THE SOLO DRIFTER: Relaxing and trendy Bahrain (A Travel Guide)

Welcome to the second part of my Middle East series. After visiting UAE, I flew to Bahrain to meet my KPMGph babies there but I didn’t expect I would love the place! If you are looking for trendy and Instagrammable places, and if you are a foodie, Bahrain is for you! The unique thing about Bahrain when compared to other neighbors in the region is its diversity in terms of religion. Here, people can practice freely their religion and significant number of religions here have their own places of worship. Another thing to note here is its Nationality Law where foreigners may be given Bahraini citizenship. An applicant must be conversant in the Arabic language and owns a property (with required minimum period of ownership) that is registered under his/her name in the Survey and Land Registration Bureau. Foreigners make use of this opportunity as the health system in the Kingdom is outstanding as mentioned by my tour guide. Some foreigners residing in Saudi Arabia have their families living in Bahrain due to its geographical location and openness to activities that are prohibited in the former.

In just one to two days, you can explore everything about Bahrain. All my tour packages were booked thru Visit Bahrain, except for my karting at the Bahrain International Circuit – I booked it my own, but I utilized their car service to bring me there. Visit Bahrain is not offering that activity during my visit because of the change of tourists’ preferences. And there some activities also that are only available during winter season. I was also planning to take a scuba diving package. Unfortunately, I do not have a license. I am hoping when I get back there, I would experience it, especially searching and harvesting pearls!

Visit Bahrain is your one-stop-shop to tours, activities, events and restaurants in Bahrain.

If you are taking a car or renting a car, you don’t need to book a tour package as the tourist destinations are just kilometers away from each other. The farthest you would drive maybe is 45 minutes to 1 hour.

When it comes to cost, I felt that Bahrain is more expensive than UAE. Maybe the itinerary below can attest to that. I think it’s the transportation and food that make Bahrain expensive.

What you need to know about Bahrain

  1. It is a small archipelago made up of 50 natural islands, and an additional artificial islands
  2. Third smallest country in Asia after Maldives and Singapore
  3. The capital and largest city is Manama
  4. Bahrain is a young country. In 1971, it declared independence from the United Kingdom
  5. Bahrayn is the dual form of Arabic Bahr (“sea”), so al-Bahrayn originally means “the two seas”.
  6. Summer temperatures may reach up to 40 °C (104 °F) under the right conditions
  7. It is a constitutional monarchy headed by a king who appoints the prime minister
  8. The state religion of Bahrain is Islam and most Bahraini citizens are Muslims
  9. Christians in Bahrain make up about 14.5% of the population. Expatriate Christians make up the majority of Christians in Bahrain, while native Christian Bahrainis (who hold Bahraini citizenship) make up a smaller community.
  10. Arabic is the official language of Bahrain, though English is widely used
  11. Government-provided health care is free to Bahraini citizens and heavily subsidised for non-Bahrainis
  12. Intermarriages between Bahrainis and expatriates are not uncommon—there are many Filipino-Bahrainis
  13. Rules regarding female attire are generally relaxed compared to regional neighbours
  14. Bahrain is the first nation other than USA to host International Mixed Martial Arts Federation World Championships of Amateur MMA
  15. Bahrain has a Formula One race-track, which hosted the inaugural Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix on 4 April 2004, the first in an Arab country

Visa

Only citizens from Gulf countries can travel to Bahrain visa-free and for those non-GCC citizens but residents travelling to Bahrain. As of this writing, only Ukraine passport holders can travel to Bahrain with visa on arrival. The rest are required to have their visa processed (including the Philippines) or have an eVisa (like Europe, Americas countries, members of G20, most of the South Asian countries). But as a GCC resident, when I applied for my eVisa, I was able to get it after 15 minutes. I only paid BD5. However, there are a lot of requirements that I needed to upload to the system – bank statements, flight from Bahrain, Exit re-entry visa, my GCC resident ID and hotel booking.

Also, the immigration processing was quick. It only took me two minutes to complete it. The immigration officer only asked me the name of the hotel because they have a complete list of accredited hotels in the Kingdom. However, I am not recommending the Oriental Palace Hotel. I had a bad experience with their reception (e.g. late checkin), elevator, bathroom and WiFi. It has good breakfast though. I stayed here for four nights.

Transportation

The public transportation available in Bahrain is bus. However, most residents prefer driving a car so Uber and Careem are available there. In most of the areas in the city, it’s traffic, especially from late afternoon to night as some Saudi Arabia residents are either going to Bahrain or going back home.

What to do

Al Fateh Mosque

It is one of the largest mosques in the world, having the capacity to accommodate over 7,000 worshippers at a time. Besides being a place of worship, the mosque is one of the premier tourist attractions in Bahrain. It is open from 9am to 4pm. Visitors are required to remove their shoes upon entry and ladies have to wear abaya. Worry not, the mosque, at the entrance, has a variety of options where visitors can pick from – from a normal house dress to elegant thawb. Also, fortunately during the tour, it was Eid season so booths were there inside the mosque where we can learn different areas of Islam. I was able to keep two Islamic books with me.

Bahrain National Museum

Adjacent to to the National Theatre of Bahrain, the Bahrain National Museum is said to be the region’s first modern museum. The complex includes three halls devoted to archaeology and the ancient civilisation of the Dilmun, while two other halls depict the culture and lifestyle of Bahrain’s recent pre-industrial past.

Qal’at al-Bahrain

Also known as the Bahrain Fort or Portuguese Fort, Qal’at al-Bahrain was once the capital of the Dilmun civilization and was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005. Qal`at al-Bahrain is a typical tell – an artificial mound created by many successive layers of human occupation. The tell is the largest in the Persian Gulf region and was built close to the port and by reclamation of seashore land.

Shop and eat at Manama Souq

The main entrance is the historic Bab Al Bahrain building

Manama Souq is the old bazaar (souq) of Manama. The country’s only synagogue is located in this area. Bab al Bahrain is expected to serve as an interchange station for the 109km Bahrain Metro which is expected to be fully operational by 2030. The building hosts several shops and cafes.

The Dilmun Burial Mounds and Pottery making in A’ali

Before having a quick stop at the burial mounds, we visited a pottery shop in A’ali. Pottery-making and textile-weaving are also popular products that were widely made in Bahraini villages.

The Dilmun Burial Mounds are a UNESCO World Heritage Site comprising necropolis areas on the main island of Bahrain dating back to the Dilmun and the Umm al-Nar culture. Each of the tumuli is composed of a central stone chamber that is enclosed by a low ring-wall and covered by earth and gravel. Although the chambers usually contained one burial each, some contain several people and the secondary chambers often contain none. The deceased were generally laid with their heads in the alcove end of the chamber and lying on their right sides. The bodies were accompanied by few items. There were a few pieces of pottery and occasionally shell or stone stamp seals, baskets sealed with asphalt, ivory objects, stone jars, and copper weapons.

Tree of Life

The Tree of Life is over 400 years old. It is on a hill in a barren area of the Arabian Desert, 1.2 miles from Jebel Dukhan, the highest point in Bahrain. It is not certain how the tree survives. Bahrain has little to no rain throughout the year. Its roots are 50 meters deep, which may be enough to reach the water. Others say the tree has learned to extract moisture from grains of sand. Some claim that the tree is standing in what was once the Garden of Eden, and so has a more mystical source of water.

First Oil Well

Bahrain was the first place on the Arabian side of the Persian Gulf where oil was discovered, and it coincided with the collapse of the world pearl market.

Camel Farm

Husain, a great tour guide

This camel farm is near the Bahrain International Circuit.

Shop, arrive and drive at Bahrain International Circuit

The BIC has different grandstands. The Main Grandstand is adjacent to the F1 village and entertainment area. Turn 1 Grandstand offers a panoramic view of some of the best action on the circuit. At Victory Grandstand, you will be the first to witness the victor as they complete the final corner towards the finish line. Other grandstands are the University and Batelco.

I encourage you to buy F1 and BIC merchandise from its physical shop. The BIC offers VIP tour amounting BHD7. You would visit the towers, track and welcome centre where the physical shop is located. BIC also offers open track ranging from BHD25-120, depending whether it is single, half day or full day session.

I availed a Karting Arrive and Drive, 9HP amounting to BHD24 for two sessions. At the reception, I also paid BHD1 for the registration. The reception requested me to register online using their kiosk and the machine took a photo of me for the TV monitor. Downstairs, the crew supported me for changing, helmet and locker. Closed flat shoes are mandatory here. Fifteen minutes prior to each session, the announcer would call your session number. The TV monitor flashes photos and names of racers, and their kart number of each session. After each session, you would receive the result. Out of 19 racers, I ranked 16th – not bad for a first timer. I wish to experience this again. It is one of the best adventure I ever had.

Arabian Horse Riding

Horse riding is one of the popular activities in Bahrain. I began my unforgettable ride at the Equestrian Centre, passed by some quaint villages and rode towards the Bahrain Fort for a picturesque view of the sunset. I had the best view of Karbabad beach and experienced a breezy ride. I booked this activity thru Visit Bahrain for BHD25.

Water taxi at Bahrain Bay

Bahrain Bay is known for The Park, The Gardens and The Wharf, and the Four Seasons Hotel standing in an artificial island. Imagine taking a water taxi from Bahrain Bay through the wharf to The Avenues. It’s an affordable yet great experience and would only cost you BHD1.

Nightlife and Bar hopping

If you ask me where the heaviest traffic in Bahrain is – Block 338 and Juffair in Manama! Pubs and bars are there and people are wild! I can say it’s a little Bangkok, Thailand.

Spa

The first spa that I had in the Middle East is here in Bahrain. I was tired from my 1.5-week travel and I was missing Thai massage. Bahrain did not fail me. Spas are everywhere! At DS Ann’s Spa, I was able to have a coconut aroma massage with body scrub in a steam room and I have my own room for my jacuzzi! Note that when booking a package, call the spa first as some branches do not have a steam room or jacuzzi. I had my massage at Al Safir Hotel branch. My therapist, Dana Puy, is welcoming and very kind. In Thailand, I never had this kind of experience (steam room and jacuzzi) as most of the spa rooms are small and due to high demand. But here, you can really feel that you are in Thailand. All therapists and receptionists are Thais. For this package, I paid BHD68 for two hours. Plus, manicure and pedicure for BHD15. Upon payment, they would give you a card that can be stamped. Once you earn five stamps, the spa would give you a gift (e.g. free massage or discount).

Where to eat

Naseef Cafe

Since 1920, it has been very well known for its Mango Ice Cream. It is Bahrain’s first ice cream shop. Many people still ask for the Mango Ice Cream, but also love their other flavors. They also give you the unique experience of trying the real traditional Bahraini Cuisine. It’s open from 8am to 10pm.

Danet Altawawish

This was recommended by my tour guide. It is one of the old restaurants within Manama Souq area that serves authentic Bahraini cuisine. I tried the famous safi fish and rose milk here.

Reef Island

After attending a worship service, Czarina, a KPMGph baby and a churchmate, took me to the Reef Island. Located on Manama’s northern shore, and minutes away from the new Bahrain Financial Harbour, Reef Island is ideally situated in the heart of Manama. It is also known for pearl diving. For dining, Hala Lebnan, Al Fayez, Pasquale, Chez Alain and Coffee World are there. We chose to have our dinner at the Reef Garden, which offers the finest selection of high quality, fresh and exquisite mediterranean selection cooked to your tasting.

Royal Thai Restaurant

I really miss Thailand so much that I decided to have my lunch on my second day in Bahrain at the Royal Thai Restaurant in Gulf Hotel Bahrain. The restaurant is situated in a grand pagoda in the grounds of the hotel’s tropical gardens and provides scenic views overlooking the turquoise waters of the outdoor swimming pool. The authenticity of this exotic setting is further enhanced inside the restaurant as guests are greeted with enchanting Asian décor and world class Thai cuisine. Of course, I never missed to order my favorite mango with sticky rice. And I have my favorite – those chips!

Asha’s

A magnet for residents and tourists, Asha’s Bahrain City Centre enjoys a premium location within the city’s busiest retail destination. The welcoming interior reflects a rich jewel-inspired colour palette with subtle mood lighting and signature artwork. The food is superb!

Water Garden City

My KPMGph babies from BDU2 – Pau, AJ and Kevin – brought me to the Water Garden City. It has a lot to offer from leisure to food. Here, we tried a Middle Eastern restaurant, Al-kofeia.

Nomad

After having a spa and before going to the airport for my flight back to Riyadh, I went to The Courtyard, particularly Nomad. Nomad is an award winning urban eatery which introduced a new gastronomic concept in Bahrain. Known for their use of bold and urban flavors, Nomad is admired for its warm and aesthetically pleasing ambiance that provides comforting food and service. A great focus of Nomad is placed on creating homemade dishes using the highest quality ingredients. I tried avocado salad (BHD4.7). Aside from avocado as its main, it has smoked chicken, bacon and kashkaval cheese. For my drink, I had All Red (BHD2.6) – red apple, beetroot and carrot.

You must be wondering who’s the tour guide. He is Hussain Alhabib. He is also a scuba diver. He studied Tourism and Hotels Management at the University of Bahrain, then MBA in Human Resource Management at New York Institute of Technology in Manhattan. He is kind, patient, passionate. He loves taking selfies and posting IG stories. If you are visiting Bahrain, Visit Bahrain and Hussain are your options. Below are the details.

Itinerary and budget

It feels home when I stayed in Bahrain even for a short period of time. It feels relaxing and youthful. Bahrain has a great potential to be a tourism hub in the Middle East. But the best moment was reconnecting with my D&A and KPMGph babies who are currently based there in Bahrain.

TimePlace PHP SAR BHD USDRemarks
       
VISA        748.50       49.90         5.00       13.25 
HOTEL   14,115.21     941.01       94.29     249.87 
FLIGHT – FROM UAE (the other half is presented in UAE itinerary)     5,452.50     363.50       36.42       96.52 
       
DAY 1 – SEAFRONT NIGHT      
7:00pm-9:30pmReef Island    1,946.10     129.74       13.00       34.45Dinner at Reef Garden, from place of worship via Careem
       
DAY 2 – FULL DAY TOUR      
 Al Fateh Mosque    8,233.50     548.90       55.00     145.75Pickup at hotel
 Bahrain National Museum     
 Bahrain Fort     
 Manama Souq       748.50       49.90         5.00       13.25Lunch at Naseef Café or Danet Altawawish
 Camel Farm     
 First Oil Well     
 Tree of Life     
 A’ali Burial Mounds     
 A’ali Pottery     
5:30pm-6:30pmBahrain Bay       299.40       19.96         2.00         5.30From hotel, take Careem
7:00pm-9:00pmThe Avenues    1,497.00       99.80       10.00       26.50Take water taxi from Bahrain Bay, dinner at Asha’s
       
DAY 3 – ADVENTURE DAY      
8:00am-10:00amNomad    1,796.40     119.76       12.00       31.80Breakfast, budget includes Careem
10:00am-12:30pmFree time    Try Gold Souq
12:30pm-2:00pmRoyal Thai Restaurant    2,899.69     193.31       19.37       51.33Lunch, budget includes Careem
4:00pm-5:30pmArabic Horse Riding    3,742.50     249.50       25.00       66.25Hotel pickup
6:00pm-7:00pmKarting at Bahrain International Circuit    5,838.30     389.22       39.00     103.35Budget includes transportation
8:00pm-9:30pmAlkofeia Restaurant    3,892.20     259.48       26.00       68.90Dinner, budget includes transportation
10:00pm-11:30pmBlock 338    1,497.00       99.80       10.00       26.50Bar hopping
       
DAY 4 – RELAXING DAY      
 DS Ann’s Spa  12,724.50     848.30       85.00     225.25Budget includes transportation
       
FLIGHT – TO RIYADH   21,480.00  1,432.00     143.49     380.24 
       
TOTAL   86,911.30  5,794.09     580.57  1,538.51 

ALSO READ: The Solo Drifter in UAE

TRANSPORTATION (DXB-BAH-RUH)

Gulf Air
Website | Instagram | Twitter | Facebook

VISA

RECREATION AND ADVENTURE

Visit Bahrain
Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Husain Alhabib
Instagram | Facebook

Bahrain International Circuit
Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

DS Ann’s Spa
Website | Instagram | Facebook

Bahrain Bay
Website | Instagram

The Avenues
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Water Garden City

The Courtyard
Website | Instagram | Facebook

FOOD AND BEVERAGES

Reef Island
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Naseef Restaurant
Facebook | Instagram

Danet Altawawish

Royal Thai Restaurant

Nomad Eatery
Website | Instagram

Asha’s
Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Al-kofeia Restaurant
Instagram | Facebook

About the Author

Paul Michael Jaramillo
Paul Michael JaramilloChief Executive Editor
PJ is a CPA, writer, storyteller, environment and youth advocate. As a writer, his articles on national development were published in a Spanish newspaper and local news network Rappler. As a storyteller and environment advocate, his documentary films on mining and environment were featured by ABS-CBN News and GMA News. He launched his career as a CPA at KPMG in the Philippines in 2015. He started his professional journey as an external auditor of a global workspace provider (the largest audit client of KPMG in the Philippines), global bank, leading MFCG in the Philippines and a number of shared service centres. As an auditor, his team won the KPMG Asia-Pacific Data & Analytics Challenge and coached the Philippine team that placed third to the KPMG GlobalRunner Cup. More than two years later, he led KPMG in the Philippines’ Network of Audit Innovators and Data & Analytics Champions and its academic arm, while serving as a member of the KPMG Asia-Pacific Audit Digital Transformation Workstream. He has a strong background across the full life cycle of data and analytics (D&A) and audit methodology. He served as a member of the Audit Methodology Group and Root Cause Analysis Team of KPMG in the Philippines. He was a regular training facilitator of KPMG on audit methodology, innovation, data and analytics, professional standards and regulatory updates. He also served as a coach for newly promoted supervisors. PJ was also the Firm’s System of Quality Management Implementation Manager and a Workforce of the Future Champion. He was also a Sampling Specialist of the Firm. In 2019, PJ was a member of the Philippine Institute of Certified Public Accountants (PICPA)’s Technical Working Group on Audit Methodology. PJ led in developing some of the innovative solutions of KPMG in the Philippines. Above all, PJ is a people investor. He invests on people who have potential and talents. That makes him a coach and mentor to some young professionals in the profession and served as a People Committee member of KPMG in the Philippines. He leads advocacy projects that help communities. He produces vlogs thru his YouTube channel, PJspirations which features stories of different individuals. Currently, he is the Academic Master and Head Coach of PREMIER International Learning and Development Center, which provides coaching, mentoring, training and learning programs and platforms that promote growth and development in every individual’s life and career. He is also with the Middle East region of KPMG as a member of its Professional Practice group and Audit L&D, providing subject matter knowledge and guidance on audit methodology, and learning and development programs to its offices. He is a proud Ilocano and a graduate of Northwestern University.

He also conducts #IamRemarkable sessions, a program initiated by Google for women and underrepresented groups.