“I stand out from the crowd because I stand out from the crowd.
But no-one stops to notice me, in over-crowded London” – Jonny Blair Poetry.
Cities that are given random titles and monikers rarely live up to expectations. Don’t expect me to glorify excremental joints such as Venice (city on the water), Paris (city of love) or Moscow (city of 7 towers) too much. That all faded into insignificance when my backpack wound up in the city of Ta’if. This is a genuine City of Roses and I loved it. Yes, yes baby – there are real roses here and we saw them, we smelt them, we drank them and we even bought them as soap.
I was here on a business trip in conjunction with the Hotel Show Saudi Arabia 2018, where I represented Young Pioneer Tours. We got plenty of time to go backpacking through the sights of the city as you might have seen through my various posts on here. As well as touring Old Jeddah, swimming in the Red Sea, backpacking Riyadh and doing a desert tour, we had the honour of visiting the city of Taif. This was a gorgeous little city, get it on your list and crack your way through my personal top 15.
1.Rashid Husain Al Qorashei Rose Farm
I’m putting a rose farm at the top as for me, it’s a highlight of your trip to Taif. We did a tour of the Rashid Husain Al Qorashei Rose Farm and Factory, which is merely one of many rose farms and factories in this area, but it comes highly recommended. The tour was in epic countryside on the edge of the city. The farm part was all outside and we could sniff the sweet roses and sample some tea.
2.Rashid Husain Al Qorashei Rose Factory
After the tour of the rose farm, we headed into the factory for a guided tour and an understanding of how the roses are harvested and use to produce lots of products. Inside the factory we also watched a video about rose production, spoke to the workers and bought some rose products. Fascinagating.
3.Nature With Baboons
On the drive up to Taif, we had to climb up a high hill. Taif sits at an elevation of 1,700 metres above sea level. The drive up here from Jeddah meant rising high past some wildlife. There were lots of baboons by the side of the road on the way into Taif and we stopped by for some photos. Keep your food sealed and be aware they can be violent and attack humans. Wild dogs co-live with these baboons with no issues.
Admittedly we saw so many Mosques in Saudi Arabia that I forgot which ones were which and by the end of the trip had probably seen around 200 Mosques. You cannot go inside them if you are a non-Muslim, so this may add to the lack of remembrance for them. The central Mosque in Taif makes the list – we saw it by day and by night and heard the Call to Prayer coming out of its city piercing speaker system.
5.Shubra Palace and Museum
The Shubra Palace is also a museum – but not on Fridays or Saturdays when we visited as they are Muslim holidays/weekends. However this was fine as we were really visiting Taif to be there on the exact day of the Annual Rose Festival (amazing) so we couldn’t have seen this open anyway.
Our driver Mohammad however parked opposite to pray in the Mosque and we were able to see the Shubra Palace from the outside. King Abdul Aziz used to stay here and later King Faisal actually lived in this palace.
7.Old Town Gate
The thing about the Old Town Gate is that it’s new. It was built in 2016 as a tribute to where the Old Town Gate once stood. Sadly the Old Town Gate was destroyed over the years and therefore there was nothing there. The new gate serves as a magical entrance point to the special pedestrian streets of Taif, we backpacked Saudi Arabia in 2018 so saw it just a brace of years after its re-unveilation.
8.King Fahad Mosque
Mosques aplenty exist in Taif but the King Fahad Mosque is an important one. Yes, I saw more mosques than I could have imagined on my backpacking journeys, so many of them did blur into one…
9.Al Shareef Museum
Since the Subra Palace and Museum was closed, we had the bonus of our guide Mohammad opening the city’s other decent museum especially for us! We headed to the Al Shareef Museum which was highly interesting. This museum was a turquoise coloured building with a crashed car into the side of it.
Entry is 20 Riyals ($5.50 US Dollars). The museum contains thousands of relics, memorabilia and miscellany from the years of Saudi Arabia. There are some vintage cars here as well as a fake or mock Souq and Mosque complete with vendors and minaret.
10.Park for Rose Festival
There is a Park in the city of Taif and we arguably saw it at its most beautiful as we were here for the Annual Rose Festival. The park has a mosque, a pond, leafy gardens and plenty of stalls, greenery and shrubbery.
Beit Kaki is one of the most famous and recognisable buildings in Taif. It was built in 1943 as a Summer House for a rich local family. Mohammad explained to us that many rich families have summer houses here and Beit Kaki is the most well-known.
12.Souq and Bazaar
The spicy smell of those famous Middle Eastern bazaars and souqs is clear for all to sniff here. I love that smell that reminds you of journeys of yesteryear. We wandered through the bazaar at night. It was so peaceful and friendly. There were no other foreigners or tourists other than our group. All vendors selling many and various different things from their little outlets. From spice to clothes to sweets to vegetables to tea to household goods, so many things for sale here.
We also visited the gold souq, which ironically was mostly silver products yet maintains its title.
13.Outdoor Female Art Exhibition and Gallery
Again, another incredible sight while walking through the streets of Taif was this outdoor art exhibition and gallery. This was notable because all the paintings and art were being drawn by females.
A treat for us in the evening after the Rose Festival was a visit to the Art House. We gathered downstairs for an introduction from our guide. This also included a free welcome drink of Arabian coffee and two delicious chocolates. Those chocolates were so nice – they had biscuits in them.
Lunchtime at Mohammad’s Farm was a treat. We were invited by Mohammad and he drove us to a small car park full of ice cream vans. I had no idea what was happening. Then a surprise.
What looked like a tiny entrance door to nowhere ended up being like a fantasy scene from the lion, the witch and the wardrobe. I thought it was going to be a poky house behind these bricks and door. But waiting for us was a welcome coffee with dates (this became a daily welcome when backpacking Saudi Arabia) and a view of a farm!
Mohammad’s farm was huge! Here he was growing mint, dates, mulberry and other fruit and vegetables. I totally didn’t expect it! Once inside, we were given a quick tour and then we had lunch. It was here that we met up with some other foreigners – they came from Cheshire in England, Germany, Canada, USA, China and France. We didn’t mix much with the others but it was interesting to see that there is some kind of tourism infrastructure here.
Life moved on swiftly as we backpacked through Jeddah, Ta’if, Ha’il, Jubba/Jubbah, Mashar, Tawarun, Jabal Umm Sanman, Riyadh, Raba Desert Village, Salt Plains, Sand Dunes, Dir’Aiyah, Ahagrq and Sherpa. I have written many other articles on Saudi Arabia but in bit form and draft form. They may see the light of day on Don’t Stop Living sometime but depression continues to be tough and I still await the apologies from that nasty liar as I battle daily with depression.
I was on tour with the excellent Young Pioneer Tours in Saudi Arabia:
Address: No. 2804 South Block Lijing Building, Caiwuwei, Jintang Road 48#, Guiyuan Street, Luohu District, Shenzhen City, 518000
Here are some videos of my time touring Taif when backpacking in Saudi Arabia: