[Another travelogue from our visit to Bahrain and Eastern Saudi, 19-22 December 2010]
Completing our visit to Bahrain, we were heading to Dammam area, at the other end of causeway. Our first stop was Half Moon Bay beach. The beach is the one of most popular beaches in the region and gets its name from it’s semi-circular shape. Finding the beach itself was a struggle as some roads at the time were closed and we needed to find another route. If I’m not mistaken I was taking the old Abqaiq road.
We arrived there during siesta, where restaurant closed until 4pm. While waiting restaurant to open we spent exploring the beach. The beach has several spots of well-maintained permanent concrete huts/shelters and children playgrounds. Busy with taking pictures an old south asian man approached us and with his limited english warned us not to taking picture. Local people may not like what you are doing is what he is trying to say. A bit surprise (as we only take pictures of us) but thanks anyway.
Having good late lunch and as sun was about to set we left Half Moon Bay to go to our apartment we booked in Al Khobar.
Again, though using GPS, finding the apartment was quiet an effort owing to road closure and diversions and limited English speaking people to ask (incuding the hotel receptionist whom we called). Our night was spent only to IKEA Dhahran, just nearby. Unlike in Qatar, women in Dammam and Saudi in general must wear abaya. It is quite dissapointing though that international chain IKEA doesn’t have good English speaking store assistant, or should we blame ourself for not be able to speak Arabic 🙂
The next morning we headed back to Qatar with some stops at Al Khobar, Dammam, and later Abqaiq and Hofuf.
A more detail guide to Dammam can be obtained from Wikipedia: Dammam
Abqaiq is a Saudi Aramco camp, 60km southwest of Dammam. We stopped here for fuel filling. Driving the town reminded me the old day when we lived in Caltex Pacific Indonesia (now Chevron) Duri Camp, in Riau Indonesia.
From Abqaiq, we went to Hofuf with one stop at Jabal Al Qarah. The trip through Hofuf city center was a nightmare owing to traffic, diversions, and driving behavior (horns, lane cutting, poor lane discipline). But once we entered a palm date plantation area around Jabal Al Qarah all those road stresses relieved.
Hofuf, is basically major urban center in the Al-Ahsa Oasis, one of the largest oasis in the world. Jabl Al Qarah is located east of Hofuf. The mountain is considered to be one of the most important tourist and natural landmarks in Al Ahsa. It consists of sedimentary rocks, where the sedimentary layers can be seen with the naked eye. It is also famous for its caves and alleys between the rocks and therefore it has become one of the most famous nature sites in the Arabian Gulf region. The caves of the mountain are known to be cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
…and this wrapped up our visit to Bahrain and Eastern Saudi.
[Well…this is not so up to date but Bahrain’s travelogues are not complete yet, hence this post]
21 December 2010. Bahrain Day 2 Part 2 covers Bab Al Bahrain, Al Khamis Mosque, Bahrain National Museum, Al Fateh Corniche, Bait Al Quran & La Fontaine.
25. Bab Al Bahrain
From Wikipedia: Bab Al Bahrain (Arabic: باب البحرين, Bāb al-Baḥrayn) means Gateway of Bahrain. It is located in the Customs Square in Manama’s former central business district (CBD) and marks the main entrance to the Manama souq. Designed by Sir Charles Belgrave, adviser to the Emir and completed in 1945, Bab Al Bahrain once stood close to the water’s edge. Due to extensive land reclamation in the later years, one needs to walk more than 10 minutes to get to the sea.
Government Avenue, which runs alongside Bab Al Bahrain, and the new highway that leads to the causeway to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia were built on reclaimed land. The monument itself was refurbished in 1986 to incorporate Islamic architectural features. Today, the ground floor now houses the tourist information office and a handicrafts shop. The monument essentially consists of a huge arch, below which runs a road, which is often referred to as the entrance to the Manama souq (marketplace).
Government Avenue, which runs in front of Bab Al Bahrain, contains many major banks and business establishments. Government Avenue is so named because the entire offices of the Bahrain government were once housed in the Bab.
As in any other old city, finding a parking spot is a challenge. I secured a parking spot just around the curve road after taxi stand in front of Bab Al Bahrain.
26. Al Khamis Mosque
The Khamis Mosque (Arabic: مسجد الخميس; transliterated: Masjid al-Khamys) is believed to be the first mosque in Bahrain, built during the era of the Umayyad caliph Umar II (the foundation of this mosque is believed to have been laid as early as 692 AD) . The mosque is located at Shaikh Salman Road in Khamis. It is considered to be one of the oldest relics of Islam.
At the time of visit (and as we came to know later from National Museum), the mosque is undergoing renovation work that includes visitor center and beautiful garden. No entrance fee but we gave some tips to the mosque keeper there as nice gesture. You will be asked to fill-in a visitor book.
Al Khamis Mosque
27. Pearl Monument
From Al Khamis Mosque we were heading to Bahrain National Museum, passing this well-known landmark: Pearl Monument. The monument and its roundabout is located in the heart of the capital Manama and is surrounded by the Bahrain Central Market, Marina, Pearl and City Center Roundabout as well the Abraj Al Lulu (Pearl Towers) apartment complex. The Pearl Monument erected in 1982 on the occasion of the third summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council, which was hosted by Bahrain for the first time in Manama on November 9-11 of that year.
Unfortunately though the site was destroyed three months later on March 18, 2011, by government forces as part of a crackdown against the 2011 Bahraini protests.
28. Bahrain National Museum
I recommend Bahrain National Museum is your must-visit in Bahrain, regardless your age or purpose of visit.
Situated at the junction of Al-Fatih Highway and Shaikh Hamad Bridge leading to Muharraq, the Museum was officially opened in December 1988. The Museum consists of several exhibition halls covering the history of Bahrain from the stone age, through ancient civilizations and up to the pre-oil period.
The museum complex consists of two buildings with a total area of 27,800 square meters. The building contains the original nine major galleries, educational hall, gift shop and a cafeteria, in addition to administrative offices, laboratories and warehouses for the Conservation of holdings and parking.
Gift Shop at the ground floor of the museum is a must if you need to bring quality souvenirs.
I’d recommend that you visit the museum during your earliest opportunity once arrive in Bahrain. The main large hall at the ground floor with super-size satellite map projected/pasted on the floor is really a good navigation tool to understand many Bahrain’s point of interest and their location. A clever interactive guide light will direct you the object repsective location on the satellite map.
Not to be missed are a hall featuring graves and mounds and diorama of daily life of Bahrainis.
Real-size burial in variety are also displayed. Shown here the large Saar burial mounds
Coordinate: 26.2415°N 50.5975°E
29. Al Fateh Corniche
This corniche is located just before Bahrain National Museum if you’re driving on Al Fath Highway. Nothing special though in here. This pleasant seaside promenade offers good views of the skyscrapers to the south and planes taking off from the airport nearby. Plenty of fun fair rides for the kids and shisha bars for the older set.
30. Beit Al Quran
Beit Al Qur’an (Arabic: بيت القرآن, meaning: the House of Qur’an) is an Islamic museum at Hoora. The museum was built to accommodate a comprehensive and valuable collection of the Qur’an and rare manuscripts. All visitors are welcome, and the complex comprises a mosque, a library, an auditorium, a school, and museum consisting of ten exhibition halls. This great institution and its museum house an internationally celebrated collection of historic Quranic manuscripts from various parts of the Islamic world, from China in the East to Spain in the West, representing a progression of calligraphic traditions from the first century of the Islamic era to the present day (Wikipedia)
The hall is located upstairs. No entrance fee but donation is expected. Also no photography allowed.
31. La Fontaine Center of Contemporary Art
This cultural oasis is tucked away in Hoora, close to the old souq. It is an historical monument dating back to a hundred and fifty years. The centre is the only one of its kind throughout the Middle East, revered by all as a masterpiece of architectural and artistic glory, which makes it a special haven for architectural connoisseurs. The property, belonging to the Alireza family, is very unique as it captures the grand essence of a European chateau, while retaining the charm of the fine, authentic Gulf Islamic architecture. It has been completely restored and renovated by French artist Jean Marc Sinan, who transformed a beautiful residential house into a distinctive, exceptional centre for art and leisure enthusiasts alike.It features a number of contemporary art galleries, an open-air amphitheatre, an exquisite fine dining restaurant, an exclusive spa, and a state-of-the-art Pilates & Dance Studio, the first of its kind in the Gulf region. (from its official website)
…and this ended our short trip to Bahrain. As we drove along the causeway to Dammam, we looked back our two-day jam-packed visit to Bahrain with nice memories. Maasalama Bahrain!
Okay, so now time for kids as I promised them with Water Park.
20. City Center Mall & Gold Souk
Bahrain City Centre is the first and biggest mixed-use development in Bahrain offering the best shopping, leisure and entertainment experience to its customers under one roof. Strategically located on Sheikh Khalifa Bin Salman Al Khalifa Highway in the heart of Manama, Bahrain City Centre is home for Bahrain’s biggest cinema complex, Wahoo Water Park, Magic Planet and hundreds of international retail brands.
We managed to visit City Center with a main purpose of getting wet in water park, no shopping, no strolling! The nearby airy, clean and bright food court was our lunch venue. Meanwhile my kids were impatient to rush into the water park while they were having their lunch. Calm down kids!
We went to Gold Souk, not for buying gold this time but for praying…hehehe. The interior design of gold souk itself is excellent; Arabian architecture with golden touch.
Walked back to water park we passed the mall’s main atrium where way down below a Cinderella dressed and flooded with apples: can you count how many apples are there?
21. Wahoo Water Park
My kids can’t help hiding their excitement as we entered a ticket counter. Normal price is BD10 for adult and children above 1.2m, BD6 for children below 1.2m.
You can easily spend half day here and may see time flying fast. Located near food court in 3rd floor of Bahrain City Center, this region’s first indoor/outdoor water park offers temperature controlled 15,000 square meter water park facilities both indoor and outdoor. So you can enjoy the park regardless the seasons.
Upon purchasing tickets we were given watch-like water-proof wrist identities which shall be used to access the park and/or access locker. Access to locker can be had by paying additional fee and then activating “the watch”.
Indoor facilities include wave pool (at regular interval), lazy river, side winder, and many water slides (named as The Rain Fortress, The Master Blaster, and The Black Hole). Restaurants are also available for a cup of hot coffee and alike.
While outdoor, there are gangslides (4 paralel slides), The Mat Racer (long long slides), and the Flow Rider where you can practice surfing. The last two are not for free unfortunately.
And here we go, enjoy the rest of the day, trying every single ride until heavy wrinkles appeared on our skin.
“Next time we should go to Bahrain again and go here! Yes, Dad?” ask my youngest son.
22. King Faisal Corniche, Bahrain WTC
Night fell in Bahrain when we left City Center. Intrigued by high twin tower with its wind turbines, the first skyscraper in the world to integrate it into its design, I drove my car towards Bahrain World Trade Center. The best photograph spot, perpendicular to the tower is from King Faisal Corniche, right near a small hut selling snacks and hot tea or coffee, perfect companion for enjoying the vistas. From this point you will also get view to Bahrain Financial Harbour.
Bahrain WTC is a 240m high and 50-floor twin tower complex built in 2008. It is now the second tallest building in Bahrain after the twin towers of the Bahrain Financial Harbour. The two towers are linked via three skybridges, each holding a 225KW wind turbine, totaling to 675kW of wind power production. Each of these turbines measure 29 m (95 ft) in diameter, and is aligned north, which is the direction from which air from the Persian Gulf blows in. The sail-shaped buildings on either side are designed to funnel wind through the gap to provide accelerated wind passing through the turbines. This was confirmed by wind tunnel tests, which showed that the buildings create an S-shaped flow, ensuring that any wind coming within a 45° angle to either side of the central axis will create a wind stream that remains perpendicular to the turbines. This significantly increases their potential to generate electricity.
The wind turbines are expected to provide 11% to 15% of the towers’ total power consumption, or approximately 1.1 to 1.3 GWh a year. This is equivalent to providing the lighting for about 300 homes annually. The three turbines were turned on for the first time on the 8th of April, 2008. They are expected to operate 50% of the time on an average day (Wikipedia)
23. Seef Mall
Before back to hotel we managed to go to Seef Mall. It is the first but second largest mall in Bahrain. Our plan is to search for souvenirs but nothing in here so we ended up with having dinner only.
24. Hard Rock Cafe and Exhibition Avenue
A must for every city where it has Hard Rock Café is to buy its shot glass: been there, done that, got the shot glass! From Seef Mall we drove home and took detour to Exhibition Avenue where HRC is located at. The Exhibition Avenue is the most prominent location in Hoora (considered as one of Manama’s nightlife centers). In the evenings, especially during weekends, this avenue becomes a very busy street with many tourists, locals, and foreigners. Much of the architecture of Hoora is in the traditional Gulf style and dates back to the beginning of the 20th century. At the backside of this row of buildings lie narrow streets and old buildings, very similar to Musheireb, and Sofitel area.
Beware that securing a parking spot can be arduous in this vibrant street strip.
Next: Bab Al Bahrain, Al Khamis Mosque, Bahrain National Museum, Al Fateh Corniche, Bait Al Quran & La Fontaine
Day 1 Part 2 covers Al Fateh Grand Mosque, Muharraq Island, Central and North West Bahrain.
From the opened window of our apartment, cold winter breeze infiltrates, rubs our face. Bahrain is just yet to wake up. Hardly any car seen spews carbon monoxide on the road. Meanwhile, on the dining table, the leftovers from Iskenderun Grills last night still good both in quality and quantity. Fortunately the apartment has microwave, oven and utensils. So that was it. Another Turkish meal to prop our energy until lunch time.
8. Al Fateh Grand Mosque
Our first stop on the way to Muharraq. The mosque is situated only 400m west of our apartment. It is the largest place of worship in Bahrain. The mosque was built by the late Sheikh Isa ibn Salman Al Khalifa in 1987. It is named after Ahmed Al Fateh, the conqueror of Bahrain. The architecture of the mosque is characterized by two minarets and one big 24-m diameter fiberglass dome. With 100mx75m the mosque can accommodate up to 7,000 worshippers at a time. Al-Fateh now includes the new National Library which opened to the public in 2006.
Free. Open from 8.30am. Closed during prayer times.
From Al Fateh Grand Mosque, we went to another island, Muharraq. Muharraq is a large island (the third largest) off the northern-east tip of Bahrain. It is named after Muharraq City, the former capital of Bahrain. The island is home to Bahrain International Airport (that occupies the top half of the island), Arad Fort, and Shaikh Isa Bin Ali House. Connected with Manama through 3 main causeways, Muharraq seems a world away from the modern Bahrain. While Manama features what a 21st-century city should be, Muharraq still preserves an old-world sense and allure.
Many elements in Muharraq contribute to the feeling of time standing still here. It offers some fine examples of old Arabian architecture, traditional shopping areas, narrow and winding lanes, ancient windtowers, old houses with its sculpted door, and stained-glass windows.
We let ourselves lost in narrow lanes to see the real Muharraq, to streets that named with number in thousands, to alleys that snaked around and squeezed among old houses.
10. Arad Fort
One of the well known landmark in Muharraq is Arad Fort. The Fort is a 15th century fort though there is no firm evidence of the precise date of construction. It was built in a typical Arab style, and extensively renovated using traditional local materials.
It is located adjacent to the strategic waterways between Bahrain Island and Muharraq Island. It is believed that the fort was used by the Omanis during their brief occupation of Bahrain in 1800.
The fort enjoys picturesque view as its location is on the edge of the bay opposite Bahrain International Airport.
You may want to stroll over its vast esplanade and climb the steps to the observation towers. The fort is illuminated at night and the view is magnificent.
Entry: 200 fills (look for a small ticket hut on your left as you enter the fort from parking lot)
Sheikh Isa was the King’s great-great-grandfather, was ruler from 1869 to 1932.
Built in 1800 and used as a residence until early 1900s, Sheikh Isa bin Ali house provides a glimpse of royal life in the 19th century and is an excellent example of functioning old architecture using traditional materials such as sea rock, plaster, lime and palm trunks. The house is notable for its functioning wind towers, early form of air conditioning in this area where sweltering heat is a part of life. The house has 3 internal courtyards that are surrounded by archways.
Other nearby attractions:
– Sheikh Isa bin Ali Mosque
– Bait Sayadi (Pearl Merchant’s House) – not visited.
12. Al Ghous Corniche overlooking Shaikh Isa bin Salman Highway
While entering Muharraq from Manama, two identical sails on cable stayed bridge(?) on Shaikh Isa bin Salman Highway stroke us. The bridge links Manama and old Muharraq. Now as we left Muharraq back to Manama, we managed to make a photo stop for picture with this bridge as a background. Quite stunning view across the water!
13. Isa Town
Isa Town (Madinat ‘Isa) is a middle class suburb in Bahrain in the north central part of the country. The name Isa refers to Isa ibn Salman Al Khalifah, the ruler of Bahrain from 1961 to 1999. Isa Town largely comprises affluent newly constructed villas, and is home to many members of Bahrain’s educated middle classes. Isa Town is famous for the traditional marketplace (commonly known as Souk Al Haraj or the flea market, or Iranian Market). Isa Town also houses most of the private schools in Bahrain.
Rapid development is obvious in this town, as we entered the town on the way to Bahrain Yacht Club. Road diversions due to road enlargement, and interchange constructions caused quite stressful driving experiences for us.
14. Bahrain Yacht Club
Always make sure they still operate. Contact before heading! This best travel tips is again derived from the same experience like we had in Istanbul (Turk Balloon). Well we actually called them but no answer. Our original plan was to go for a dolphin watching trip; unfortunately they no longer arrange such trip.
Otherwise the club offers a beach, swimming pool, restaurant, café. The club also offers a diving and sailing school.
Located at Sitra, next to Al Bander Resort.
15. Riffa Fort
Shaikh Salman Bin Ahmed Fateh Fort is its formal name but it’s commonly known as Riffa Fort, for its location in south of Riffa. Built in 1812 (though believed the fort was built on the ruins of a castle dating back to 1698), the fort enjoys a spectacular vantage point that offers a good photo opportunity. It looks down on vast valley (Hununaiyah Valley) that surprisingly has oil wells! and as far as nearby town.
The fort is being renovated, repainted when we paid a visit.
16. Al Jasra Handicraft Center and Al Jasra House
Al Jasra is located on west of Bahrain; it is an area on your right as you start entering Bahrain main island from Causeway.
Here we visited Al Jasra Handicraft Center and Al Jasra House. The center houses several rooms for traditional handicraft making and showcase such as cloth weaving, palm weaving, pottery, and woodworks. Items can be purchased at the gift shop at the centre. Entry to this shady complex is free.
Al Jasra House is only 300m from Handicraft Center. This is the late Shaikh Isa’s birthplace, in 1933. The house was built in 1907 from local materials. One of the several rooms in this house was used to drain juice from dates. Dates used to be stacked in palm-woven baskets and left to ripen. The weight would make the dates at the bottom gradually relinquish their nectar which would then be piped into jars and used for cooking.
Entrance is 200 fills.
17. Saar Settlement and Burial Mounds
The settlement dates from 2000BC. An entire village (measuring 100mx150m) from that period has been dug out; revealing an amazing episode of Bahrain’s history. The village once had a very organized way of life with well-ordered roads, houses with courtyards and a central marketplace.
The vast area of burial mounds (some 170,000 burial mounds; believed to be the largest prehistoric cemetery in the world) were built during Dilmun, Tylos, Helenistic periods (2000-4000 years old). It was said that the mounds originally extended all the way from Saar down to south to Zallaq (an area about 15km long), thousands of them removed as a part of new roads and houses development.
Later in Bahrain National Museum I understand that each mound contained a stone-built compartment which formed a grave for a person buried in the foetal position along with various elements seemingly believed to be considered necessary in the next world.
18. Painted Village
From Saar we headed north-northeast to Karbabad village. Just next to Bahrain Fort, lies a row of houses covered in brightly colored mural. The painting left no space: be it wall, door, TV dish, water tank and even air conditioning unit. Quite entertaining. Take a stop for a photo.
Side Note: Ashura Day in Bahrain
When heading to Bahrain Fort we passed an area where every house was displaying a black flag and big banners hung over the road, with quotes from the Shia Martyr Hussein. Later when back to Doha I come to understand that all this is in preparation for Ashura, which marks the day the Prophet’s grandson was killed in the battle of Kerbala in present-day Iraq. In 2010, the Ashura Day is celebrated on December 16. Bahrain’s shiah population is a majority in the country of 81.2% Muslim. It is estimated that Muslim population is approximately 33% Sunni and 66% Shia (with other estimates at almost 80%). In 2008, Bahrain’s population stood at 1.05 million.
19. Bahrain Fort (Qal’at al-Bahrain)
This impressive fort is a 16th-century Portuguese fort but excavations at the site reveal six other distinct eras of the place, dating back to the Dilmun era, or around 3000 BC during which time it may have been the island’s capital. You will be impressed by its mighty walls, moat (a deep, broad ditch, either dry or filled with water, that surrounds a castle, building or town) and formidable towers.
The Bahrain Fort 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 strata of the 300×600-metre tell testify to continuous human presence from about 2300 BC to the 16th century AD. About 25% of the site has been excavated revealing structures of different types: residential, public, commercial, religious and military. They testify to the importance of the site as a trading port over the centuries. On the top of the 12m high mound, there is the impressive Qal`at al-Burtughal (Portuguese fort), which gave the whole site its name, qal`a, meaning fort. The site was the capital of the Dilmun, one of the most important ancient civilizations of the region. It contains the richest remains inventoried of this civilization, which was hitherto only known from written Sumerian references. (Wikipedia)
Entry is free. Expect to see a very friendly guard! As you enter and sweep your sight to the right you will see very contrast layer of scenes: fort and its barren desert ground, a layer of palm dates trees, and Manama skyline/skyscrapers.
After 4 hours driving from Qatar border, we arrived at Passport Island – a manmade island located at equal distance from both Bahrain and Saudi on King Fahad Causeway. We initially planned to visit Saudi Tower on Saudi border area in the island. But we missed the direction so that we changed our plan to go directly to Manama, the capital of Bahrain. Finished with all immigration processes in Causeway we headed eastward to Al Juffair, East Manama, where our booked 2-bedroom apartment is located at.
Al Jaberiya Suites 1 we booked through booking.com is good enough; it is spacious, full furnished, and in excellent location – few hundred meters from Al Fateh Grand Mosque.
Day 1 – Afternoon/Evening – Southern Bahrain & Bahrain Tower
We used to travel in a crash mode; sweeping all must-see attractions in limited time. It may not be your mode but we just love it. So wasted no time we started our tour in Bahrain just couple minutes after check-in. We had our takeaway fast-food lunch as we headed to southern Bahrain; the other half of Bahrain where you can really feel away from the city.
1. Bahrain International Circuit
“Welcome to the home of motorsports in the Middle East” says a welcome board in the circuit entrance. Bahrain has now become part of the annual Formula 1 agenda, inviting thousands of motor-race fans visiting Bahrain on March each year. Even if there is no race, you can still enjoy the thrilling experience by enrolling to a tour or testing one of the go-karts.
Bahrain International Circuit is located at Gulf of Bahrain Avenue, Sakhir; only 2 km from Al Areen Wildlife Park.
Coordinate: 26 02’13.60”N 50 30’18.29”E (Entrance where welcome board located at)
Al Areen Wildlife Park is the only Nature Reserve in Bahrain. The park covers more than 8 square kilometres and has an impressive collection of birds and mammals, many of which are native to the Arabian Gulf Region.
Tickets cost 1 BD adult and 500 fills children. This includes a bus tour at indicated time on the ticket. When we arrived at a quarter to 2 pm, time slot for 2pm and 3pm were used up already and we ended up with 4pm tour. With 2 hours on hand we decided to go to nearby tree of life, and oil museum (see below).
Back to the park, while waiting for the bus tour to start we wandered around the area around the reception buildings that beautifully landscaped with trees, flower, ponds (and its water fowls such as ducks, pelicans and flamingos) and decorative water features. Near bus stop, there was an Arabian tent that also provided with photo opportunities with Falcon (at a cost of 500 fills each).
The bus tour took 45 minutes in an air-conditioned bus with driver and guide that gave us commentary in Arabic and English. The tour snaked around open areas that mimic native habitat for exotic birds, gazelles, Oryx, wild sheep, ostriches and more. We stopped at water pond complex for 15 minutes before ending the tour at wild animal complex building. From here, we walked back to reception building. The wild animal complex houses several wild animals in glass-protected cages.
Though Al Areen Wildlife a really wonderful place for families and animal lovers to explore and enjoy don’t expect this park to be on par with Taman Safari. May be my expectation was too high but seeing only few rare animals, not-so-interesting wild animal complex it is worth the rating.
The route to Tree of Life is not easy to explain as we need to twist and turn around oil field’s narrow streets and direction signs are rare making it a little tricky to get to. So it’s best to go with GPS.
The Tree of Life in Bahrain is a 400 year-old mesquite tree which lives in the middle of desert. The mystery of the survival of the tree has made it a legend. A legend is also attached to the place where the tree is located. The local inhabitants believe with heart and soul that this was the actual location of the Garden of Eden.
The Tree of Life or Sharajat-al-Hayat, as the Arabs call it, is located 1.2 miles or 2 kilometers away from Jebel Dukhan. The tree stands solitary splendour in the heart of desert, on top of a 25-foot-high sandy hill with nothing else but desert for miles around. The tree has continued growing-despite the extremities of the climate. At present it is 32 feet in height.
The tree’s source of water is mystery. Plant scientist may say that its roots go very deep and wide to get water from the reserves of sweet springs kilometers away. (Wikipedia). It is also thought the tree is being supplied by an underground stream, but that doesn’t explain the total lack of plants around it.
The tree is covered with graffiti from its fans unfortunately.
Coordinate Tree of Life: 25 59’38.9”N 50 34’58.5”E
4. First Oil Well, Oil Museum and Jebel Dukhan, and those spaghetti oil pipelines
Five to six kilometers from Tree of Life, below Jebel Dukhan situated the first oil well. As its name suggests, it is the first oil well in the Persian Gulf. It was operated by Bahrain Petroleum Company. Oil first spurted from this well on 16 October 1931, and the well finally began to blow heads of oil on the morning of 2 June 1932. The initial oil flow rate was 400 barrels per day; by the 1970s the well produced 70,000 bpd, and after that it stabilized at circa 35,000 bpd.
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 (Wikipedia).
The nearby oil museum – Dar An Naft – (unfortunately closed while we were there; theoretically open from 10-17 on Thurs and Fri) allows you to trace the discovery of what’s become the region’s best-known export. It is said that exhibits at the museum include drilling equipment, photographic history of the oil industry in Bahrain and a working model of an oil rig.
Jabal Dukhan is the highest point in the country. It stands at 134m above mean sea level. It is named The Mountain of Smoke as such because of the haze which often surrounds it on humid days.
An interesting scene in southern Bahrain is to see how oil pipelines laid out like spaghetti ; from the wells that located just few meters beside public roads. These pipelines are also spanned side-by-side with allocated winter camp sites!
– First Oil Well & Oil Museum: 26 01’38.8”N 50 33’05.5”E
– Jabal Dukhan: 26 02’20.00”N 50 32’34.8”E
5. Al Jazayer Beach
The sun has just set and dark fallen when we finished our tour in Al Areen. Out of curiosity we decided to head southwest to Al Jazayer Beach. Nothing special in this beach; in fact parking lots were without lighting at all although playground and seating areas were provided with flood lightings. Some peoples do jogging and walking and some were barbecuing. Kids played in the playground while I took couple of shots of them, then we enjoyed some snacks and drinks. Good enough to recover after quite a long trip from Qatar.
Visit this beach only if you have much time.
Coordinate: 25 59’37.2”N 50 27’54.6”E (one of the parking lots in Al Jazayer Beach)
6. Bahrain Tower in Causeway
From Al Jazayer Beach I drove my Outlander to Causeway. Go home? No, no, no. As we missed the Saudi Tower during our arrival we determined to not miss Bahrain Tower. These two towers are high tower restaurants in the border station (commonly known as Passport Island). Well they’re not restaurant per se. It’s just a small counter selling hot tea/coffee and burger like food. So it’s easy to be missed.
To go to Bahrain Tower we need to pay causeway toll 2BD before entering causeway and driving west to Saudi. Please make sure that you know how to go back to Bahrain not to departure gates. The key is to trace back your arriving route until you find traffic light and then left to go back to Bahrain.
The Bahrain Tower is 65m high. After paying 200fills per person we transferred to viewing platform through an elevator. Hampered by stained and cloudy glass window, you’ll get the view to bustling activities in the border. That evening we saw traffic rush from Saudi side going to Bahrain. I am thinking that 6-7pm is probably not good arrival hours.
The first dinner in Bahrain was planned to spend in Cypress Garden, on Budaiya Highway, Jannusan (north-west Bahrain). Cypress Garden is a complex housing several restaurants and nursery. In here you can find Turkish, Thai, Chinese, Spanish, Italian restaurant, café and pastry shops, and more. It seems a good location to dine in until we found that there were only minimal numbers of diners. So we made U-turn.
We elected then to pick any restaurant on the way back to hotel. From Budaiya Highway on the north west of Bahrain we drove eastwardly until we met Shaikh Khalifa bin Salman Highway and followed this highway all the way to Manama center passing several malls on the right and left, then financial harbor on King Faisal Highway. With desperate hunger we made the right decision, probably the best during our stay; to turn right from Al Fateh Highway to Tarafa bin Alabd Avenue and then you go: a small Turkish restaurant thronged by food enthusiast who come and go uninterruptedly. Good sign.
This Iskenderun Grills Turkish restaurant has a slightly different taste of spices. It’s more Indonesian than original Turkish like we tried few months back in Istanbul. Never did I find Turkish grills taste like this! Recommended! While waiting for your order to prepare you can lively watch your chefs make fresh Turkish bread and grills name-the-meat on long barbecue grill. For one mix grill, one chicken grill, one portion of rice and one big mango juice it costs us only about 70 QR.
….and we slept like a rock afterward for exhausted and satiated
After driving for 122 – 123 km from saudi checkpoint take right exit. THis is 55 km strech is bypass road to hofuf/alhasa, ends near saudi cement factory. Accordingly route mention in 4 to 7 above will not be there in route to bahrain.
Qatar border can be reached by driving along Salwa Road heading southwest to (A)Bu Samra. Speed cameras are installed in every few kms. This approximately 100km road can be reached within an hour in normal speed. In Qatar border area there are good and clean rest rooms, a mosque, ATMs, and small restaurant.
First booth: Present istimarah (car registration). Get vehicle exit paper. Keep it.
Second booth: Produce exit paper and passport for stamps
Third booth: Recheck exit paper and passport
It is suggested that you zero your trip meter once you pass Qatar border.
1. First Booth: Present exit paper and passport
2. Second Booth: Park the car and go for finger scan and photo, on your left. Woman goes into a separate room.
3. Third Booth: Present exit paper and passport
4. Fourth: Custom check, open car baggage, exit paper stamped
5.Fifth Booth: Insurance. Present exit paper and car registration
6. Sixth Booth: Recheck. Present all. Insurance, passport, exit paper. Exit paper collected by staff.
Border to Hofuf
Note that woman is not allowed to drive in Saudi. Speed limit in highway is 120km/h. Although I saw Radar Ahead warning boards, I failed to identify any cameras. Be aware of vehicles making U-turn or crossing the lanes to go to the other direction.
Leaving Saudi border, drive away until you reach intersection, in which turn left will lead you to UAE. GO STRAIGHT. Now you are on Road 85. Road 85 is a 2-lane dual carriageway each bound separated by barren land, no barrier post.
After 20km from Qatar border you will see Petrol Station that is right after a left curve bend road. MAKE FIRST FUEL STOP HERE. A small restaurant, small shop selling cassette/CD, and traditional crafts available here. Qatari riyal accepted. Coordinate Petrol Station: N 24 49’17.4″ E 50 43’59.2″
Drive another 126 km until you see an interchange. Ignore any suggestion to go to Hofuf Center. GO STRAIGHT. (Note: As of Dec 2010, GoogleEarth still shows it as an oval roundabout). Coordinate: Via Point 1 (go straight after interchange): N 25 16.330′ E 49 38.062′ – to make sure that GPS doesn’t take you to Hofuf Center.
See updated above on alternate route bypassing Hofuf via East Hofuf:
After driving for 122 – 123 km from saudi checkpoint take right exit. THis is 55 km strech is bypass road to hofuf/alhasa, ends near saudi cement factory. Accordingly route mention in 4 to 7 above will not be there in route to bahrain
4. Drive 20 km and you’ll find roundabout-being-turned-into-interchange close to Al Ahsaa Domestic airport on your left. TURN RIGHT. (Note: You can go straight and later can join with Road 85 again – See#5 below, but it is not advised at the moment due to shared lane and construction). Coordinate: Via Point 2: N 25 19.337′ E 49 30.663′ – to make sure that GPS takes you turn right
5. After making right turn, follow the road 6.5km until you are on an overbridge and then TURN LEFT to go to a petrol station 300m down the bridge. MAKE SECOND FUEL STOP HERE. There is a handful shops available here including small Krispy Crème counter selling limited donuts, tea and coffee. Now you join Road 85 again. Coordinate Petrol Station here: N 25 21’11.7″ E 49 31’15.9″
6. Continue driving the road, passing underneath an overbridge (that originated from the same (airport) interchange that you made a right turn before) approximately 6.7km from the previous overbridge. After 13.7km you’ll see an interchange and shall be ready to transfer from Road 85 to Road 10. TURN RIGHT to Road 10 leading to Dammam. Coordinate Turn to Road 10: N 25 21’52.5″ E 49 23’20.1″ – to make sure that you turn right to Road 10.
7. Now you are on Road 10 already. Continue driving 34km on Road 10 to see North Hofuf/Cement Company Interchange (this is how I call it; not the official name). Keep right to follow sign to Baqiq/Dammam/Bahrain. After the interchange you will see Saudi Cement Company on your right. Coordinate: Road 10 after Hofuf/Cement Interchange Via Point: N 25 40.308′ E 49 30.484′
8. About 68km and 75km from turnoff to Road 10 (from Road 85) you’ll see the first and second Abqaiq interchange respectively. KEEP STRAIGHT IN ANY INTERCHANGE. Coordinate Via Point Road 10 after First Abqaiq Interchange: N 25 55.952′ E 49 37.409′
9. Continue driving 62.7km until you find an interchange to Road 95 that leads to Causeway. TURN RIGHT TO ROAD 95. Coordinate slip road to transfer from Road 10 to Road 95: N 26 18.139′ E 50 02.757′
10. Driving Road 95 for about 22km to find a Causeway Toll Gate. Pay 20 SAR to enter King Fahad Causeway.
Coordinate: Saudi Tower at Causeway: N 26 11.031′ E 50 19.288′. Coordinate: Saudi Immigration at Causeway: N 26 11.101′ E 50 19.331′
DAMMAM – BAHRAIN
Saudi-Bahrain Causeway Immigration Process (outbound)
1. Police/Vehicle Clearance. Get exit paper.
2. Passport check
1. Visa on arrival. Stay in the car. Produce passports. Pay 6 BD for 3 days or 12 BD for 7 days.
2. Customs Inspection. (Note: In my case, they didn’t even bother to check my car but I saw some undergone thorough inspection tough; travelling with kids/family will normally ease the inspection).
3. Pay Insurance. 3 days for 2 BD
Back to Causeway, you need to pay 2 BD at the toll gate. No ticket/receipt is given so don’t wait.
Bahrain-Saudi Causeway Immigration Process (inbound)
3. There are custom gate but no body attended so we just pass by.
1. Passport check
2. Customs check. Exit paper stamped. I went to the custom officer after called as no one came up to check.
3. Exit paper taken.
Dammam Back to Qatar
Road back to Qatar from Causeway is basically following the same departing route. From Causeway driving up to Dammam on Road 95 then turn left in Road 95 – Road 10 Interchange, follow Road 10 direction Hofuf passing Abqaiq.
It is recommended that you fill your fuel tank up before entering Road 10, although there are petrol stations in Abqaiq, but you need to detour from Road 10 to Abqaiq city center.
Driving Road 10, approaching Saudi Cement Interchange or North Hofuf Interchange, keep right to follow sign to Qatar/UAE (Batha). Then you will find Road 10 to Road 85 Interchange. Turn into Road 85 and follow the same departing route from Qatar.
The idea is to only take Hofuf ring road route and avoid any attempt to enter Hofuf Center. Once you enter Hofuf city center you may easily end up losing 1-2 hours due to construction work, road closing or change of traffic way.
I myself detoured to Hofuf City Center , purposely to visit Jabal Qara, east of Hofuf. And it’s not easy to find it due to above. (read more in other post)
Saudi-Qatar Immigration Process
1. First Booth: Exit Vehicle Registration. Keep the exit paper.
2. Second Booth: Passport stamped
3. Third Booth: Present exit paper and passport
Qatar Border Process:
First booth: Passport stamped
Second booth: Produce exit paper.
Insurance Booth. Ignore it if you have Qatari vehicle.
Third Booth: Passport check. [I’m sorry but I can’t remember where the exit paper from Saudi was taken in Qatar border booths L. I assume at the last booth as it is normally the case in any country border ]
Bahrain’s main island is separated by about 30 km of Arabian Gulf sea to Qatar, although however, the closest Bahrain territory is only 1 km (Hawar Island, near Qatar’s Dukhan). Until a 40-km Friendship Causeway that link west Qatar to east Bahrain is in operation, Qatar’s residents shall drive down Eastern Saudi to go to Bahrain. For Qatar expatriates, this means they need to secure a Saudi Transit Visa prior to hit the pedal gas. Although Qatar’s residents can opt to go by air (only 25 minutes flight), eliminating the hassle of transit visa and causeway immigration processes, many still prefer to drive to Bahrain.
The followings are what you need to know to driving from Doha to Bahrain. These are mainly based on my personal experiences in driving Doha-Bahrain on 19-22 December 2010. As there may be changes in any of the journey elements (i.e. road, route, immigration process), I assume no responsibility or liability for any inconveniences, losses, damages and injuries caused by use of the following information.
In general, Qatar residents need to go through Qatar-Saudi immigration process, then via Road 85 passing Hofuf city, then right to Road 10 to Abqaiq town before reaching Dammam area (seamless area comprises of 3 cities: Dammam, Al Khobar and Dhahran). From Dammam area (Al Khobar precisely), Saudi is linked to Bahrain via a 25-km two lanes dual carriageway King Fahad Causeway. The Saudi-Bahrain immigration processes take place in a man-made island in the middle of Causeway, commonly called Passport Island, at equal distance from both sides, approximately 10km from Saudi onshore.
Summary of distances:
For a 4-day trip, the distance I travelled was 1509 km. This includes Doha-Bahrain, all trips inside Bahrain, Bahrain to Al Khobar (& Half Moon Bay), Al Khobar – Dammam, Dammam –Abqaiq City Center – Hofuf City Center (Jabal Qara) , and Hofuf – Doha.
– Qatar Border – Saudi Border in Causeway: 352km
– Doha – Qatar Border: approximately 97km
– Qatar border – Saudi border: 10km
– Qatar border – First Petrol Station (Sasco): 20km
– Qatar border – First Hofuf Interchange: 146km
– First Hofuf Interchange – Airport Roundabout/Interchange: 20km
– Airport Roundabout/Interchange to Overbridge Road 85: 6.5km
Al Asayel Co. (Tel.: 4372784, Mobile: 5680914). Near Sana/VW Roundabout. Next to Mercedez Showroom. Driving B-Ring Road passing Oasis Signal, continue until Sana Roundabout, make U-turn.
b. Saudi Transit Visa Requirements:
Original passport, and copies of identification page and RP
Two passport size photographs with white background
No Objection Letter (NOC) from company for sponsored persons to obtain visa to Saudi. Dependants do not require a letter if travelling with the sponsor (head of the family)
Copies of vehicle registration card (istimarah) – if vehicle not in the name of the driver then NOC to be sought from either bank or company
c. Fee: 135QR per passport
d. Process time: between 3-5 working days.
2. Check your Bahrain Causeway visa on arrival eligibility (if you go by air you can apply e-visa online, not the case for Causeway)
Check your eligibility in here: http://www.evisa.gov.bh/ by entering visa selection criteria (if applicant has GCC RP, country of resident, purpose of visit and nationality)
Causeway Visa on arrival Conditions:
Applicant must be entering the Kingdom of Bahrain via the Causeway when applying for this visa.
The visa is issued at the Causeway in the Kingdom of Bahrain.
The visa fee is paid at the Causeway in the Kingdom of Bahrain.
Applicant must have had a current resident permit of a GCC state for at least 6 months.
Applicant’s resident permit for a GCC state must be valid for at least another 6 months.
Your entry must not violate the security and national welfare of Bahrain.
Applicant must enter the Kingdom of Bahrain via the Causeway.
You must not take up paid employment during your visit to Bahrain.
You must be able to support yourself (and any dependents) during the visit.
Passport must be valid for length of time you will be in Bahrain, or the length of the visa, whichever is longer.
If your passport validity is in doubt, you may be denied entry to Bahrain.
Length of stay allowed is 3 days or 7 days
The visa can be used only once, for a single entry.
This visa may be extended at GDNPR in Bahrain on payment of a fee.
Applicant must show evidence of current residence in a GCC country.
Causeway Visa Fee: 6 BD for 3-day visa, and 12 BD for 7-day visa.
Although not asked, you may prepare yourself with a company letter addressed to Bahrain immigration stated your employment, vehicle information, and your intention to enter the country.
3. Finalize your itinerary in Bahrain (can refer to travelogues on Bahrain that I wrote separately; including point of interests and their coordinates), understand your route (including inputting coordinates below to your GPS) and clear any logistical issues (i.e. hotel). Do I need to exchange my money? Qatari riyal is accepted although it is advised that travelers carry small amount of Saudi riyals for fuel cost and Bahrain dinars for expenses.
4. Prepare your car to be fit for long driving (serviced, fluids, spare tire, emergency equipment, etc.)