A couple years ago, in September 2015, my friend Mary and I went on an adventure. It was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever got the chance to come across. I learned so many things about a country I had never even heard of, how travelling by myself was one of the scariest yet liberating endeavors, and how my perception of the Middle East changed.
A little bit about our history, I met Mary at Ryerson University and since became and stayed really great friends. I have many fond memories of us partying, running the streets of Toronto, causing a ruckus and breaking hearts. It was pretty awesome. After graduating, the good times and memories continued, but one day, my friend gave me the news that she was leaving Canada to work in the Middle East – Bahrain, a small country located in the Persian Gulf, between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. I couldn’t be more happy and sad at the same time. I felt like the Timon and Pumbaa duo were going separate ways, I cried “NOOOOOO” in my head, Bollywood style. She studied Hospitality at Ryerson and worked in hotels in Toronto, but she got her big break when she applied for a hotel in Bahrain and got the call back. So, I congratulated her but also expressed my sadness, she did tell me that I would have to come visit her and I said, “Yeah for Sure!” of course I wasn’t serious, who in their right mind, would go to the Middle East!?
I have no idea how after some months of Mary gone, I decided I wanted to go meet my friend. I think missing her had a lot to do with this decision. One of my best friends mentioned that they had been to Bahrain, and that I should definitely go because it would be an amazing and different experience. Unfortunately, the Middle East doesn’t hold the greatest reputation according to the media and so because if it, I too held some prejudice and assumptions about what it would be like for a woman to travel all the way to the Middle East by herself. With so much convincing and helping me get over my fears, I decided I was going to do this! I refused to live in fear and let it hold me back from exploring the world – especially the Middle East – since I was a little girl, the movie Aladdin had me obsessed with the culture, architecture, food, dress, patterns and more!
I booked my flight, it would be the furthest I had ever gone and the first time by myself – it was a 22-hour flight. I was already afraid of planes, so travelling alone, so far for so long, and to the Middle East…I was pretty anxious and nervous. It also didn’t help that when I would tell people I was going away that their immediate response would be, “OMGSH! Are you serious? By yourself to the Middle East? That’s kinda scary…” or “I don’t think that’s such a great idea” striking a little bit of regret in me – but Mary and my other friend told me that this country wasn’t anything like the other countries with strict rules against women and other things, and if she could live and work there, why should I worry?
After 22+ hours, 2 layovers, and a delay, I finally made it to my destination. Flying over the airport, getting closer to landing, I couldn’t believe I finally made it, I did it all by myself. After getting off the plane I was greeted by a person that was holding a board with my name, I didn’t know who this person was but I approached them – Mary had arranged for me to be treated like VIP when I got off the plane, talk about BALLIN’! Did I ever feel like a celebrity, the lady that was holding my name took me to a VIP lounge, arranged for someone to grab my luggage, she did all of my custom checks as I was waiting in this luxurious VIP lounge, I was offered drinks and anything else if I needed. I wasn’t in “Kansas” anymore. I was even more excited now, Mary picked me up and the first thing we did was throw my luggage into her apartment, change into comfortable clothes and go to the hookah lounge connected to her building. Party time had officially begun.
Beaches and Bikinis
On this trip, I got the opportunity to go to different hotels/resorts and beaches, but there were two that I absolutely loved, ones that made me feel as though I had stepped into paradise. The first one we went to was at the Ritz-Carlton, Bahrain. It was amazing, we got a beach bed on the beach, got full service, ordered a shawarma, which was so yummy. The beach at the resort was beautiful and water was even warm, which was a plus. The pool was also very nice, at night the building and pool lit up with colored lights and just felt like something out of a magazine.
Relaxing at the Ritz Carlton
My Go-to Arab! Mary <3
When it gets dark at the Ritz Carlton
The last resort we made a visit to was the Sofitel Bahrain Zallaq Thalassa Sea & Spa Hotel, the hotel Mary was working for at the time, so duh, that meant Mary hooked me up with VIP treatment. I first was treated to a lunch buffet and so I indulged – Mary knew the chef well, so she personally introduced me to him and he personally came out to serve me something he had made, I can see eyes gazing at me as people wondered why I was getting special treatment and if I was anyone special, obviously I’m not but hey! A girl and can dream and pretend, right? The hospitality, décor, pool, everything was on point.
Sofitel Lobby – Absolutely Stunning
Sofitel Lounging area
The two restaurants that I went to were Laialy Zaman (it had my last name!) and Bukhari. Both places served authentic Arabic food. At Laialy’s was nothing mainstream, more like a mom and pop type café. Its set up was that of a typical Arabian style building – when walking through the door, it was decorated with hookahs, small mosaic designs and old wooden tables and chairs, it was cute. It was set by the water and the restaurant opened out to it, so as we ate we got a view of the water and feel of the breeze. The mango shake was YUMMY!
Bukhari was another restaurant which provided a different experience – everyone eats on the floor. When stepping in, all the sitting areas are divided into little rooms, when walking into one of the rooms, there’s nothing there, as in, no seats and tables. The server handed us the menu, we ordered some rice and chicken, coleslaw, and Arabic stuffed grape leaves. The food at both restaurants was really good, couldn’t complain and you could taste the authenticity, it was so delicious.
Bukhari – eating on the floor
The Food – it was so delicious!
Let me just tell you, the clubs that we went to were LIT! (hey, I can be hip and use slang too) The Wrangler is the place to go, the music was a mix of hip-hop, pop and Arabic. It’s a western themed restaurant during the day and becomes a party and a-half at night. The only thing I didn’t like about the clubs, you can smoke inside. I’d leave the club smelling like an ashtray and all be squinty eyed because of the smoke, nevertheless, the party was awesome. Other clubs/lounges we went to were Ibrida and Bushido (Japanese themed lounge, it was stunning on the inside) which were also good, but The Wrangler is where it was at.
Other than lazing around on a beach all day, being pigs and partying, we also did some activities and I got to explore cultural settings. While my time at Bahrain, I went to a mall called City Center, it was massive, the largest in the country. I also went go karting at Bahrain International Karting Circuit which is the world’s premier motorsport facility and I believe they host Formula One races. That too was an incredible rush of an experience (I won the race lol love you Mary!). We also did some jet skiing and got a sick view of the skyline from the water – this was my first time ever jet skiing so I was afraid to do it by myself, I had Mary drive it as I sat behind her as the passenger (haters gonna hate). And of course, I had to pamper myself so we went out and got our nails did.
Ready in my Race Suit
On the last day, I went on a shopping trip to the souk, which is an Arab marketplace/bazaar – this literally made me feel as though I had stepped on to the set of Aladdin. All these little shops and markets showcasing what they were selling, people haggling for deals, noisy streets, and the sellers trying to get your attention to buy what they were offering, especially because they could sense I was a foreigner. I loved this place, it was like I was Carrie from Sex and the City 2 movie, where they visit Abu Dhabi and shop at the souk, it felt just like that and it was buzzing all around. I found everyone was also very nice and welcoming. I felt that it was very diverse in Bahrain, so many people of different backgrounds – Filipino, Indian, Moroccan, European, etc. I think that honestly made me feel comfortable and like home, because of how diverse Toronto is too. I didn’t feel out of place or unwelcome, everyone that I met even through Mary during my stay were so delightful, it made me fall in love with Bahrain even more.
Visiting Bahrain was the best decision made. What I learned from this experience was that one shouldn’t be so close minded, not to fear what you don’t know. I also grew from this as a person and gained the confidence that I could actually do something like this by myself. I was able to come back and tell my friends and families about this place, even to the naysayers that thought I was foolish to be going to such part of the world. Let’s be honest, of course not all of the world is a safe place and obviously there are horrible things that happen in the Middle East and the rest of the world, but not all of it is so. You can’t go through life living in a bubble and never experience or grow if you don’t learn about the world and its people. I want to be well-rounded and embrace and learn about all the different worlds and people on this earth. If I never went, I would have missed out on an amazing and unforgettable experience.
In the end, treat yo’self! Traveling is the best gift you can give yourself I think. Comment down below if you’ve gone to Bahrain, what was your experience