The book that drew the world’s attention to Saudi Arabia’s prehistoric rock art 

Ancient rock art is Saudi Arabia’s greatest heritage treasure — and attests to a history of human culture that stretches back 10,000 years. (Supplied)
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Updated 23 November 2022

The book that drew the world’s attention to Saudi Arabia’s prehistoric rock art 

  • Rare first-edition copy of “Prehistoric Rock Art of Northern Saudi Arabia” was on sale at Sharjah International Book Fair
  • There was little or no recognition of the Kingdom’s ancient past before Majeed Khan’s book was published in 1993

LONDON: In May 1976, Majeed Khan, a young graduate of the University of Sindh, Pakistan, traveled to Saudi Arabia to join the Ministry of Tourism as an archaeological consultant, advising on the development of museums and the conduct of archaeological investigations in the country.

It was to prove an inspired appointment.

Back then, with Saudi Arabia riding the wave of the first great oil boom and focused necessarily on its rapidly evolving future, archaeology in the Kingdom was in its infancy.

But in Khan the country had found a champion for one of its greatest heritage treasures — ancient rock art, thousands of examples of which are strewn across the landscape and which attest to a history of human culture that stretches back 10,000 years.

Khan, who lives in Riyadh, and at the age of 80 still works as a consultant to the Ministry of Culture’s Antiquities Department, has devoted his entire working life to a subject that continues to fascinate and surprise him to this day.

He received another surprise last month when he learned that his seminal book, “Prehistoric Rock Art of Northern Saudi Arabia,” published by the Saudi Ministry of Education’s Department of Antiquities and Museums in 1993, was now considered a collector’s item.

A first-edition copy was offered for sale for £1,250 ($1,448) by a specialist London book dealer at the UAE’s Sharjah International Book Fair, which ran from Nov. 2 to 13.

That, Khan felt, was a lot of money. But on the other hand, “it was the first research book on rock art published in any Arab country,” he said. At the time it came out, “there was no rock art taught in any Saudi university and no real rock art research in Saudi Arabia.”

Furthermore, there was little or no recognition in the wider world of Saudi Arabia’s ancient past — a past that is now being embraced enthusiastically as the backbone of major tourism projects, such as AlUla and Diriyah, designed to bring in millions of visitors a year to the Kingdom.

A first-edition copy was offered for sale for £1,250 ($1,448) by a specialist London book dealer at the UAE’s Sharjah International Book Fair, which ran from Nov. 2 to 13. (Supplied)

For example, in the supposedly comprehensive 1998 Cambridge Illustrated History of Prehistoric Art, published in 1998, there was not a single mention of Saudi Arabia — an oversight that would be dramatically exposed by Khan’s work.

To describe Khan as a pioneer in his field is to understate the impact he has had on the understanding of the extent and importance of the ancient past of the Kingdom.

Over the past four decades he has published dozens of research papers. The first, which he co-authored, was on “The Lower Miocene Fauna of Assarrar, Eastern Arabia,” published in Atlal, the Journal of Saudi Arabian Archaeology, in 1981.

His first book, which came out in 1993, shortly before his groundbreaking work on the prehistoric rock art of Saudi Arabia, was “The Origin and Evolution of Ancient Arabian Inscriptions,” also published by the Ministry of Education.

But it was to petroglyphs that he would devote the greater part of his energies, an academic commitment that in 2015 culminated in the rock art in the Hail region of Saudi Arabia being inscribed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

Along with two colleagues from the then-named Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities, Jamal Omar and vice-president Prof. Ali Al-Ghabban, it was Khan’s name that appeared on the nomination text that saw the twin sites near Jubbah and Shuwaymis in the northern province of Hail recognized by UNESCO as being of “outstanding universal value.”

To describe Majeed Khan as a pioneer in his field is to understate. (Supplied)

As Khan told Arab News in January 2021, “it was for me the most emotional moment of my 40 years of research.”

Not that he is resting on his laurels. Hail is not the only region in Saudi Arabia where rock art can be found, and “these days I am working on the rock-art site of Hima, Najran, to see it, too, placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.”

There are more than 2,000 rock-art sites around Saudi Arabia. But the greatest concentration of Neolithic petroglyphs, or rock carvings, and the oldest known examples, dating back 10,000 years, is to be found in the north of the country at two sites 300 kilometers apart in the Hail Province.

The ancient forebears of today’s Saudis had no paper, pens, or written language with which to record their time on earth.

But with the rocks of their dramatic landscapes as their canvas, thousands of years ago the ancient peoples of the land that would become Saudi Arabia found a way to leave their mark on history, with an astonishing pictorial representation of a now forgotten world, painstakingly pecked, chiseled and engraved out of the sandstone rocks of the region.

The first of the two Hail sites is at Jabal Umm Sinman, a rocky outcrop to the west of the town of Jubbah, some 90 kilometers northwest of the city of Hail and 680 kilometers from the capital, Riyadh.

The town’s origins date back to the dawn of Arab civilization, when the hills of Umm Sinman overlooked a freshwater lake, which eventually would be lost beneath the sands of the surrounding Nefud desert some 6,000 years ago.

It was on these hills, in the words of the UNESCO nomination document co-authored by Khan, that the ancestors of today’s Saudi Arabians “left the marks of their presence, their religions, social, cultural, intellectual and philosophical perspectives of their beliefs about life and death, metaphysical and cosmological ideologies.”

The rock art of Jubbah, said Khan, “represented all phases of human presence from the Neolithic, 10,000 years before the present, until the recent past,” and reflected a time when the climate and landscape were very different from today.

Etched upon the rocks, often at mysteriously inaccessible heights, are the trappings of a lost world: A parade of dancers, long-forgotten gods and goddesses, mythological figures, half-human, half-beast, and animals including sheep, ibex, camels, horses, wolves, ostriches and — reflecting a time when prey roamed abundant on the once lush plains of Arabia — lions.

“The type of animals (pictured) suggested changes in climate and environment,” said Khan. “Large ox figures indicated a cool and humid climate, while the absence of ox figures and the appearance of camel petroglyphs represented hot and dry conditions.


• Sharjah International Book Fair began in 1982 to realize the vision of Dr. Sultan Al-Qasimi, ruler of the eponymous UAE emirate.

• The festival this year ran from Nov. 2 -13.

“Both at Jubbah and Shuwaymis this change in fauna and flora clearly represented gradual but drastic change in society and climate in the prehistoric and pre-Islamic era.”

Importantly, he said, similarities in themes and depictions in other parts of the world, including Africa, India, Australia, Europe and America, showed that “Saudi Arabia was part of world heritage and cultural traditions.”

Like other peoples around the world, “ancient Arab artists were drawing the animals with which they were living and depicting their social activities, like dancing and religious rituals.”

The second of the twin Hail sites is at Jabal Al-Manjor and Raat, 220 kilometers southwest of Jubbah near the village of Shuwaymis. Remarkably, its treasures were discovered only 20 years ago, a remarkable story in which, naturally, Khan played a leading role.

In 2002, Aramco World, the magazine of the Saudi national oil company, reported that in March the previous year a bedouin grazing his camels had stumbled on strange marks on a remote cluster of rocks. He happened to mention his find to a teacher from the local town of Shuwaymis. He alerted the authorities and they called in Khan.

“Yes, the story is correct,” Khan said. “I met both the bedouin and Mr. Saad Rawsan, the director of archaeology in the Hail region, who took us to the sites for further investigations and research.”

Together, he discovered, the twin sites told the story of over 9,000 years of human history, from the earliest pictorial records of hunting to the development of writing, religion and the domestication of animals including cattle, horses and camels.

As the UNESCO documents record, these sites justify their inscription on the World Heritage List because they feature “large numbers of petroglyphs of exceptional quality attributed to between 6,000 and 9,000 years of human history, followed in the last 3,000 years by very early development of writing that reflects the bedouin culture, ending in Qur’anic verses.”

Furthermore, the Jubbah and Shuwaymis sites comprise “the world’s largest and most magnificent surviving corpus of Neolithic petroglyphs.”

Neolithic rock art is found at many locations across Eurasia and North Africa, “but nowhere in such dense concentration or with such consistently high visual quality” as in this remote part of northwestern Saudi Arabia.

Peter Harrington, the London specialist book dealer that brought Khan’s book to Sharjah for the book fair, described it as “a pioneering monograph ... the first and sole edition of this seminal work, which addresses a hitherto neglected subject, challenges the received wisdom that influences in rock art in the region originated from Mesopotamia, the Levant, and the Nile Valley, helped to put the Kingdom’s ancient past on the map of modern knowledge, and paved the way to the listing in 2015 of the rock art of the Hail region as a UNESCO World Heritage site.”

“I am extremely surprised to see the cost of my book,” Khan said after Arab News broke the news to him of the price being asked for the out-of-print volume at the Sharjah International Book Fair, although he had some news of his own.

“The ministry is printing it again.”

That, however, is unlikely to prove a deterrent for collectors always keen to snap up rare first editions of books dealing with the region’s history — and there are few histories as fascinating as that of the rock art of Saudi Arabia, and few books as significant in the growing appreciation of the Kingdom’s past as Khan’s 30-year-old volume.

Diriyah’s At-Turaif and Bujairi Terrace set to bring to life the birthplace of the modern Saudi state

Updated 30 November 2022

Diriyah’s At-Turaif and Bujairi Terrace set to bring to life the birthplace of the modern Saudi state

  • Opening season of the two developments will include a vibrant public program of events, performances, and activities for all visitors
  • Visitors to UNESCO World Heritage site At-Turaif will get a chance to savor Bujairi Terrace’s eagerly awaited culinary district

RIYADH: The first phase of an aspirational project conceived five years ago, with the aim of showcasing the history of the birthplace of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, has come to fruition according to plan.

Diriyah Gate Development Authority’s At-Turaif and Bujairi Terrace developments were officially unveiled on Monday at a gala event during the World Travel and Tourism Council’s Global Summit.

Delegates from around the globe, Saudi public figures and DGDA staff joined together to witness a momentous development as Diriyah opened its doors to the international community.

Saudi Tourism Minister Ahmed Al-Khateeb inaugurates the historic At- Turaif and Bujairi neighborhoods with a dramatic ceremony witnessed by guests from around the world. (DGDA)

“Tonight is a very historic night,” Jerry Inzerillo, the CEO of DGDA, told Arab News. “We are celebrating two big milestones.

“For the first time in the history of the Gulf, the Kingdom is welcoming the World Travel and Tourism Council, all the ministers of tourism, CEOs of hotel companies, CEOs of airline companies — it’s 5,000 people coming to the Kingdom to see what’s going to be one of the great tourism countries in the world.”

Inzerillo described what it means to him, personally, to see the fruit of the labor of his team in Diriyah on display before the eyes of the world.

“It makes my heart pound because the thing that I am most proud about is that we are 1,600 staff now: 85 percent Saudi, 36 percent Saudi superstar women, 16 percent of which are in management, and 14 percent of our staff is from Diriyah. My heart and soul are my team and that’s the thing that I am most proud about,” Inzerillo said.

Prudence Solomon Inzerillo, Inzerillo’s wife, said: “I think the changes are profound and I think the whole devotion and commitment to celebrating culture, heritage, history art … I think it’s such an incredible gift, it’s really important.

“I think that everyone should appreciate the history and the culture that you have. It’s so rich and diverse and I think that it is a real privilege and a pleasure to be here to witness the changes that have happened over the last four-plus years that we’ve been here and it’s extraordinary.”

The festivities began at the birthplace of the Kingdom, and the first ruling base of the Al-Saud family, the UNESCO World Heritage site of At-Turaif. In front of Salwa Palace, a 10,000 square meter complex the original parts of which were built by Mohammed ibn Saud, the first ruler of the First Saudi State, tour guides stood waiting to show visitors around the site, moving along walkways once trodden by early Saudi rulers.

“Tonight is a very historic night,” Jerry Inzerillo, the CEO of DGDA, told Arab News. (DGDA)

Every handmade mud brick in the ancient buildings of At-Turaif has a story to tell, every wall holds the secrets of power struggles, and every corner conceals a tale of hospitality and unity.

The visitors from around the world saw not only the modernity and luxury of the present-day Kingdom but were able to take a step back in time as they watched live performances of traditional ardah dance and walked narrow pathways that paint an atmospheric picture of the Kingdom’s past.

The guests at this private event that marked the official opening of Bujairi and At-Turaif represented a diverse assemblage of visitors from numerous countries

Guadalupe Galvan Hernandez, for example, was visiting from Mexico City to attend the World Travel and Tourism Council summit.

“This is my first time in Saudi Arabia,” she told Arab News. “I have seen many things. Diriyah is amazing; it is all history. When we arrived we saw so many structures and it’s a blend of modernity and traditions.


• At-Turaif and Bujairi Terrace will open their doors to the public on Dec. 4. 

• The Global Summit of the World Travel and Tourism Council is taking place for the first time in Saudi Arabia.

• At-Turaif will offer 75-minute guided walking tours in both Arabic and English that will take visitors through the original seal of power of the Al-Saudi family.

“The people are very kind, they are very nice people. Sometimes when you come from a country like Mexico it’s hard to understand some things and it makes you fear, somehow, the way you will be treated and they (the Saudis) were really, really kind and nice people.”

Following the tours of At-Turaif and the performances there, the guests made their way to the gates of Bujairi Terrace, where Inzerillo and Saudi Minister of Tourism Ahmed Al-Khateeb gave inaugural speeches. Inzerillo began by praising the Saudi leadership.

“I want to praise and give thanks to our dynamic prime minister, our Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has been instrumental in every single detail of the Vision 2030 master plan for Diriyah,” he said.

“And thanks to his support we are one of the giga projects that tonight — on this historic night, in the birthplace of the Kingdom, the birthplace of the Arabian Peninsula, the ancestral house of Al-Saud — we open assets of 2030 in 2022.”

Diriyah Gate Development Authority’s At-Turaif and Bujairi Terrace developments were officially unveiled on Monday. (DGDA)

Al-Khateeb said: “Today we are celebrating the opening of phase one, (which is) just 1 to 2 percent of the total project, and we thank you for being with us today.

“This is a testimony and proof that Saudi Arabia started its planning and now we are in the execution phase and you will see an opening in all of the giga projects every year. Diriyah is a good example, with the opening of Bujairi Terrace.”

Many DGDA employees could not hide their emotions as the doors of Buajiri Terrace opened to welcome the world.

Among the guests at the inauguration was Helena Zakade Inzerillo, the teenage daughter of the DGDA CEO. In 2019, at the age of 12, she spoke to Arab News during King Salman’s inauguration of the Diriyah Gate project and told how proud she was of her father and his mission to transform the city “with his heart and soul.”

Three years later, she was delighted to be at Bujairi Terrace to see her father’s passion and ambitions come to life.

“When I first came four years ago and saw Diriyah I was absolutely in shock,” she said. “I mean, this is an absolutely beautiful place that nobody really knew about outside of the Kingdom.

“I really believe that people should be seeing this place, people should know about this place and the significance of it.

“To see it come to this, to see the success, to see so many people come from around the world, and to see people’s perspectives completely change upon arriving in Saudi Arabia, and seeing the hospitality of the people here and seeing the significance of our country here, it means so much to me.”

Diriyah has long been renowned for its hospitality and generosity, its strength and its power — now it opens its gates to the world. (DGDA)

Helena said she truly believes in her father’s mission to spread to the world the message and meaning of Diriyah and its importance to the Kingdom.

“This means so much to me, to my family as a whole,” she added. “We have seen the process over the past four years, the amount of hard work, the tireless hours of my dad’s work for the past four years here in Saudi.

“And we have seen the transformation of Riyadh, of Diriyah, and the passion of the place that my dad has spread and how much he loves this place.”

The scent of bukhour filled the air and the sounds of ardha music echoed through Wadi Hanifah as history and modernity merged in the form of the many luxury dining experiences. Following a gala dinner in Bujairi Terrace, a light show illuminated the pathways and walls of At-Turaif.

The laser and firework display lit up the Najdi architecture of Salwa Palace, and the sky above it, with the words “The city of the earth,” “Only one Diriyah,” and simply “Diriyah.”

“As a 2030 giga project, we are already opening assets in 2022,” Inzerillo said. “So Turaif, all redone; Bujairi district, 20 new restaurants and after tonight we will take a few days and open to the public in a few days; 2 km of the Wadi Hanifah; new sales centers; welcome centers; community centers. So 2030 is now 2022.”

Visitors to the World Travel and Tourism Council Global Summit enjoy a taste of traditional Saudi hospitality in the Kingdom’s birthplace. (DGDA)

At-Turaif and Bujairi Terrace will officially open to the public on Dec. 4, and Inzerello outlined what is next in store.

“After tonight we are going to open up a lot of assets,” he said. “We have the first hotels under construction that will open next year, the first museums that will open next year, we have already planted 6 million trees on our way to 50 million trees, plants and bushes.

“Every year now we will open assets, we will ground-break assets and we will announce assets every year until 2030.”

Diriyah has long been renowned for its hospitality and generosity, its strength and its power — now it opens its gates to the world to give visitors a taste of the past and a glimpse of the future.


World’s first commercial shipment of blue ammonia leaves Saudi Arabia

Updated 29 November 2022

World’s first commercial shipment of blue ammonia leaves Saudi Arabia

  • The development was first announced during the recent Saudi Green Initiative conference in Sharm El-Sheikh
  • The accomplishment is part of collaboration between Saudi Basic Industries Corporation Agri-Nutrients, Aramco

A consignment of blue ammonia has left Saudi Arabia for South Korea, representing a new milestone in the development of decarbonization solutions.

The development was first announced during the recent Saudi Green Initiative conference in Sharm El-Sheikh, and Vessel Seasurfer, carrying 25 kilometer-tons of low-carbon blue ammonia, is expected to reach its destination between Dec. 9 and 13 in the world’s first commercial shipment of its kind.

The accomplishment, which is an alternative to conventional gray ammonia, is part of a collaboration between Saudi Basic Industries Corporation Agri-Nutrients and Aramco.

Lotte Fine Chemical, which has a long-standing relationship with SABIC AN, will receive the low-carbon “cradle to gate” blue ammonia.

Abdulrahman Shamsaddin, SABIC AN CEO, said: “This shipment is another milestone in our journey toward carbon neutrality.

“We are proud to be a part of this pioneering solution, paving the way for further decarbonization efforts.

“Looking to the future, we are constantly working on breakthrough solutions to decarbonize our assets and deliver low-carbon solutions to our customers.”

Yong Suk Kim, LFC CEO, said: “We are delighted to enter this meaningful agreement with our long-term supplier, SABIC Agri-Nutrients, to receive the world’s first certified blue ammonia cargo. 

“Building on our shared history, we are looking forward to moving forward together into a new era for ammonia. We believe that this shipment of blue ammonia will help lay the foundations for a global supply chain." 

Earlier this year, SABIC AN and Aramco received the world’s first independent certifications, recognizing blue ammonia and blue hydrogen production, from TUV Rheinland, a leading independent testing, inspection and certification agency, based in Germany.

The shipment of blue ammonia to South Korea will be the first to capitalize on this major certification achievement. 

The new developments are aligned with Saudi Vision 2030, which focuses on low-carbon fuels, products, solutions and clean energy. 

Saudi Arabia’s largest e-sports festival kick starts in Riyadh

Updated 28 November 2022

Saudi Arabia’s largest e-sports festival kick starts in Riyadh

  • The RUSH festival allows video-game aficionados to experience latest technology
  • Over five days, gamers will be provided best-known games, real-life experiences

RIYADH: The RUSH festival, the largest event for virtual sports and games, opened at the Riyadh Front on Saturday as part of the Riyadh Season of activities.

Over five days, it will provide gamers with the best-known games and real-life experiences.

They will get the chance to play real games such as “Fortnite,” “FIFA,” and “Valorant.” The event will also bring together the best international teams so that the biggest tournaments and direct qualifiers can be held on the e-sports stage.

Representatives of the 25 E-Sport organization greeted fans at the event’s meet-and-greet booth.

Aoun, the organization’s director of operations, told Arab News: “We have content makers and professional players in all games, and we came to meet the audience here.”

The festival aims to provide fun video games, competitions, and challenges through direct tournaments with prizes, and includes live entertainment shows, DJ performances, an augmented reality experience, and a cosplay competition.

The Valar Club booth was promoting e-sports for women.

Malak Al-Qahtani, founder of Valar Club, told Arab News: “Valar Club is the first licensed women’s club from the federation’s electronic sports, and our goal is to help female Saudi players, as they aspire to the world, and help with their training.”

Saudi YouTuber Pika Loli travelled from Jeddah to attend the event.

“This event brings together most of the YouTubers and gamers, and it is a good opportunity to get to know each other, and it will increase our followers and grow the channel on YouTube.”

Some of the cosplayers were dressed as video game characters.

Abdulelah Al-Qahtani said: “Today we are dressed as characters from the ‘Genshin Impact’ game, and I think this is so good that Saudi Arabia brought up a hidden community, like cosplayers and gamers.”

With a focus on the whole of the gaming industry, from console and PC gaming to mobile and e-sports, the RUSH festival aims to give gaming aficionados the opportunity to access and experience the latest tech and the chance to interact with each other in real life, and online.

Tickets for the event are available via

Saudi ambassador to Thailand sees ‘a prosperous and promising future’ for bilateral relations

Updated 27 November 2022

Saudi ambassador to Thailand sees ‘a prosperous and promising future’ for bilateral relations

  • Investment opportunities are many thanks to similar development priorities, Abdurrahman bin Abdulaziz Al-Suhaibani tells Arab News
  • He says the crown prince’s recent visit will contribute to accelerated steps for enhancement of bilateral and trade relations

BANGKOK: Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to Bangkok last week has opened not only a new chapter in Saudi-Thai ties but also new horizons in which officials and the people see a promising future for both kingdoms.

Relations between Saudi Arabia and Thailand were officially restored in January this year, during Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha’s trip to Riyadh, when the two countries agreed to appoint ambassadors for the first time in over three decades.

The crown prince arrived in Bangkok as a guest of honor at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit hosted by Thailand on Nov. 18-19 and became the first Saudi official to make such a trip.

“It was the first visit at the level of the Kingdom’s leadership since the establishment of relations between the two countries in 1957,” Abdurrahman bin Abdulaziz Al-Suhaibani, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Thailand, told Arab News.

In welcome messages, many Thais wrote it was an “honor” for them to see the Saudi crown prince in their country. (SPA)

“It will move the relations of the two countries to broader horizons and a prosperous and promising future.

“It will also contribute to accelerating steps that will enhance bilateral, economic and trade relations between the two countries by exploring potential investment opportunities in light of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 and the development priorities of Thailand.”

The crown prince’s meetings with the Thai leadership have yielded numerous memorandums on energy, investment, tourism, anticorruption efforts and the normalization of diplomatic relations.

When the crown prince arrived in Bangkok, he was officially received by the country’s top leadership and royal family and unofficially by many others, especially from the younger generation, who took to social media to welcome him and set up online fan clubs.

In welcome messages, many Thais wrote it was an “honor” for them to see the Saudi crown prince in their country.

“I think Thai people are looking and are expecting more cooperation with Saudi Arabia,” Abdurrahman bin Abdulaziz Al-Suhaibani, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Thailand, told Arab News. (Supplied)

Photos and videos from the visit went viral and made the rounds with captions such as “Warm welcome, Prince,” “This is what people in the country (Thailand) want,” “Happy: Thai-Saudi relations are very close after 32 years,” “Long live MBS.”

“The relations now seem to be on the right track and will grow stronger and more comprehensive in the coming period,” Al-Suhaibani told Arab News.

“The Saudi embassy will focus on implementing and following up on the agreements and memoranda of understanding that were signed during this historic visit.”

Tanee Sangrat, director-general of information at the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs and soon-to-be Thailand’s ambassador to the US, told Arab News that the visit was “closely watched and followed by the Thai people in Thailand and around the world.”

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha’s trip to Riyadh in January. (Shutterstock)

He said: “We look to Saudi Arabia as a country that has great potential. The crown prince and prime minister is very widely well respected by our people.

“I think Thai people are looking and are expecting more cooperation with Saudi Arabia.”

With the restoration of ties with Saudi Arabia, Thailand has found not only a new powerful partner in navigating volatile energy markets and energy transition, but also, as many have said, a “gateway” to the Middle East, where Thailand’s presence is not very strong.



The restored relationship would give not only Thai exporters but also investors more access to opportunities in the Gulf and beyond.

“This is a big, big issue for Thailand. Saudi Arabia is a critical partner in the Middle East,” Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Bangkok-based Institute of Security and International Studies, told Arab News.

“That is a gateway for Thailand to re-engage and re-enter Middle East markets. Without the Saudi Arabia relationship, a lot of doors were closed. Now, more doors will be opened.”

Suppalerk Aramkitphotha, a business development professional, saw the crown prince’s visit as a “great opportunity.”

“We are very glad that we have this opportunity,” he said, citing the business prospects between Thailand and the Middle East that would now be facilitated.

Jirayut Srupsrisopa, the founder of the first Thai fintech startup to notch up a valuation of more than $1 billion, said he was glad that the Saudi crown prince visited Thailand and new bridges were built.

“Now we can do so much more between Thailand and Saudi Arabia. We can work with Saudis for the future of energy, the future of green hydrogen or future growth in other aspects like the digital economy,” he told Arab News, adding that there would also be opportunities such as medical tourism.

Thailand, where healthcare services are well developed, already has agreements with countries such as Kuwait and Qatar for receiving patients. A deal with Saudi Arabia is likely to be a part of the two countries’ relations going forward.

“We are famous for medical tourism,” Jirayut said. “Everyone can come here, have a nice holiday, nice beach, nice mountains, nice hotels, nice services. And they can get their teeth done. They can recover. They can have a health checkup here at a fraction of the cost elsewhere.”

But there is much more to the renewed ties than business opportunities.

Referring to the potential role that culture can play in cementing the re-established Saudi-Thai relationship, Ambassador Al-Suhaibani said: “There are many similarities between the two countries, particularly in hospitality, generosity, friendliness and, most importantly the richness of culture.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the Thai Prime Minister witness the exchange of several MoU between Saudi Arabia and Thailand. (Supplied)

“This will encourage us to strengthen relationships and communication between our people, as well as to promote constructive dialogue in many aspects of social, cultural and religious (life).”

This kind of exchange is what Thais have waited for a long time.

Voralak Tulaphorn, a marketing professional, said a Saudi presence is something that was missing from the multicultural landscape of Thailand for a long time.

“Saudi Arabia and (Thailand) actually have rich cultures, and with rich cultures it would be nice to have exchanges in everything from food and nature to fashion and handicrafts.”

For her, what holds the greatest promise as a means of bringing Thais and Saudis together is an appreciation of each other’s cuisines. Food is a good way to win hearts and spread cultural influence.

“I think people love Thai street food,” Voralak told Arab News, adding that she hoped that soon Saudi restaurants would start emerging in Bangkok. “We would love to taste Saudi Arabian food too.”


History, mystery and magic as first Ancient Kingdoms Festival wraps up in Saudi Arabia

Updated 27 November 2022

History, mystery and magic as first Ancient Kingdoms Festival wraps up in Saudi Arabia

  • The festival focused entirely on sites at crossroads of culture, centers of influence and wealth
  • By focusing on a range of events, the festival gave these ancient landscapes a new lease of life

KHAYBAR: Past, present and future came together as the inaugural Ancient Kingdoms Festival drew to a close with a series of dramatic events showcasing three historic oases of the northwest — AlUla, Khaybar and Tayma — for a modern audience.

The festival, launched on Nov. 11, was the first of its kind to focus entirely on the sites, which were at the crossroads of culture in ancient times, and also centers of influence and wealth.

By focusing on a range of events, including cultural performances, workshops and sightseeing opportunities, the festival gave these ancient landscapes a new lease of life, with many of the activities expected to continue after the festival’s close.

A spectacular show lit up the night sky as 1,450 drones formed shapes while an orchestra played music by UK composer Matt Faddy. The show will continue until Dec. 15, 2023.

Visitors to Khaybar can still explore the mysterious prehistoric stone structures on foot, or by car or a 20-minute helicopter excursion, hovering over the old and new.

“We made this festival to reflect the stories behind all the ancient civilizations that lived around or in these three places,” Abdulrazzag Alanzi, a local storyteller and tour guide, told Arab News.

Alanzi used to visit his cousins in Khaybar as a child and still recalls hearing stories about the region going back centuries.

“I used to love reading a lot of fictional stories and also a lot of old stories, and when I heard about something that happened in this area many years ago, it always fascinated me. This is what pushed me into this line of work, tourism,” he said.

“AlUla, Khaybar and Tayma have a lot of historical stories and a lot of information that we need to show the world.”

Fahad Aljuhani, a storyteller who describes the area as the “greatest living museum,” also came to the area as a child to connect with his cousins — and to discover hidden treasures.

“I’m a ‘Rawi’ and ‘Rawi’ in English means a storyteller. Now we are on an island that floats on a sea of rock which is Khaybar. I used to come to Khaybar and visit my relatives, and they would tell us a story about the tombs and the oasis, and I didn’t have the chance to visit them until now,” he told Arab News.



Aljuhani said that 5 million years ago, hundreds of volcanic eruptions occurred simultaneously in the area.

“If you feel the rocks, they seem to generate heat from within, similar to those who choose to watch over the land today and tell its many-layered stories,” he said.

Tour guide Enass Al-Sherrif told Arab News that she is excited to see people, including those from around the Kingdom, taking the time to learn about their past.

Al-Sherrif describes her job as the best she could ever have.

“I am really proud and honored. And I want to show you and make you feel the experience, how we transformed this place into an amazing destination for others to come and visit us,” she said.

The festival and its extended program aims to shed light on the legends and legacies of ancient times in the Kingdom’s northwest region, allowing visitors to explore and learn about the “largest living museum in the world.”

It is two years since AlUla began reopening heritage sites to domestic and international tourists with its pioneering Winter at Tantora program, which lasts until March.

While the Ancient Kingdoms Festival wrapped up on a chilly day on Nov. 27, many of the visitor experiences will continue well beyond the festival period, with some available year-round.

“The northwest Arabian Peninsula is the jewel in the heritage crown of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and a source of fascination for a global community of archaeologists and researchers. Their discoveries shed new light on the societies that endowed the region with such relics of the ancients, preserved in wonders of prehistoric geology, art, and historical architecture that reveal important truths,” the Royal Commission for AlUla, which hosted the event, said in a statement.

The commission plans to host the Ancient Kingdoms Festival annually. Further details are available on its website.