Before coming to Kuwait I had a negative stereotype, this was because I once flew with Kuwait airlines from London to New York and it was a really crappy experience with a really rude member of staff. I remember that on that flight the sound on my entertainment did not work, I was trying to get the attention of the steward to see if there was something they could do, but they kept ignoring me. Once they finally came I explained the problem and he replied, ‘I know, I know it does not work, I work here”. WTF, seriously, I just had no words to reply, but this just gives you an idea of how the service was and this was consistent on the way back. I remember sitting next to some girl from India who said, “and imagine this is the premium part of the flight from New York to London, by the time I’m going from Kuwait to India they might just be throwing the food at us”. So funny. But the point was I know I had this stereotype and that this was ridiculous as it was just because of a few rude people on a flight and you can’t judge a country on this. Other than this my only reference when it comes to Kuwait is the images I remember as a child when Saddam Hussein invaded, annexing the country into Iraq and sparking the Gulf War. The main image in my mind is always the oil fields that Hussein ordered to burn. I remember this being a huge international disaster, but I think also gave us an image of why the Western nations cared about Kuwait in the first place, after all, Kuwait is meant to hold 10% of the worlds oil reserves, which must also be linked to why the currency is the highest in the world.
So I arrived in Kuwait city by late afternoon and from the minute I got there I was confused. I knew I needed to apply for a visa on arrival, I tried applying online for the e-visa, but this proved not to be simple. Flying in I could not see any counter or where you could get the visa, also people are not really speaking English. After some time I found out that you need to go to a counter on the second floor, which is where the departure is. In most airports, it’s not so simple to go between floors, but here it was just a staircase. Walking around I eventually found the office. There I went to the counter and the person said to me quite directly, “Your first time Kuwait, or you come many many times”? As direct as it was I was amused by how they said this. While processing my form they said that my name was too long, so on my visa form they wrote my first name as Se and my last name as Si, the entertainment just was not ending for me, but they gave me the visa straight away, so I was not bothered. I went back downstairs and passed through immigration without a problem.
After immigration I was in the main lobby of the airport and tried like normal to find an information desk, but either there was not one, or no one knew where it was. Next, I wanted to see if I could get an Uber, but it was not in operation in Kuwait. Later I would learn they have a different app called Careem that works just as well. I was not aware of this yet so just had to battle it out with the airport taxis. The fair from the Airport into the city was 8 Dinars, which is about £20, this is when I would learn just how expensive and high this currency is. Just before leaving the airport I took 30 Dinars, with is about $100. Kuwait has the highest currency in the world, it is not the most expensive country, but it is hard to know where to shop if you are not from here. In Bahrain (which has the 2nd most expensive currency) It was the first time I saw a ½ Dinar note, here in Kuwait, I saw a ¼ note, so crazy.
I had just come from Bahrain and found it to be really warm and inviting, whereas here in Kuwait I found people very direct, which for me felt a little rude. The first night I just wanted to rest and would explore in the morning. The next day I started with breakfast downstairs, which was great to be on during this month of Ramadan. Then I started to look at what I wanted to see in the city. The number one place on trip adviser was to go to a shopping mall called the avenues. I always think that it sucks to go to shopping centres while travelling as they are mostly the same, but I was with my wife and she needed to buy something for her brother while we were there, so this was the first destination. To my surprise it was really nice, they had made the centre look like some shopping street you might find in Italy, unlike other shopping centres it looked really classy and well done. So when you have a dry and dusty environment and a temperature of 40+, it makes sense that this place is rated high. Although sadly for us because it was Ramadan it was really empty and all the eating and drinking places were closed. But it was still pleasant to walk around and on reflection was the nicest place to visit.
After shopping and seeing the Avenues, we went back to the hotel. For my wife Aini it was too hot to go out, it was 44 degrees C, but I wanted to go and see the Kuwait towers, as this is the main landmark of the city, and I guess the country, so I thought why not walk through the city so I can see things on the way. It took me about an hour and despite the heat was a pleasant walk. Some of the buildings are very impressive from the outside, but around them touristically there is nothing to see. The streets were a little broken up in most areas and were not as pristine like I had seen in other countries in their area, but I am sure they are looking a hell of a lot better than in Iraq.
It took me an hour to get to the towers and the most interesting thing for me on the way was what looked like a car graveyard, It made me wonder what had happened, was this a scrap yard, or just a dumping ground? Who knows! Getting closer I walked along the beach front, the tide looked like it was quite far out and I could see a lot of black rocks on the beach, there was also a subtle smell of fuel in the air and I could see some oil rigs in the distance.
At the point were the Kuwait towers are there is a water park and some eating places, again because of the time of year everything was closed and it felt like a bit of a ghost town, but I am sure at other times of the year it must be quite pleasant. I went up to the towers to see how much it was, 3 Diner for the view, or 11 with a buffet meal, but just as I asked I realised that I had not brought enough cash with me, or a card, oh crap, but luckily I had my phone which was set up with a card to get me a taxi back. Oh well, I think I have seen enough towers. But having seen pictures, like in most places that have towers its great to go at sunset to get both views, and if you think it is worth it take the buffet. But I had seen there was a vegan place on Happy Cow near my hotel that I wanted to check out, so this was the next destination. Close to my hotel, there was only one restaurant that was fully vegan which is called Ginger, it was very nice and has a range of Asian and European food. After dinner it was already late, we had a little look at some of the stores on the way back to the hotel, and then we hit the sack.
The next day was my last, and the only other thing I knew that I could visit was the Al Shaheed Park which is really pretty and a great place to take nice pictures with the cityscape in the background. The park is very pleasant to walk through, there are some nice water features and it’s great to see the greenery in this dry place. However it was midday and the sun was beating down on us, so we headed back after just about an hour. There was just a short amount of time to see some local markets before we had to head to the airport to leave.
I would say as a tourist there is very little to see and do in Kuwait, but if you are living or stationed here you will have time to get to know people and find the real culture in the people, which is much harder to do on a short trip like what I did here.