5 Places to Hangout in Saudi Arabia
For a first time OFW, heading to their first job in Saudi Arabia can be daunting; the culture and customs between the two countries are very different. It can be hard to adjust to the new lifestyle, but you won’t have to do it alone, Filipinos are aplenty. Over the years, as the Filipino population grew (There are around 1.2 M Filipinos living and working in Saudi Arabia and is the fifth most represented nationality in the UAE), certain places and boroughs have become a place where the truly Pinoy can come together, swap` stories and learn from each other. Most of these boroughs are sprawling commercial centers where Filipinos put to use their hustle and entrepreneurial skills Filipinos are known for.
Because a lot of Pinoys search for jobs in Saudi Arabia, OFWguru compiled 5 places for first time OFWs to go and hangout with fellow Pinoys.
Batha in Riyadh
It’s been said that an OFW hasn’t experienced Saudi Arabia without spending a day at Batha. For Filipinos, Batha has a different rhythm than the rest of Riyadh, but is one that Filipinos miss back home. You know you’ve entered Batha when you see hundreds of Indians, Pakistanis and Filipinos converge and squeeze themselves into the tiny corridors of Batha. Batha is like a labyrinth of shop stalls, food carts and even entertainment that visitors often describe as crazy yet fascinating. Batha is like the Saudi counterpart to Divisoria or Quiapo. Surrounded by the rowdiness of the marketplace, there’s a small enclave where Filipinos can find everything familiar and meet fellow Pinoys searching for the same.
Filipinos set their roots in Batha, putting businesses that they see is lacking in Riyadh such as Filipino supermarkets, restaurants and shops along the crowded streetways. They found it to be a place where they can be comfortable, not in the eye of the strict rules of Saudi Arabia. There’s something about Batha that’s familiar, you know your neighbors are busy making chismis, haggling a sale on electronics, or just pigging out on Filipino food.
Especially during the weekend, Batha is filled to the edges. OFWs of all different occupations come not just to restock their fridges at the Filipino Supermarket and closets at Brands for Less but to catch up with their kababayans. They go to restaurants like Quiapo which serves Filipino food, watch programs on The Filipino Channel and meet new and old OFWs at recognizable fast food restaurants like Jollibee and KFC.
While not as well-known as Batha, the Suleimania Area is often called Little Batha since the establishments important to Filipinos can be found here like for remittances, financial services and supermarkets. Popular Pinoy restaurants like Blue Ribbon Restaurant, La Paz Batchoy and Goodah Soos (with their beef-version of lechon kawali, the closest thing to pork you can find in Saudi) are also present. If you’re looking to chit chat and exchange news with fellow Filipinos, head to buffet restaurants Kamayan and Dampa in Suleimania where Filipinos spend hours eating and “making kwento” over drinks and dessert.
While Jeddah has become a sprawling metropolis of businesses, tall skyscrapers and shopping malls, Al Balad is one of the remaining historical sites in the city of Jeddah. This Unesco world heritage site is where tourists and locals alike head to take in the beauty of Jeddah’s old and historical architecture, take long walks and to get away from the bumper to bumper Jeddah traffic. While most locals lean towards the new malls in Jeddah, Filipinos have called the giant souk of Balad their home.
Balad is one of the oldest commercial centers in Jeddah. Once you get close to Balad, you’d see tons of cars parked, and hoards of people looking for a deal. On Friday nights and on the weekends, expect the narrow roads of Balad to be filled with eager Filipinos purchasing their pantry staples at Sarawat Supermarket and buying cheap clothes and watches. Balad is a place for Pinoys to do business selling electronics and hardware at wholesale, and one can even find gold at a bargain.
Balad is not all about shopping, but about the exchange of cultures and socialization. Balad has become the place where Filipinos come together to exchange news about the Philippines, play card games, talk about work, and speak Tagalog freely. Balad reminds most Filipinos of home as one would see restaurants like Jollibee (or what they call Jalabi) and Barrio Fiesta, remittance centers, and even a branch of Metrobank. There is also an exchange of cultures as Pakistanis and Indians often head to Balad for the friendly Filipino shopkeepers. It’s not unfamiliar to find Pakistanis speaking Tagalog to charm and haggle with Filipino shopkeepers.
Al Rahmaniyah Mall in Al Khobar
Al Rahmaniyah Mall in Al Khobar is famous for its choice for shopping, and famous for Filipinos as a place to spend the weekends. When you step into Al Rahmaniyah, you’d imagine you walked into a mall in the Philippines. Almost 90% of the shoppers are Filipinos; you can even hear people chatting about in Tagalog, Bisaya and a slew of other Filipino dialects. The most noticeable attraction in Al Rahmaniyah is the long queues outside fast food chain Jollibee everyday. A stall called Manila Shopping Store carrying a host of Filipino brands and souvenirs even has salesmen from other nationalities making a sale in Tagalog
Corniche Beach Front
Al Khobar is prominently known as a great place to get away from the hustle and bustle of other cities like Jeddah and Riyadh. Heading there, you feel like you’re not in Saudi anymore, street art displays adorn the road, and sunlight and clear skies are endless. Al Khobar is known as the sea city, since it’s located near the Persian Gulf and is by the Arabian Sea. The best place to see the spectacular views of the Persian Gulf is at Corniche Beach Front. Corniche Road is teeming with resorts like Movenpick. Corniche is the prime destination for OFWs who are looking for a chill weekend. Sunday Mornings and Saturday evenings are when Corniche is filled with Pinoys trying to get their picnic mat placed at the best spot to relax and get a good view of the sea. It’s a common site for Filipinos exchanging dishes, recipes, funny stories and chismis while feasting on a Filipino favorite they cooked up that morning on the boardwalk. Pinoy kids running around on the playground brings life to the area. Corniche is also the best place for new OFWs to learn tips and tricks that were cultivated and discovered by OFWs who have been in Saudi much longer.