Bahrain – the island of don’ts

That’s my first impression of Bahrain. I just went out of the airport and already felt banned. What strikes the eyes is the series of prohibitions and do not do things welcoming the guest upon arrival. This is a bit weird because the vast majority of the expats believe Bahrain is the most liberal of all the Gulf countries. I heard legends about the nightlife here, the casual dress code, no requirements of modest clothing, quite Westerner type of life, not strict limitation of alcohol – so my expectations were to pop up at a fairly free spirit island.

Bahrain International Airport

First time in Bahrain. Getting in was much easier than in Kuwait. No complicated procedures, no waiting in a line for visa, no confusion what and where to be paid. Right before the passport control a small desk offers immigration forms to be filled – country of origin, passport data, and address in Bahrain. With the completed short form, I headed directly to the passport control, where the visa upon arrival fee is 5 BHD (= about 13 USD), could be paid cash or by credit card. Then stamp in the passport and you are welcome to Bahrain. Quick, short and very convenient track. I felt very welcome before leaving the airport.

Heading to Manama

Just a short detour from the main topic. While paying for my visa upon arrival, I discovered a very interesting fact, which I faced for first time during my extensive traveling career. Bahraini currency offers 1/2 (half) BHD. I know, nothing odd, right? Most of the countries have it. But they have it on coins, while Bahrain uses 1/2 paper based banknote. I still keep one as a rare discovery and for a memory.

The city starts directly from the airport of Bahrain. There is no gap or a long distance ride in between. I had no idea my hotel is just next to the airport, but I am sure my taxi driver did. I arrived late in the evening; jumped in the taxi, gave the taxi driver the name of my hotel – no reaction. He made a turn on the roundabout nearby and in literarily 1 minute parked in front of my hotel, asking for 5 BHD (another 13 USD). Well…it was not his fault, but obviously mine. So, I was unable to argue and just paid for my ignorance. 

My hotel entrance, next to the airport

Be aware – it doesn’t make any sense to take a taxi from the airport! Bahrain offers a very well structured public transport. A1 and A2 are the bus lines passing by the airport every 10 minutes. Both of them are going to the heart of Manama ( the capital). The ride takes between 10 and 15 minutes and for the whole ride the bus ticket costs 0.300 BHD (= about 0.80 USD). Very comfortable, clean and speedy red buses with quite stable WIFI in.  A taxi same distance will charge you between 7 and 10 BHD (= about 27 USD). 

Bahrain red buses

Now back to the prohibitions. If you have read most of my blogs, you already know that I am quite addicted to walking. That’s my preferred way to move and I use each opportunity to apply it. Expectedly, I asked in advance if the place where I am going to stay in Bahrain is walkable and was happy to get a positive response. I was told there is a park next to the hotel, popular like the best walking area in Bahrain. Impatient to explore and visit this park, I ran directly to it after the check in.

Dohat Arad Park

Well…for a European, raised in greenery, my impression of a park is a bit distinct. The name of the park is Dohat Arad Park. It looks mostly like rounded pathway walks, surrounding a drying lake or better to all it a low-level swamp, (it depends on the point of view), full of birds – herons, storks, ducks, seagulls or something similar. And it was the beginning of my prohibition walk. 

I have never seen so many don’ts collected at the same spot. It could be named: The banned park or the prohibitions park. I was discovering them one after another – no cycling, no feeding the birds, no littering, no walking over the walls of the lake, smoking is prohibited, no running on the grass…I already knew that every next sign on the way will be a new don’t. Some of them sounded ridiculous to me, warning about obvious things, which a normal person is not going to do anyway. 

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I was thinking that it’s an isolated case; maybe the bans are highly applicable to this particular area. But then, I found that every entrance in Bahrain starts with a prohibition. You get in the Mall and the first you see is a sticker with don’ts on the entrance glass door. 

Seef Mall

Then you get on the bus and the first what welcomes you at the bus’ doorstep is a sticker with prohibitions. 

No loud music and no fish strong smell

You approach the overpass to safely cross the street and the first sign to see is a prohibition. 

Then you go to another park, enjoying the view of a fountain in the middle of the desert and another don’t slaps your face. 

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It should be depressing to live daily at a place full of forbidden to do things. I never checked what’s going to happen if I do not obey the bans, but was definitely tempted to test it. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a serial complainer, on the contrary, in general, I liked Bahrain, but this weird repeatable issue made me confused and surprised whom those bans actually serve. 

I was kind of prepared for Bahrain, at least I googled it, prior to my arrival. I knew in advance it’s not just an island, but an archipelago and not easy to be crossed, because of lots of curves, sea water in between the suburbs and a complicated, but cleverly designed route map. The attractions in Bahrain are not so many and it’s easy to complete most of them in a 2 day visit. (Next blog full picture).

Of course, I visited most of the Malls, as usual. If I should compare Bahrain and Kuwait malls, the Kuwaiti Malls are not that shiny and polished, but much better supplied and more interesting for shopping.  Bahrain City Center is a great place to be; you can find whatever you need, while having fun, surrounded by glamour and attractions, fine dining options and family gathering. Lulu Mall is a bit poorer sister of City Center, walking distance away from each other. 

The nearest Mall to my hotel was Seef, different than the others, with a high diversity of perfume shops and fragrance’s brands, most of them by gulf origin like Ajmal, Asgharali, Junaid, Al Jazeera – highly recommended!!! I even managed to find my favorite  Al Jazeera perfume – Ultra Modern, that is no longer available in UAE or Qatar. 

The most famous Mall is probably Moda Mall, located in one of the iconic Bahrain Landmark buildings – The World Trade Center. The Mall is on the first floor and in fact, not that impressive like the building itself. Imagine a usual picture, very common for the gulf countries – all the top luxurious shopping brands collected at the same spot, shiny and radiating glamour. But the building is another story. 

Bahrain World Trade Centre

Bahrain World Trade Center (WTC) is the second tallest building on the island. It’s absolutely stunning, wherever you look at it from. Massive wind turbines were implemented with style between the two towers of the structure, which makes it look like a property from the future. I do not know the whole story of the design and the construction, but even the security guard knew the building is 240 m tall. 

WTC close look

By talking to the guards of the WTC and to the bus driver later on, I discovered and invented the best way to explore Bahrain I found how to reduce the usual tourist expenses, to avoid unnecessary bills, to see as much as I can from Bahrain for a short time and to deliver to myself a memorable experience without generating uncounted outlay. Bear with me and I’ll share the secret of having fun on this island of don’ts without emptying your credit card in my next blog: How to trick the wallet in Bahrain 

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