Travelling through southern Yemen to Seiyun in the Hadramawt.

The road from Thumrayt, Dhofar Oman,  into Al Mazyunah then leads into the northeast desert of the Hadramawt in Yemen. My destination there was Seiyun. I thought this town would be a great centre for visiting the Hadramawt.

The Centre of Sayoun in Yemen
The Centre of Sayoun in Yemen and the Katheri Palace

Some halfway on the journey I took lunch, at Rimah.  At 1,000Yemeni Riyals (roughly 2 Omani Rials), it was about twice the cost of a similar rice and meat dish in Oman, despite Oman being the wealthier country. Eventually, some 900km after  Thumrayt, Seiyun appeared  – a long journey.

Just off the main square was my simple hotel. The square itself was home to the old Palace of the Al Katheri Sultans. This, like other major old buildings in the Hadramawt, was mud brick at its core. The wealthier people used a lime-mix plaster, Qadad, over the bricks. This is largely waterproof, and its thickness must add stability to the structure. The palace itself is a confection of white plaster and dominates the town. Today the palace is a museum with a collection of local artefacts, and photographs by Dame Freya Stark, the British explorer who travelled by herself in the region during the 1930s.

Al Muhdhar Mosque Tarim Yemen
Al Muhdhar Mosque Tarim – Hadramawt Yemen

The next day I started my travel around the region, including Tarim with its amazing Al Midhar mosque whose minaret towers over 40meters in the air – remarkably it also is a structure created out of mud-bricks, with Qadad plaster. Created at the start of the 20th century, the mosque was a beneficiary of wealth, from not only local trade but wealth pouring into families whose members had emigrated to the East Indies.

Shibam Hadramawt Yemen
Shibam Hadramawt Yemen

Shibam, along the valley from Seiyun, is almost as it was built 500 years ago. It was so interesting I visited it twice. This town is a veritable citadel of mud-brick tower houses set in the Wadi Hadramawt. Inside the town, in one of its numerous small piazzas, I found the Haroun al Rashid mosque. The mosque was probably originally built in 753 and rebuilt during the reign of Harun Al Rashid (died 809). A few centuries later massive floods destroyed the town in 1533 and the mosque was again rebuilt.

Visiting the Hadramawt for a week, I left for Mukalla, allowing time to explore Wadi Dawan.

Bee Hives in Wadi Dawan
Bee Hives in Wadi Dawan

Though this valley is less wealthy than the larger towns, the houses here were particularly sympathetic to the landscape. In Wadi Dawan I was fortunate to meet a bee-keeper whose several dozen hives are individually locked, so valuable is honey here. When  I managed BHS in Saudi Arabia, honey from Wadi Dawan was sold by several street salesmen outside the entrance to the Al Khobar BHS store – which opened directly on the public street. They typically received around 600 Saudi riyals (about 160USDollars) a litre (it was sold in Vimto bottles); so I was excited to find a source here.

Bugshan Palace Khaila Wadi Dawan
Bugshan Palace Khaila Wadi Dawan

Then it was up past the amazing Bugshan Palace. This is another Qadad-covered building, however in a muliti-coloured chequer-board effect. Then it was past Khaila and onto Mukalla. My hotel here was just off the creek that runs into the town.

Mukalla is the main port for the Hadramawt, its whitewashed houses and narrow streets were a pleasure to wander through. My only disappointment was an inferior meal of fish.  The fish had been frozen rather than fresh, creating a stiffer flesh. Very surprising in a port of the Arabian Sea!

Mukalla Yemen
Mukalla Yemen

Finally, after a couple of nights in Mukalla, it took a day to drive along the coastal road (much of which was financed by Oman) before arriving into Salalah during the late evening.

Author: Tony Walsh

Tony Walsh - author and tour leader through Arabia