Greetings! I’ve been traveling so much lately and keeping you up-to-date on my whereabouts that I almost forgot to tell you about one of the most incredible destinations that I visited last month … Doha, Qatar! It’s the richest country in the world and I have a ton of photos and stories about my experiences here.
BTW: I’m back in the U.S. and just about to hop on a Delta Airlines flight to … ? I’ll tell you next week or you can guess based on the clues I post on Twitter, Facebook and my Google Plus account. I also post a ton of photos on Pinterest and Trippy.
It blows me away that most of my friends, family and acquaintances not only have no clue where Qatar is, but have never even heard of it! That’s a real shame and not just because it shows how awful most Americans’ geography knowledge really is but also because Qatar is one of the worlds’ biggest up and coming destinations. They are going to host the 2022 World Cup and Forbes just ranked them as the richest country in the world, with a per capita income of more than $88,000.
I can’t give you a whole schooling on Qatar – that’s what guidebooks are for – but I can give you a brief background and tell you about our trip. In case you are new (welcome!) I will bring you up to speed on last month’s stories: My fiancée Natalie and I began by flying from New York to Mumbai via Doha on Qatar Airways. We spent a few days in Mumbai, Hyderabad and Bekal, India before jetting off to the Maldives.
After our unforgettable Easter weekend at the Taj Exotica in the Maldives, we flew four hours to Doha on Qatar Airways. The whole time I felt like I was dreaming and even now writing about it, it’s still pretty hard to fathom. What the heck are we going to do for a honeymoon? Oh well, I will have to worry about that later.
A Little Background on Qatar
Qatar is located on a peninsula in the Persian Gulf. It’s about the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined. The only country that borders Qatar is Saudi Arabia but there is a bridge to Bahrain and there will be one soon to the United Arab Emirates (think: Dubai and Abu Dhabi). Doha is a modern and rapidly developing city and the capital of Qatar. The population of Qatar is about 500,000 and 75 to 80 percent are foreign workers from over 100 countries. Eighty percent of the country’s total population lives in Doha. There are only about 100,000 native-born Qataris. The official language of Qatar is Arabic but most are also fluent in English, which is used as the common language for business.
Most Qataris don’t work since they have so much money. Unlike their repressed Saudi neighbor, women can drive and they have rights. But locals can’t drink alcohol and no one can bring any into the country. But tourists have no trouble getting it at any of the major international hotel chains.
Driving from the airport to our hotel, our mouths dropped when seeing Doha’s incredibly modern skyline. On the way there, we learned that Qatar is extremely safe. No one locks their doors and if you left your wallet on the table it’s very unlikely someone would take it. In the summer it gets so hot that everyone leaves their cars running and outdoor bus stops are air-conditioned!
Riyals is Qatar’s currency and 1.00 QAR = $0.27 USD or $1 USD = 3.64 QAR.
Gas is cheaper than water as it costs just 1 QAR per liter. Our desert safari guide told me that it costs him 30 QAR to fill up his jeep, which is about $8 — no wonder people keep their cars running in the summer.
Natalie and I visited in April and the temperature ranged from 73F-87F. Here’s Doha’s monthly weather forecast.
Where to Stay
There are tons of five-star international hotel chains and scores of new ones on the rise. We were hosted at the W Doha, which is the W’s first hotel in the Middle East. It’s just three years old so it’s one of the newest hotels in the city. The W Hotel is located in the heart of Doha — about a 20-minute drive from the airport — and offers guests impeccable service and fantastic restaurants.
We arranged transportation to and from the airport with the hotel and they had a representative walk us right to the car. It’s obviously much cheaper to just go outside and take a taxi but if the W Doha arranges your car, it costs 150 QAR ($41) for a standard car or 210 QAR ($57) for one of their plush 7 series BMWs.
On arrival, the hotel welcomed us with an exotic strawberry juice that had JohnnyJet.com and W Hotels logos on the stirrer. They also put my logo on their screen like they do with big companies who hold meetings in the hotel. So cool!
The hotel is geared towards business travelers and it’s ranked number three on TripAdvisor for Doha hotels. Probably because the W philosophy is Whatever/Whenever so guests rarely hear the word no (except when it’s illegal!) – I don’t understand this sentence.
Speaking of service, one of the biggest attractions about this hotel is that they have three W Insider staff members that work as a link between the guest and the city. When I asked one of them what W stands for, he said it represents Wow, Warm, Welcome. He went on to say that ‘W’ represents being a trendsetter. Their first hotel opened in New York City in 1998 and they try to keep that same energy for each of their properties. They also are big on social media and they will respond to a tweet within 10 minutes. Now that’s impressive. Test them out – their Twitter handle is @wdoha.
What I love about W Hotels is that guests sleep in style in their signature beds, which have luxurious pillow-top mattresses, feather-bed overlays, goose-down duvets and pillows and 350-threadcount Egyptian cotton sheets. They also have ultra-plush W robes, select Bliss products, state-of-the-art entertainment systems, an iPod dock, cordless phones, flat screen LCD TVs with 300 channels. I was even told that they can swap out any channel to make sure you get the one you want.
Unfortunately, I didn’t hit their 24-hour fitness center or their outdoor pool but I did dine in their two Jean-Georges restaurants, Spice Market and Market. They both offer an express lunch menu for 89 QAR ($24), which includes three courses and guests are guaranteed to be out in 35 minutes. They do this because the hotel is heavily business-oriented. Note: If you go, be sure to try the Spice Market’s homemade soda. Their ginger ale is off the hook.
My only complaint about the hotel is the techno music pumping throughout the public spaces. It’s just a bit too hip for me.
Interesting facts about the W Doha
There are 62 nationalities represented by the staff at the W Doha. Most of them live in a comfortable building about 25 minutes away and there’s a 24/7 shuttle for them, which operates every 30 minutes.
Doha has a wide variety of different types of cuisine, including Indian, Thai, Chinese, Italian, Korean and, of course, typical Middle Eastern food. Unfortunately, you’ll also find typical American fast food chains: Applebee’s, Arby’s, Bennigan’s, Burger King, Chili’s, Dairy Queen, Fuddruckers, KFC, Hardee’s, Little Caesar’s, McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Ponderosa Steakhouse and Starbucks. I heard that everyone delivers – including McDonalds!
We didn’t visit Doha’s newest mall, the Villaggio, which has canals inside like the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas. But we did walk four blocks from the hotel to City Centre-Doha. It opened in April 2001 and is huge. It has all kinds of stores, restaurants, a supermarket, movie theatre, bowling alley, children’s arcade and an indoor ice skating rink. Surprisingly, the hotel staff was shocked when we said we were going to walk as it’s just four blocks away. Everyone drives everywhere and Doha doesn’t really have sidewalks except along the famous Corniche, which everyone does walk around – especially at night.
The only negative thing I heard about Qatar is that they need to change their labor laws like Dubai. Most immigrant construction workers get paid 900 QAR ($247) a month and they have to work seven days a week and 12-hour days. It does include their room and board. What’s also crazy is that workers can’t just fly home – they need to first get approval from their boss. They do this to protect their investment; Qatar often pays for employees’ flights to come over and (understandably) they don’t just want people treating it like a vacation.
We didn’t visit the Museum of Islamic Arts on the Corniche, which was designed by I.M. Pei because it’s closed on Tuesdays.
But we did walk around it and then went to the Souq Waqif, which is a short walk away. The Souq is massive and you can easily get lost inside. But unlike in Morocco and other Souqs I’ve been to, it’s extremely safe, clean, and wide and no one pesters you to buy things. You can buy pretty much anything except pork products and alcohol. The craziest thing I saw was a pet store with colorful dyed chicks and a Qatari walking down the street with his pet monkey, which was wearing a diaper. The best thing I drank was an avocado shake from Al Mandarin. I thought it was going to be disgusting but it was the opposite. And everything is cheap.
The most exhilarating thing we did was go on a desert safari. They usually cost about $60 a person and take 8 hours but we arranged for a private half-day tour for $220 total. Natalie and I went with two very cool staff members from W Doha and we had such a good time. The drive out to the dunes takes about an hour and then we hit the dunes for another hour (it was a similar experience to the one I had in the UAE – here’s that video.)
The W Doha recommends Qatari International Adventures as they’ve never had an accident and our driver was awesome. Interesting fact: Qatar is one of two countries where you can see sand dunes and water at the same time; the other is Namibia.
– Standing in the Inland Sea and seeing the land across the way (about 30km), which was Saudi Arabia!
– Visiting Qatari International Adventures base camp where full-day guests hang out for hours. We were just there for about 30 minutes, which was enough time to feel the warm water, take pictures with the camels and sand board.
– This desert seemed a lot dirtier than the UAE’s. I think Qatar needs to do a better job picking up garbage.
Useful Qatar Resources:
There you have it! I can’t wait to visit again as I really enjoyed myself and the country’s national airline, Qatar Airways, is one of the best airlines in the world. When their new airport opens up in the fall of 2012 this destination will be even better so add it to your list of must-visit destinations.