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Qatar - 7 Years On

We had a weekend break to Qatar recently. I had visited in January 2017 but Elaine had never been there. So, had it changed at all? Yes indeed.

Most people going from Riyadh fly there, but for some reason the flight prices were disproportionately high compared to similar Gulf flights to Bahrain, Kuwait and the UAE, with no obvious reason. As it is land connected we looked at the option of driving, and it was in the region of 600km from Riyadh to Doha. So on the Thursday afternoon, after an early exit from work we set off.  The driving took just over 6 hours, plus a 1 hour stop near Hofuf to refuel and eat our packed meal. The unknown factor was the border crossing. My previous experiences with the land border between KSA and Bahrain had all been of at least 1 hour additional time being required, mostly in queuing for the formalities. Happily there were no such queues at the Qatari border and once we completed the biometric registration we were quickly through – or so we thought until an x-ray scan of our luggage revealed some medicines, and the Qatari customs officers demanded to see these and so bags were opened and paperwork and prescriptions for these checked. We’ve never had this issue before anywhere, even not entering KSA where there are very strict checks. However this was done efficiently and added only 10 minutes to our crossing.  After that it was less than an hour to our Doha city-centre hotel.

On the Friday we had a leisurely start to the day, an excellent breakfast (although it did not include real bacon) and so we went for a walk to the corniche. After a few minutes walk we were at the seaside, and enjoyed a stroll along the front. 


Qatar's signature statue - the Pearl.

After a bit we came to where a dhow-skipper was touting for punters to come on his trip round the bay. We haggled him down to a reasonable price and set off for a 45 minute motorised cruise to West Bay and return. As well as watching the passing scenery, our shipmates – a group of 10 Indians – entertained us with onboard bhangra dancing. 


A recent addition - the World Cup statue on an island in the West Bay.


Indians partying on the dhow.

Back on land it was time for a wander around a pop-up flea-market in the grounds of the Museum of Islamic Art, and then a step-up in retail exploration with an extended wander around the Souk Waqif, the old city-centre markets. In my time living in the Middle East I have been in a dozen or so city souks, and I rate the Doha one as my favourite. Maybe the autumn’s cooler weather played a part as we wandered about, and possibly its proximity to the sea.


The bird souk

After dinner in an Italian restaurant at the edge of the souk we retired to the hotel, whose rooftop bar had alcoholic drinks – something you definitely can’t enjoy in KSA. When booking our hotels there had been good availability and attractive prices at the ones we looked at, and when we had checked in on the Thursday we were treated to an upgrade to a suite. I surmised that now that the 2022 football World Cup has been and gone there is an awful lot of accommodation and not enough tourists to fill it all.


View from the hotel rooftop bar.

On the Saturday morning we checked out then drove up to the beach at Katara. Here we had another pleasant walk, and noticed that the beach was being extended – by pouring concrete as a base and then covering it with truckloads of sand. Not quite what I expected, I must admit. I wonder if buckets and spades will be banned? 


Katara beach

Nearly everything in Qatar (apart maybe from the souk) is like Abu Dhabi and completely new and shiny. And artificial. Since 2017 there has been a huge amount of building, most of the West Bay and Lusail areas being recent additions. Not to mention all the huge stadia built too. The metro system has been built, and close by our hotel in the Mshreib area was a tram track with a single battery tram going around a 1 mile circuit.



We met friends for lunch at their home in a residential compound, and this was unlike the compounds found in Riyadh where we have serious walls and security to keep the residents safe and the locals out, this was more of a gated community.

And after that it was the drive back to Riyadh. We made sure to top up our petrol before the Saudi border as the price per litre was SAR 1.99 in Qatar opposed to 2.19 in KSA. In UK£ that’s 40p in Qatar and 44p in Saudi. I can just about remember those prices in the UK (1989). Not having a packed meal, we ate in a restaurant in Hofuf, but as it was dark by then we couldn’t marvel at what is reportedly the world’s largest oasis.

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