Merekara Kara: The Bahrain Survival Guide

It’s been nearly a month since the World Heritage Committee conference in Bahrain – the hot, warm sun; the friendly, hospitable locals; the highs and lows of the conference; and meeting and getting to know two amazing, inspiring people – the other two delegates Katie & Manu.

To get a first-hand view of global relations/politics was an unforgettable experience that I am truly grateful for. Also, I HAVE FINALLY DONE SOME INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL – WOOP WOOP!!!

Anyway, I feel that my previous blogs during my time in Bahrain, highlighted the positive and negatives of the WHC conference so for my final blog I thought it only fitting to provide a ‘How to survive Bahrain Guide’ for all those readers (I definitely know my Mum read all my blogs) who will now be inspired to step away from the typical, generic trips to Europe and travel to the exotic, Middle Eastern country of Bahrain.

How to survive Bahrain

Cash survival tip: Bahrain is mainly a cash society so HAVE CASH!!!! Though, quite a few places do also have Eftpos and will accept VISA, Mastercard and LoadedforTravel cards. Take $USD in cash and transfer into Bahraini Dinar BHD (the local currency of Bahrain) once you arrive in Bahrain. The Bahraini Dinar currency is as follows:

·         1 BHD = 1000 fils (fils are similar to NZ cents)

·         BHD is represented with 3 decimal places denoting the fils e.g. 1.250 BHD

·         The coins represent the fils and there are 5 fils, 10 fils, 25 fils, 50 fils & 100 fils

·         The notes represent the dinar (similar to NZ dollars) and there are ½ dinar, 1 dinar, 5 dinars, 10 dinars & 20 dinars

In terms of conversion 1 BHD = 4 NZD (this is at a rate of 0.67 and rounded up) so if you are wanting to spend-up then save quite a bit of money before you go!

Communication survival tip: Depending on how many people you are travelling with and the length of your stay, I would recommend getting a Bahraini SIM card for your phone from Batelco (like Spark, Vodafone etc.). This just makes it easier to communicate if you are travelling in a group and it also gives you the ability to access data when you are unable to connect to a WiFi server. From memory, I think the SIM card we purchased for a 1-month plan was 3-5 BHD which is about 10-15 NZD – similar if not cheaper than a normal plan in NZ.

Accommodation survival tip: I’m not actually too sure about this aspect of the trip in relation to Bahrain as the accommodation was organised through the amazing AYLI team. We stayed in an Airbnb but it was like a serviced apartment room, with a reception desk downstairs and cleaning staff. It was called Mazaya Tower and it was honestly such a great place to stay in, it had a roof-top pool, the rooms were serviced every couple of days, the staff were super friendly and helpful, and it was in a pretty centralised location. I would recommend staying here but there are also various hotel options that could be looked into as well – it will just depend on your where in Bahrain you want to stay (the country is divided into districts) and your budget.

Clothing survival tip: Though, Bahrain is a Middle Eastern country, it is quite metropolitan and diverse so there aren’t really any mandated clothing that need to be worn while out in public, EXCEPT if you are travelling to the more traditional areas of Bahrain OR you are going to their place of worship – a Mosque, then women should wear a head scarf and long clothing covering their arms, legs and chest.

The climate did reach 48°C while we were there, so I do recommend light, cool, comfortable, flowy types of clothing. BUT don’t make the same mistake I did and take no warm sweaters/jumpers because the air conditioning there is INSANE!!! You step from hot weather outside to chilly air conditioned indoors – take at least one warm jumper/sweater/coat and long fatpants/trousers!

Climate survival tip: As mentioned in the tip above, it gets HOT. Even in the winter months it is still early to mid-30s (just to prove how hot it was, even Manu who has both Maaori and Tongan heritage, was dying in the heat!!!). But also mentioned above, it is also unbearably cold indoors so be aware of the change from outside to inside and vice versa.

It is important to always have AT LEAST one water bottle if not two, whenever you are out and about – though, do TRY to take your own reusable bottle/s to Bahrain as the country is a massive consumer of plastic bottles (even in restaurants the water comes in plastic bottles!).

If you want to sightsee, try to do it either early in the morning (8-9am) or later in the evening (6-7pm onwards), as this means you will miss the peak hot hours – especially if it involves walking.

Transport survival tip: The heat of Bahrain pretty much makes it a taxi/Careem (NZ equivalent to Uber) or driving society so, if you would like to be a more independent traveler I would recommend hiring a car or if you are happy to be driven, then download the Careem app on your phone and use that. There is virtually no public transport suitable for tourists.

Also, important to note is that in Bahrain you drive on the right-hand side so if like me, you are used to left-hand driving I would maybe brush up the Bahrain road rules (though Bahraini drivers are CRAZY!!!!) and see if you could have some lessons – if you are wanting to hire a car.

If on the other hand you are lucky like us in that your accommodation is close to malls, shops, restaurants etc. and you are a bit of a tight-ass/enjoys walking, then you can walk and brave the heat – remember to look BOTH ways before crossing any road!!!

Food survival tip: If you don’t like stepping outside your comfort zone then rest easy knowing that there are plenty of western fast food chains such as Subway, MacDonalds, KFC etc. and plenty of western style restaurants – I would highly recommend a café/restaurant called Nomad in the Al-Seef district of Bahrain!

For those more adventurous and wanting to try the local Bahraini cuisine then traditional food includes fish from the area called Hamour (grouper) and Safi (rabbit fish) - typically served grilled, fried, or steamed, meat, rice and dates. There is also the traditional flatbread called Khubz - a large flatbread baked in a special oven.

There is also a massive Indian influence on Bahraini cuisine as Indian people are inhabited and lived alongside Bahraini people for centuries. So, also try their dhal, naan bread and curries which include goat meat – go to a place called ‘Al Tawawish’ in the Manama Souk. This is an authentic, locally owned and operated Bahraini restaurant and it should not be missed!!!

P.S. Bahrain have the BEST juices and mocktails I have ever tasted (not that I have much to compare it with) so DEFINITELY make sure you are getting freshly squeezed juices and cold mocktails throughout your trip!

Sightseeing survival tip: Before selecting the places you want to visit, I would recommend reading ‘An Archaeological Guide to Bahrian’ by Rachel MacLean and Timothy Insoll. This book provides a quick introduction regarding some of the main sites of Bahrain such as Qala’at al-Bahrain (the Bahrain Fort), the Burial Mounds and the Tree of Life. The Bahrain Museum is a definite must-see as most Bahraini site’s artefacts and historic information are preserved and on display here.

Shopping survival tip: Most Bahraini malls have a variety of American and European stores such as Forever 21, Topshop, Zara, The Gap etc. for your everyday, general clothing spree but if you are wanting more local produce the Manama Souk is a MUST – scarfs, jewellery made from the local stone (lapis lazuli), hand-painted crockery, lamps, rugs, are naming only a few local/traditional Bahraini products.

So hopefully these tips make it a bit easier and less stressful if you do decide to travel to Bahrain. It was such a different, unexpected choice of a country to travel to but it was worth it and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Thank you so much AYLI for this amazing opportunity and the continued fellowship with the organisation! Can’t wait to see where this takes me!

All posts by Institute delegates reflect their own thoughts, opinions and experiences.

Posted on August 3, 2018 and filed under World Heritage 2018.