While Bahrain may be a tiny island state in the Persian Gulf from a geographical standpoint, its economic might allows it much more clout. Like many countries in the Middle East, Bahrain sits atop an enviable supply of fossil fuels (in its case, a huge cache of natural gas), filling its treasury full of resource revenues.
Unlike its mammoth neighbour Saudi Arabia however, laws in Bahrain are much more liberal, allowing for the consumption of alcohol most notably, lending to its regional reputation as a place where suppressed residents from nearby countries go to let their hair down.
Despite its small size, Bahrain does have its share of sights to see – just be sure you bring a flush bank account before arriving, as this nation is not cheap. At all. With many hotels coming in at well north of $100/night, and other costs well above what things cost in other parts of Asia, careful budgeting to avoid financial ruination is essential.
With that necessary proviso out of the way, let’s learn more about this Middle Eastern micro state…
Currency: Bahraini Dinar
Languages: Arabic, English, Persian, Urdu
What To Do
Unearthed by archeologists in 1954, the Qal’at al-Bahrain, or Bahrain Fort has had defenders manning its ramparts as far back as over 4,000 years ago, and as recently as the 18th century, in the colonial days of the Portuguese. Having many graceful archways and seemingly impenetrable walls in its heyday, this very impressive sight was admitted as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005, and is well worth seeing on your travels in Bahrain.
There are many worthwhile museums to visit during your time on this interesting island, which cover a variety of topics. You could visit the Al Oraifi Museum, which house many artifacts from the ancient Dilmun civilization that called this island home for thousands of years, or check out the Beit al Quran Museum to check out its extensive collection of rare Islamic manuscripts. Fans of infrastructure will enjoy the plainly titled Oil Museum, which details the rise of Bahrain’s oil and gas industry, an economic juggernaut that has brought this small nation unfathomable wealth in the past few generations.
Being situated in the region of the world where humanity first rose before spreading across the earth, it perhaps should not be too surprising that there are prehistoric burial grounds in Bahrain. However, these final resting places, the best of which can be found within the town of A’ali, that were built before the start of recorded history are amazing because of the artifacts contained within the tombs, which included pottery, and ivory/copper objects.
Those wishing to see the triumph of nature in even the most trying of circumstances should rent a car and drive put to see the Tree of Life. Located in the midst of the Bahraini desert by some oil and gas installations, it is a lone tree that has persevered against the harsh, dry conditions, where other plants have failed.
The biggest event of the year in Bahrain is when the F1 pays this country its annual visit, drawing visitors from around the Middle East to attend the Bahrain Grand Prix. While gearheads of all types will love this event, and locals here will be more than happy to share their passion for cars with visiting foreigners, be advised that this occurrence takes the already high prices in this country, and sends them soaring into the stratosphere.
Hotel prices can triple, leading to a nightly rate of well over $700 a night, if you are so lucky as to find a vacancy during the time that the race is going on. Either avoid the country during this time, or book well ahead and be prepared to spend … a lot.
Finally, being further south in the Middle East has blessed this arid island with a desert subtropical climate, making swimming at its many beaches a possibility all year round. Amwaj is one of the more popular spots, attracting more than their share of avid kitesurfers, jet skiers, and surfers hitting the acceptable shore breaks present here.
What To Eat
Considered to be the closest thing to a Bahraini national dish, Qoozi is a lamb that has been roasted whole. It is stuffed with a harees (a whole wheat grain), onions and various spices and seasonings, rubbed down with an even wider array of spices and seasonings on the outside, and when it is done, it is served on a bed of rice.
These meals are often enjoyed on the side with a flatbread known as Khubz. This filling bread is enjoyed in Arabic nations across the Middle East and North Africa, with it looking a lot like a pancake.
At the end of an excellent meal, many Bahrainis love to indulge in Halwa Bahraini for dessert. A gelatinous treat made with corn starch, saffron and various nuts, this after-dinner favourite is consumed by locals regularly throughout the country.