Five Star Virgin: Exploring Doha

Introduction
Hyatt Regency San Francisco Airport
Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse San Francisco
Virgin Atlantic Upper Class from San Francisco (SFO) to London (LHR)
Virgin Atlantic Arrivals Lounge London Heathrow
First Class on the Heathrow Express – is it worth it?
Hotel Indigo London Paddington
SkyTeam Lounge London Heathrow
Qatar Airways First Class from London (LHR) to Doha (DOH)
InterContinental Doha
Exploring Doha
Qatar Airways Premium Terminal Doha
Qatar Airways First Class from Doha (DOH) to London (LHR)
Crowne Plaza London Heathrow Airport
Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse London Heathrow
Virgin Atlantic Upper Class from London (LHR) to New York (JFK)
Andaz New York Wall Street
Conclusion
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Admittedly Doha isn’t the most exciting city in the world, and in fairness I wasn’t expecting it to be either. That being said, I made the most of my two days there.

The first morning I paid the concierge a visit in hopes that he could make some suggestions for what I should do during my stay, and I think he did quite a good job.

The first morning I decided to take the hotel shuttle to the Islamic Museum. Before going into the museum I decided to walk around the area for a bit, and was actually surprised by how beautiful the Doha skyline is. The city is actually quite picturesque, clean, and has some really modern buildings. I walked up and down the bay for an hour, and eventually visited the museum. The museum is beautiful from the outside, though as interesting as any other from the inside (yes, I’m not much of a museum person).


Waterfront


Skyline


Islamic Museum


Islamic Museum


Bay

After spending some time there I decided to head to Souq Waqif, which is a market just across the street.

Unfortunately the concept of crossing the street in Doha is entirely unheard of, because there are very few traffic lights, and beyond that, the few traffic lights that do exist don’t have crosswalks. So I literally spent over half an hour trying to cross the street, which was only complicated by someone important trying to drive through town. I’m not sure who it was, but he had a fleet of about 20 Mercedes, several police cars, and an ambulance. I wasn’t even allowed to stand near the street as he drove by, which turned into a pretty big ordeal as the cop trying to tell me to bugger off didn’t speak a word of English, and I had no clue what he was trying to tell me to do.

Souq Waqif was actually the highlight of the trip, and for me what set the tone of Doha’s “culture.” The market was traditional, selling things like bags of rice and carpets. There was a bird market, which was interesting (and mildly annoying based on the amount of chirping). And there was also quite a bit of “new world” mixed in, like Dunkin Donuts, Baskin Robbins and Haagen Dazs. I sat down at one of the restaurants for lunch, and the food was quite decent, though I felt like I was getting evil glares from everyone, maybe because I was the only one not fully “covered.” The joys of sticking out like a sore thumb


Trying to cross the street


Souq Waqif


Traditional store


Sellin’ stuff


Bird market


Restaurant


Two worlds collide

On the second day I went to Porto Arabia, which was described to me by the concierge as “the Beverly Hills of Doha.” It was fascinating, yet left me utterly confused.

Yes, the place was indeed the Beverly Hills of Doha. Every high-end brand had a presence there, from Gucci to Ferrari. The bay it lined was filled almost exclusively with multi-million dollar yachts. The area itself was also meticulously landscaped and had a beautiful backdrop, if not a bit sterile. But what shocked me was that there was literally no one there. You know when you have one of those dreams (or nightmares) where you’re walking through a city and you’re the only one? Well, it was kind of like that. I didn’t pass more than a handful of people in the several hours I spent there, despite every store being open and manned. While it was a weekday, I was there during lunchtime, so I figured there would at least be some traffic. As several of you asked in the comments section of my InterContinental Doha review, “where are all the people?” Sadly, that’s the question I don’t have an answer to.


Porto Arabia shops


Porto Arabia


Porto Arabia


Shops


Oh yeah…


Indoor shopping area

After a few hours there in the morning, I headed back to the hotel to get some work done, and then later in the afternoon went to the city center of Doha, where a huge shopping mall is located. The mall was far from glamorous, despite the impressive entrance, though was interesting nonetheless, given that there was actually some people watching to do, unlike in Porto Arabia.

From there I tried to walk around the city center, though that proved to be a real challenge. Doha gets the award for being the most pedestrian unfriendly city, in my opinion, even more so than Ho Chi Minh City (which I didn’t think was possible). Everything is under construction so whenever I tried to walk anywhere I was told I needed to take the sidewalk on the other side of the street. Only problem was that there were eight lanes of traffic between me and the other sidewalk, with no way of crossing.


Shopping mall


Mall


Ice skating rink


Everything under construction

I really wanted to do a desert safari, though unfortunately couldn’t find a reasonable price for one with my short notice. The pricing for the safari is based on how many people are in each car, and each of the tour companies tried to charge me for a full car, which was crazy expensive, if I recall correctly over $300USD for a four hour tour. It looked like fun, though after seeing a desert safari SUV accident on YouTube before my trip, I was a bit freaked out.

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Comments

  1. You should have gone on the Desert safari. Its particularly interesting in Doha/Qatar, it’s where the ocean meets the desert, by the border with Saudi Arabia.

    En route, you may pass the US Army Base in Doha, which itself is kind of interesting.

  2. I don’t know the local custom in Doha, but in some places I’ve been with the traffic setup as you describe, the cars will stop when you step into the street, but, until you do that they’ll just whiz by.

  3. That place looked deserted. Was it really, or are you just really good at avoiding random people in your pictures?

  4. ” It looked like fun, though after seeing a desert safari SUV accident on YouTube before my trip, I was a bit freaked out.”

    Do you ever watch plane crash videos on youtube? You might not want to do that 🙂

  5. @ Brian Desmond — I know that’s the case in many countries, especially those with (seemingly) millions of mopeds, though it definitely didn’t seem to be the case here. I guess it comes down to the fact that no one walks in Qatar.

    @ gobluetwo — It was as deserted as it looks. I did nothing to avoid taking pictures of people.

    @ Wouter — Hah, funny enough, I actually love watching Air Crash Investigation.

  6. Considering the climate, I´m not surprised there were no people around during lunchtime. Did you check out the area in the evening?

  7. “which was only complicated by someone important trying to drive through town. I’m not sure who it was, but he had a fleet of about 20 Mercedes, several police cars, and an ambulance.”
    The Dutch royal family visited Doha in the same period as you IIRC.
    Doha looks very much like Dubai to me, but there are many more things to do in Dubai.

  8. I’m amazed that you didn’t do the desert safari because it was “crazy expensive” at $300. Isn’t this the same guy that spends hundreds of dollars just to do a hotel run and was considering spending over a thousand dollars a night at a hotel (not to mention the thousands spent flying around the world to get to the hotels). To each his own, but I’d make sure you’re enjoying the places you’re visiting. It’s not all just about getting there 🙂

  9. Most of the Gulf Arab countries aren’t made for walking. Most people just cab it or drive, especially in the summer months. Public transportation is there, usually buses, but that is mostly used to low-wage earning South Asians. Dubai does have a new metro system, which is used by most socio-economic groups, but then I understand it has different classes, so white people and Arabs don’t have to mix them…yeah, I know that sounds racist, and it is.

    To be honest, Lucky, if you want to experience Gulf culture, you won’t find it much anymore. Most countries have become modern, so all you’ll see anyway are shopping malls. There might be one or 2 neighborhoods that are more traditional, but that’s about it. Qatar is like more Gulf countries, in that all it has going for it is

    1) Desert safaris
    2) A few nice souqs
    3) Usually a nice corniche (and Doha has one of the better ones)

    But yeah, for the most part, most Gulf countries tend to be modern, meticulous, but also rather sterile and soul less…but then, the beach and booze experience works for Dubai. If you want to experience a more authentic culture, your best bet is Oman. It has escaped the steel and glass and concrete skyscraper explosion, and while the malls there aren’t as fancy as the ones you find in it’s neighbors, the culture and experience is far, far more authentic.

  10. The picture titled “Two worlds collide” is kinda funny because it’s a Dunkin Donuts next to a Baskin Robins – not really that much of a collision…

  11. @ Max — Hah, good point, didn’t really mean it that way. Meant old world with new world, though it can certainly be interpreted your way!

  12. Did you go to any decent restaurants? I have a potential business trip to Doha in the works. You didn’t mention any names…

  13. You got stares for being uncovered?? Living in Doha, that shocks me. People go about town (and yes, there are people!) in shorts and tanktops without an odd glance even.

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