This entry is a guide on how to survive Doha, and maybe even have some fun in Qatar.
Qatar is a small peninsula overlooking the Persian gulf, its known to be the highest paying country in the gulf region, it is said that Qatar is the Dubai 20 years ago, a lot of potential with none of the ruthless competition you get in Duba/Abu Dhabi.
Locals represent 15% of the population of this country, and most probably you’d never end up interacting with them, in my entire trip to Qatar I only had to speak arabic a handful of times. Most of the people living in qatar are either Europeans, Indians or Arabs, and English is the de-facto language for this country, don’t expect to sample any local culture not Qatari at least.
Qatar has 3 means of public transportation, I’ll start with the cheapest to the most expensive.
Public Busses :
Only a handful of those are operational in Doha, and their routes are designed to move the indian blue collar workers from their work places to their living areas, and in general wouldn’t really fit anybody else’s needs.
Karwa taxis :
Clearly marked green cars that are operated by the government (Mwasalat), they charge 4 QAR for the first 500 meters and then 1.2QAR per Km by day and 1.8 per Km by night, and 8 QAR for every 15 minutes of waiting, no trip within Doha should cost you more than 20 QAR.
They can either pick you up from one of the clearly marked taxi stops or you can phone their call center and they’ll come and pick you up from where ever you are for an additional 4 QAR, however please note that you have to call them anything between 1 hour and 4 hours in advance to be sure to receive your taxi on time, their number is 9744588888 and it takes about 10 minutes to get to one of their agents.
A word of advice, some of these taxis are driven by Indian drivers who have just arrived to the country so once a while your driver wouldn’t know how to get you to your destination so make sure to keep a map on you with your destination marked on it. And Just like any other taxi driver any where in the world your driver will often try to take the longest route possible (since he is working on commission) in such situations the map would prove to be invaluable.
Fox limousines :
Unmarked cars with tinted back windows (mostly Chevrolet or Honda), they are about twice as expensive as Karwa charging a flat rate of either 40QAR or 60QAR, they are fast, reliable and usually the drivers are a lot more experienced than the ones driving Karwa cars.
The only way to get into one is to call their hot line +974 4622777 which usually picks up within 2 or 3 rings at most, and the car can be available to pick you up from anywhere in doha within 30 minutes at most, their nicest feature is since they operate on a flat rate the driver generally tries to get you to your destination as soon as possible, which is a life saver after a long day at work.
Shopping is one of the main activities you can do in Qatar, since the state doesn’t rely on taxes to generate its revenue everything would be much cheaper than anywhere else, Shopping in Qatar revolves around one of the 5 malls they have, Some shops can be found in all malls however no mall is like the other, each mall has at least : 1 carrefour, 2 starbucks, 2 coffee beans and the tea leaf, vodafone store, food court selling normal american fast food, skating arena, and virgin megastore.
High end shopping (Villagio mall):
If you are looking for high end stuff, and by high end I mean D&G, Fendi, LV, YSL, tiffany and their likes, then you should visit villagio mall, situated at the furthest possible point form the sea it is the nicest mall they’ve got, all the right brands are there, and hence all the right people are shopping there.
Its also decorated in a really interesting way, and is generally spacious and relaxing.
Casual Shopping (Land Mark- City Center):
Both of them are more or less the same exact thing (however Land Mark is slightly nicer), city center however has this really important asset being 5 minutes away from most of the hotels (walking distance if you are staying in the W hotel).
Nothing is spectacular or breath taking about these, just the same mediocre malls you’d find any other place around the world, basically clean and cheap places to eat/shop for basics in.
Qatar was originally known for its really cheap pearls, however if you try to buy them from one of the malls you’ll get the same price you’d most probably get at the duty free market so I recommend visiting the “Gold Souq”. Gold Souq is located in downtown Doha, and sells the cheapest pearls and local antiques ever, if you are visiting there prepare your haggling skills and you should expect to be able to decrease the price by anything between 20% and 40%, pearls are priced according to size and shape, seawater white ones are the most expensive and by expensive I mean a pearl studs is for 80QAR.
The most reliable place I’ve discovered in that place is “MIGs precious stones”, the guy working in the store (Ishak) is friendly and usually would give you an interesting discount if you push him hard enough, I actually ended up visiting that place more than once because of his friendly attitude which you wouldn’t find in other stores.
A word of advice about Gold Souq though, its located right next to the slums some indians are living in, and the place in general have the look and feel of Kolkata slums, and usually weird looking people are hanging out there.
Souq Waqif offers pearls as well but at a slightly higher price and usually people there don’t accept a lot of haggling, however its a lot better looking than the Gold souq, and includes a much bigger variety of Qatari memorabilia, it is located right behind the Gold Souq(5 minutes walk).
After a day of work you are looking for a place to hangout in, its too late for the swimming pool and the museum so here are some options for you to consider:
1. Souq Waqif: The best hang out EVER, it’s an old renovated souq around a boulevard, this place has really ancient building that are filled with places you can sit in, smoke shisha have a nice meal and generally enjoy the weather, every single imaginable cuisine can be found there. However I highly recommend Tajin (Moroccan) and the royal tandoor (indian).
2. Villagio Mall: Usually I’m not really into spending my team in a mall, but this one is difference its specious design and breathtaking internal decoration would definitely make you spend a lot more than you originally intended to.
3. Cornish : taking a walk by the cournish is a must, however this is not valid in summer, since the humidity and heat would make it too much to bear.
Qatar has a nightlife! Due to the fact that there are more expats in the country than locals, the country boasts a really healthy nightlife, however, getting into a club is a rather interesting challenge, since you can only enter it if you were a member of that club, and this entails getting a special members card that is checked every time you enter the club, most clubs if not all enforce a strict couples only policy at the door, given the nature of this country I believe this is valid and actually good.
In short if you are in for a short visit I doubt that you’d be able to get into a club unless you’ve got the right connections.