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With the two of us again
Bangkok (Thailand) to Manama (Bahrain), December 2012

The first days after the departure of Edwin’s parents to The Netherlands again, were a little bit strange for us. The daily structure of travelling and sightseeing of the previous five weeks were gone. But that feeling disappeared quickly, because we still had some things to do before we could leave for the Gulf region. Our most important task was to get an Iranian visa. We are planning to visit Iran after we visited the Gulf countries. But getting an Iranian visa is a little bit complicated. You need approval from Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs because you can apply for the visa. Fortunately, there are several travel agencies in Iran which can take over this ‘approval’ process for you for a reasonable fee. But paying this fee is also not so straightforward. Iran is boycotted by many countries in the world, which means that direct money transfers are not possible. But for every problem is a solution, also in case, through an in-between bank account.

The other task we had to do was going to a doctor for Edwin’s ear. His right ear was blocked since snorkelling a couple of weeks earlier on the Banda Islands in Indonesia, so a visit to the doctor was necessary to get his ear cleaned. We eventually flew on December 15th from Bangkok, via Colombo in Sri Lanka, to Kuwait City. We chose for Sri Lankan Airlines as carrier, and this choice proved to be a good one. The planes were new, the food was excellent and the service was tremendous. This airline still knows what service is. It wasn’t easy to leave Bangkok. The city was one of our hubs (together with Kuala Lumpur) during our intensive journey last five-and-a-half years through Asia, and after visiting the city for 13 times, it can take a long time before we will visit it again.

Posing with an Iranian butcher and a cow's head

Kuwait City was in several aspects a big change for us. First of all, the temperature was only 19 degrees Celsius and that was cold for us. Besides that, the culture and lifestyle lie so far apart with the way of life in many parts of eastern Asia, that we had to adapt for a while. Kuwait was very new for us. Of course, we saw many images of the country on TV during the first Gulf war at the beginning of the 1990s, and we also knew that the country is extremely rich, but that was it. And this is also the reason why we wanted to visit the Gulf region. It’s probably an area that you won’t visit on a normal holiday, also due to the high cost of travelling in the region. But we had some time to spent before we can go to Central Asia (because of the cold weather in winter time), and this was a perfect reason to spend some months here. And Kuwait City was the perfect start. We found that many of the stereotypes of Kuwait are true. The country is yellow and dry, men are indeed wearing the typical garments with often red and white headdresses, women are in general covered in an abeyya (women’s full-length black robe) from head till toe, and the Kuwaiti’s are indeed super-rich.

It is by the way not very easy to meet the native Kuwaiti people. The reason is that they do not like manual labour and that means that you’ll seldom meet them in daily life. They are not working in the markets, not in the shops, not in restaurants and hotels, are not driving taxis or buses, and definitely do not work in construction or as street sweeper. Most of them (approximately 95%) work for the government, probably in one of those shiny skyscrapers. If you see them, you see them driving in their fast and big cars, in one of the glitzy shopping malls, at the McDonalds or in the evening on the Corniche (boulevard). But who is doing the manual work in this country? This work is done by so-called expat workers, who come on temporary working visas from countries in the region (Egypt, Jordan, Iran, and Turkey), the Indian subcontinent (Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka) or from the Philippines. Even the household tasks and the upbringing of the children are mainly done by expat workers. It is common to see richer Kuwaiti families that have one or two nannies, easily recognisable in typical and colourful nanny dresses, taking care of the children while mom and dad are occupied with using their smart phones.

The World Trade Centre of Manama in Bahrain
Kuwait City is a great destination to spend some time. They city is nowadays mainly a construction area, due to the building activities of skyscrapers that is still going on, but the fact that not many foreigners visit the city makes wandering through the city extremely nice. Especially the souq (market) area is fun. They souq is still used by local people to buy their food and other necessities. And this is different from many other souqs of the regional capitals, where the market has shifted its attention to the visiting foreigners, which means that many shops try to sell tourist crap nowadays. But that is not the case in Kuwait. You can still stroll through the souq undisturbed, trying all kinds of fruits and nuts that the merchants offer you to taste. And of course, they all want to know where you are coming from and if you want to pose with them on a picture (see also our photo impression of Kuwait City).

The next destination on our journey through the Gulf region was Manama, the capital city of Bahrain. We had some concerns beforehand, because we were not sure if we were allowed to enter the country. We read on the internet some days earlier that another traveller was refused entry to Bahrain because there was proof in his passport that he visited Iran. And this happened in September, only a couple of months earlier. We, in our case, did not visit Iran yet, but we were planning to do so, as our Iranian visa in our passport proved. Our concerns were well-founded. When we tried to get our entry stamp at the immigration, we were taken out of the queue to be processed by the ‘second security line’, whatever it may mean. We had to wait for a while, while officials were studying our passport, which we replaced two months ago in Kuala Lumpur and which was almost completely empty, with the exception of the Iranian visa. A senior immigration official was introduced in the process, and eventually we got the approval to enter Bahrain. Lucky us!

Also Manama is a nice city to visit, but in our opinion it is less interesting than Kuwait City (see also our photo impression about Manama). The richness of the country isn’t as extreme as in Kuwait and the expat workers are even more visible here. We stayed in central Manama and if you walk around in this part of town, you hardly have the feeling to be in the Middle East. Also the buildings aren’t as spectacular as in Kuwait, and the fact that Bahrain sees much more foreign visitors, makes you as a visitor less interesting for them, which means that the funny and interesting encounters that you might have in e.g. Kuwait aren’t happening here. Bahrain is much more on the tourist trail, also thanks to the yearly F1 Grand Prix, which means that you see bus loads full of western travellers. So if you want to go to the area and have to choose between these two, we definitely advise you to go to Kuwait. We do not know yet how Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates are, because they are still on the ‘to do’ list. But we will let you know later. Happy New Year!

The Sri Lankan plane that took us from Bangkok to Colombo
The world famous Kuwait Towers
A shwarma sandwich in Kuwait city
What more can we say, and this was no exception
The Al Fatih Mosque in Manama
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