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Although it has a heavily petroleum-based economy, its more relaxed culture has also made it a social and shopping mecca (so to speak), which has helped it develop a fairly cosmopolitan middle class not found in neighboring countries with just a rich elite and subsistence-level masses.
Its economy depends to a small extent on Saudis interested in a little entertainment, not available in the strictly Islamic Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The shallow waters around Bahrain are typically anywhere from 75F in winter to 85F in spring and fall, and usually around 90F+ in summer. Due to the shallowness of the water, it is possible to get heat stroke while swimming.
All nations require a visa, and must have a guarantor (Bahraini commercial entity or a Bahraini individual) to obtain a visa. Bahrain is among the few Gulf states that officially accepts Israeli Passports (although you'll need a visa) and passports with evidence of visits to Israel.
Note that you can pay for the Visa on Arrival using Visa / MasterCard / American Express at the desk, so there is no need to use the Travelex counter to exchange money which gives the usual poor airport rates. There are no ATMs available.
You may find that the customs staff will take your passport off you and ask you to sit down in the waiting area (just before customs) while they prepare your visa. Do not worry about this as the process will take around fifteen minutes before the officer comes back and calls you to approach the desk. You will then be asked which visa you require and they will print you off a receipt, stamp your passport and then you're through.
The low cost carrier rotanajet (www.rotanajet.com) three time a weeks Tue,Thu and sat from Al Bateen Executive Airport Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.
Also, low cost carrier flydubai (www.flydubai.com) offers more than one daily flight from Dubai international airport (IATA - DXB).
Note that, as of 2011, Bahrain Saudi Transport & Tourism (BASATCO) offers what seems to be similar buses for a slightly lower fare of BD4, although four times a day only.
If you don't have the right paperwork for your Saudi car, or rental car, you can drive to the border, park it up for the duration of your visit to Bahrain, then take an unofficial taxi across the border. Parking on the island is free, but there are very few legal spaces, and they are always occupied, so you will probably have to find a safe illegal space and hope you won't get fined or towed. Note that the small car park on the north side of the main road, near the exit from Bahrain, is actually the border guard employee car park, so be very careful if you park there. One hint is to find an unofficial taxi driver before you park (they will often walk up to your car if you are cruising for a space). Then follow the driver, wait for him to move his car, then park in his space. When he brings you back after your trip to Bahrain, he can park back in the same space. Yes, parking spaces are that valuable.
You can take unofficial taxis through the border (see above). For example, from the Saudi side, get any regular taxi to take you to the causeway (you will pay an extra 20 SAR for the toll). Then find an unofficial taxi to take you through the border and on to Bahrain.
Among the Bahraini and non-Bahraini population, many people also speak Persian or Urdu. Nepali is also widely spoken in the Nepalese workers and Gurkha Soldiers community. Malayalam, Tamil and Hindi are spoken among significant Indian communities.
What to see
[Update 2011] There is also a (new ?) much higher quality road. As of early 2014, construction is underway for a concrete wall and path around the tree. There is some basic background information within the completed sections of the wall.
Bahrain also has a set of remarkable prehistoric burial grounds. These extensive sites, often densely covered by burial mounds, can be found at A'ali (the biggest prehistoric cemetery in the world), Al Hajar, Buri, Hamad Town, Jannusan, Sa'ar, Shakhoora and Tylos.
There are a number of famous houses which can also be visited. Al Jasra House is located in Al Jasra village and was built by the late Amir, Shaikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa in 1933. It is an excellent example of Bahraini architecture. Bin Matar House is located on Muharraq island. It was constructed in 1905 by a successful pearl merchant, Salman bin Hussein Matar. It was subsequently used as a majlis. Several famous houses in Muharraq are being included in a recently approved UNESCO world heritage site, the Pearling Trail. The trail appears to be under construction at this point, and no official maps are readily available.
What to do
Although a desert country, Bahrain boasts an international 18-hole grass golf course, which is about 15 minutes outside the capital, Manama. The par 72 championship course features five lakes and is landscaped with hundreds of date palms and desert plains.
Enjoy riding a camel along a highway.
Visit Royal Camel Farm
Purchase souvenirs and buy some authentic pottery at A'ali Village Pottery.
The dinar is pegged to the Saudi riyal at 1:10, and riyals are accepted almost everywhere at that rate, although odds are you'll get your change in dinars and hotels may try to screw you out of a few percent. If coming in from Saudi, there's no reason to change your money, but do try to get rid of any excess dinars before you leave the country, as they're hard to exchange elsewhere, even in Saudi.
Bahrain is a fairly gracious host nation but it is imperative to demonstrate respect and courtesy in reference to their particular cultural practices and religion at all times. When out in places where local Arabs can be found it is advisable to wear long trousers, or shorts, and women shouldn't wear a see-through dress. However, in beach clubs and hotels, swimsuits, bikinis and shorts are okay to wear. Do not show signs of affection to members of the opposite sex in public. People of the opposite sex have been arrested for kissing in public and it is just not socially accepted. Always avoid any confrontation and never become involved in an argument, especially with a local.