“That’s me in the corner. That’s me in the spotlight. Losing my religion” – Rapid Eye Movement.
When I was backpacking Bahrain in 2015, I made a trip to the Saudi Arabia border and it was something I always meant to include in my World Borders series, yet always forgot about it. The reason I always put it aside was because I didn’t actually cross any borders. Saudi Arabia is often known as the Forbidden Kingdom in terms of travel. The visa is tricky. But you can drive right up to the border when you backpack Bahrain.
Basically transit visas for Saudi Arabia aren’t really permitted, you’ll have to stay in the airport, even for a few days! Tourist visas completely don’t exist. Working visas exist if you have a contract there of course. But another option is a temporary work conference or event there (more on that to come). So if you are working there for a week or so at an event, you can source a work visa. However, in 2015 I didn’t do this. I was backpacking in Bahrain and wanted to see how far I could get towards Saudi Arabia before the Forbidden Kingdom was completely off limits. I did quite well. I saw the flag and got as far as the last departure from Bahrain soil on my fourth different Bahrain island. It was more of an exciting trip for me as I love this type of adventure and love new land borders. In fact I was on an island that has both a Saudi Arabia and a Bahrain border control post. Yes, I was on an island half owned by Saudi Arabia, but at the time I hadn’t really been there.
Tourism is not promoted in Bahrain either, you’ll get the hint when you splash out $60 US for your Bahrain Visa on arrival and when you realise there are no decent bus networks, nor any kind of organisation in the road and street designs. Hostels are also non-existent, so get yourself booked into the trendy Ibis Seef Manama Hotel (WiFi, breakfast and a swimming pool) and take things from there.
I hired a car in Bahrain while based at the trusty Ibis Hotel. From there, I toured all the main sights of Manama, the country’s capital city as well as the race track, the desert, the oil museum and the country’s best sights away from the capital. Then it was time to drive my hire car as close as I could get it to Saudi Arabia. I was only really doing this trip for fun to see how far I could get. Bahrain is separated from Saudi Arabia only by a 26 kilometre bridge. At one point on this journey, I was a mere 13 kilometres from Saudi Arabia and stood on an island part owned by it. Something quirky for the story I guess.
Leaving Manama on the King Faisal Highway to King Fahd Causeway
I drove fast and smoothly out of the capital city Manama where I followed all signs for the King Faisal Highway/ King Fahd Causeway, and Saudi Arabia. Within 20 minutes, I had left the King Faisal Highway paid my entrance fee to the King Fahd Causeway and had now left mainland Bahrain. It was a hot hot day, the road was pretty clear and there were no issues at all leaving mainland Bahrain for the island of Um Al Nassan, nor was it a problem to arrive on the next island, which is just called Middle Island.
“People say I’m crazy and that I am blind. Risking it all at a glance” – Backstreet Boys.
Arrival on Middle Island, King Fahd Causeway
I arrived on Middle Island and immediately we are on the last point of Bahrain before the final bridge and causeway which leads to mainland Saudi Arabia and the city of Al Khobar. I parked my car and went for a walk. All the shops here are in Bahrain and accept Bahraini Dinar. But the shops here accept both currencies. So I decided to buy something and ask for Saudi Arabian Riyals in change. Even better, I was able to buy some Saudi products here, including an Ayran/Kefir style drink!
On Middle Island there is a Mosque and a Shop on the left and in front of you is the immigration queue. I joined it in my car, showed my passport and was given a piece of paper. I asked if I could park the car at the furthest point of the Bahrain side without leaving and without getting an exit stamp and take some photos. Surprisingly there were parking spaces and it was OK to do this, as long as I drove around and back to Bahrain the same way, so I did exactly that. I stayed here for about 30 minutes, took many photos and enjoyed the sinking sun (it was late afternoon). There is a control tower with views of mainland Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, as well as the Mosque and a rather ugly and un-needed DickMonalds on the Saudi Arabian side of the border. Yuk.
I saw the border posts and they asked if I had a visa for Saudi Arabia. At the time I didn’t – I was just curious and I remember posting on my Don’t Stop Living Facebook Page that day in August 2015 to say I was just seconds from Saudi Arabia, would I ever be there for real?
“Laughing at the stony face of gloom, when your turn comes round” – Neil Finn.
Photographs at the Border on the King Fahd Causeway
To be honest, there were no restrictions at all along the part of the King Fahd Causeway that I visited. Not a single guard told me off or banned my camera. I could freely take photos here at the Bahrain exit point. This is presumably because nothing too private really happens here. There is still a huge bridge or highway across the gulf into Saudi Arabia, and the flags were side by side. I didn’t photograph any of the guards or officers of course, but a fellow tourist took a photo of me. Here are the best of my photos from the border.
Souvenirs You Can Collect
Here at this border entry, you can get some souvenirs without entering Saudi Arabia:
- Saudi Arabian coins
- Saudi Arabian banknotes
- Saudi Arabian food and drink
- A piece of paper saying you have left Bahrain
I went for all four as I love to collect souvenirs but the shop had no coins that day.
Heading back to mainland Bahrain
So after seeing Saudi Arabia and my time on Middle Island, where I was officially on an island that is partly Saudi Arabian, I got back in my car, paid the 4 Dinar fee to enter the King Fahd Causeway and head back to Bahrain’s mainland. That journey may have been 2015 but my journey to Saudi Arabia has taken another twist in 2018.
And the Boring part – the history of the Construction of this Amazing Bridge
The fact that a bridge links Bahrain to Saudi Arabia is already a masterpiece of technology and construction. The idea of building a bridge linking the Kingdom of Bahrain to the Eastern region of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia had been enticing the two kingdoms for generations due to their friendship. The idea was born out of King Saud’s wish to nurture and further solidify the bond between the two Kingdoms, during an official visit to the State of Bahrain in 1954. From this point on, the dream became a reality, thanks without a shadow to oil money.
In 1965, the desire to construct the causeway began to take form officially when Sheikh Khalifah ibn Sulman Al Khalifah the Prime Minister of the State of Bahrain paid a courtesy visit to King Faisal and the king expressed his wish to have the causeway constructed.
There was a weird twist though!! Bahrain back then drove on the left! The same as in the UK, Australia and Japan. But in 1967 Bahrain changed to driving on the right to bring it into line with the Saudis ahead of the bridge’s construction. In the summer of 1973, King Faisal, in a meeting which included Amir Sheikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa as well as the then prince, Fahd bin Abdul Aziz and Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, suggested that committee overlook the economic and financial aspects of the project and concentrate on the actual construction of the causeway. Obviously a load of money was needed, but the go ahead was given, with support from the World Bank.
Timeline of the King Fahd Causeway from Wikipedia
On 8 July 1981, Mohammed Aba Al-Khail, the then minister for Finance and National Economy of Saudi Arabia and Yousuf Ahmed Al-Shirawi, the then minister of Industrial Development in Bahrain signed an agreement to start construction on the maritime causeway.
On 11 November 1982, King Fahd bin Abdul Aziz and Shaikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa unveiled the curtain on the Memorial Plaque during a formal ceremony attended by the leaders of the GCC states marking the beginning of the project.
On 11 April 1985, Shaikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, the Prime Minister of Bahrain pressed the button required to install the final part of the box bridges thereby finally linking Saudi mainland with the island of Bahrain.
On 26 November 1986, the causeway was officially inaugurated in the presence of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Fahd bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia and His Royal Highness Shaikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa, Emir of the State of Bahrain, with the latter consenting heartily to naming the bridge King Fahd Causeway.
As of 2010, it is estimated that number of vehicles using the causeway is about 25,104 daily. The total number of backpackers, tourists, people, travellers across the causeway from both countries in the year 2010 was 19.1 million passengers, or an average of 52,450 passengers per day. That’s some amount of visas needed!
Business Backpacking in Saudi Arabia!
So if you bothered to read this post to the bottom, it’s time for my actual visit to Saudi Arabia. Time and mental health permitting, I hope to cover more of it. Having been invited to a hotel show and conference in April 2018 by one of my favourite partner companies, Young Pioneer Tours, it was time to secure that elusive Business Visa for Saudi Arabia. I am going to Saudi Arabia to work at the Hotel Show Jeddah! After lots of paperwork, clarifying every little detail I could from North Korea to China to Poland to UK to Saudi Arabia, 5 visits to the Warsaw Saudi Arabia Embassy, posting my passport back to London, and communication with an agent and repeat copies of said documents in Chinese, Arabic, Polish and English, I finally secured a 90 Day Business visa for a Business Trip to the Forbidden Kingdom. It’s been a long process since January 2018 and I hope to share my stories from Saudi Arabia very soon. I’ll be working there for 10 days, as a business backpacker, full time tourist and travel writer. I’ll be attending the Hotel Show in the city of Jeddah.
“The sun always shines on the righteous” – Jez MacAllister.