On the Persian Gulf not far from the island kingdom of Bahrain, Dhahran is the petroleum capital of Saudi Arabia. Dhahran's air base, of strategic importance during the Gulf War, is also near the site of a terrorist attack in 1996 on an apartment complex housing U.S. military personnel. Dhahran is not really a town, but a geographic area with a collection of businesses and self-contained residential compounds such as those of Saudi Aramco (the state oil concern formerly owned by four U.S. oil giants and until 1988 called the the Arabian American Oil Company), the U.S. Consulate General and others. The architecture of the University of Petroleum and Minerals is impressive.

Nearby Dammam has interesting markets (including a gold market), as does al-Khobar, whose businesses serve the oil-industry residential compounds of nearby Dhahran. Three beaches on the Persian Gulf are within an hour's drive. The oasis of Hofuf is a two-hour drive from Dhahran. Hofuf has a big market on Thursday (near the main market is a camel market). It gives insight into how oasis dwellers and nomads have lived for centuries. You may also notice the large number of trees around Hofuf: Six million of them have been planted in an attempt to stop the encroachment of the desert. Plan at least one day for Dhahran and Dammam, two or three if you'll be making excursions to the beach and oasis. 250 mi/402 km northeast of Riyadh.

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