Like all gulf countries they have oil here in Bahrain, although Bahrain and in particular the capital Manama has managed to hold onto some of the historic parts without feeling to need to build the tallest skyscraper in the world. This country also has a high foreign worker population, but Bahrain allows alcohol and apparently turns a blind eye to prostitution, which attracts men from more stricter countries come to Bahrain. However walking the streets and malls, you’ll still see a lot of conservative dress by the local women, mostly in niqabs. However, when you get close to women in a niqab, you quickly realise they spend a lot of time on their lashes and eye makeup!
Bahrain, is to my surprise, full of tourists. That is because its a favourite of cruise ships, with the souq, now home to mostly Indian shop owners peddling Arab headdress to white middle-aged men like me just trying to wander about the narrow streets in the souq. There are a lot of sweet shops also, plus cologne, belts and watches were offered to me a million times and I was always welcome to just look and not buy, but the act of looking meant it was going to get difficult to leave. I did, however, find a lot of fridge magnets, something that eluded me in Djibouti and Kuwait! You’d have had a hard time also if you were a spoon or snow globe collector as souvenirs didn’t really exist for those two countries.
I’ve also been getting around Bahrain on their excellent bus service. The great thing is, the people who use it are foreign workers and they tend to work where all the tourist related places are. So I bought a card and topped up with enough credit for 2 days and I’ve used the bus. The 2 Bahraini dinars it cost me would have been gone in the first taxi fare. The driver from the airport ripped me off because despite it being illegal to not use a meter, the drivers now weave around the city to rack up the fare a little. I had a GPS and when I suggested this to him, he got upset. Then claimed he didn’t have small change so charged me 10 Dinar ($38 AUD). It was late and I couldn’t be bothered arguing with him.
Today I visited the Bahrain Fort, which is actually an archaeological site of the Dilmun civilisation from about 3000BC to about 500 BC. Qalat Al-Bahrain was the likely capital and on the site, many forts and castle have been built over the millennia. The Portuguese finally abandoned it in the 1700s when the seas became too far away as silt built up near the fort. This was also a favourite site for a cruise ship to bring visitors, so it was packed. I was the only one who caught the X2 bus there and back from the fort. I didn’t go to the Dilmun burial grounds further south as rumours were it wasn’t worth the trip there.
If anyone is looking for somewhere to spend a couple of days on a Middle East layover, I’d recommend Bahrain. I’m probably unlikely to ever come back here, but I think it is worth visiting, even for an overnight trip from Dubai or Abu Dhabi. Sure it has 4 malls all within a kilometre of each other and it is difficult to walk to get around, but the food is tasty, it much less pretentious than its glitzy neighbours and there is some history to explore.