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Saudi Arabia
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Arabia has intrigued travellers for centuries. Its vast swathes of desert were the swaddling clothes of infant Islam and the birthplace of the Arab race and of Arabic, a language considered holy by Muslims. It's also home to two of Islam's holiest cities - Mecca and Medina - and to a host of modern, thriving, oil-rich metropolises.

Today's Saudi Arabia has held on to its mystique by being incredibly difficult to visit - there's no such thing as a tourist visa in this country. But if you can find someone to sponsor you or decide to take an expensive 'approved' tour, it's worth coming here for the desert and mountain scenery, and some of the Middle East's best archaeological sites. And, of course, there's the fascinating spectacle of a society juggling deeply conservative religious beliefs and oil-boom modernity. Foreigners should be cautious in Saudi Arabia; there have been several bombings since November 2000, some of which were motivated by anti-Western feeling and some by foreign nationals seeking to control the illegal alcohol market. Demonstrations and political gatherings are best avoided.

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