The Kingdom of Bahrain is a Middle Eastern archipelago in the Persian Gulf, tucked into a pocket of the sea flanked by Saudi Arabia and Qatar. It's an oasis of liberalism – or at least Western-friendly moderation – among the Muslim countries of the region. It's popular with travelers for its authentic "Arabness" but without the strict application of Islamic law upon its non-Muslim minority. Case in point: alcohol is legal here. Although it has a heavily petroleum-based economy, its more relaxed culture has also made it a social and shopping mecca (so to speak), which has helped it develop a fairly cosmopolitan middle class not found in neighboring countries with just a rich elite and subsistence-level masses.
Bahrain is the smallest of the independent Persian Gulf states, and has often had to walk a diplomatic tightrope in relation to its larger neighbours. The country has few oil reserves, however it has established itself as a hub for refining as well as international banking, while also achieving a liberal (by Gulf standards at least) political system. Its economy depends to a small extent on Saudis interested in a little entertainment, not available in the strictly Islamic Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Roughly north to south:
Muharraq - Connected island northeast of the capital.
Manama - The capital area.
Northern Bahrain - Northwest, mostly urban area.
Central Bahrain - Just south of the capital area, mostly urban.
Southern Bahrain - The southern majority of the island, mostly rural.
Hawar Islands - Island group off the coast of Qatar.
Manama - The capital of Bahrain.
Officially 220V 50Hz. Most outlets are the British standard BS-1363 type. Generally speaking, U.S., Canadian and Continental European travellers should pack adapters for these outlets if they plan to use their electrical equipment in Bahrain.
The best time to visit Bahrain is November-March, with October & April being just bearable. Be sure to take along a sweater during December-March as evenings can be cool. Bahrain's summer, which is from May-September, is very hot and humid, though occasional cool northerly winds blow to provide some relief. More frequent are the qaws, the hot, dry summer winds that can bring sandstorms.
Citizens of following countries can obtain 14-day visa at all border stations and airports. The fee is 10 dinar.
Andorra, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Brunei, Canada, China(Mainland, Hong Kong SAR, Macau SAR and Republic of China Taiwan), Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland (3 months), Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Russia, San Marino, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Thailand, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, United Kingdom (3 months), United States, Uzbekistan, Vatican City
You can also apply in advance online for an eVisa , which costs BD 7. The benefit of this is somewhat unclear though, as those eligible for eVisas can also get visas on arrival; however, possessing an eVisa will likely allow you to get through Customs faster, as one wouldn't need to obtain the visa at the port of entry.
Bahrain is among the few Gulf states that officially accepts Israeli Passports (although you'll need a visa) and passports with evidence of visits to Israel.
Bahrain International Airport (IATA : BAH), in Muharraq just east of Manama, is the main base for Gulf Air and has excellent connections throughout the region and London. The airport has good duty-free shopping and a 'Transotel' offering beds and showers (for a fee) to those awaiting flights. Many residents of eastern Saudi Arabia choose to fly out via Bahrain, and Gulf Air offers shuttle services to Khobar and Dammam to cater to this market; inquire when booking.
The Saudi-Bahraini Transport Company (SABTCO) , tel. +973-17252959, runs six buses daily from Dammam via Khobar in Saudi Arabia, across the King Fahd Causeway, to the bus terminal next to the Lulu Centre in central Manama. As of February 2009, the schedule is as follows:
The service uses comfortable aircon minibuses with a trailer for luggage. Tickets cost SR50/BD5 and can be purchased in advance, although they'll squeeze you in without a reservation if there is space. As crossing the Causeway involves two passport checks and two customs checks, figure on 2 hours for the trip, plus any traffic delays at busy times like Wednesday evenings. At congested times, buses may actually be slightly faster than private cars, as they can use separate lanes at immigration and customs.
The 26-km King Fahd Causeway connects Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. Rental vehicles usually cannot be taken across, but SABTCO's BahrainLimo taxis that seat up to four can take you across for prices starting from BD30/SR300. Unofficial taxis, found hanging around bus stations at both ends, can offer slightly lower fares.
The official rates start at ($2.65) BD 1.000 plus 0.150 Fils (0.40¢) per kilometer. In practice, though, meters are always "broken", covered, missing or just ignored, and you'll need to agree on fares in advance. Beware that cabbies will often ask for ridiculous prices.
However, a new agreement have been reached between the government and taxis representatives on August 2008; and a growing majority of taxis now use their meters. Rates vary from 3 to 5 dinars for a ride within Manama.
Finding a taxi can be difficult, although major hotels and malls usually have a few waiting outside. Some privately owned company operate in the kingdom, but are twice more expensive than 'real' taxis.
Speedy Motor Services Call - (+973 1768 2999)
Bahrain Limo is the newly established most impressive Radio Meter Taxi Company in the Kingdom of Bahrain and the sister company of the transport giant "Saudi Bahraini Transport Company" (SABTCO) which provides luxurious bus and limousine services across the King Fahad Causeway. Call (+973 1726 626)
There are also public buses that run to many parts of the island. Bus fares are low, but understanding the system can be very confusing for visitors, due to difficulties in obtaining bus schedules and maps.
If planning on visiting several sites, consider renting a car. Prices range from 10-20 dinar per day, but allow you freedom to drive around the island.
Arabic is the official language, although English and Persian (Farsi) is widely spoken. Urdu and Hindi is also understood and spoken by Indians and Pakistanis on the island.
Bahrain has history dating back 5000 years, from the ancient Dilmun period through the Islamic era. The country offers three forts which have been meticulously restored and opened to the public, although a lack of signs and general promotion by the country's tourist industry sometimes makes finding these sites difficult.
The high temperatures in Bahrain make sea activities seem extra tempting and water sports are extremely popular in Bahrain, with tourists and locals indulging in their sport of choice all year round in the warm waters of the Arabian Gulf. Sailing and scuba diving are particularly popular.
Although a desert country, Bahrain boasts an international 18-hole grass golf course, which is about 15 minutes outside the capital, Manama. The par 72 championship course features five lakes and is landscaped with hundreds of date palms and desert plains.
Enjoy riding a camel along a highway.
Purchase souvenirs and buy some authentic pottery at A'ali Village Pottery.
Haggle for goods at the local souk markets.
The currency in Bahrain is the Bahraini dinar (BD), which is divided into 1000 fils. One dinar is worth nearly three US dollars (US$2.66, to be precise, as the exchange rate is fixed), making this one of the world's strongest currencies, and this can get some getting used to: that seemingly cheap ten-dinar taxi ride is in fact almost $27 and thus an extortionate rip-off!
The dinar is pegged to the Saudi riyal at 1:10, and riyals are accepted almost everywhere at that rate, although odds are you'll get your change in dinars and hotels may try to screw you out of a few percent. If coming in from Saudi, there's no reason to change your money, but do try to get rid of any excess dinars before you leave the country, as they're hard to exchange elsewhere, even in Saudi.
Like most Gulf countries, Bahrain is not cheap. With recent rising costs a decent dinner can cost around BD1.5, and car rental at BD 10-20/day is reasonable, but hotel prices will put a dent in your budget: a perfectly ordinary room in a "good" hotel can set you back BD 100. Do not travel to Bahrain during the annual F1 race in April if looking for reasonable prices, as hotels will quadruple their rates. A room at the Gulf Hotel during this race will cost you upwards of BD 300/night.
See Manama for detailed shop and mall listings.
A visit to the local souq (sook) is a must. There you can negotiate the price on “rolexes”, jewelry, and many other gifts. The souq is also home to many excellent tailors. If you're there for long enough (say a week) then you can take a favourite clothing item in and they will "clone" it precisely in any material you select from the huge range available.
See Manama for detailed restaurant listings.
Restaurants in Bahrain run the gamut for cheap stalls offering local food to fancy restaurants in fancy hotels. American fast food franchises such as Burger King and McDonalds are ubiquitous. Western (mostly American) style-foods and franchises can be found around the malls and in the city center, offering food for upper mid-range prices.
See Manama for detailed nightlife listings.
Bahrain has relatively liberal laws regarding alcohol and has long been a favorite getaway for visitors from Saudi Arabia and other nearby "dry" countries — don't be surprised to see Arabs in thobe and gutra sipping cool brewskis as they watch dancers strut their stuff in the hotel nightclub. However, since May 2007 all this debauchery has been restricted to five-star hotels, and you will not find "regular" restaurants offering alcohol.
Mostly public schools, but enough private schools to serve majority of overseas. Modern Knowledge School (MKS), Bahrain School, St Christopher's School educates to British GCSE and A-level qualifications and has a very diverse base, with students from many ethnic backgrounds, although most British expats working in Bahrain send their children there. There is also a school mostly frequented by the children of Indian expats.
Also many private universities and Bahrain University located in Sukheer next to Bahrain International Circuit.
Bahrain has a number of expatriates (they make up almost 30% of the population). The predominant industry is the financial sector where over 400 banks are licensed, although only about 30 can accept deposits from retail customers- the rest are basically investment houses. The construction industry is also finding takers in Bahrain. Large building complexes(commercial and residential) are coming up.
For an expat, life is easy. By law, a company must provide:-
House or housing allowance
Free flights home every year
An additional salary of a minimum of 15 days for every year worked (there are slabs according to the number of years worked)
No personal income or sales tax in Bahrain
At present, there is a 1% charge on salary (gosi tax) which goes to subsidize the unemployed, but a lot of employers are giving their employees an additional bonus by paying it themselves instead of deducting it from the salary.
Most executive positions would have their children's education sponsored.
Working hours differ across different industries. Government offices work from 7:30 to 2:00; banks from 7:00 to 3:00.
Large demonstrations can occur at any time, can sometimes become violent but are typically NOT anti-Western. Avoid areas where crowds of people appear to be assembling.
Be a little more cautious with locking your hotel room at night. Most hotels have disco's frequented by some unsavoury characters. Though the hotels have proper security systems including cameras installed, there are instances of tourists having their rooms burglarized.
Drink plenty of water. April through August can be very hot (up to 50 ºC) and humid. Use an umbrella to protect you from the harsh sun. It is important to stay hydrated, especially if you are outdoors during the day. Bottled water is sold practically everywhere in the city from "Cold Stores" and small restaurants at very reasonable prices. In the souk, walking vendors offer small chilled bottles but you may end up paying more than the bottle is really worth. If you are living in Bahrain for an extended period of time, you can set up an arrangement for a neighborhood Cold Store to deliver bottled water to your flat, or sign up for water delivery through several companies on the island.
Bahrain is a fairly gracious host nation but it is imperative to demonstrate respect and courtesy in reference to their particular cultural practices and religion at all times. When out in places where local Arabs can be found it is advisable to wear long trousers, or shorts, and women shouldn't wear a see-through dress. However, in beach clubs and hotels, swimsuits, bikinis and shorts are okay to wear. Do not show signs of affection to members of the opposite sex in public or risk being mistaken as one with very loose morals and you will be treated accordingly. People of the opposite sex HAVE been arrested for lip kissing in public and it is just not socially accepted. Always avoid any confrontation and never become involved in an argument, specially with a local. In general it is desirable to understand and respect the culture in which you live or enjoy your vacation type.
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|Electricity||220V/50Hz UK plug|
|Government||Constitutional hereditary monarchy|
|Population||698,585 (including 235,108 non-nationals) (July 2006 est.)|
|Religion||Islam 84% (Shi'a Muslim 70%, Sunni Muslim 30%), Christianity and other 16%|