After much hassle in securing a business visa at the Kuala Lumpur Saudi Embassy, which was only obtained late on Friday 09 Jan 2009, I managed to get a KL-Doha-Dammam ticket same day, just 33 hrs before departure.
Virtually full-house onboard Qatar Airways QR621 at KUL. Quite a comfy Airbus 330-200, note the nice blue-ish ambience. Departed on the dot at 2.30am too, cabin service so-so only lah, but then I was asleep most of the time, thanks to the blue cabin.
Yes, 7.5 hours later we touch Doha en route to Dammam, the airport which serves the triplet cities of Khobar-Dammam-Dhahran. I was last here in Doha a couple of years back, during a very hot summer. Winter should be more pleasant …
… but alas, I’m not doing a Doha stopover this trip. Just a short layover before off to Dammam.
Early morning, 6am, and the terminal is already full of transitting passengers. This spot looks the same as I was last here 2 years ago.
At the end of the concourse, I see my Airbus from KL last night.
Meanwhile more people file in for their connecting flights. Mine to Dammam is still a couple of hours away.
My morning Qatar Airways QR710 A320-200 from Doha landed on time at King Fahd International Airport (Dammam), which was rather huge, but a tad idle. Well, it’s the largest airport in the world, in term of land area, and from the air it looked truly humongous in the depressing grey desert. At immigration they recorded the prints of all 10 fingers, together with a mugshot snapped by a Canon Powershot A640 connected to the computer … which did not always work. So every foreigner must be patient enough to cooperate in this lengthy process.
This has to be Arabia, sandy desert as far as the eyes could see.
Of all the idle cabs outside the airport, I have to pick one with dirty windscreen!
Modern dedicated expressway from King Fahd International connects to the Saudi road system.
This area is actually an industrial triangle of Khobar, Dhahran and Dammam – Saudi Arabia’s economic powerhouse, apart from the two holy cities.
Approaching the twin cities of Dammam and Khobar, economic activities, mainly petroleum-related, pick up. Some 60km from the airport, we reach downtown Khobar for a cab fee of 100 Saudi riyals.
At Khobar at last, and behind the hotel, a mosque calls for noon prayer, and noon is when starving people like me look for lunch. But the practice in Saudi Arabia is, shops are closed 30-60min when mass prayers are held at mosques, 5 times a day. So tough luck if you are hungry!
After noon mosque prayer done, the eatery owner hurriedly returns to re-open his shop, and a bunch of hungry folks tail him in.
I’ve been recommended this biryani, with all the goodies discreetly embedded inside it, by the hotel concierge, so here goes … mutton and spices and egg, and unidentified stuff, performing a perfect symphony on my tastebuds … WOW! That’s one great biryani, definitely a world beater!
Guys, if you are ever in Khobar, the place is called Pepper Restaurant, located at the ‘+’ HERE. Operated by a gent from Kerala (India), this is typical of the many Indian resturants sprouting in the area, thanks to the deluge of guest workers from the Indian sub-continent.
In a car-park in front of the restaurant, an abandoned car looks extremely pitiful. But orphaned cars are common here, I find more of them than stray cats.
Walking back to the hotel, Khobar looks to be a truly dynamic city, an apt commercial hub of the Eastern Province, KSA.
From a high-rise in a new part of Khobar, I can see the downtown of original Khobar city in its entirety, …
… where narrow streets arranged in a grid are named after the many princes.
A guest worker trudges past the Fluor Arabia building in a new part of Khobar, with its impressive structures and highways.
Facing the Persian Gulf, the Khobar Corniche is a new playground for the denizens, …
… including these furry fellas.
Here, a major tourist attraction is also under construction, the ‘Eastern Province Tourist Tower’ – looks like a cross between a water tower and the alien machine from ‘War of the Worlds’.
But, really, The Corniche is a very pleasant spot where in the evening, families come for picnics (which reminds me of Doha’s gorgeous Corniche). By the way, on a good day one can spot the towers of Manama (Bahrain), some 30km away across the water from here.
Along the way back to the hotel, a Saudi Telecom billboard looks interesting, but I can only understand the ManU logo. Good enough!
Second day in Khobar today, and I wake up to a cool, cloudy day.
Yes, we had rain last night! Definitely a rare occasion, so have I brought rain all the way here from Kuala Lumpur? 🙂
The road is all wet, an uncommon sight here I’m sure.
Puddles of water everywhere, and even the normally dust-covered cars seem to be enjoying it.
But rain or shine, we have to find our roti canai or pratha for brekky. The eggs and the condiments are typically Keralese.
In the hotel coffee-shop, the plasma TV shows Al-Jazeera live from Gaza, with a mosque under Israeli assault, but nobody seems interested.
An attractive calligraphic painting hangs on the wall in a friend’s office.
Dinner finds me in a steak house where, as the mosque calls for Isyak prayer, the shades automatically drop over the floor-to-ceiling glass panels to conceal the interior of the restaurant from sidewalk onlookers. That’s much better than closing the restaurants for 30min or so.
Minus the street-view, with a huge steak knife, I soon chomp on my 10-oz sirloin, medium, with much gusto!
Outside the restaurant, the blue Al-Subaie Tower looks over the busy intersection of King Abdul Aziz St and Prince Faisal Bin Fahad Rd. They have royal roads everywhere here.
In stark contrast to yesterday’s cloudy and wet day, my Day 3 in Khobar starts with a cold night and a gibbous moon shining brightly in the dawn sky.
Business done for the day, and the host graciously offers a car for a trip to Jubail, 110km away to the northwest.
Along the modern and wide 6-lane dual carriageway to Jubail, just outside Dammam, the huge Aramco facility is secured by a white wall. In this area of the Eastern Province, the threat of terrorism is real.
En route, a classic desert sunset takes place.
The still, clear, dry desert air makes the viewing spectacular as the sun’s lower limb touches the horizon.
Approaching Jubail, and the site of infrastructure crucial to the survival of the citizens – water and power. Note the 120 km/h speed limit, which nobody really cares.
A row of three gigantic towers in parallel disappears over the desert horizon, carrying huge amount of juice across the nation.
An hour or so after leaving Khobar we reach Jubail, now arguably the world’s largest petrochemical complex, whose main tenant is a Saudi govt company called SABIC – Saudi Basic Industries Corp.
Jubail started life as fishing village and for pearl-gathering, hence this boat at a major roundabout.
But the serenity of the main thoroughfare in downtown new Jubail belies the significance of this place to the Saudi economy.
Famished, I pop into an eatery for dinner.
With a fresh Persian Gulf snapper-like fish fried to perfection and cubes of delicious roasted meat to accompany it, the meal reminds me of the memorable Beirut lunch a month back.
Why is Jubail at night such an attraction? Well, it makes the petrochemical facility in Kerteh (Trengganu) a pussy compared to these huge SABIC plants, kilometers of them.
Quick Jubail visit done, we return to Khobar and cover the 110km in less than one hour. I notice the red needle of the speedometer of our car stuck to the right, so guess what’s our speed as we hurtle down the expressway?
Fourth and fine final day in Khobar, and looking east towards the Persian Gulf, along Prince Faisal Bin Fahad Road.
Along the same road one finds a branch of Al-Rajhi Bank, exclusively for the special ones.
Nightfall and time to leave Saudi Arabia. I am at the huge King Fahad International Airport DMM, built to help industrialise the Eastern Province, but is woefully underutilised. One whole wing of 18 gates remains idle, still in mint condition.
After a short flight-time of just 35min at an altitude of 17,000ft, the Qatar Airways QR715 Airbus 330-200 soon lands at Doha International Airport from Dammam.
Doha International is under major construction, and after disembarking, I and fellow suffering passengers have to endure a 15-min bus ride to the terminal in a Cobus.
The main DOH duty-free area is very well-designed.
Final call for flight QR624 to KUL and DPS, with passengers to be bus-ed again, some 15min away to the waiting Airbus 330-200 plane.
I just love the blue light bathing the cabin, ostensibly to induce sleep, and it sort of works on me. Anyway we depart an hour late, to arrive Kuala Lumpur 7.5hrs later. It has been a great journey to Al-Khobar.
> THE END
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