“Grimsby Town don’t even play in the town of Grimsby!” – Every football fan!
So another train journey and I love them. This one, in Saudi Arabia.
Hail Train Station, Saudi Arabia
Hail Train Station, Saudi Arabia just reminded me of over elaborate, middle of nowhere train stations in China. Shaoguan sprang to mind, I barely remember backpacking it but I know I did. It was a train station in the middle of nowhere, with no tourists!! This was sublime and ridiculous. Where the hell is Hail?
You know the drill – as per my Grimsby example – when the train station isn’t even in that town…and this happened here in Hail, Saudi Arabia. The train station for Hail wasn’t in the town of Hail, where we stayed, nor was it even close. AFC Bournemouth play in Boscombe, come on don’t tell me you didn’t know that??
“Boscombe back of the net” – AFC Bournemouth fans.
So we arrived at the train station in Hail and our guide Marko went to sort our tickets out. That was not an easy task. It was everything but well organised. The Saudis hadn’t a clue how to get backpacking tourists onto a train that was to all intents and purposes, empty. We have our passports and the money, give us our tickets! Not so easy…we only wanted train tickets…
While we waited and bided our time in Hail train station, the ticket process was hard for Marko. It was an elaborate train station and we were able to have a look around and grab some drinks for the journey. In fact, the only place open was Runkin Nonuts!! So we headed for a runkin and a crappuccino and got them. In US English, Dunkin Donuts.
Mind you they had about 20 types of donuts on the menu but only 1 of about 7 of them available! Despite being capitalist, this felt more communist than Norf Korea, at this exact moment…
I even blagged a special offer. A coffee and a donut for 10 Riyals. Some kind of deal that even though listed, took persuading from the guy on the coffee till. Can you imagine the crazy reaction when I asked for MILK in my coffee? Eventually I got it…
There was nobody else even there, well OK one lady asked the time of the next train. This was also off the wall backpacking. Finally I had my coffee (with milk), my donut and my passport back from Marko. It was time to leave, but the train was ready to leave without us. They were done with us – they were going – we had 1.5 minutes. At a push. There would not be another train until the next day. It was now or never. We had to be on it. Myself and the other 5 of us charge through the security saying don’t leave without us. It’s no surprise to learn that I was first on the train, alone, without a passport, without a ticket but with a coffee, a donut and my backpack. Security was a gift…my belt bleeped and they knew it was only my belt…we were in…
Leaving Hail Train Station, Saudi Arabia
I will never be able to truly tell you how close we were to missing this train, but if I wasn’t first on, holding the doors open for Eduardo and Agustin, we might have left without the crazy gang, without me also – it was tight as a nun’s fanny. This was one of our closest shaves. I was dressed in a suit like a buck eejit Ulsterman who attended the hotel show without a hotel but having slept in over 500 hotels. They had to believe me, those Saudi rail guys. Leaving Hail Train Station, Saudi Arabia happened, 30 seconds after we were all on and 1 minute behind schedule (due to us/due to them – delete as appropriate). It was a rush and a scare but hey, it was all so beautiful. Our 15.25 train to Riyadh left at 15.26. And even better – we were on it. Fuck this, yeah baby.
Another interesting thing was that they wouldn’t allow coffee and donuts through the security system onto the train (noticed by my friend Eduardo), but I had already asked them permission and gotten a firm yes so they had to let us despite security’s laws. It was all a bit weird. I couldn’t help think we were the first ever backpackers to go through this way? I told them I’m from Northern Ireland and we love Saudi Arabia. It never and it always works…
And as above with one minute to go I was on the platform begging them to let us all in and running to the train doors, keeping them open until we were all on. We were. We made it. We left the city of Hail behind, for this lifetime, just 2 seconds after the last member of our group had got onto the train. I don’t lie – 2 seconds. The doors shut and let me hear you say WAHY OH.
PS – When I say dressed for business I meant Glentoran FC shirt, Oasis hair and posh suit…
The Journey from Hail to Riyadh
The Journey from Hail to Riyadh was nothing short of inspiring. We had made it and that was enough. I wrote 8 blog posts, drank 2 coffees, 1 tea, 2 waters and munched on a snack which I cannot remember. I listed every station by time we stopped, after which you’ll see the photos:
15.25 – Left Hail at 15.26
17.10 – Arrived in Al Qassim
17.40 – Buraydah
18.43 – Hiydayt Sadiyr
18.52 – Majmaah
20.11 – Arrived in Riyadh
(those stops may be wrong but it’s from my diary…)
Arrival in Riyadh Train Station, Saudi Arabia
And suddenly, we are in the capital city, Riyadh! Yes, the journey went really fast. We had spoken to a lot of locals, we were the only foreigners on board, I had my blog posts done and we were now in the capital city. And how incredibly modern this station was.
No, but I’m in Riyadh BABY
Look I travelled a lot and I don’t care for the bullshit anymore but I toured Saudi Arabia for fun and I loved it. And then we were in Riyadh. At 20.11. Yes the time was right.
How to Organise the train from Hail to Riyadh in Saudi Arabia
As Saudi Arabia continues to develop its tourist potential, there are still no tourist visas available. However, if like me you have a work event, a business opportunity or commerce, you can get a business visa. Once you have that, organise your trip with two of my partners, Young Pioneer Tours and Haya Tours:
Young Pioneer Tours
No. 2804 South Block Lijing Building, Caiwuwei, Jintang Road 48#, Guiyuan Street, Luohu District, Shenzhen City, 518000, CHINA
First Floor, Alia Plaza, Exit 6,
Cnr: Thumamah Road and Abi Bakr As-Siddiq Street,
Ar Rabi, Riyadh 13316
Kingdom Of Saudi Arabia
Here are some videos from my time exploring Jubba and nearby desert areas while backpacking in Saudi Arabia: