AlUla 1: Banyan Tree & Maraya Dec 2022

After seeing a photograph of the lone monolith that is the Tomb of Lihyan in a travel magazine during the peak of Covid19, I decided then that AlUla will be my first adventure destination when I resume traveling. Almost 3 years later, here I am in this mysterious place, left undisturbed for almost 2,000 years and still unknown to most people. The recent opening (end of Oct 2022) of Banyan Tree AlUla added to my excitement of coming here. The resort is spread across 10,000m² at Ashar Valley surrounded by the dunes and majestic rock formations. There are 47 standalone villas each under large beige canopies blending into the surroundings and appearing like tented camps. There is a delicious authentic Thai restaurant, Saffron, on site, with amazing staff (esp Chef Tina and Manager AJ, both from Thailand) but it is only open in the evenings. Overall, the resort is breathtaking but unfortunately service (except the Thai restaurant) still has a ways to catch up. For now, it is overpriced and one needs to manage one’s expectations before coming here.
Banyan Tree AlUla captured on my helicopter ride.

The only pool here is beautiful but rather small and lacking of sunlight.

Ashar Valley is UNESCO protected and many petroglyphs can be found here. This one depicts a camel giving birth.
Hunting scene with hunters wielding spears atop their camels.
Sitting directly across from Banyan Tree Resort in Ashar Valley is Maraya. Maraya translates to “Mirror” in Arabic and is the Guiness World Record holder for the largest mirrored building in the world since 2020. This 100x100x26m cuboid clad with 9,740 m² of mirrored panels was designed to enhance its surroundings where at certain times of the day, it rises from the sand like a mirage, disappearing into the terracotta landscape. The building functions as a multi-purpose venue for concerts and other art performances. There is a celebrity-chef restaurant on the top floor but we were the only customers there that evening and the food was just ok.
“Selfie” at Maraya
Maraya captured from my helicopter ride.
View of Maraya from my villa at the Banyan Tree

Next post will bring us to the UNESCO site of Hegra. Stay tuned!

 

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4 Responses

  1. Such a fascinating place! What a wonderful adventure for your first trip since COVID. The mirrored pyramid certainly makes for some spectacular photos!

  2. When I first learned about Hegra/Madain Saleh in 2013, I was immediately captivated by it, for it looks a little bit like Petra but with no one in sight. When the Saudi government decided to open the country to tourists and turned AlUla into a tourism destination, I was ecstatic because that means visiting this place shouldn’t be as difficult as it was in the past. Look forward to your next post!

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