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Asir National Park
This park covers some 450,000ha (over 1 million acres) from the southern Red Sea coast to the desert areas east of the mountains. It's a conglomeration of small parks rather than one big one. Each of the individual parks has a free camping ground/picnic area, though the campgrounds have no facilities. You'll need a car to get to and around the park.The park has two main parts: mountains in the north-west and plains in the south-east - the mountains are arguably the most interesting. Al-Soudah, near the summit of Saudi Arabia's highest mountain - the 2910m (9544ft) Jebel Sawdah - is the most amazing part of the park. The park visitors' centre is a great introduction to Asir, but is only open to families. It's got a scale model of the park and a good observation deck.The nearby town of Abha is also worth a visit. Its relatively cool weather, forested hills and striking mountain scenery have made it a very popular weekend resort (which means it can be very crowded during summer). There's not much to see here - most visitors just wander around, gazing at the view and enjoying the weather, or head out to the national park. The Shada Palace is the main attraction. Built in 1927, this traditional palace was turned into a museum in 1987, and includes restored rooms and exhibits of regional handicrafts and household goods.
Domat Al-Jandal, in the north-east of the country, is one of the kingdom's little-known gems. This modest town boasts two of the country's most interesting antiquities - the ruined Qasr Marid and the still-in-use Mosque of Omar. The fortress of Qasr Marid was built in Nabataean times, and maintained its importance due to the town's strategic spot on several trading routes. The Mosque of Omar is one of the oldest in the kingdom, and is said to have been founded in the mid-seventh century. Because it's still in use, it has been extensively renovated over the centuries, but this also means non-Muslims can't enter the building.The Jof Regional Museum is the best place to begin your tour of Domat Al-Jandal. It opens with exhibits on the age and geology of the earth and includes displays on the country's plants and animals, the development of Arabic script and the domestication of the camel. There are also several displays focusing on Domat Al-Jandal. It's best to have your own car to get to Domat Al-Jandal.
This windswept plain in the far north-west of the country is one of the most compelling places in Saudi Arabia, and the spectacular rock tombs here are the kingdom's most famous archeological site. Most of them were carved between 100 BC and 100 AD, when Madain Salah was the second most important Nabatean kingdom after Petra (now in Jordan). The tombs were 'discovered' in the 1880s by Charles Doughty - you can read all about it in his Travels in Arabia Deserta.Although Madain Salah's tombs are less spectacular than those at Petra, they're much better preserved - the rock here is harder and less prone to water damage. Be sure to see Qasr Farid, the largest tomb at Madain Salah. It is carved from a single large outcrop of rock standing alone in the desert. The Diwan, or meeting room, is carved into a hillside and would probably have been used as a cult site. Qasr al-Bint, the Girl's Palace (yes, that's where the word comes from), is a whole group of tombs carved into an outcrop of rock.You really need a vehicle to get around Madain Salah, as the distances are large and the heat extreme. You might want to take an organised tour, as it's pretty difficult to get to the site - these go from both Medina and Riyadh. If you want to get there off your own bat, it's about 330km (205mi) north of Medina - many of the roads aren't signposted.
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