Bahrain

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Introduction to Bahrain

Bahrain's reputation as a relatively liberal and modern Persian Gulf state has made it a favourite with travellers in the region and an excellent introduction to the Gulf. It was once the seat of one of the great trading empires of the ancient world, and is redolent of the past.

While their neighbours staked everything on oil, Bahrainis diversified their economy and created some of the region's best education and health systems. Years of British influence have made English widely spoken. Development has been swift, but it hasn't swallowed up everything.

Full country name: Kingdom of Bahrain

Area: 707 sq km

Population: 668,000

Capital City: Manama

People: Bahraini (63%), Asian (13%), Iranian (8%), other Arab (10%)

Language: Arabic, Persian, English

Religion: Shi'a Muslim (70%), Sunni Muslim (15%), other religions and indigenous beliefs

Government: constitutional hereditary monarchy

GDP: US$7.7 billion

GDP per capita: US$13,000

Annual Growth: 3%

Inflation: 0%

Major Industries: Petroleum processing and refining, aluminum smelting, offshore banking, tourism

Major Trading Partners: Saudi Arabia, India, US, Japan, UAE

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Traveler Facts

Visas: All visitors need visas. If your passport has an Israeli stamp you will be denied entry.

Time Zone: GMT/UTC +3

Dialling Code: 973

Electricity: 230V ,50Hz

Weights & measures: Metric



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Events

The Islamic holidays of Eid Al-Fitr (the end of Ramadan), Eid Al-Adha (the end of the pilgrimage season) and the Islamic New Year are all major holidays in Bahrain. Ramadan, which is scheduled according to the lunar calendar, occurs around the Gregorian December and January through 2002; the pilgrimage season ends in March for the next few years. Bahrain's large Shiite community also celebrates the religious festival of Ashoora, which marks the death of Emam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet, at the battle of Karbala in 680 AD. Processions, led by men expressing sorrow through self-flagellation, take place in April and March for the next several years.

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Best time to Visit

The best time to visit Bahrain is between November and February, when it's not too hot. Avoid visiting during Ramadan, the Muslim month of daytime fasting, when things slow down considerably. (Ramadan ends in January or December through 2002.) You might also want to stay away during the Muslim festivals marking the end of Ramadan and the annual pilgrimage to Mecca (ending in March for the next few years), or over New Year's Eve. At these times the country is swamped with merrymakers from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and accommodation becomes very hard to find, especially at the lower end of the scale, where prices sometimes double.



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Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending

Currency: Bahraini Dinar

Meals

Budget: BD2-3

Mid-range: BD3-5

High: BD5-10

Deluxe: BD10+

Lodging

Budget: BD2-8

Mid-range: BD8-30

High: BD30-60

Deluxe: BD60+

Though an inexpensive stopover, Bahrain isn't a cheap destination. If you want to travel comfortably, rent a car and load up on artifacts, expect to spend around US$150-200 or more per day. Taking the bus and bargaining will bring your costs down closer to US$50-100 a day. If you walk a lot and have no huge appetite for food or booze, it's possible to get by on around US$25 a day.

There are a number of banks and moneychangers in Manama, and it pays to shop around for the best rate. American Express offices will cash cheques for card holders, and some banks will advance against Visa cards. There are ATMs in Manama linked to international networks.

A service charge is added to almost every bill in Bahrain, but it generally goes to the shop, not the waitstaff. An appropriate tip in a good restaurant is 10%. While tips aren't expected (especially in less expensive places), foreign waiters and waitresses are often paid appalling wages. Bargaining is common and expected, and hotel rates are almost always negotiable.

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Attractions

Manama

Manama, located at the northeastern tip of Bahrain Island, is the very new capital of a very old place. Along the city's northern edge, most hotels and official buildings sit on reclaimed land and are brand new, while some neighbourhoods just blocks inland are the same as they were 50 years ago.

The city's major attraction is the National Museum, a modern building with excellent exhibits well-marked in both Arabic and English. The museum covers 7000 years of Bahrain's history, including its grave mounds and temples; its Dilmun, Tylos and Islamic periods; and Arabic writing and calligraphy.

Al-Areen Wildlife Park

This small park is a conservation area for many of Arabia's indigenous species, including the Arabian oryx. You can also see zebras and other animals that have been introduced to the island from elsewhere.

Barbar Temple

Barbar is a complex of three 2nd and 3rd millennium BC temples, probably dedicated to Enki, the God of Wisdom and the Sweet Waters Under the Earth. The excavated complex can be seen from a series of walkways, which provide a great overview, though it's easier to understand with a detailed map.

Qal'at al-Bahrain

Also known as the Portuguese Fort, Qal'at Al-Bahrain is the country's main archaeological site. Beginning in the 1950s, excavations revealed the fort to be sitting on a tell, a hill formed from the rubble of previous cities. In all, seven layers of occupation were discovered, the earliest dating from 2800 BC.

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Disclaimer: We've tried to make the information on this web site as accurate as possible, but it is provided 'as is' and we accept no responsibility for any loss, injury or inconvenience sustained by anyone resulting from this information. You should verify critical information like (visas, health and safety, customs, and transportation) with the relevant authorities before you travel.

Sources: CIA FactBook, World FactBooks and numerous Travel and Destinations Guides.

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