Bahrain a group of islands with a land mass slightly larger than Singapore, is one of the smallest countries in the world and the smallest country in the Persian Gulf. Bahrain, a country largely prosperous not due to its immense oil supplies but because of its crude oil processing and financial sector, was my last United Nations country visited in Asia.  Bahrain is ruled by a king, if you forget you will be reminded by portraits all over the country, in every hotel and even some covering the side of buildings. It has a high per capita income and like other Gulf countries, is dependent on foreign labor. The majority of its citizens are Arab and are of the Shiia sect of Islam, while the ruling class is Sunni.

The capitol, Manama is a sprawling, clean and immaculate. Unlike many other Middle Eastern countries, there simply is no trash strewn all over the ground. New construction of high-rise buildings with incredible architectural designs are sprouting up all over the city as Bahrain tries to attract foreign investment to help diversify its economy away from oil. Manama is a beautiful city perched along the shores of the blue and green tropical warm waters of the Persian Gulf. By day it is not welcoming and is dusty with a startling degree of heat that defies imagination, especially in the long summer months, but by night it is magical.

Location of Bahrain

My friend John and I arrived after completing a 2-week trip in Qatar and Taliban controlled Afghanistan. To reach Bahrain we couldn’t travel from nearby located Qatar, another oil rich kingdom because of a territorial dispute over an island that has resulted in a fracture of diplomatic ties. Subsequently direct flights, ferries and construction of a bridge between the countries has been paused. So, to get to Bahrain, we flew direct on Gulf Air from Dubai. As we approached Manama, we flew over beautiful white sand islands surrounded by coral reef in the Persian Gulf with no development on them. I could also see all of the newly formed man-made islands formed by dredging. Bahrain, like other Gulf countries has done a considerable amount of dredging to claim new land from the sea. Then as we grew nearer to the city we flew over rows of refineries and oil cargo ship loading docks, obvious indicators of the country’s immense oil producing industry.

When we passed immigration, we were asked if we were in the United States Navy. Immigration, so unaccustomed to foreign tourists visiting Bahrain, just assumed that since we are young men, we must be in the US Navy because Bahrain hosts one of the largest US Navy bases overseas.

We checked in at the Hilton by the sea overlooking the ocean and the downtown harbor. Since the USD was so strong, hotels like the Hilton were surprisingly cheap in Gulf countries. We ventured outside briefly but the blazing humid sun was too unbearable. So, we stayed inside the comfort of the air-conditioned shopping mall that connected to our hotel. I am normally no fan of shopping malls, but I was enamored with this one. It was enormous, clean, exotic and beautiful. Shopping malls in the Gulf are the place locals go to hang out and there were many strolling the giant hallways.

Inside of the refrigerated like large halls of a shopping mall

It was a great opportunity to observe how local people in their hijabs and dishdashas lived their lives. The air was rich with the fragrance of perfumes being sold by Filipinos in kiosks and everywhere we went, there was also the pleasant aroma of burning incense. 

Inside an Elegant Store that appeared like Versailles Palace instead of a retail store


A small passenger toy train carried children through the corridors. The call to Islamic Prayor played out over the intercom of the shopping mall. Walking the mall in Bahrain was no ordinary mall like experience. There was a lingerie ship, which I found out of place for a middle eastern country, high end purse and clothing stores as well as all kinds of other interesting stores. Most of the workers were Filipino.  There were also too many American eateries to choose from and after 10 days in Afghanistan, we pigged out to burgers and shakes at a Shake Shack restaurant.

After visiting the mall, we took a taxi operated by a hustling driver to Bahrain Fort, or Qal’at al-Bahrainan old fort near the waterfront originally built 2,400 B.C. Rush hour traffic was horrendous to get to the fort which was located near downtown on the waterfront.

John in front of the skyline

Qal’at al-Bahrain-Bahrain Fort

Me Inside an Archway in the Fort

The fort was originally built three thousand years ago by the ancient Dilmun civilization. The area where the fort is located was inhabited for 5000 years. Not much is known about the Dilmun civilization and all that is written about it is found in ancient written Sumerian records. The present fort that still stands was built in 600AD. Over the years the fort has changed hands multiple times since the days of the Dilmun people. It has also been occupied by Kassites, Greeks, Persians and Portuguese. 


We walked the grounds of the fort, which was visited mostly by locals out experiencing the cooler late afternoon temperatures. The fort was interesting and from its walls we watched the sunset. Then we returned to the hotel and walked along the harbor looking out over the beautiful skyline of Manama with its beautiful unique designs.


Fort Walls

Sunset Over the Fort Walls

Downtown Skyline

The next morning, we concluded our two-week trip, which was spent mostly in Afghanistan and Pakistan but also a few days in Bahrain, Qatar and Dubai and we departed on the long flight home via Saudi Airlines. The Manama airport was just as impressive and spotless as the city. During my short stay in Bahrain, I was impressed with its beauty and relaxing nature.

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