What you’d rather the postcard told you, as well as “wish you were here.”
Whoever said: “Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun”, must have visited Doha in July. That’s not to say it’s a bad thing, but if you are escaping the New Zealand winter, be prepared to hit the shopping malls and hotel swimming pool during the day, rather than the beach, this time of year.
The long flight
The Qatar Airways’ flight from New Zealand - 17 hours plus change – was not as daunting as it sounds, leaving Auckland at a respectable 2.25pm and hitting the ground at Doha about 11pm. Hence your body clock is pretty good. Get to your hotel around midnight and have a regular night’s sleep.
The larger hotels have shuttles to and from the airport, only about 20 minutes out of town. I was told that the taxi fare should not be more than 80-100 QR (30-35 USD) for West Bay (where I stayed) and around 50 QR for hotels near the Museum of Islamic Arts (more about that later) at the port end of the city.
Doha is built around a W-shaped stretch of coastline which can be covered in 30-40 minutes by car. Roads are good and traffic not particularly heavy except when school finishes at 5pm. An underground railway (metro) system is being constructed in readiness for the football World Cup in 2022.
Where to stay
I stayed at Movenpick West Bay in the central section of the “W” on the waterfront which has an iconic Sheraton hotel at its apex. West Bay is the business area of Doha, full of embassies and government agencies. Good for me as a single 50-something male, but maybe not so for families. You are within walking distance of one big shopping mall (Town Center), which includes an ice skating rink. If you think this sounds like Dubai, you’re right.
Doha Museum of Islamic Arts
At one end of Doha, 10-15 minutes from West Bay, is the port where traditional wooden boats (dhows) can be hired by visitors, but the showpiece of this area of Doha is the Museum of Islamic Arts…worth going to (free entry) just for the shape of the building! It is right next door to the souk (market), less busy than Dubai or Istanbul and with more of a village feel. I found this to be the best place to eat, with wonderful Middle Eastern and Asian restaurants (NZ$15-$20 for dinner).
The Date Festival
I happened to be in Doha when the souk hosted an annual Date Festival (the fruit, not dinner and dancing), which saw local farmers display the fruits of their labours.
Katara Cultural Village
At the other end of the waterfront is The Pearl, a ritzy reclaimed coastal spit the mirror image of Dubai’s Palm. Think Ferrari dealers and fashion houses. Also at that end of town is Katara Cultural Village. Built in 2010, but modelled on an ancient Arabian settlement, it is a centre for theatre and art. The centrepiece is a magnificent amphitheatre. I got a car and driver from my hotel to go to Katara/Pearl ($50 US for two hours). Apparently getting up there by cab is easy but getting one back can be tricky.
Shopping, groceries & malls
The Villaggio Mall in Doha, in keeping with its Venetian theme, has a canal on which you can take gondola rides. My “local”, the Town Center Mall, has an excellent supermarket, with very reasonable prices, and NZ steak if you want it.
Katara also has the town beach, which is not for even the most enthusiastic sunbather in July/August. On one day during my stay the temperature hit 48, with an overnight “low” of 35. Such temperatures can make one thirsty. Duty free alcohol cannot be bought on the way in at the airport by visitors (residents have a permit system) and my hotel was “dry”. However, after some research, I found that some of the big international hotels have pubs open to the public. The best known, with less restrictive dress standards is the Belgian Café (think Leuvens in Wellington). At NZ $18 for a pint of Stella it is not cheap, but you do have to remember where you are.