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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 displays relative social liberalism compared with more conservative neighboring countries, where Islamic law is applied in a much stricter way. Case in point: alcohol is legal here. Although Bahrain has a heavily petroleum-based economy, its political, social, and cultural peculiarities helped it develop a fairly cosmopolitan middle class not found in neighboring countries with just a rich elite and subsistence-level masses. However, a string of political unrest (culminated in the demonstrations in 2011) has exposed significant discomfort as well as sectarian and social cleavages. (less...) (more...)
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Points of Interest in Zallaq
The Qala'at al-Bahrain (Bahrain Fort) is located off the northern shore and is a five to ten minute drive away from Manama city. It is restored and in good condition although it lacks furniture, signage, or exhibits. Admission is free.
Next door to the fort is a museum, completed in February 2008, which contains many artifacts ranging from the ancient Dilmun periods through the Islamic era, many of which were found at the fort and additional ruins next door. The museum is a large rectangular and white building with absolutely no signs to indicate that it is a museum. The hours are 8AM-2PM daily; admission is free.
Tree of Life. Although trees grow in Bahrain, this one is special because of its location in the middle of the desert amidst the oil wells and other infrastructure of the petroleum industry. You need a car to reach the tree, as it is far from the main roads and not on any public transportation route.
To reach the tree, take the Zallaq Highway heading east, which becomes the Al-Muaskar Highway. You will eventually see a sign for the Tree of Life indicating a right turn. (Although the sign seems to point you to turn onto a dirt road which actually goes nowhere, do not do so, instead wait until the next intersection which is several metres ahead). There are no signs as you travel down this road, but pay attention to a scrap metal yard on your right. Before you reach a hill which warns you of a steep 10% incline, take a right. As you continue straight down this road (including roundabouts), you will begin to see Tree of Life signs again. The signs will lead you down a road which will then be devoid of these signs, but you will eventually see the tree in the distance on the right (it is large and wide, not to be mistaken for other smaller trees along the way). You turn onto a dirt path at Gas Well #371. You can drive up to just outside of the tree, but make sure you stay on the vehicle-worn path, as turning off of it is likely to get your car stuck in the softer sand.
Although it seems like a chore to reach, the Tree of Life is worth the visit for the oddity of it. The tree is covered in graffiti, although this is not visible until you get up close. Try to make your arrival near sunset for a picturesque view of the tree and the surrounding desert.
[Update 2011] There is also a (new ?) much higher quality road.
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, 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.
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.
Bahrain's biggest yearly event is the Bahrain Grand Prix F1 race, held each April at the Bahrain International Circuit . Plan well in advance, as flights sell out and hotel prices triple.
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.
Bahrain has an impressive dining scene, with numerous restaurants to choose from. The main dining area is Adliya. In Adliya, you can take your pick among numerous cafe's, with Coco's (very well priced and delicious food) and Lilou's (Very popular with locals wanting to see and be seen) among the most famous. Mirai is an incredible Japanese Fusion restaurant perfect for a special occasion. Trendy lounges/restaurants are in the area as well like Zoe's, and Block 338.
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 centre, offering food for upper mid-range prices.
- Machboos (also known as Kabsa) - mainly made from a mixture of spices, rice (usually long-grain basmati), meat and vegetables
- Muhammar - a sweet rice dish which is typically served with fish
Snacks and bread
- Samosa - a fried or baked pastry with a savory filling, such as spiced potatoes, onions, peas, lentils, ground lamb or chicken.
- Khubz (flatbread)
- The most popular traditional dessert is Halwa Showaiter, also known as Halwa Bahraini. It is a jelly like halwa made with corn starch, saffron and various nuts.
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 nightclubs.
Under Bahraini law, any sign of having consumed alcohol may be taken as prima facie evidence of driving under the influence, which can lead to imprisonment and/or fines of up to BD 1,000.
Coffee, called Gahwa (قهوة) locally, is considered a part of the traditional welcome in Bahrain. It is usually poured into a coffee-pot, which is called dalla (دلة) in Bahrain. It is served in a small cup made for coffee called finjan (فنجان).
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 a fully convertible currency, and there are currently no restrictions on its import or export. Denominations for coins are 5 fils, 10 fils, 25 fils, 50 fils and 100 fils. Denominations for banknotes are 500 fils (BD 1/2), BD 1, BD 5, BD 10 and BD 20.
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 BD 4.0, 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.
There are several major malls in Bahrain that offer international and luxury labels shops and botiques, supermarkets and so forth, as well as food courts, contemporary and traditional cafes, play areas and arcades, cinemas (3D & 2D) and even an in-door water park.
A visit to the local souq (sook) is a must. There you can negotiate the price on “rolexes”, jewellery, 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.
This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article Bahrain on Wikivoyage.