The Dhow ship: Kuwait’s timeless Heritage

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The timeless Dhow ship of Kuwait, a precious Maritime Heritage

Speaking of Heritage — The Dhow ship is probably my most photographed icon, next to the Kuwait Towers, from my years of stay in the Middle East. A distinct symbol of Kuwaiti culture.

This boat, the Fateh-Al Khair, is a graceful against the winds, beautiful boat, originally used for trading and fishing purposes have long defined this oil-rich country’s identity up to the present times. Wherever you go, the iconic Dhow ship is displayed in many public spaces in Kuwait and there are so many museums dedicated to this heritage.This one in particular is my favorite, next to the gigantic and huge Al Hashemi II, which garnered the coveted Guinness World Records for the largest Dhow ship ever built in the whole world.

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Dhow ships and fishing boats in Souk Sharq

One of the scenic spots in Kuwait where anyone, especially foreigners can have a glimpse of the Dhow ships and fishing boats displayed and docked gracefully in the harbour. This one is taken in  Shouk Sharq, one of the places where I buy fresh local fishes, just adjacent to the fish Market. Here, you can watch the hustle and bustle of the fishermen as they go about their day, making rigorous  bidding for their pricey catch.

An ideal place if you want to catch a beautiful Sunset from the Arabian Gulf.

 

If you are interested about Kuwait ‘s culture and Islamic Heritage, here are further readings which I have written based on my personal escapades while living there.Photo credit to my friend Ramil Sunga for the second photo. I used this photo as my painting inspiration for my series ‘Kuwait’.

 

Diving for pearls with Dhow

Life in the sea in Kuwait

How to beat the 50 degrees Heat in Kuwait !

The Art of Islamic Patterns

This post is inspired by this week’s Photo Challenge | Heritage

Arab Organizations HQ Building

Last Saturday I visited the Arab Organization HQ building. I needed to satisfy my curiosity why this building is acclaimed to be world renowned for its beauty in the Middle East and has been attracting visitors around the globe. Now I know why.

The Arab Organizations HQ building houses 4 major Arab organizations namely  : 1. ) Arab Fund for Social and Economic Development,2.)  OAPEC (Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries), 3.) Inter-Arab Investment Guarantee Corporation and the 4.) Arab Maritime Petroleum Transport Company. This building costs USD $ 150 Million & was completed in 1994.

The exterior of the building itself offers a lot of history & functional concept behind it.  I don’t know about you but beyond every aesthetics, I’d like to know the concept behind it since what lies behind the facade is quite interesting.Outside it looks like a box-type massive structure with deep recessed windows but these features are intentional.In a climate where day time temperatures can reach 50° C, heat and light posed critical design challenges.  The virtually maintenance-free rough stone and granite exterior creates a natural sand trap.  Windows on each face of the building are deeply recessed and angled to offer indirect sunlight.The whole building blends modern architectural techniques with traditional Arabic artisan crafts.

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As I entered the building, I am faced to this massive hand-carved door. A total stunner which is labor of love considering the thousand pieces that this door needs to be assembled. This door is used as the main entrance of the building. Each door weighs one ton, and they’re so well-balanced that they will open at the touch of a finger. A Tunisian carved stone surround the entrance of this building.

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The colossal Moroccan wall fountain & giant tile work on both sides of the interior of the lobby area which gives a delight surprise to any visitor.This building houses approximately 2,500 kinds of indoor plants all imported from the Netherlands .

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A historical carpet hung just above the information area of the lobby.

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Wood screen carved in traditional Arabesque design.

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This beautiful view of a chandelier from Germany above the spiral staircase leading to the second floor of the Library.

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Woodwork of the base of the spiral staircase.

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The outer view of the wood frame separating the Main Lobby to the Library. Once inside the Library, the viewer has a different view of the movements from the outside and the reflection of light creates a rather formidable pattern.

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Beautiful Tunisian woodwork pattern inside the Tunisian Room.The highly polished surfaces of the Tunisian Room  reflect the exquisite craftsmanship of the Tunisian ceramic tile panels and exquisitely carved stone work.  The huge marble conference table is surrounded by arches gracefully supported by double columns.  The walls are carved Tunisian stone and the floors, columns and arches are hewn from Jordanian stone.  Decorative panels of wood and stone repeat the ceramic designs.  The Moroccan cedar wood of the ceiling flagrantly scents the air.

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So much adore for this majestic Atrium of the Arab Organization HQ building. These trees are revolving to get equal amount of sunlight and aged 40 years old.Once in the Central Atrium, the trees are positioned in gravel using Hydroculture.  Since there is no soil around the trees, their nutrients are supplied in the water.  Their under floor pots are regularly turned to prevent any natural tilting towards the sunlight from the Glass Wall.

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The majestic Egyptian Mashrabia towers the full 9 stories in height in the center of the  main Atrium surrounded with 40 years old revolving trees .

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Imagine the feeling of lightness created by nine stories of pure air in the core of the building. The sky seems to stretch endlessly upward, unhindered by the large glass skylight in the ceiling and the enormous suspended glass wall on the north east.Here we see many of the traditional features. The majestic Egyptian Mashrabiya towers a full nine stories high. Lush vegetation and central trees (each over 40 years old) provide additional shade. The Syrian fountain adds soothing water music.  The marble floor repeats the geometric star patterns of the skylight and fountain.

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This Syrian fountain located in the center of the Atrium depicting the traditional hoash or central courtyard of classic Arab house design. The gentle water sounds lend a cool tranquility. It’s concentric star design repeats in the inlaid marble of the Atrium floor.It serves as a common ground for the building’s occupants and visitors, a comfortable area for socialization and interaction.

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The ground-floor Pre-function Hall displays Moroccan design from the refined detail of the gypsum ceiling to the zellige mosaics adorning each wall and a fountain . The marble pillars are inlaid with Moroccan tiles. A Moroccan carpet covers the center of the floor. Even the small brass table surrounded by four chairs boasts an intricately designed base. Hand-painted door from Morocco lead from Pre-function Room. And every ornament, every stitch here has been executed by hand.

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Another interesting feature of this building is the ceiling lights designed to coordinate the whole design of this VIP receiving area.

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Furnished in black leather and cherry wood and equipped with remote controlled programmable lighting and simultaneous translation services, the Multi-function Hall is the largest conference room inside the Arab Organization HQ building.

Large hand-woven wall-hangings, designed by a Kuwaiti artist, depict Arab history and culture, while enhancing the room’s acoustics.  A carved wooden suspended ceiling incorporates subtle lighting, enhanced by the indirect light that filters through the marble screen.  The traditional star design of the floor is repeated in the inlaid tops of the cherry wood tables.

I had an overdose  of artworks displayed in this building. I’ve said to myself to myself that it’s no wonder people flocked to see Arab Organizations HQ. Now, I have high respect for each of the intricate wood carvings and in every detail of this structure. I cannot even give justice to the actual views compared to my photos. One must need to be in this tour to learn about how rich the culture behind the walls of this building. This is indeed a fusion of Moroccan, Egyptian, Tunisian,Syrian and overall Arabic design & culture into one.

A visit to this place turned an ordinary Saturday morning into a memorable one. I am so grateful with Aware Center for enabling this tour to be accessible for Expats like me. It was a pleasure once again to discover beautiful building like the Arab Organization HQ building. The tour itself was very well done & executed in a very detailed manner. I highly appreciate even the coffee break in the Atrium’s cafeteria which offered a delightful snack with a majestic view of the glass wall panels with a view from outside & the Artwork inside the Atrium.

I highly recommend for anyone who is in Kuwait to try to visit this building, you won’t regret it. Should you want to learn more about this beautiful architecture, then you can explore their website here. You can even view their virtual tour here. This place has contributed to my cravings to see much more of Kuwait cultural heritage,its amazing architecture & advanced engineering designs.

Have you visited any important building or structure lately? What was it significance?

If you would like to visit any monumental structure of architectural importance, what would it be?

 

 

 

Earth

Diving for Pearls with the Dhows

 

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Local sightings : Beautiful Fateh al Kheir sitting directly facing the Arabian Gulf 

Before the Oil Rigs, there were the Dhows .Kuwaitis are traditionally Fishermen & Pearl Divers and the Arabian Gulf is the largest natural pearl diving area in the world.When we think about Kuwait, its not limited to Desert, arid climate and oil. It is also a country rich in maritime jewel, the Pearls.

One of the beautiful local sights  I got to see in Kuwait is their Arabic Dhows . If you live here, you will see that “Dhows “are important landmark of this oil-rich country.Fishing &  Pearl hunting is one of the prime industry in the Persian Gulf back then. Before oil rigs, there were Dhows as the main vessel for a source of living of native Kuwaitis.This has been an integral part of Kuwait Heritage. To highlight this vessel’s significance in their culture, they have various museums which displays them. I got the chance to visit them all & have learned a lot. Sharing my experience, I wrote about Kuwait having the world record of the biggest & grandest Dhow that has ever been built in the world. This is the Al-Hashemi Dhow which docked in the coast of Arabian gulf beside Radisson Blu Hotel.This is one of the famous tourist attraction here not to be missed. It is really a great experience to see it & be on board with it.

These world -renowned sailing wooden boats  were used for coastal trading, fishing, and pearl diving in the past. Visitors in Kuwait can have a chance to be on-board the ship named Fateh El-kheir which means (brings good fortune). The ship is the largest, and last surviving wooden dhow. Al-Boom was also one of the famous and most use ships in Kuwait in the old days.
There were many kinds of Al-Boom used by Kuwaitis for many purposes at that time. One of these kinds called Boom-Ghawas and it was used for pearls hunting. Other kinds called (Boom-Ma’y), for sweet water delivery. (Teshalah) for shipping stones for building. The bigger one called (Boom Saffar)- sailor Boom for long distance sailing, and                     (Boom- Gatta’a) for short distance sailing.

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The Dhow harbour

Kuwait  Arabic dhows or sailing vessels were among the finest in the world used for pearling. I observed these pearling boats at the Marine Museum in Kuwait City and in Scientific Center. These dhows were of different types and kinds. The larger ones had more than 30 crews, while the smaller ones had about 12 crews. The various types of dhows used in Kuwait are Baghlah, Battil, Ghanjah and Badari. The dhow used for peal diving was called Ghawas, and the Sanbouk was another type of dhow used for pearl diving.Some of the famous dhows in Kuwait are Fath al Kareem, Al Muhalab, Muhammedi, Al-Abdullah, and Sanbouk al-Jalahma.

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Traditional Arabic Dhows traditionally used also by Peral divers to hunt for pearls

The relationship between Kuwait and pearl diving is intertwined and connected with generations of Kuwaitis carrying on the legacy left by the forefathers of the countries. Pearl diving, in the old days, was the main source of income for many Kuwaitis despite the hardships faced by many divers in the vast wide ocean.

A typical day for the divers back then began with early morning (Fajr) prayers followed by a cup of tea or coffee and a small portion of dates. By sunrise, the sailors and divers begin their daily activity of pearl diving which continues between 12 hours to 16 depending on the season. To aid them during their work, pearl divers used to wear specific clothing to enable them to dive and swim properly and also provide minimal protection against jellyfish stings.

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Arabic Dhows displayed in Al-Hashemi Museum

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Local sightings : Different types of Dhows displayed at the Al-Hashemi Maritime Museum

Unlike the high sophisticated technology developed for diving today, pearl divers back then had to endure tremendous amount of pressure while diving and also long expeditions which lasts for months all in order to feed their families back at home.

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Connecting to the Past; searching for pearls with the Dhows
Young people silhouetted behind the sail of a dhow prepare the traditional vessel for a pearl diving trip during an annual festival in Kuwait as featured in Eyewitness series /Raed Qutena/Aug.2015.

At sunset, the ship’s captain, (Nukhatha) in Kuwaiti dialect, orders the divers to halt their activity to perform Maghreb prayers which is followed by a hefty meal of rice and fish followed by Isha prayers and a much needed sleep. After a long much needed slumber, by the next day (Al-Saib), usually an individual in charge of pulling divers from the deep sea floor, and other sailors begin to open the oysters that have been salvaged in the previous day to find those precious pearls.

 

Though pearl diving has long been abandoned as the main source of livelihood in Kuwait, the younger generation keep the tradition alive by engaging in a challenging Pearl Diving Festival during Summer season.

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Young Kuwaitis gearing up & sailing on a traditional Dhow for annual pearl diving season last August 11,2015 from Port of Khairan,100km south of Kuwait City .(Photo credit to The National)

Annualy ,Kuwait holds a Pearl -Diving Festival which were organized by the Kuwait Sea Sports Club (KSSC) . The diving trip lasts for several days and there are quite a number of  traditional dhows with  young men participating from Kuwait, Bahrain, and Oman. This tradition was started 25 years ago under the patronage of His Highness the Amir of Kuwait to preserve and celebrate Kuwait heritage.If you wanna take a look at this cultural event ,there is a wonderful gallery showing a Pearl Diving Festival in Kuwait done by Noufal Ibrahim.

Do you like pearls? If so, have you ever wonder how is pearl diving done?

How special would it be to wear a pearl caught by one of these brave pearl divers?

Souk Mubarakiya {The Old New }

Last Saturday, we headed to Souk Mubarakiya in Kuwait with excitement . There’s something about this old souk’s flair that keep us coming back . Locally known as Mubarakiya, this place is a market melting pot in Kuwait. It is the true testimony of Kuwait in the PAST and now a center of a NEW Kuwait. No wonder people come back after visits to this important Icon of Kuwait, from locals to visitors, to merchants & Expats . Souk Mubarakiya is still an authentic magnet. Here’s Why;

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Welcome to Souk Mubarakiya

Walking into a Legacy of Old Times

Looking back,over 200 years ago, a market was created in the Al-Mubarakiya area as a center for vendors to showcase their produce in a raw, non-commercial way. The Souq – market – soon became a cultural hub,frequently visited by different nationalities, catering to the needs of every visitor, whether for the weekly grocery shop or simply an idle outing to a space bursting with tradition and vividness. With Sheikh Mubarak Al Kabeer’s Kiosk in the center of it all, people were able to openly communicate their hopes, dreams, and worries to their leader. Soon enough, a little further down the road from the Kiosk, a Diwaniya was born. The Diwaniya became – and still is – a place for the country’s elders to meet and discuss everything from social issues to the coming elections. Past the Diwaniya, one of Kuwait’s oldest Post Offices can be found. Standing tall, the original majestic doors were preserved, along with a beautiful blue and white post box. Further still, the gates and marker for the Mubarakiya School – a 100 year-old institution of education. Currently open as an exhibition and celebration of academia, the school welcomes visitors from Monday to Saturday. The old Souk  was damaged during the Iraqi invasion in 1990, however it was renovated and it got back its traditional flavor. The market also hosts two mini museums: Sheikh Mubarak Kiosk and the first Islamic pharmacy in Kuwait, and admission is free.

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There is a courtyard near Al-Bahar or Sea Mosque, where you can find traditional cafes brewing their teas over coals, and several small restaurants are lined-up where they serve authentic Arabic, Indian, Persian food to the customers in the open air. The prices are the cheapest in Kuwait. On hot summer days, water mist is sprayed from pipes over the tables to give you a cooling feeling. A children playground is nearby and smoking Sheesha is also available.

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Streets of Historical Souk

Walking through the Souk Mubarakiya allows you to learn about this country’s rich culture, you will be transported way back to the old times at the same time appreciating the fusion of  modern cultures that made this market survived until now. I love the fact that as an Expat, I was able to see how the old souk courtyards look like. Reading about it from a book is totally different from actually seeing it.

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Dresses inspired by Kuwait colors for your Little Girl

A Patchwork of  Revolutionary Trends

If you’ve never see the new face of Souk Mubarakiya, you will be amazed of its bold changes. Now part of the Souk had a modern facelift. A Mubarakiya with a twist. The birth of SoMu  ( stands for South Mubarakiya ) signals a new beginning, a Hybrid of cultural diversity abreast with the worlds latest trends. As this country is continually growing , SoMu shows that Kuwait’s Souk Mubarakiya is ready for change .With a revolutionary design approach known as Thouq , from the bright minds of  Ahmad Al-Ghanim and Bader Al Hejailan , they bring out an impressive idea of a concept store. They have a vision of turning this place into a hub for Arts,Culture and Fashion.

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SoMu Square’s Mural  designed by Thouq

For longest time I have been living here, when i stepped into SoMu Square, I thought for a minute that I am in another place. The hip new look of the place reminds me so much of the market places I have seen in Europe.

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A Mural in the heart of SoMu Square

Once your feet landed on these striking wall with  a huge mural which spells “I love you Kuwait” in Arabic. Opposite is a Banksy style mural of a man in national dress, throwing a bouquet of flowers in lieu of a Molotov cocktail. This is a best exmple of a national pride.

In the center of SoMu center  is a beautiful Gazebo, arrayed with a bandstand of plants and greenery that reminds you of Paris or London. As you look around, you feast your eyes on  variousn quaint cafes and quirky restaurants with outdoors seating areas spilling onto the square. Everyone is smiling and it’s no surprise. Such a cozy atmosphere. Everyone is out & enjoying the sun.

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Trendy Restaurant in SoMu Square frequented by visitors & locals.

I am so glad I found this hidden gem .This is the kind of area I want to bring my best of friends, hanging out and chilling with an iced mint coffee in hand, having great conversations or indulge into home baked goodies  in a rose perfumed Parisian style salon. Everything about Thouq square is breathing aunthenticity as well as quality.

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A giant Mural as a tribute to Kuwait designed by Thouq

 

 

What’s so amazing about Souk Mubarakiya is that its a labyrynth of culture. As you continue to explore the streets, you will be brought again to another dimension.You can spend hours in this market strolling around and discovering reasonable bargains on heritage goods such as Persian silk carpets, real Arab antiques, perfumes like musk and oud, and traditional costumes. This place is perfect whether you want to shop, eat, or for sightseeing. Al-Mubarakiya features a variety of shops such as  dates, honey, spices, sweets, vegetables, fruits, meat, and fish. In addition to a range of shops accessories, gold and silver jewelries.

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Inside the world of a Dates vendor in Souk Mubarakiya

You’ll always find something or another to entertain you while you’re there. Get lost in the markets and enjoy the intertwining stalls – take in all the sights, sounds, and smells of the markets. From sibah – prayer beads – to fresh date kiosks, you can purchase absolutely everything in the souk. You just can’t go home empty-handed!

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So if you’re in K-town and looking for a worthwhile 2 hours of your time, then i highly recommend a visit to Souk Mubarakiya. At night this place into something else. The newly renovated ceilings with sparkling lights gives this place a lively vibe. There’s so much fun and highlights in this place especially now that the Hala February Festival (Kuwait’s National Day ) is finally on. Make sure you mark your calendars & include this in one of your family outings. Don’t worry about your Little ones, they will for sure enjoy the spacious playground just in front of the open-air restaurants.

I hope you have a wonderful time visiting Souk Mubarakiya.

Do you find this post interesting? What do you like about the culture of Kuwait?

 

 

 

Failaka Island : Forsaken Memoirs

As we continue our quest to explore and look for fascinating places in Kuwait, we finally get our feet on board of one of the Catamarans from Marina Crescent to bring us to  Failaka Island. If you have your own boat then you can freely reach the island. There are only 2 options  for visitors to reach Failaka , You can either sail on board the ferry of the Kuwait Public Transport Company (KPTC), which also allows  to transport your  vehicles on board. This ferry trip usually takes about 90 minutes or a little longer and the ticket costs KD 5 roundtrip per person and about KD 30 per vehicle. A second option is the ferry boats of a private company which sails from the Marina Crescent and costs KD 15 per person. On board of this boat, a passenger can reach Failaka in around 40 minutes. We opt for the 2nd option.

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Watching the sun go down in Failaka

Failaka Island is located in the northern part of the Persian Gulf, approx. 20 km off the coast of Kuwait City. Don’t get me wrong , Failaka is not the hip island destination. Right now, it mainly attract visitors because of its Historical significance. A visit to this place can give you the traditional past of Kuwait with structures dating back to the Bronze Age Dilmun civilisation with more ‘recent’ events such as the 17th century settlement of the Utubs. If you are a war history buff , then a visit to this place might interest you. Rundown buildings and houses with bullet shots is a common sight . It’s like walking into a ghost town .

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Memoirs of war in Failaka

When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, Iraqi forces expelled the civilian population and mined the beaches. After Iraq was expelled from Kuwait in 1991, the Kuwaiti government resettled the island’s population on on the mainland of Kuwait and compensated the locals for their property. The island has been cleared of mines, and it has been used for military exercises. Many Kuwaitis fish there and some former residents visit occasionally, but special permits are required.

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A Vandalized wall in Failaka Island

Failaka is a floating desert. Once i reached the place i wondered why an oil-rich country like Kuwait afford to let this land goes to waste. If I have a billion KD  I want to buy this land and turn it into something else. It’s sad to see that  it’s deteriorating. The remaining structures are poorly maintained. If this place indeed have a rich significance in Kuwait’s Heritage, then why they are not treasuring this. Soon, time will steal the charm of this place. Nowadays, this place has become home to most camels . Although this is one of the typical visitor’s destination in Kuwait, still,less effort has been seen in promoting the tourism in this place.

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A war tank used during Iraqi invasion

If you step on Failaka island, its for sure that you will take memories with you. Once you see the abandoned town, the hotel lying in ruins , war tanks debris ,and the sprawling barren landscape, you could have an idea how the inhabitants feel whenever they would see their former dwellings. Even their memories are buried there .But wouldn’t it be better if you see hope on this place? War is over , but this place never recover.

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Abandoned hotel

The day tour includes sightseeing on key sights such as the Heritage Village, Camel farms, the remnants of war where you can see old debris of tanks used { which best described as a junk yard } and a coaster driven tour of the whole town. You can see the bullet shots from the walls of  the bank and other establishment. At midday, a buffet lunch served in a big tent which is quite nice. It brings out the ambiance of traditional Arabic feast inside the tents.

Travel Tip !

  • If you want to visit Failaka , check out  Aware Center’s events & schedule,  they  often arrange special tours for this. If you live in Kuwait, you can just head on to Marina Crescent and look  for the trip itineraries & schedule. Recommended time to go in Winter months where the temperature is nice to stay outside.
  • Failaka is a total laid back island. Don’t put your expectations high. Bring enough cash if you plan to get some souvenirs or eat in the restaurants.
  • Delays on the ferry schedules & pick up times oftentimes have a lag so be prepared. We were delayed to embark in our boat  last time because it was low tide.
  • Although this is a family friendly destination but i don’t recommend bringing a baby in Failaka because really, there’s nothing quite new here to entice your baby.

 

A visit to Failaka is a change from the normal life in the city. If you want a short breather and you have free time to kill, then it’s one of the things you could check out while in K-Town.

Thanks  for stopping by !