Fifteen years ago Bahrain wasn’t the forgotten tourist island it is now, it was a real hub for Expat life. The ultimate in ‘hop on and off’ destination. Gas exploration, flights in and out to Australia, the Far East, the permanent residency of the American Naval 5th Fleet and constant building on the island, including the F1 track, all served to make Bahrain a colourful place to be. Some years ago weekends in Bahrain were full on. Visiting Saudi’s looking for an escape would fill the hotels, bars and car parks to brim. The small island was full to bursting with life. Yet in those days it was very much less the exciting holiday location, it is now becoming.
Everyone talks about Dubai or Qatar as obvious tourist destinations, it’s understandable. They offer everything a sun seeking tourist could want. They live in harmony with the demands of the tourists visiting the Middle East. Bahrain is more like its long standing tourist attraction, The Tree of Life, hanging in there and slowly growing and changing without too much fanfare. You’d be wise to pay it a visit on your travels as it offers a quieter but no less enticing destination for the intrepid traveller. You can hop on and off! Heck you can even buy a freehold property if it pleases you!
Sadly, Bahrain has suffered many a set back in terms of it’s reputation over the last 20 years. 1990 and 2011 saw the Bahraini’s uprise, leading to violence and many tragic deaths and arrests. The protests have done nothing to help Bahrains human rights record, sadly. Even today, a drive through the older parts of scarred Bahrain there remains the weapons of oppression. Large armoured vehicles are dotted menacingly at key points in the old city. Whilst empty of any security forces, these juggernauts still serve their purpose, reminding the dissatisfied that there is no way out.
Bahrain like its nearest neighbour, Saudi Arabia is struggling with the inevitable changes facing the two gulf states during the financial downturn. This has left an atmosphere of disappointment and dissatisfaction in both countries. Bahrain however, has moved forward in terms of managing to balance the ruling elite, the Sunni House of Khalifa since 2002 and its need to modernise. Whilst not perfect, the island is more civilised than its infinitely larger, richer neighbour. Driving safety and infrastructure have improved. An expat can easily buy alcohol there now. Cinema has been available for some 16 years. Fun is definitely available on the island menu. A bit of spit and polish in some areas would massively improve the prospects of this once great pearl of the gulf.
Women have been able to drive for many years now and covering of the whole face is rare. Although I have noticed on this recent visit, that more women nationals are choosing to wear Abaya’s. My last visit was in 2004 and I have found Bahrain much improved but I can understand why the journey is tough for the Bahraini nationals. Bahrain is expensive now. Alcohol in the hotels is hugely expensive. A taxi we took definitely overcharged us. Beneath the friendly Bahraini exterior is a real need for money. Without mass tourism Bahrainis are appearing a little desperate.
We visited the ‘Sailing Club’ in Jazaer beach on the south west coast. Oddly you have to drive past the Formula One race track to get there. One would think that instead of battening down the hatches in Winter. Bahrain could definitely attract the winter sun seekers. It seems to me that they are missing many an opportunity to improve their luck. Back in the day the sailing club was prime beach front for expats. I remember a pleasant German lady ran the bistro there and our kids spent many a happy hour sailing or swimming in the pool. I was shocked to see how badly run it is now. Oh how I yearned to take it over. With fantastic coast line Bahrain does rather neglect it’s beautiful beaches. Now more of a financial hub, attention needs to be paid to it’s future as a beach holiday destination. Still, we enjoyed a little trip down memory lane and for us, Bahrain retains its charm.
Bahrain has all the elements there to attract the discerning tourist but it really needs, to up its game to get there. I am looking forward to watching it get its island life back.
P.S. make sure you visit Trader Vics at the Ritz Carlton for a Tiki Pukka Pukka and loose your legs lol!
The Expat Wife x