The moment we landed at Sanaa International Airport and then later after immigration (very simple once you know how to get it) I knew that what I was expected before was true; which was not very much. Yemen is so different from the other countries on the Arabian Peninsula. Yemen, is the poorest country in the region and the least popular, and the press propaganda is also not helping the tourism of Yemen. The airport is small, dark and out dated to compare to its neighbours like Dubai or even as simple as Doha. But I think small and simple airports with less visitors are better, as the immigration paperwork can be much quicker. And yes, in no time at all, we were out and half an hour later we arrived at the hotel: Hotel Arabia Felix, which according to Trip Advisor, it’s the best hotel to stay in Sanaa, the capital of Yemen.
For those who don’t know the history of Yemen; not so long ago, Yemen consist of two countries, People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen and the Yemen Arab Republic, with Aden and Sanaa as their capitals, however in 1990, they were unified with the capital as Sanaa: Aden is referred to as the country’s economic capital.
Historically Yemen is one of the oldest centers of civilization in the Near East, and the ancient walled city of Sanaa is one of the oldest cities in the world, they say that it was founded by Noah’s son, Shem. Geographically Sanaa is located at 2250 m above sea level, which makes the city cooler compared to other areas on the Arabian Peninsula. Like I said, the Old Sanaa has its unique architecture, which has been there since 500 BC. Thus, I presume our hotel which is located in the old town must have been nearly as old as that. However when we arrived in the hotel, which to me looked more like a hostel than a hotel, it was already dark and the hotel lobby had no lights…
After we dumped our luggage in our room we walked up stairs to take a blue hour shot from the roof. The idea was to get the blue sky background against the already lightened up city, but it turned out that Sanaa was on black out hour, thus the blue hour photograph of pretty Old City of Sanaa never happened. Sanaa is dark, well it turned out that for all Yemen the electricity is only on for 8 hours a day….
Yemen is not a small country, and a 4 day visit will not see the whole Yemen, our route to see Yemen was limited, the tour took us to the Sanaa Governorate, and they are: The Rock Palace or to the locals called Dar Al Hajr, a five storied house built by Imam Yahya as his summer-house in 1930.
Unlike its neighbouring countries Qatar, Saudi or UAE, Yemen may not be as wealthy, but it has a more interesting landscape. Yes it has desert land, but it is also very mountainous, and the people prefer to live on the top of mountains, thus on almost every mountain tip there lies a village.
We went to visit some of the smaller townships and villages, such as Tawila, Hababa Village, Al Hajjarah, Kawbakan, Shibam and Manakhah. These places have been there since the stone age. Their ability to build a permanent 7 storied house has existed since the 12th century…. while people in the rest of Arabian Countries were still nomads and living in tents. I wonder, they must have more culture compared to the rest of the Arabian peninsula.
Unlike Qatar, the Emirates and Oman where the influence of Indian food is very strong and where they have adopted Biryani Rice as local food, Yemeni food is different and I think it’s authentic. Yes, it’s very basic and not much variety, but equally delicious.