indigenous people thousands of years ago, as well as the ancient local geological formations.

Jabal Shada Al-Asfal, where abandoned caves have been transformed, offers unique accommodation in a geological wonderland. (SPA)

Nasser Al-Shadawi, a local historian, said that, according to a geological study, the area has some of the oldest geological formations on Earth, at around 763 million years, creating otherworldly shapes throughout the landscape — another tourist draw.

There is also plenty of opportunity for outdoor exercise, including cycling and climbing.

 


Bangkok: Ancient culture and cutting-edge health care 

Updated 19 February 2024
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Bangkok: Ancient culture and cutting-edge health care 

  • The Thai capital is becoming an increasingly popular destination for those seeking both traditional and preventive medical treatment 

BANGKOK: Thailand has long been a favorite destination for travelers from across the world, thanks to its beautiful beaches, stunning scenery, vibrant cultural heritage, and always-on-the-go cities. But another facet of Thailand is now attracting numerous visitors to the Southeast Asian nation every year: it’s cutting-edge healthcare. 

An increasing number of visitors are drawn to Bangkok not just for the Thai capital’s ancient temples and bustling markets, but by the promise of world-class medical treatment. 

 

Khalaf Al-Otaibi traveled from Riyadh to Bangkok for medical treatment this month. (AN photo)

Thailand has emerged as a global hub for healthcare seekers, offering a unique blend of traditional hospitality and state-of-the-art medical expertise — the pursuit of health is interwoven with the rich tapestry of Thai culture. 

 

Rajeev Rajan, the chief business development officer at Bumrungrad International Hospital, told Arab News that quality of care and winning the trust of patients are the staff’s main concerns. 

“A patient wanting to travel to Bumrungrad can (simply) send us an email with a medical report. We take that report, and we give them an expert opinion with the cost of everything in advance,” he said. “Once the patient receives the appointment confirmation, they provide us with their flight details. When the patient lands, he or she is received from the gate of the plane, and escorted through our fast-track immigration office. We also have a complimentary shuttle service every 15 minutes from the airport to the hospital or to a nearby guesthouse.” 

Typically, the patient will enter the hospital the next day, where Rajan said there is a support team of more than 170 people who speak Arabic. A member of the team will accompany the patient throughout their treatment. Several of the doctors also speak Arabic.  

The hospital also offers prayer areas and Halal food choices for Muslim guests, and Rajan explained that the hospital also remains in close contact with relevant embassies, offers visa extension services, and provides dedicated offices for medical liaisons from diplomatic missions. 

Chulalongkorn University, home to Thailand's oldest medical school. (Shutterstock)

Of the 1.2 million patients Bumrungrad receives each year, Rajan estimated that 50 percent are from overseas, and of those around a quarter are from the Gulf region. 

Rajan said the hospital will soon open a coordination office in Riyadh and noted that the ministries of health in both Thailand and Saudi Arabia are in discussions about technical collaboration opportunities. 

Rajan said that Thailand received 50,000 visitors from Saudi Arabia in the last four months of 2022, and that he expected the total figure for 2023 to be around 250,000 to 300,000. 

“If you look at anywhere in Europe (or elsewhere in the West), you know, it’s expensive (to visit from the Gulf),” Rajan said. “Thailand is very close. Flights are affordable, and the destination itself is very affordable. This might be one of the only destinations where you have 100 percent security, and you have the halal foods, mosques, beaches... So, it is a culturally favorable ecosystem.” 

At Bumrungrad, Arab News also interviewed Khalaf Al-Otaibi, a 55-year-old from Riyadh, who had come to the hospital for treatment. 

“Once I arrived here, it took less than 10 minutes to see my doctor. Their services are great. They respect their patients. They explain everything in detail, and doctors (really listen) to what you say,” Al-Otaibi said. 

One of the rooms at Bumrungrad Hospital. (Shutterstock)

Jiruth Sriratanaban, associate dean for planning and development at Chulalongkorn University’s faculty of medicine told Arab News that his university is the oldest medical school in Thailand. 

“We work closely with the King Chulalongkorn Memorial Hospital, which belongs to the Thai Red Cross Society,” he said, adding the hospital is the only site in Thailand that provides proton therapy for cancer patients. 

Tanupol Virunhagarun, CEO of BDMS Wellness Clinic, part of Bangkok Dusit Medical Services, said that health and wellness was an increasingly important factor in people’s travel plans. 

“Our patients come twice a year, usually, to check their body fat and blood. Those from the Arab countries are mostly interested in advice about longevity, anti-aging, weight loss, and sexual health,” he said. 

“At our clinic, we pay attention to physical, mental, and even spiritual health, because we believe that to have a healthy body, you should have a healthy mind. That is how our clinic is different from a hospital; we do a lot of preventive medicine here,” he added. “We want people to check their health before they get sick.” 


Saudi Arabia’s NEOM announces new beach club in collaboration with MDLBEAST

Updated 16 February 2024
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Saudi Arabia’s NEOM announces new beach club in collaboration with MDLBEAST

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s NEOM will open a new ultra-modern beach club on its luxury island Sindalah in a partnership with music entertainment company MDLBEAST.

MDLBEAST will handle the end-to-end operations at The Sindalah Beach Club, starting from the preparations during the venue pre-launch to the management of the destination.

“Sindalah is bringing a new model for luxury travel and living powered by innovation and sustainability. MDLBEAST will reimagine the typical beach club experience into a tech-enhanced journey, leveraging the value of Sindalah as an iconic luxury island destination,” Chief Urban Planning and Islands Officer at NEOM said.

The music scene at Sindalah will feature renowned musicians, artists, and DJs, alongside modern audio and visual installations to create a dynamic environment.

Sindalah Beach Club is also committed to responsible luxury and aligns with NEOM’s vision for sustainable tourism.

The club will aim to prioritise environmental preservation by blending architecture with its natural surroundings, to ensure a minimal ecological footprint.


‘Jeddah Go Outdoors’ offers hiking trips to experience Saudi Arabia’s natural splendor

Updated 12 February 2024
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‘Jeddah Go Outdoors’ offers hiking trips to experience Saudi Arabia’s natural splendor

  • Founded by hiking enthusiasts, Jeddah Go Outdoors gives chance to explore Kingdom’s natural beauty

JEDDAH: The urge to explore and reconnect with nature is at the heart of Jeddah Go Outdoors, a Saudi organization unlocking adventures in the Kingdom.

Founded by Ahmed Shatta, Maher Indijani, and Mohammed Jafrawi, Jeddah Go Outdoors regularly organizes trips inspired by their own passion for hiking.

Jeddah Go Outdoors makes hiking and other outdoor activities more accessible and organized for both locals and tourists, while also providing opportunity to explore Saudi Arabia’s diverse nature. (Supplied)

Shatta fell in love with walking and spending time in nature with his friends and fellow students while he was studying in the US. He then wanted to put his newfound hiking skills into practice when he returned to Saudi Arabia.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Founded by Ahmed Shatta, Maher Indijani, and Mohammed Jafrawi, Jeddah Go Outdoors regularly organizes trips inspired by their own passion for hiking.

• As experienced hikers, their forays outside the Kingdom are learning experiences that they use to their advantage.

• With a workforce composed entirely of women, Jeddah Go Outdoors has also been able to cater to women who desire privacy during these adventures.

In Jeddah, Shatta began hiking with his friends in 2014. At the time, hiking was not particularly common, and the only people who joined him on these expeditions were foreigners. Now, Shatta and his friends are making the activity more accessible and organized for locals and tourists, and creating opportunities to appreciate the wonders of the Kingdom’s diverse landscape.

Jeddah Go Outdoors makes hiking and other outdoor activities more accessible and organized for both locals and tourists, while also providing opportunity to explore Saudi Arabia’s diverse nature. (Supplied)

“The idea to start a tour group and get people out of their houses to explore the countryside came about because I felt that everyone should be able to observe and appreciate the beauty and wealth of our nature between mountains, lands, and weather,” Shatta told Arab News.

With the inception of that idea, along with Jafrawi and Indijani, Shatta created the tourism foundation that is now approved and licensed by the Ministry of Tourism.

Jeddah Go Outdoors makes hiking and other outdoor activities more accessible and organized for both locals and tourists, while also providing opportunity to explore Saudi Arabia’s diverse nature. (Supplied)

They started by traveling domestically throughout the Kingdom, and later expanded to international trips to explore places like Georgia, Oman, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and more.

As experienced hikers, their forays outside the Kingdom are learning experiences that they use to their advantage. “Our overseas travels have given us a wealth of knowledge from our hiking experiences outside of the Kingdom. For instance, while in Oman, we discovered they had a 20 km walking tour. We learned how to do it and used it to organize and prepare an adventure here on our visits,” he said.

Jeddah Go Outdoors makes hiking and other outdoor activities more accessible and organized for both locals and tourists, while also providing opportunity to explore Saudi Arabia’s diverse nature. (Supplied)

Their trips are not limited to hiking as they also organize zipline adventures and biking trips: “What sets us apart are our affordable rates and our array of packages, which include hiking meditation, challenging hiking, and even a fantastic bike ride in Jeddah’s Al-Balad area, where we all ride our bikes and take in the breathtaking views of the UNESCO World Heritage Site,” Shatta added.

People should venture outside of their comfort zone and explore that nature, rather than being enmeshed in mundane occupations and everyday responsibilities.

Ahmed Shatta, Jeddah Go Outdoors co-founder

Shatta and his companions take trips frequently and have added a lot of exciting elements to the experiences, like Egyptian Night, Levant Night, Kuwaiti Night, and more.

His purpose is to link humans with the natural world around them, and thus far they have served over 70,000 people.

Jeddah Go Outdoors makes hiking and other outdoor activities more accessible and organized for both locals and tourists, while also providing opportunity to explore Saudi Arabia’s diverse nature. (Supplied)

“We fulfilled several government contracts, such as the one from the Saudi Climbing and Hiking Federation to map out a path through Al-Baha. We created the route after winning the bid,” he said.

With a workforce composed entirely of women, Jeddah Go Outdoors has also been able to cater to women who desire privacy during these adventures.

Jeddah Go Outdoors makes hiking and other outdoor activities more accessible and organized for both locals and tourists, while also providing opportunity to explore Saudi Arabia’s diverse nature. (Supplied)

Being an IT specialist, Shatta was also able to develop the website with a simple booking system. He is currently working on a platform that unites all travel agencies in the Kingdom and their operating systems, enabling them to showcase their deals and tickets for their experiences: “Since we have a large client database, we have decided to assist other Saudi tourism businesses in joining this platform so they can advertise their services there and generate income.”

His job necessitates him spending a lot of time in front of a computer, much like most people these days working corporate jobs.

“People should venture outside of their comfort zone and explore that nature, rather than being enmeshed in mundane occupations and everyday responsibilities,” he says.