This is a review of my brief, four-day State of Qatar trip in mid-October. I have also decided to write a brief introduction to the country before outlining how I spent my rather relaxed vacation.
Before arriving in Qatar, I had visited Egypt and Oman, and wanted to take it easy for the last leg of my almost three-week vacation.
I will write separate posts about my experience at the Sheraton Grand Doha Resort & Convention Hotel, the Hamad International airport lounge, and my business class trip with Qatar Airways to Montreal, Canada.
This four-day Qatar trip was conducted about five weeks before the FIFA World Cup 2022, so the country was in a different mode.
Here is my video of the Four-Day Trip to Qatar
Table of Contents
The State of Qatar is a peninsula and juts into the Persian Gulf. Its only land neighbour is Saudi Arabia to the south. Rest of the country is bordered by the Persian Gulf. It has an area of just over 11,500 square kilometres.
It is a semi constitutional monarchy though the current Emir, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani who has been in power since 2013, has wide ranging powers.
The state has a population of between 2.8 to three million and the vast majority of them are migrant/expat workers, mostly from South Asia. The Qataris themselves number just below 400,000. The country, like most others in the region, depends heavily on migrant talent.
Once upon a time, Qatar depended on its pearl diving industry but the finding of petroleum and natural gas reserves (LNG) has turned the tide. It is one of the richest countries in the world now, thanks to the oil and gas industry. It is one of the largest producers and exporters of LNG.
One can see the influence of the wealth.
Here is a photo of Qatar at nighttime.
An expat worker told me that when he came to Qatar years ago from India for the first time, there wasn’t much in the city, except for that large Sheraton Doha building. Now the skyline is dotted with skyscrapers, malls etc.
And there is more to come. The State has ambitions of becoming a major hub in the region and plans to cash in on the FIFA fever to increase its exposure.
It already has Qatar Airways as a major carrier connecting almost 150 destinations in all continents. It also flies some of the longest routes in the world, and its QSuites in business class is considered among the best in class.
During my four-day Qatar trip, I found the State to be in full FIFA fever, with only three more weeks to go. I had a flight booked from Abu Dhabi to Doha that was to land at Hamad International Airport, but about two weeks before the flight I received an email saying the flight will be diverted to Doha International Airport. The latter was being taken over by Qatar Airways for its FIFA operations.
At the Sheraton Grand Hotel where I was staying, I was told starting Nov 1, the government will take over half the capacity.
FIFA signs are everywhere and construction work is still going on – from stadium auxiliaries to accommodation and other guest facilities.
The country will go into full gear starting Nov. 1, after which date tourists will not be allowed unless they are coming in for the World Cup.
My Four-Day Qatar Trip – How I Enjoyed It
I had arrived on a Friday afternoon in Doha and left early Tuesday.
Arrival at Doha International Airport.
The arrival was so smooth. The airport had lots of staff and after some brief questions by the immigration official, I was allowed through. I had previously uploaded all the needed documents to their website.
From the airport I took a Karwa airport taxi and reached my hotel, the Sheraton Grand Doha.
After settling into the very comfortable and luxurious room, I decided to take a walk.
The Sheraton’s bell captain showed me how to reach The Corniche, a waterfront promenade that began at the Sheraton. But about a half a kilometer into the walk, I felt too tired because of the hot and humid weather.
So I walked back to the hotel but not before taking a small diversion to take a look at the Sheraton Park.
The Hotel Park, as it is called, is a fun place with water fountains, kids play stuff, green grass and much more. There were families and couples strolling or playing and small food stands selling everything from churros to spicy tea and chapatis.
I spent the morning in the beach. The Sheraton Grand has its own private beach. It is a small beach, located within a cove and with the breakwater, the water was calm, almost still water except for the tiny ripples splashing on the shore.
The water was somewhat warm, certainly because of the hot weather but there were enough lounges and canopies.
In the afternoon, I decided to visit the Villaggio Mall. It is a high-end mall with luxury stores such as Armani and perfume shops. And it has a lovely food court.
The Villaggio Mall, Doha, Qatar
Perhaps the highlight of the mall is the canal with a Venetian vibe. Fittingly, there are gondolas and who wouldn’t take a ride in one of those? The ride was smooth with a Nepali Gondolier.
After the ride, I walked around a little bit and then took an Uber to the Souq Waqif.
Souq are part of life in the Arabic world since time immemorial.
In the case of Souk Waqif in Doha it was used by the Bedouin to exchange animals, wool etc., for other necessities. As modernity creeped in, it lost its importance, but a new life was given in 2004 when the government decided to preserve it with Qatari architectural traditions.
Once I got into the souk, there was alley after alley, full of stores of different sizes. Just as you think there cannot be another alley, there will be one, and they sell everything from souvenirs to antiques to clothes.
Just walking around the souq itself is an experience.
I was there late afternoon and it was getting crowded as the time passed by. It was also a Saturday, the last day of the weekend.
I walked around the Gold Souk and found out that not many jewelers sell 22 carat jewelry.
There are a number of restaurants, serving anything from Qatari and Persian to even Georgian and Azerbaijani flavors.
Somewhere there, the an ice cream seller had his stand, trolling and teasing customers with his antiques while, as expected, a crowd was around videoing the whole spiel.
And in another small square, women were selling food items, from briyani and harees to madroub(a) and freshly made Qatari regag (type of thin crispy crepe that I got to enjoy in Oman as well).
I decided to take trip to the famous Katara. I had wanted to take the Doha metro but the nearest station was 1.5k so just took an Uber to Katara.
It was just past 10 am and they had just opened up but it was a deserted place. One of the employees told me that it becomes lively from Thursday to Saturday and then gets quiet.
I took a dhow cruise, enjoying the rather quiet sea.
There was just two of us for the boat that could hold up to 15 people. The dhow captain was Rocky from the Indian state of Goa. He has been in Qatar for the past eight years and returns home every two years or whenever there is an urgent need, like a few months ago he had to return to see his ailing mother.
This is in a way the life of many migrants like him. They are not in a status to bring in their families so they live alone here and visit their families once in a while. In some communities the term ‘family’ is loose and includes the large extended family as well which they have to support.
Once the cruise was done, I wanted to try parasailing but was told that it was not available.
So I thought of taking a look at the Katara Cultural Village
Check My Qatar Trip in German
I had misread about the Katara Cultural Village. I thought it was one big building with many stores or stands displaying/selling artefacts and other culturally interesting stuff, but my Google Map was showing a loop. And I found out that that is the Village – a loop with a number of buildings showing cafes to a planetarium. Unfortunately, almost all the sights were closed.
It was also getting hot so decided to get lunch and return to the hotel.
Later in the day, as the sun was setting, taking with it some of the heat and the humidity, I decided to take a long walk along the Corniche.
As I kept walking, I saw more people, particularly near the FIFA clock with the flags of the countries whose teams will be partaking in the world cup between Nov 20 and December 18th.
In the distance, dhows adorned with lights were ferrying people while near the Corniche anchored dhows were getting ready, the captains actively soliciting passenger/sightseers. A few young men had cast their fishing lines and were patiently waiting for the catch. Here are there a few workers were taking a rest. Some sightseers were strolling around.
And I walked more than six km to reach the old dhow harbour and now I was thirsty.
Unfortunately, there were no cafes or juice shops nearby so took an uber to the Souq again, my second trip during the four-day Qatar trip.
Like the previous day, crowds started gathering, outside one restaurant big screens were showing some football match and dozens of people – men and women – sat or stood keenly watching.
The country was catching on the soccer fever.
I got a juice and then another. I also got a chicken burger and returned to the hotel.
This was the last day not just for my Qatar trip, but also for the entire, almost three-week long Middle East trip that had taken me to Egypt and Oman, so I wanted to have a blast.
I started the day with a trip down to the Sheraton beach. It was less crowded than my previous visit. Well, the canopies were occupied but there were fewer people in the beach itself.
Desert Safari Trip
I had booked a four-hour that included a camel ride, desert dune bashing/safari, and inland sea tour.
Height and unsteady movement make me nervous so I didn’t take that short camel ride. I just stood there, amazed at the courageous riders.
After a cup of Qatari tea, we got our tires deflated and started the safari.
It was an exhilarating dune bashing session indeed.
There were bumps, revving up for the dunes and slowing down for the falls. Sometimes, the sudden but intentional slip on a sharp edge would envelope the 4×4 in desert sand, much to the delight of the passengers.
Nowfan, our driver-cum-guide, comes from the south Indian state of Kerala and is an expert driver. He told us he has been doing this for many years, often twice a day.
Then we stopped for a photo shoot and sand surfing.
From there we drove the Inland Sea that borders Saudi Arabia. We also witnessed a beautiful sunset.
I wanted to end the day with a bang, which meant I wanted to sit somewhere and enjoy a dinner with a bottle of beer.
So I decided to check out the contemporary Peruvian specialty restaurant La Mar Doha by Gastón Acurio. This restaurant is located at the Intercontinental Doha.
After a delicious meal over caipirinha, it was back to the hotel. I asked the driver to stop just before the main entrance of the hotel and walked to the food truck selling churros and got some.
What I could Not See During Four-Day State of Qatar Trip
- The Museum of Islamic Art
- The National Museum of Qatar
- More of Katara
- Take a ride on the Doha Metro
- Water sports (like SUP but unfortunately they did not have that facility when I visited the Katara beach)
- The Pearl
What I Ate During Four-Day State of Qatar Trip
I am a foodie and love trying local and other dishes.
In the Middle East I love to try to South Asian dishes. As previously mentioned, most of these countries have tens of thousands of people from all parts of South Asia and they run restaurants that serve dishes that have a “more authentic’ flavour than the restaurants in Canada.
I was yearning for Sri Lankan food. Years ago, during my visit to Dubai I went to a South Indian (a Kerala) restaurant and their rice-and-curry was so delicious. Cheap but beyond tasty and I was looking for something similar. I had liked the lunch I had at the predominantly South Indian dishes-serving restaurant in Muscat and now wanted something Sri Lankan.
So I went to the Well On Restaurant.
I went for the buffet and it was tasted, well, home-made.
For breakfast, I decided to check out one of the food trucks in the Sheraton Park. It was chapati with honey, and a spicy karak tea for breakfast. The chapati with honey came as a wrap. I never had a chapati with hot honey in a wrap but it was tasty nevertheless.
For lunch I was at the Villaggio Mall and after going through some of the restaurants in the lovely food courts, I settled on the Ocean Basket as I was pining for some seafood. We had lobster and grilled calamari. Both came on beds of rice. The lobster looked like of spiny lobster variety but it was well marinated. It was really sizzling.
I liked the calamari best. The creamy lemon sauce was par excellence.
This time I tried another Sri Lankan restaurant for lunch, the Lakbima.
They had lamprais, which is one of my favourites. It was tasty but I wished they had chicken curry, instead of fried chicken.
This being the final day, I decided to try a third Sri Lankan restaurant for lunch. It was Tasty Lanka Restaurant. Unfortunately, they did not have lamprais, so I went with rice and curry. I had opted for chicken curry but thought that the gravy tasted like a generic fish curry. They had a great eggplant curry.
The food at all the Sri Lankan restaurants were simply but delicious.
As mentioned earlier, I wanted to end my four-day Qatar trip, but also the almost three-week trip across three countries with a bang – I mean with a beer, so went to La Mar at the Intercontinental.
Besides wanting to have some good seafood, I also liked the idea of tapas as I wasn’t exactly ravenously hungry. Tapas gives me the flexibility to try different dishes.
The La Mar
The Intercontinental, like the Sheraton Grand, is an exquisite hotel and naturally the La Mar matched its elegance. As mentioned earlier, it is a Peruvian restaurant with a Japanese twist.
Better still, the restaurant had a wide option of alcoholic drinks including cocktails. I had planned to have beer but the moment I saw Caipirinha I knew that is what I wanted.
The waitress had just moved to Qatar from Cuba and recommended to go with some of the cold platters and then the warm ones.
I ordered the following dishes:
- CLÁSICO Ceviche: White fish in a classic leche de tigre, choclo, sweet potatoes, & cancha
- PULPO (a type of skewered dish): Grilled octopus with chimichurri potatoes, buttered corn, olive aioli, & chimichurri
- TOREADO (“Japanese sashimi Peruvian style”): Thinly sliced salmon in smoked green jalapeno leche de tigre, crispy tortillas, cherry tomato, & torched sweet potato
- CHAUFA AEROPUERTO: Stir-fried rice, vegetables, shiitake, deep-fried fish, shrimp omelet, ginger & garlic spicy sweet sauce
The dishes were great and the ingredients, particularly the seafood, fresh. Though I have to concede I felt I had ordered too many dishes with sourness/tartness being the main flavor.
Final Notes on My Four Day State of Qatar Trip
Internet. I had not bought a local sim card. I got a Vodafone package while in Oman and they claimed it will allow me roaming in more than 20 countries, including Qatar. And it worked. The data speed was good and at the hotel I used the Bonvoy’s Internet.
Transportation: Qatar has an excellent metro/subway system. Usually, I like to use it but unfortunately this time I didn’t. So I depended on Uber. I wanted to try out Karwa taxis, which are part of the government-run Mowasalat agency but for some reason it would not accept my Omani number (the phone number box did allow an Omani number to be input).
Colors & Shapes
Qataris love colors. In some areas, the streets were adorned with arches with pink LED lights while in some others just the usual white LED lighting. The buildings around my hotel were shining in different colors in the night. (As you can see my Photo titled Qatar at Nighttime.)
The buildings also came in different shapes – my hotel looked like a cruise ship from the distance (though officially it is a triangle shape). One looked like a half triangle while another had a cone shape.
I like to meet and interact with the locals during my travels but unfortunately, in this four-day Qatar trip all my interaction was with migrant/expats – from Nepal to India to Pakistan to Nigeria and Cuba. The Qataris live a life of their own.
Qatar, as mentioned earlier, has high ambitions. It ran into political headwinds with its powerful neighbours Saudi Arabia and the UAE over its politics and there were embargoes. But relations are thawing now (the Saudi sovereign fund is planning to invest in Al Jazeera).
And the State is hoping the global attention to its facilities during the FIFA will bring in more business and tourism (though reports of mistreatment of the migrant workers who were involved in the construction work have cast a shadow).
Neighbouring Dubai has invested heavily in tourism with its record breaking “tallest hotel”, “tallest building”, “indoor snow fun” etc. Qatar has its Pearl but it will have to create something more to match Dubai.
Dubai is also more liberal when it comes to alcohol. From what I have read, there are more restaurants serving alcohol in Dubai. In Qatar, it is generally bars and clubs as well as restaurants attached to hotels that serve alcohol. Alcohol laws for individuals are also more liberal in Dubai than in Qatar.
One evening, I wanted to end the night with a bottle of beer with my wrap but at the hotel it cost me 53 QR, just over 14 USD.
On Tuesday, I flew for Montreal, Canada, with Qatar Airways QSuites.
And that ended my four-day Qatar trip.