Being born in the Middle East, the Kingdom of Bahrain to be precise, made me learn from a young age about other cultures and other ways of life, specifically financial and political inequality (the difference between Shia and Sunni Muslim homes were shocking). Although not a tourist destination, and many stay away from this area of the world, I thought I would write a post about the place anyway, either to educate you on a world you do not know, or to inspire you to go there.
First and foremost, just like any country in the world, be safe. Many western minded people will immediately jump to the conclusion that Bahrain, or even any Muslim country, is an unsafe place to be. Anywhere in the world is unsafe if you do not use common sense. Secondly, wrap up if you are a woman. Be respectful of their religion and culture, (I’m not saying to go out and buy an abaya but cover your shoulders and no hot pants) even as a child I was ogled at and as a teenager I had many men chatting me up in random locations, so be wary and I’d advise to be firm with your rejections and if possible, always travel accompanied. This same advice though would be given to any woman planning to travel around India alone. Thirdly, do not bring your prejudice and misconceptions with you to Bahrain (if you take the step to travel here you are not very likely to have any anyway), Arabs are friendly and inquisitive people, and so allow them to be so. Feel free to take a look at a recent article I wrote for the online magazine Globe of Love, on appearances in relation to Bahrain:
As Bahrain is a one hour drive away from Saudi Arabia, there is still a moderate form of rules and regulations within Bahrain, however Bahrain, I would say, is the party place of the Middle East (second to Dubai). Many Saudis drive over the causeway on a Friday evening to come across and rev their engine, smoke shisha, chat up women and even some, dare I say it, drink booze. You can easily spot the young Saudis (or even the families whom pop across to go shopping in the mega malls) because of their Arabic studded number plates and music being played loud and proud from their car. So being in Bahrain on a weekend is a must.
I returned to Bahrain years later after I left, with two of my British school friends. Before this, to me, Bahrain was home, not a tourist destination. A place to eat Fuddruckers, be the only person in the cinema whilst watching a film, and to shop in 6 mega shopping complexes. Returning with visitors who had never been there before made me appreciate more of the culture, rather than just see the shiny Americanised version of many things which Bahrain focuses much more on. There is little tourist attractions, or much information about heritage, as creating F1 tracks, waterparks and expanding shopping malls is more of a priority. Be prepared to hear locals compare Bahrain to Dubai, trying to compete with them whilst planting a shopping mall in the middle of a desert.
1. Rollerblade along a Promenade. Bahrain is full of promenades and they are decorated beautifully. Take the time for a blade down one of them to explore Bahrain on foot.
2. Bahrain National Museum. A must visit to see what life was like before finding oil! Here you can also understand their heritage.
3. Al Fateh Grand Mosque. This mosque is one of the biggest in the world and the most beautiful, make sure you go for a tour.
4. Bahrain Fort. Have a wonder around this fort to learn about the Dilmun civilisation (I remember coming here on a school trip) and don’t feel the need to go to any other forts after this one.
5. Beit Al Quran. Come here to this complex dedicated to Islamic arts to gain more of an understanding of the Quran.
6. Manama Souq. Get a taxi into the city centre and have a stroll around the souq, there are so many beautiful things to see, touch, smell and buy!
7. There are a few water parks that have been constructed since I left so feel free to check one of those out!
8. F1 Track. If you love the F1 then come here for a photo but as it is in the middle of the desert, team it with a visit to the Tree of Life. As well as building a massive bonfire, having a BBQ and drinking under the stars in the desert, we used to do this a lot as a kid and it was always a special moment.
9. You have to visit one of the large shopping malls; Seef Mall is the most well-known. Just to see the extent of luxury in some Arabs lives in Bahrain, (I can still smell the incense now).
10. Go to the beach. The main beaches in Bahrain are dirty and unkempt, and if found by a local when sunbathing, I am sure you would receive more attention than you would like. We would go to the Meridian, now called Al Bander hotel resort, where there are a number of swimming pools, the beach, an island and water sports.
Bahrain has a large diverse nightlife and most bars, pubs and clubs are in hotels. Try out Trader Vics for cocktails, JJ’s, Wranglers, Sherlock Holmes, Fiddlers Green and Savage Garden. Not many of these places check for ID and if you are a female expat, you are given a VIP status (which meant clubbing for my friends began at the age of 14) so if you are a parent, be wary. Whilst you are in Bahrain, make sure you check out the brunches there, breakfast and champagne goes on for most of the day, as there is no such thing as a short lunch in Bahrain.
The above paragraph pretty much sums up what life is like as an expat in a country abroad, even in a muslim country. Being an expat, you become a member of a community where kids play together, parents drink together, and families unite. People do similar things every week, every year and they become very… comfortable. And you can easily become comfortable, due to no tax in Bahrain, meaning you are able to afford a higher standard of living. Life as an expat is one colourful party, and can be hard to step out of, many people being sucked into the glamour and expense. Although a fun and interesting lifestyle, it is not one that embraces all manners of local life or is subjective to heavy issues such as gender equality, or human rights. Rather, these are overlooked because of the shiny and perfect expat dream does not need these, which meant for me, I could not live like this forever.
Finally, whilst you are there, you have to eat a Shawarma, (I miss it so much) it varies from place to place, in meat, sauce, and bread combination so if you are stuck for choice, go for Hummus and Tahini sauce with chicken in Flatbread and no vegetables!