Earth : Asia : Middle East : Qatar
Qatar is a small peninsula in the Persian Gulf. It looks like a big thumb 'way up'. The country is small but offers quite a few interesting things to the visitors. Doha, the capital city of qatar, is a nice town with good beaches nearby and lively markets. The city itself has a beautiful developing skyline: whether you want to go shopping in one of Doha's many huge malls, or whether you want to tan in one of the many different hotels with beautiful beaches, there is always something to do. There are many activites you can pursue in and around Doha such as game fishing, although you'll have to look hard to find a decent boat to take you, dune bashing, scuba diving, sailing and sand boarding.
Access to alcohol is restricted, but can be obtained in hotel bars, clubs and restaurants and at one of the two alcohol shops in the country (if you have an alcohol permit). There are rumours that restrictions will be loosened further with the coming Asian Games.
Khor Al Udeid, or the Inland Sea, in the extreme south-east of the country, is of great natural beauty. This is a large area of natural sand dunes, surrounding a calm inlet of the Gulf. The dunes are quite stunning - tall, shapely sand masses formed by the prevailing winds and subject to radical overnight changes of shape. Half the fun of going to the Inland Sea is getting there - there are no roads leading there, and the entire trip is made with 4x4s through the desert and through the sand dunes. This is something which is not to be missed if visiting Qatar, and there are many places where tours can be set up.
Al Wakra is only ten minutes from Doha. It did contain a photogenic harbour, but this is currently being dug up. It did contain a superb beach, but this is currently being dug up. It also contained Mangrove swamps, but these are also being dug up.
There are several forts in Qatar, giving a glimpse into the past history of the country.
Since the mid-1800s, Qatar transformed itself from a poor British protectorate noted mainly for pearling into an independent state with significant oil and natural gas revenues, which enable Qatar to have a per capita income almost above the leading industrial countries of Western Europe. Qatar is home to the Al Jazeera television station and is rapidly gaining interest among foreigners as it hosted the 2006 Asian Games and is now scheduled to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Oil accounts for more than 30% of GDP, roughly 80% of export earnings, and 58% of government revenues. Proved oil reserves of 15 billion barrels (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_Qatar) should ensure continued output at current levels for 23 years. Oil has given Qatar a per capita GDP comparable to that of the leading West European industrial countries. Qatar's proved reserves of natural gas exceed 7 trillion cubic metres, more than 5% of the world total, third largest in the world. Production and export of natural gas are becoming increasingly important. Long-term goals feature the development of offshore natural gas reserves. In 2000, Qatar posted its highest ever trade surplus of $US7 billion, due mainly to high oil prices and increased natural gas exports, and managed to maintain the surplus in 2001.
Khor Al Udeid (Inland Sea) - a region of rolling dunes and high revving engines, many tourists and locals alike enjoy racing up and down the seemingly endless sand dunes. There are a variety of tourism companies that will give you a guided tour of the region, often complete with a traditional Arab meal and campfire.
Zubarah - Contains the ruins of a deserted city and a fort built in 1938 by Sheikh 'Abdu'llah bin Qasim Al-Thani. Also the planned site of the Qatar-Bahrain Friendship Bridge which will allow road travel between North-West Qatar and Bahrain.
Qatar issues a visa on arrival at Doha's airport to passengers who are citizens of Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxemburg, Malaysia, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, UK, USA and Vatican City. The price is QR 105, payment by credit card is accepted, and grants a 30 day stay.
For other nationalities, visa procedures can be complicated, as you will need a guarantor on the Qatari side, either a company or a government entity. Also Qatari embassies, unlike those of most other countries, are not entitled to issue visas, so someone in Qatar will have to file the application for you. 4/5-star hotels offer full visa service, for a price, if you book a room with them for the duration of your stay. Qatar Airways can arrange the hotel and visa for you, tel. +974 44496980. In this case, there also seems to also be a new regulation in place (2008) to either present a credit card or QAR 5000 at the point of entry - which should generally not be a problem, if you can afford the room. When booking with other hotels, you'll need a guarantor in Qatar.
For longer stays, visas must be arranged by having a sponsor. Unmarried women under the age of 35 will have a hard time in procuring a visa for a lengthy stay, as the country seems to fear that their safety and well being cannot be guaranteed.
When going by plane to Qatar, you will most probably enter the country at Doha's airport. Local carrier Qatar Airways is building a growing worldwide network with flights from there.
The only land route to Qatar is from/through Saudi Arabia, night travel by car is not recommended. If you are travelling during the day, watch out for speeding cars and trucks. Wear your seat belt and try not to speed over 50 mph (80 km/h).
You can travel to Qatar by bus from/through Saudi Arabia, there are fixed bus routes, within Qatar, although mostly used by men only. However, customs can take up to 4 hours especially at night. You will not be treated nearly as well as if you fly into Doha. Flying in costs only slightly more than a bus ticket.
There are three different modes of public transportation that you can use in Qatar: buses, taxis and limousines, all of which are owned by Mowasalat (Karwa) apart from some limousine companies.
The bus service began in October 2005. Ticket prices start from just Qr4.00. You can travel as far north as Al Shamal/Al Ruwais, as far west as Dukhan, and as far south as Mesaieed (Umm Said). You will be requiring Karwa Smart Card to purchase ticket in Bus. No cash Handling in Bus since 2010.
An alternative to taxis and buses would be to use a limousine service, which will send a car to your location (as will Karwa taxis if they are booked by telephone). Limousines are expensive, but they are the most comfortable form of transport.
You can hire a car with local Car Rent companies. You will find plenty car rent company in City, in Airport or Hotel.
Walking and using bicycles is usually not a good idea in the hotter months of the year, as the heat can get very intense and tiring.
Arabic is the official language, particularly the Gulf dialect. As Qatar was a British protectorate, English is the most common second language, and most locals would be able to speak basic English. As Qatar has thousands of guest workers from Canada, US, UK, Australia, South Africa, China, Japan, India, Pakistan, Philippines, Thailand and various other countries, a word or two of any languages spoken in these areas can be helpful. However, with such a mixed international population, English is the de facto language allowing the Qataris to communicate with the people who generally handle all of the menial jobs in their country, so it is widely spoken. If you can learn a few words of Arabic, your hosts and any other locals you may meet, will be very impressed and appreciative.
The national currency is the Qatari riyal (QAR). The riyal is pegged to the dollar at the rate of QR 3.65 to US $1.
City Centre is currently the largest mall in Qatar and has many stores to choose from. Other malls include Landmark (has a Marks & Spencer store), Hyatt Plaza (becoming a lot better), The Mall (is OK), Royal Plaza and Villagio (owned by the same company that owns Landmark and is home to Virgin, The One and is ranked one of the best malls in the world by Forbes). All of these malls have a huge variety of stores.
Blue Salon has huge sales twice a year where you can pick up Armani, Valentino and Cerutti suits for half price. There are many things to buy here but be wary of cheap pearls as they may not be real. There are many good tailors in Qatar and it is a good place to have clothes made to measure and copied.
The souqs in the centre of Doha also have a lot to offer, although the goods are usually of cheaper quality than those of the malls. Prices are usually negotiable, so practice your bargaining skills. Souq Waqif (The Standing Souk) is the most interesting of the souqs; it was recently renovated to look as it did 50 or 60 years ago. You can buy anything from a turban (dishdasha/thobe, traditional dress for men) to a pot large enough to cook a baby camel in! It is being expanded to 10 times its current size due to popularity.
The country is surrounded by the sea so watersports are a must. Kite-surfing is increasingly popular for the westerners while the locals prefer driving jet-skis at high speed next to the beaches. Safari tours to the desert with dune-bashing in Landcruisers are popular. Visit the collection of widely scattered malls around Doha and enjoy yourself.
Qatar has seemingly endless options for food, much of it excellent. If you would like European cuisine in a fancy setting, visit a hotel like the Ramada or the Marriott, both of which also offer excellent sushi and the choice of having drinks with your meal (the only restaurants in town that can do this are in the major hotels), but at a steep price. Authentic and delicious Indian and Pakistani food is found throughout the city, ranging from family-oriented places to very basic eateries catering to the Indian and Pakistani workers. You may attract some curious stares in the worker eateries, but the management will almost always be extremely welcoming, and the food is very inexpensive.
For excellent and truly authentic Thai cuisine, try either Thai Twin (near the Doha Petrol Station and the computer souqs) or Thai Snacks (on Marqab St.), and be sure to sample the delicious spicy papaya salad at either location, but be careful, if you ask them to make it spicy, expect for it to burn.
Middle Eastern cuisine is everywhere as well, and in many forms—kebabs, breads, hummus, the list goes on. It can be purchased on the cheap from a take-out (many of which look quite unimpressive, but serve awesome food) or from a fancier place, like the wonderful Layali (near Chili's in the 'Cholesterol Corner' area) that serves gourmet Lebanese food and has hookahs with flavored tobacco. Refined Persian cuisine is available for reasonable prices in the royally appointed Ras Al-Nasa`a Restaurant on the Corniche (don't miss the cathedral-like rest rooms).
Don't be afraid to venture into the Souqs looking for a meal; it will be a unique experience in an authentic setting, and although some of the places you see may look rundown, that's just the area in general, and the food will be probably be quite good. Be advised that many of the restaurants in the Souqs (as well as the shops) shut down during the afternoon hours. If you are in a funny kind of mood, you can try a McArabia—McDonald's Middle Eastern sandwich available only in the region.
There is one liquor store, Qatar Distribution Centre, in Doha. To purchase things there, you must have a license that can only be obtained by having a written letter of permission from your employer. You can only get a license when you have obtained your residency permit and you will need to get a letter from your employer confirming your salary in addition to paying a deposit for QR1000. The selection is good and is like any alcohol selection of a large supermarket in the West. Prices are reasonable although not cheap. Alcoholic beverages are available in the restaurants and bars of the major hotels, although they are pricey. As far as non-alcoholic drinks go, be sure to hit some of the Indian and Middle Eastern restaurants and juice stalls. They whip some tasty and exotic fruit juice combinations that really hit the spot.
It is forbidden to bring alcohol in to the country as a tourist; at Doha airport customs xray bags and will confiscate any bottles of alcoholic drink. They will issue a receipt valid for 2 weeks to reclaim the alcohol on exit from the country.
Hotel prices are on the rise in Qatar, and you can expect to pay as much as US$100 for an ordinary double room in a mid-range hotel. Budget accommodation does not seem to exist in Doha. The only hostel is very hard to find; even the taxi drivers at the airport may have to talk it over! It costs 100 Qatari Riyals per night if you don't have YHA membership, QR90 if you do.
Education City is a new project in Doha funded by the Qatari Government through the Qatar Foundation. It is the home to Qatar Academy, the Learning Centre, the Academic Bridge Program (similar to a college prep school), as well as branch campuses of Texas A&M University (Engineering) , Weill Cornell Medical College (Medical) , Virginia Commonwealth University (Arts and Communication), Carnegie Mellon University (Business and Computer Science), Georgetown University (School of Foreign Service), and the latest addition to the fold, Northwestern University (Journalism)  and Faculty of Islamic Studies [www.qfis.edu.qa] all located in Education City to the east of Doha in the Rayyan area.
In addition to this Education City is home to the Qatar Science and Technology Park, one of the only places in the Middle East undertaking research and development initiatives. The location of so many academics and students is very appealing for research focused organisations.
The College of the North Atlantic (based in Newfoundland, Canada), also maintains a campus in Doha in the northern section of the city, near the local Qatar University. The University of Calgary (Nursing) is also in Qatar.
The work day starts quite early in Qatar. Do not be surprised by 7AM meetings!
In the summer, many small stores and Arab businesses will be open from 8AM-12PM and 4PM-8PM. During the "siesta", most people return home to escape the oppressive heat.
The emergency phone number for police, ambulance or fire department is 999.
Western women might experience harassment, but it will likely be more annoying than threatening; such as having a man circle around the block whilst you walk down the street, or whisper at you to get your number in the store, but for the most part it will be men staring since it's normal. Women from countries such as Nepal, India and the Philippines, working as housemaids, are subject to physical abuse. The Indian ambassador noted nearly 200 women working as housemaids sought refuge at the embassy in 2007.
An abaya, the long, black cloak and headscarf worn by local women, can be purchased at a variety of places in Doha.
Haze, dust storms and sandstorms are common.
Drink lots of bottled water! No matter how much you drink, you should drink more. Likewise, take proper precautions for the sun, including clothing that covers your skin and sunscreen.
Respect the Islamic beliefs of Qataris and Bedouins: While there is no legal requirement to wear the hijab, women shouldn't wear tube tops and skimpy outfits, although there is no strict rule and women are free to dress as they feel. It is absolutely acceptable for any nationality to wear the traditional Qatari clothes, the thobe.
If you're dining with a Qatari, don't expose the bottoms of your feet to him/her. Don't eat with your left hand either, since the left hand is seen as the 'dirty hand'. Similarly, don't attempt to shake hands or hand a package with your left hand.
If your Qatari friend insists on buying you something—a meal or a gift—let him! Qataris are extremely hospitable, and typically there are no strings attached. It is generally a custom to argue for the bill.