My Time in KSA…The Good, The bad & The Ugly

As my time in Saudi comes to an end, I’ve been reflecting on my time spent here, the good, the bad & the ugly…

The good…

IMG_4475

Clock Tower, Makkah

TRAVEL: since KSA is in the Middle East, it’s super cheap to travel to Europe, Asia, Africa, your choice. Plus it’s incredibly easy to go to other Middle Eastern countries, Dubai for like $200-300 (can’t beat that).

Vacation Time: Most jobs give you at least one month paid vacation!

Makkah & Madinah are only a bus ride or flight away. I lost count of how many times I went to Madinah and I’ve been to Makkah twice. 

IMG_4476

The Kaaba, Makkah

Everything’s CHEAP!! Food, clothes, EVERYTHING!!!

Save tons!! Who can say no to no taxes and free/low cost housing?!

Exposure to other people and cultures…I have literally met people from all over the world, not even an exaggeration. Ex: I worked with a few Georgian teachers, as in from the country not state. I had never met a Georgian or even heard about them outside of the news before Saudi.

Time to reflect: A good thing about KSA is that there aren’t a lot of things to do so you have plenty of time to focus on your goals and “find yourself”

The bad…

The weather is horrid, as in scorching hot 24/7 unless it’s winter when it’s freezing. Take my advice don’t go to Riyadh in the summer!

Transportation can get complicated since women can’t drive…Alhamdulillah there’s Uber!! Don’t know what I’d do without it tbh.

Being on someone else’s schedule aka constantly waiting for drivers **eye roll**

Living & working with the same people…I prefer to have a separate work and home life and it can get exhausting seeing the same people everywhere. At the same time, you can really get to know some amazing people

Entertainment…What’s that?? If it’s not a restaurant and/or a mall, you’re probably not going to do it. Basically if you want to get out of the house, you’ll be spending money. There are parks but it’s wayyy too hot to go the majority of the year. There’s always camping (eat and drink in the desert then go home and sleep) but the logistics can get complicated since you can’t drive and need a trusted person to take you. No one wants to get stranded in the middle of nowhere, literally! 

The ugly…

Choosing the wrong company…ultimately people’s experiences really depend on their company. My experience could have been better to say the least.

IMG_4450
Desert Safari outside of Riyadh

 

Baha-rain

I went to Bahrain for the first time in November 2015 and since then I’ve been about 10 times (a lot I know). I’m sure you’re wondering why. Honestly, when I lived in Riyadh it was the easiest place to get to (time and money wise).

I like to think of Bahrain as the Vegas of the Gulf, literally “Sin City”, if that’s the kind of experience you want. I could always talk about the prostitutes and partying, but that’s not why I enjoy it so much. I really fell for the people and culture. I’ve been to the majority of the Gulf countries and Bahrainis are definitely amongst the nicest people in the world who are extremely welcoming. I’ve had so many random convos with taxi drivers. You can also find a lot of expats from all over the world.

bahrainbushidoMy favorite restaurant in Bahrain is Bushido, a Japanese restaurant and lounge. The atmosphere is great and the food is awesome! There are two floors and tons of outside seating which overlook a small pond. Downstairs there’s a shisha lounge, while upstairs has the bar/lounge. Both floors are decorated in traditional Japanese decor. The shisha lounge is interesting because you definitely have a mixture of Japanese culture and Middle Eastern. At night it gets a little awkward when the prostitutes or high-end escorts come out. I’m actually a big people watcher, so it’s always hilarious for me. You’ll usually see a guy dressed in traditional clothing (thobe and shamagh) with a scantily clad, young Eastern European woman, which is always a sight.

img_9774

Girls I met at Cavallo lol

Going out in Bahrain is completely different from back home. Most places are complete sausage fests–there are always way more men than women. As a woman, you are literally their prey (not even exaggerating here, unfortunately). For example, if you go to Cavallo, they usually play hip-hop and R&B until about 12 or 1am and then things get weird. Usually the music changes to techno around that time and then groups of Saudi guys start their dance offs (this is my cue to leave). Wrangler is another club that plays a mix of hip-hop, R&B and Afrobeats. To be honest, it’s really seedy, and everything you have on will smell like cigarettes when you leave, but you’ll have a good time. Also, it’s the perfect place to people watch locals and foreigners. It’s normal to see prostitutes looking for johns and vice versa. Bahrain is a pretty small country so we see the same people all the time, which brings a new meaning to Eskimo brothers. Another club is at the Ramee Grand Hotel and it’s pretty weird. Again, it’s mostly Saudi guys also having dance offs, to hip-hop on techno beats (such a strange sight!). I definitely don’t recommend going there unless that’s your scene.

bahrainmeThe malls are always fascinating as well, as you can see such a diverse mix of people (everything from full burqa to shorts and a t-shirt) and no one cares. THE MALLS! Like all of the other Gulf countries, one of the main forms of entertainment in Bahrain is the mall. My favorite mall is City Centre in Manama, which is the largest mall in the country. There are tons of restaurants, cafes, stores; you can find everything there! Most of the stores are American or European, so you can find everything from back home (Top Shop, River Island, H&M, Forever 21, Sephora, Bobbi Brown, etc.).

bahrain-city

View from The Swiss Belhotel

 

 

I think I’ve eaten at every restaurant there with the exception of TGI Friday’s and Chili’s (because why would I eat American food when there are so many better options?!). My favorite restaurant is Asha’s, an Indian restaurant with amazing unique mocktails (my fave is the Ginger Moscow Mule which is a mix of ginger, lime and lemonade) and even better food (seafood kababs!!). There’s also a really nice salon called Hello Kitty, which as you can guess is decorated in a Hello Kitty theme. I always get mani/pedis there and I’ve never had a bad experience. One time one of my friends got a bad haircut and color in Saudi and they were able to salvage her hair–it looked amazing!

There are also two hotels attached to City Centre, The Westin and Le Meridien. Both hotels are very nice and they share a spa and pool area. The Westin is great if you’re staying for a few days, but it’s pricier than Le Meridien. I just love the convenience of both because if you’re hungry you can just go to the mall to eat. Taxis can get expensive, so even though you pay more to stay there, you save on taxi fare. 

Bahrain Movie.jpg

Star Wars in 3D!!

Another great mall is Seef Mall in Muharraq. I went there to watch the Star Wars premiere in 3D. It’s much smaller than City Centre but still nice. If you’re looking for a nice quiet place to shop, then this is your place. It has all of the typical stores that are in most Gulf malls.

The Seef area is really nice as well and still close to the City Centre. I’ve stayed at the Swiss Belhotel and the Ibis Seef Hotel. The Swiss Belhotel is really nice and relatively new, so it’s not very expensive. It’s across the street from Seef Mall, while Ibis Seef is a little further down the street. The Ibis Seef is definitely a budget hotel. If you plan a lot of activities and don’t plan on spending a lot of time in your room, then this is your place. It’s super cheap, clean and close to pretty much everything.

IMG_0175.jpg

Outside at Al Bindaira

Al Bindaira Café in Seef is another really good shisha lounge/restaurant. They have typical Middle Eastern food (Lebanese or Syrian) like falafel, hummus, etc.. Their Bindaira mix shisha is really delicious; it’s a mix of different flavors and not too strong. They also have typical Middle Eastern décor. Outside there’s outdoor seating with big screen TVs (with soccer or Arabic music videos playing), normal tables and low tables with benches and cushions for a more intimate atmosphere. It’s a really good place to just hang out with friends+ shisha =good match. Inside they have the traditional majlees, which is really comfortable.

IMG_9746.jpg

Al Bindaira

La Taverna Sul Mare is a really good choice for Italian food. The ambience is really nice as well. If you sit outside there are couches with huge cushions, so you can almost lie down while eating. It’s also really quiet. The food is good, but nothing special (my seafood pizza was okay); however, the restaurant’s atmosphere makes up for it. The restaurant is at the Coral Bay floating hotel, which is a unique type of hotel. It’s a really romantic setting **perfect for dates**.

Bahrain Amwaj.jpg

View from a café in Amwaj

The landscapes in Bahrain are also very diverse, in that there are plenty of beaches (from white sand to rocky), a small desert and hills that are good for hiking. The worst thing in Bahrain is the weather because it gets extremely hot and humid. If you walk outside during the day, you’ll seriously reevaluate your life. What do I mean by that? You go out for a few minutes and get very sweaty and sticky. It’s really gross, but at night it gets cool and bearable. So, the best time to visit is in the winter (December to February/March) when it’s a little cooler. A must visit in Bahrain is Amwaj islands, which are extremely beautiful. The water is so blue and much cleaner than a lot of the beaches. There are a lot of restaurants around the lagoon and most of them have shisha and really good Middle Eastern food. It’s also just nice to walk around at night, to check out the plenty festivals, fairs and celebrations. It’s a nice, quiet, peaceful area. Everyone goes there from families, singles, teens, etc.

bahrain-desert

That time I hiked..

bahrain-desert1

The view from the top…

Ultimately, if you’re looking for a chill place to vacation that’s cheaper than Dubai but still fun, Bahrain is your place.

Here are some videos I took in the desert and a nearby beach…