Almost every friend that I know asked me the same question when I was planning for a visit to Kuwait. The word “Kuwait” is not an unusual word to many, including myself. I was in high school when Kuwait was invaded, by Saddam’s Iraq. The Iraqi occupation came to an end after the military intervention by the coalition forces in 1991.
Even my family were worried for my safety while there are instability of the economy and politic in its neighbouring countries like Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Israel, Iraq, Iran and many others. The curiosity over the tiny countries and why it is an interest to Iraq at the time, draws more urge in visiting the country. This is my first destination in Middle East.
Kuwait situated in the northern edge of Eastern Arabia at the tip of the Persian Gulf, it shares borders with Iraq and Saudi Arabia. It has a high income economy backed by the world’s sixth largest oil reserves and is a small country. The Kuwaiti dinar is the highest valued currency in the world. 1 Kuwaiti Dinar is estimated around USD3.30. According to the World Bank, the country has the fourth highest per capita income in the world. Many westerners believed that Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait was largely motivated by its desire to take control over the vast oil reserves.
Kuwait’s population is around 4 millions people whereby half of them are expatriates with over 50% of the expatriates are mainly coming from India. I referred Kuwait as a “luxury India” for the Indians as the living condition is far better than India with cleaner, more hygiene, better water and air quality living standards. Indians are more affordable labours for the Kuwaiti, and you can find them everywhere working at the construction site, supermarkets, parking lots, stores, taxis, food stalls and many others. On weekends, Friday or Saturday for Middle Eastern countries, many of them will hang out at the beach side, neighbouring field playing crickets or flying kites.
There are many interesting places to visit here:
Kuwait Towers are the landmark and the symbol of modern Kuwait. According to the architect, the Kuwait Tower group refers to ideals of humanity and technology, symbolised by the globe and the rocket.
The tallest tower, the lower sphere holds in its bottom half a water tank of 4,500 cubic metres and in its upper half there is a restaurant that accommodates 90 people, a café, a lounge and a reception hall. The upper sphere, which rises to 123 metres above sea level and completes a full turn every 30 minutes, holds a café. The second tower serves as a water tower. It is a good start to explore Kuwait by visiting the Kuwait Tower as you can have a brief idea how Kuwait looks like looking down from the top.
There are many malls around Kuwait, and many new construction activities going on around the region to build more shopping and entertainment malls. One of my favourite mall is Souq Sharq in the Kuwait city. You can walk around the souk and walk by the Gulf and if the weather permits, the view can be astonishing. Some of the local fishermen still use the traditional dhow with some modification to operate. The seabed is rich with many varieties of fish species available in the Gulf sea such as tuna, mackerel, snappers, soles, catfish and needlefish.
Fish market is usually not a destination attraction. Just as you have Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo Japan, Kuwait has Kuwait Fish Market. It is all where the action is going, haggling, and purchase, watch them preparing the fish and sell. It can be sold in bulk or small quantity at the wholesale price. I was amazed by the amount of fish, shrimps and lobsters that are caught at the Gulf sea. I just wish I have the second stomach to load all of them.
When I was walking around the fish market, there were ‘sales assistants’, the indian helper, pushing a cart tailing behind me. When you get your first purchase, they will help you load them and push the cart for you.They will assist you to the counter, to your car and even up to the extend to help you to stop a taxi. The indian helper’s salary is very minimal, and earn mostly from the tips. I would recommend a small gesture to them as an appreciation after the service has rendered.
Al Hashemi II is the world largest wooden dhow and it sites next to the Raddison Blu Hotel. The museum has collection of many large, scale model dhow using in Kuwait during the ancient days.
Since mid 17th century, Kuwaitis were using many kinds of ships-Dhows for many purposes to live on the sea sources. Al-Boom was one of the famous and mostly use ships in Kuwait in the past. They have different type of Boom for different purposes such as water transporting, pearl hunting, sailing for long distance and short distance.
Prior discovery of oil, Kuwaiti primary income is pearl fishing. Historically the best natural pearl comes from the Arabian Gulf.
Next to the museum, there is the famous Al-Boom Steak and Seafood restaurant that operate inside a stunning dhow.
Souq Al Juma
Also known as Friday Market, is known as one of the oldest and the most popular friday market in Kuwait. It opens from Thursday to Saturday.
The market is huge and sell old and new items covering from furnitures, crockery, clothes, perfumes, antiques, toys, modern or persian carpet, curtains, refrigerator, air condition, household items, gymnasium machines, ladies bag, suitcases, mattresses and endless item list.
It is really interesting to spend half a day here, and every trip is a surprise with a handbag full of items. Expect the unexpected.
Also known as old souq, It is a newly renovated old souq and is clean. I am glad to see that they still keep the old architecture and design and makes the souq quite unique with its own characteristic. Like other souq, they sell poultry, meats and vegetables, clothes, household items, perfumes and others. They are also rows of shops selling food, and many Kuwaiti eats here as well. As the day goes dark, the place goes lively and the eatery place fills up quickly specially after the prayer mass is over.
Kuwaiti cuisine is an infusion of Arabian, Persian, Indian, and Mediterranean cuisines. A prominent dish in Kuwaiti cuisine is mach boos. It is a rice-based specialty seasoned with spices, served with seafood, chicken or mutton, something similar to the biryani rice. Salad like Arugula greens, raw onion and lemon is always served together with the dish.
Kuwait’s traditional flatbread is called Iranian khubuz. Many local bakeries are mainly Iranian bakers and hence the name of the bread Iranian khubuz. Bread is often served with the dish as well.
Due to the reason they have big international workforce in Kuwait, it is very easy to get other cuisines everywhere. You can easily find Chilli, Fridays, Applebee’s, McDonald, Burger King, along with other Chinese, Turkish, Lebanese restaurants here.
Traditionally Kuwaiti drink spice tea and coffee with Cardamons. However, during my stay here, I noticed that there are many coffee shop. It is a new trend in Kuwait to hang out and spend time at cafe specially among the young. You can easily find Starbucks, Costa Coffee everywhere, and always full house. New cafe continue mushrooming in the region.
My favourite is hot mint tea, iced lemon juice with mint and non-alcoholic Mojito.
Talking about Muslim country, many would relate them to terrorist. When one think about Middle East, many would then relate them to ISIS, beheaded terror, and extreme Islamic ruling. Everywhere you travel, there are still some risk of exposing ourself to danger and it can be anything. It can be any kid or homeless who is on the crack or beer being high in the park at night and ran to you with a knife for money or life. Frankly speaking, Kuwaiti are mostly friendly. They maybe crazy on the road, but when you walk around every where, as long as you do not do anything absurd and catching anyone’s attention, you are pretty much sound and safe.
Weather here is unpredictable. When the day is dry, and wind is strong, you get sand storm. When it is a wet day, you might end up in the mud rain. It is a good experience, and slowly I can now relate the story that I read in the book. I never have had thought that mud rain is possible, and now I see it with my naked eyes.
If you are planning a trip to Kuwait too, I wish you find the fun as I did and Happy Travel!
Will I return again? I might, Inshallah.
Some picture taken during the trip :