I landed upon Qatar purely by chance. After the 2008 global financial crash the economy in the UK took a turn for the worse. As a contractor I found my contracts becoming shorter, the gaps between them longer and rates slashed. At around the same time some of my closest friends began to move overseas for differing reasons; so, I naturally began to think about doing the same. I began applying casually and speculatively for roles Internationally.
I then landed upon a role looking for my skill set in health care for ‘International locations’ and forwarded my CV. Shortly afterwards, I was invited for an interview in London for an organisation based in Qatar. When they did not get back to me for a few weeks, I got the sense that I would get a job offer. I then figured to myself ‘as long as it is not Saudi Arabia’ I will go. Having received the offer and accepting the role it took a few months to process the paperwork and I left in September 2011.
There were, at least at the time, three types of Brits who considered working in Qatar. The first kind felt it was a great idea and then got cold feet and never turned up. The second type turned up and left within a year because they never liked it or adjusted; employers despised these two kinds as it was a huge waste of resource and effort on their part (it is for this reason that my employer did not allow overseas employees to take holidays in the first 10 months). The final kind like me struggled to adjust in the first few months but then really began to enjoy the place.
Qatar is a little ‘gem’ of a country. It is tiny perhaps no bigger than a London or a Lebanon- one can drive from one side to the other in approximately 2 hours. The main and effectively only city is Doha where most of its citizens and residents live, much of the rest of it is sparsely populated. I remember observing that I had never seen a place change so fast. There were cranes everywhere and at times you might see a shop or restaurant which disappeared a few months later as it has been built on (the construction at the time was 24 hours).
However, on scratching the surface I noticed a paradox of sorts; whilst the leadership had grand ambitions, there was a lack of urgency on the part of the populace. I figured the principal reason for this was the fact that the local people were wealthy and comfortable and thus lacking motivation to change. It was at the time absurdly rich-its two principal sources of income are oil and gas- and the wealth was visible in all the luxury. The quality of life was hugely impressive. One did not have to bust a gut working, even the directors did their basic hours and left. I used to work 7–3, go home for an afternoon siesta and have the evening to myself.
Petrol was dirt cheap-less than 20p litre- alas it was no surprise to see many driving monsters’ trucks. Luxury and decadence were everywhere, and it was difficult as an ex-pat not to ‘get involved’. One was pampered and even more so if you were a Qatari, you did not have to leave your often-luxurious car to fill it with petrol, and some-mainly Qataris-would not leave their cars if they went to a convenience store or a McDonalds. They would beep their horns, and either a Filipino or Indian employee would run out, take their order and then collect the requested items for them. Unsurprisingly the likes of KFC and Burger King ran delivery services.
It is not unusual to see a ‘teaboy’ or a driver in many an office and valets would invariably park your cars if one went out for dinner in a 5* hotel. As far as I could see the vision of the leaders was to create a post-oil economy by turning Qatar into the Middle Eastern equivalent of a Singapore or Switzerland. I felt that the ‘World Cup’ was perceived by the leadership as its ‘big bang’- when Qatar would announce itself to the World. It is no surprise they were churning out luxury tower after luxury tower.
When I first arrived, I heard some amusing anecdotes. At one point the Emir had decided to pay of all the credit card debts of the local populace. He then perhaps conscious of the Arab Spring gave the army a 100% pay rise and when I was there giving a 60% pay rise to all Qatari public sector employees. Even as ex-pats, we were often treated very well. Our wages were untaxed, we were paid well, accommodation was paid for (I was, for instance, given a 3 storey, 6-bedroom en suite villa). Healthcare was free, and children’s education was subsidised.
At the beginning, while I was awaiting more permanent accommodation, I was in a shared flat which was far from ideal. However, after a few months the housing director of my employer-a nice gentleman called Khaled-with whom I had developed a rapport called me and said, ‘Faisal I have something for you’ and asked me to meet him in the Al Rayyan area at a compound. He took me to the back street of this exclusive compound with pink and desert coloured Spanish style villas and he said ‘choose one’ (!). I was stunned that all this space was being offered to one person, I did feel guilty as it felt like a waste, but I was told that if one turned down a decent place then the housing department would see one as fussy and be less responsive. I was given 4k British to spend on furniture and the villa had a car park space to the side, one at the front, a little garden space, three floors and a flat roof terrace.
On another occasion on a trip to Boston my employer took it very seriously and were so sensitive about their external image that they treated it like a diplomatic visit. The travel department made the flight arrangements and then informed me ‘oh sorry Mr Khan we couldn’t get you a first-class ticket as the flight you are on only has business class, so here please accept some Qatar Airways tokens. On closer inspection I discovered that these were 2k GBP worth of Qatar Airways flight vouchers (!) (I used them that winter to travel to Argentina).
There were good reasons for all this though, such as the fact that paying taxes would increase the demand for citizenship, that we were helping to develop the country and its infrastructure with our skills and the canny authorities had worked out that to entice skilled people away from say a Dubai or New York would require incentivising.
History and Politics
In the modern period, Qatar gained independence from the British in 1971. In 1995, so the story goes Emir Hamad bin Khalifa seized control of the country from his father-while his father was overseas. Under Emir Hamad, Qatar experienced a moderate degree of liberalisation and modernisation, including launching the Al Jazeera television station, drafting its first written constitution and inaugurating a Roman Catholic church. In 2010, Qatar controversially won the rights to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, making it the first country in the Middle East to be selected to host the tournament. When I arrived in 2011, there appeared to be a love affair between Emir Hamad and his people who credited him for opening them up to the World and ‘making them rich’.
In 2011, Qatar joined NATO operations in Libya and armed Libyan opposition groups. It was also a significant supporter of rebel groups in the Syrian civil war; although in recent years appears to have changed direction to lead a more values based foreign policy. From what I could see Qatar’s foreign outlook reflected the mentality of a small country that was desperate to retain both its independence and wealth and therefore, it ‘played all sides’. It retains the biggest US military base in the region, maintains strong relations with the USA, Britain and the West, while also by contrast hosting the likes of the Taliban and maintaining good relations with Iran.
In June 2013, Sheikh Tamim became the Emir of Qatar after his father handed over power in a televised speech. Sheikh Tamim has prioritised improving the domestic welfare of citizens, which includes establishing advanced healthcare and education systems and expanding the country’s infrastructure in preparation for the hosting of the 2022 World Cup.
In 2017 Saudi Arabia and the UAE led on imposing an all-out embargo on Qatar arguing that it supported ‘terrorism’ and was too close to Iran. However, many analysts cited other factors such as Qatar’s growing international assertiveness, the reporting of Al Jazeera and even its successful World cup bid. Although the embargo was designed to ‘break’ Qatar, its leadership showed great resilience, reacting swiftly to limit damage. In many respects, the boycott proved counter-productive and has pushed Qatar even closer to Saudi Arabia’s rivals Turkey and Iran.
Although I hugely enjoyed my time in Qatar it did take me a few months to adjust. Initially, when I felt the heat and saw women wearing the full niqab and abaya I thought to myself ‘God, what have I done’. However, on my first visit to a popular nightspot that would not have been out of place in West London when seeing some Westerners take of their clothes and jump into the hotel swimming pool, I realised that this was clearly a country of contrasts. Reading between the lines I discerned a message; that you can do whatever you want behind closed doors, but in the public domain the expectation was that one always behaves responsibly (after all it is a conservative society).
There was also much more to do and see then I initially appreciated. There were some great malls. The main one was the Central Mall, busy most days and especially over the weekends. In the Gulf countries, local people spend a lot of their free time in malls. These are not only places where they shop, it is also where they watch movies, go to the gym, socialise and even flirt (the Landmark mall, for instance, was known locally as the ‘love’ mall).
The flirting in a conservative and religious Islamic society was really something to observe. It was so subtle it was barely noticeable. Often what would happen is a group of Qatari men would position themselves next to a group of women (the men in white and the women in black thobes) in a mall or in the Souk, and the men would try to catch eye contact and then pass their phone number to a woman. Alternatively, some of the Qatari men would drive around the malls, throwing their written phone numbers at the women or through their open car windows.
For foreign men, Qatari women were strictly off limits. In fact, by law the women were not allowed to marry foreigners, if they did, they would lose their inheritance and state aid. They were also by law not allowed to visit night spots where alcohol was served. Male nurses and doctors were not allowed to go into the rooms of Qatari females without a female chaperone; this often led to automatic termination.
By contrast the society was clearly a Qatari man’s oyster. Some women turned up with the dream of marrying themselves a rich Sheikh, however the local men already knew that, so whilst some of them may have enjoyed the company of foreign women it would very rarely lead to marriage; it was like a game. In some cases, it would not end well; with wealth often comes ego, and I heard many horror stories of Western expat women being raped, mistreated or harassed and even on the rare occasion killed. Apparently, the CEO of Qatar Airways-who had a penchant for hiring beautiful women- would tell them that if they got raped, they would simply be sent back home.
I felt that this was in part a reflection of cultural attitudes. For many of the more insular Qatari men, their perception of Western women was formed by movies and TV serials (as well as porn) and how they viewed their own women. For them if a woman was covered, she was self-respecting and if uncovered ‘fair game’. The more educated and travelled, amongst them, naturally saw things differently.
Although difficult for single women at times, Qatar was still nevertheless in many ways a very safe society which simply did not have many of the social problems that are typical in Western cities. When I was there it was deemed to be the safest place in the Middle East and the 12th safest on the planet: despite being in an unstable region. Violent street crime is non-existent; as were gangs, or some of the drink fuelled yobbishness that is common in Britain. In the three years I was there I only saw a couple of mildly violent incidents both triggered by drunk British tourists. There were good reasons for this; first, there is little incentive for crime as the local people are wealthy. Second, everybody is there for a purpose, non-locals are all immigrants there to work and finally it is a small and ‘controlled’ society if subtly so. Everyone has an electronic identity card which is used if you wish to go into a bar, club, join the gym etc. The police can also rapidly find you through your mobile number (and the police were no nonsense).
In terms of places to see and visit there was far more to Qatar than met the eye, especially given the pace of development. Some of my personal favourites were:
Museum of Islamic Art
There is for example the grand Museum of Islamic Art (MIA). Located on the Corniche backing onto the Gulf Sea sea this rectangular structure has a large, vast and impressive interior. I am no art connoisseur but as far as I could see it housed an impressive array of Arabic and Islamic art both historic and contemporary. The Museum shop was most charming and the restaurant in the main foyer was a great place to have a coffee or lunch whilst looking out threw the large, elegant glass windows onto the lush blue sea and city centre in the background.
The corniche is a lovely sea-front boulevard that stretches from roughly the MIA all the way along to the city centre. At night, the visuals of the subtle and elegant neon lights of some of the city centres iconic buildings in the background makes for an impressive sight. The corniche is clean, with a spluttering of sea-front restaurants and the odd coffee shop. For a small fee one can take short boat rides on fishermen style boats. Something well worth doing.
Not far from the MIA on the other side of the road is the Souk. In terms of size, it is not on the same scale as say the one in Istanbul, but it is still immensely charming. It has been built in a traditional style, is hugely busy on the weekends and some of the open-air restaurants are open 24 hours. The Souk is well worth exploring for things like fresh nuts, cooking products, saffron and souvenirs. There is also a small popular section that sells caged birds. On the exterior of the Souk are a wide range of restaurants, coffee and juice shops. Many come here on the weekends to eat, and to relax with friends and families normally accompanied by a shisha (Shisha in the Arab World is their equivalent to an alcoholic beverage).
The city centre has clearly been developed in recent years and has some eye-catching and iconic sea-front buildings One of the most iconic and certainly most frequented is the city centre mall. As mentioned above Qatari’s and Arabs spend an enormous amount of time in malls and when I was there this circular 4 storey mall was clearly hugely popular and acted as a local ‘hub’. On the weekends it was often terribly busy until late and had it all; food courts, coffee shops, western household named stores, restaurants, high-end luxury shops and even a gym. I have not been back to Qatar since 2014 but I reliably informed that Qatar now has even bigger malls.
The Landmark mall in was also popular. I quite liked this mall, I liked its energy and since it was near to me, I spent quite some time there; shopping, relaxing, and reading in its Starbucks. Some of the malls had stores and shops that others did not have a so on and I liked this one because it was compact, user friendly and with men’s stores that I liked.
On the outskirts of Doha near the Al Khalifa football stadium and football training facilities (where Man United trained in the winters) was the Villaggio mall. This is a large and impressive ground floor mall with an impressive design. It is designed in the Venetian theme (although in this case borrowed more from the Venetian in Vegas than Venice itself) and even has the fake lake in the middle with a Gondola or two. One corner of the mall contains the super high-end stores-like the Mont Blanc and Ralph Lauren’s- and rest of it the usual mix of high end, mainstream, food courts and restaurants (as well as a cinema). On the weekends it can get terribly busy making parking and exiting the mall difficult.
Sadly, when I was there, there was a fire in the mall and whilst most were evacuated there was children’s nursery that was not on the floorplans, leading to the death of 19 children. In a country as small and peaceful as Qatar, this was nothing short of a national tragedy and led to a complete overhaul of the fire service.
Katara and Westpoint
As one drove out of the city centre to the West towards Westpoint you would soon reach the impressive Katara cultural village. It was a modern complex, built on a traditional desert coloured Arab design and a place I found hugely charming. It had clearly been built from scratch and even the outlying ‘hills’ were made of rock with artificial grass (however the quality was impeccable). As one entered from the city centre direction you would find a beach popular with western families (it was intentionally low-key and not well developed as the Qataris did not want to attract that kind of tourist) and as one went further in you will find traditional style buildings which were almost invariably restaurants (eating and relaxing is a favourite past time of Qataris).
Although the restaurants were not super high end many of them were boutique and of very good quality. There was one seafood place that was hugely popular, invariably busy on the weekends. It one was lucky enough to get a table, its appeal rested in the fact that you could choose your own fish, the accompaniments and let the staff know how to cook it for you. Many of the restaurants, including this one were sea facing, and it was easy to spend a whole day or afternoon in Katara, taking in the sea’s views, taking a stroll or lounging on the beach. The complex also contained a theatre hall, where many cultural events were held.
As one continues to drive further west past the Katara you will see an iconic building (I think residential accommodation) known locally as the puzzle, underneath which is another mall (The Laguna Mall) and opposite and close to which are what I call the ‘grand hotels’; like the Grand Hyatt, Ritz Carlton and St Regis. The mall here is quieter and smaller and most of the shops are high end and even the eateries are upmarket (but more 4* than 5* quality). Perhaps given its slightly out of centre location and high-end shops it was no surprise that the main clients here are Qataris-as it only them that in the main could afford the prices.
Brunch on Saturday’s-usually at one of the grand hotels-has effectively become a tradition in Qatar and the Gulf regionally generally. They are normally reasonably priced, and one can eat and drink (including alcohol) until you drop. From memory I went to Ritz Carlton brunch 3 times and in a word, it was lavish, almost overwhelming. The idea is to be tactical to avoid overeating and ensuring that you can still walk out without being bloated and lazy for the rest of the day (unless of course that is what you want to do).
I stayed in the Grand Hyatt for a week before I left Qatar, it was very good. The price and quality of the rooms was decent, there was a balcony in the room, a huge lobby- a good place for a relaxing coffee-a decent sized swimming pool and even an exclusive beach and some of the restaurants were particularly good.
My brother stayed at the St Regis which at the time was being advertised as the first-unofficial of course-6* hotel. It was indeed nice; rooms were usual quality for 5* hotel and there were two pools; one on the ground floor looking onto the sea and one below and adjacent at ground level near the hotels exclusive beach (typical amongst the larger hotels in this part of the World).
On a Friday night the beach would often be turned into an outdoor nightclub, well worth visiting, even if one often saw the same faces and the usual pretentious ‘Qatar Airways’ girls. The restaurants were brand names; there was a Gordon Ramsey, A Hakkasan and Sultan Al Brahim (see below ). The lobby was a great place to relax with a good quality and tasty food menu.
Near the Katara was the grander Intercontinental hotel (there was a smaller one in the city centre). Although I did not stay at this one, I visited on a few occasions. The lobby served very reasonably priced food and was a good place to have lunch. It also had two connected and busy nightclubs (although maybe more for a younger crowd). They also had their own sea food restaurant. Whilst the food here was not as good as some of the others already mentioned the location on the beach was stunning. At times they even used the beach for concerts for well-known international artists. I managed to watch a very enjoyable Akon concert only to bump into him a few weeks later in Dubai. On one occasion I met James Blunt who told me he had been playing at the Intercontinental.
The other hotel that I visited and liked at the time was the W; it was centrally located, not far from the city centre mall and as is typical for W hotels was fashionable and glamorous. The restaurant downstairs although slightly on the expensive side was exceptionally good, the lobby small but decent, there was a most charming and boutique coffee place and a nice lounge bar next to it. It was also home to one of the most popular and exclusive bars and nightclubs in town (see nightlife). For a swift, centrally located weekend stay this hotel was perfect.
Not far from the Laguna Mall to the right is the jaw-dropping development called ‘The Pearl’; exclusive, decadent and luxurious this place is simply stunning. It is a large residential development with a mix of large houses and apartment towers. At the time I was there it was still incomplete. Some of the buildings had the traditional creamy desert colour that is normal throughout this part of the World and were exceptionally beautifully designed and immensely pleasing to the eye. Some of the homes and buildings-especially as one drove further in- were built in a romantic traditional Italian style with powerful but subtle colours (such as sky blue or light pink) with balconies facing artificial lakes.
The front facing properties had a sea view and the pier was docked with the ultimate sign of wealth and status: yachts. It was difficult not to be impressed, virtually all of them were gleaning and some were clearly mega yachts (I am guessing there is yachts hierarchy). It seemed to me that some of these were staffed year around yet likely only used for a few weeks a year.
The shops and restaurants here were super high end; Salvatore Ferragamo, Gucci, Prada, Armani, Gordon Ramsey, Rolls Royce, Hermes and even an Emporio Armani cafe (the food here was surprisingly good) and being an exclusive development, it was naturally not terribly busy. My sense was that this was built more in anticipation for when Qatar became better known around the World rather than to meet a demand. Although I do not know for sure I heard the rents here were by no means unreasonable, at least not in GBP or USD terms. I heard anecdotally at the time that Qatar had changed the law to allow foreigners to buy property in certain locations, and that this would come with a 5-year renewable residency. However, once one passed it would not go onto your loved ones but back to the state (not the best terms I guess). But certainly, if one were to buy a place or live in Qatar than the Pearl is certainly, a prime location.
If I were to classify restaurants and the quality of food generally in Qatar, I would say it was very good (whereas somewhere like London would be excellent). There was a wide range and good choice, cheap restaurants (popular amongst the low earning foreign workers), mid-range-both chains and boutique-the kind in the layer between top tier and mid-range (as in the Katara) and naturally some truly outstanding expensive ones in the 5* hotels. Some in the high-end hotels were majestically located next to or on the beach with sea views. The Qatari authorities were very keen on food quality and any place that did not maintain hygiene standards was often swiftly closed.
I really liked the following;
Al-Sultan Brahim- This seafood place was special; it was apparently a famous high-end Lebanese (the Lebanese are notoriously fastidious) brand. Located on the ground floor of the St Regis restaurant everything about this place was delightful. It was located near the swimming pool beside the sea, the Arabic style starters-whether it was the patatas harrara or Humus mit Shawarma- were to die for. For the main course, one chose their own fish and then asked the waiters to cook it as per preference. I cannot remember all the details but a Lebanese colleague of mine recommended that I get my fish grilled with like a spicy tomato flavour (9 years later as I write I can still remember the amazing taste). Like all the high-end restaurants alcohol was served as well Arabic style mint tea. It clearly had a strong reputation as one night I met the footballer Yaya Touré there. In the same hotel there was also Hakkasan and a Gordon Ramsey, although I never got to eat them.
Isaan Thai Resturant- I remember one evening having dinner a Thai place in the Grand Hyatt Obviously, it was 5 * prices but it was simply sublime. They brought out small and very spicy but equally tasty dishes, whether it was spicy beef, or chicken and the rice was perfect and fluffy.
Zaoq- Indian food was not as readily available in Qatar as however there was a boutique Pakistani restaurant that I remember fondly. It was mid-range in price and the food was authentic Punjabi food and incredibly good. They served delightful mango lassi, their biryanis were tasty-especially the chicken and cashew- and all the main curry dishes were all very well made (everyone I took there liked it; except those who struggled with spicy food).
La Cigale- In Al Saad had a had a couple of eateries I really liked. Although, I never ate at its main restaurants, it had this kind of outdoor café style eatery with a mainstream menu where one could order a mix of western and Arabic food. At one point or another I think I went through much of the menu. Once again, although not cheap the prices were by no means absurdly high, and both the food and service were incredibly good. If one stepped inside the foyer from the café side, you would find an array of charming looking pastries and chocolates immaculately displayed (alas it was no surprise to find it was Lebanese owned).
It also had a cigar lounge and a shisha lounge; the latter was often busy on the weekends and a good place to obviously have some shisha and bite to eat (the food here was very decent) at reasonable prices.
Souk- In the Souk the trick was to follow the crowd, the locals knew which ones were the best places. It would sometimes mean a frustrating wait, but it would be worth it. Many, although not all the restaurants were Arabic with regional differences. For me simple dishes like good lentil soup, in which you could dip nice crunchy bread were my favourite as I think about it, I hugely miss the lentil soup.
Karak-While in Qatar I also discovered Karak tea via a taxi driver. It cost next to nothing (1 riyal-less than 20p for a small cup) but it was a delightful milky and sweet tea. On any given night one would find many a Qatari parked outside a Karak shop in their Bentleys or Rolls to drink this most delightful of drinks. Everyone I took there liked it and would often go back.
As Qatar is effectively a conservative Muslim kingdom undergoing a rapid process of modernisation its nightlife was still very much in its formative stages and was no match of that of major international cities and even well behind local rivals like Dubai and Bahrain. However, there were some nightspots that are worth a mention.
The W Hotel
The W hotel in the city centre had perhaps the most glam bar/restaurant (Wahm) and exclusive nightclub (Crystal) in town. Wahm had an impressive atmosphere and interior design; it had a large bar, with cubicles, a balcony area with more cubicles and an outside bar with a small swimming pool. On most weekends (except during Ramadan) it was usually busy with the ‘cool’ fashionable crowd. The drinks were not cheap and as far as I aware alcohol perhaps because it was not readily available was on the expensive side.
In Qatar generally one could only buy alcohol (or pork) except at licenced outlets and in 5 * hotels. Wahm would also during the week host events and parties and even on occasion show major football games. I quite liked it, and I would often hang out here with my local friends. Qatar incidentally for me the first and only society I felt welcome and secure as Muslim (in Britain I am often acutely conscious of my minority status).
As Wahm emptied out at midnight many would venture downstairs to the Galaxy nightclub. This was not as easy to get into particularly for a single man, although once you got to know the door people or they realised you were ‘safe’ they would let you in. As a club it was a little on the small side, but of very decent quality, with often good Internationally recognised DJ’s; although naturally one often bumped into the same faces, some of them superficial and ‘stand-offish’.
La Cigale- This hotel as well as having the eateries mentioned above also had several nightspots. The sky bar (I am guessing named after its equivalent in Lebanon) was in many respects a great nightspot. As a rooftop bar it had some nice views, a nice ambience, it was glamorous and the music generally good. It had a set fee of 200 riyals minimum expenditure and a lounge set up, giving it a cosy feel. The crowd was like that of the W hotel, some of them despite seeing one around would barely if at all acknowledge your existence.
In Qatar’s nightlife scene, the women were notoriously ‘stand offish’, in part because of the sheer ratio of women to men (something like 64% to 36%). The other thing to note, without wishing to sound sexist, is that even the non-Muslim Arab women (mainly Christians from Lebanon) who dressed in western garbs or wore short skirts were often conservative in their values. Many of them would only have maybe or two boyfriends in their lifetime. If one, therefore, is looking for a one-night stand then perhaps Qatar is not the place to be. This hotel also had a basement club Seven, which I frequented once, and which was decent although nothing to write home about.
Many of the 5* hotels had nightspots that attracted a different kind of crowd. The Irish pub at the Sheraton was quite popular and I am reliably informed there was a bar on the first floor where one could if they chose to do so pick up a Chinese prostitute or a ladyboy (something the authorities were clearly aware of but wisely turned a blind eye too). As mentioned above the St Regis ran when I was there an increasingly popular beach nightclub with at time live bands, The Hilton hotels bar restaurant although slightly cheesy was popular especially as it had an outdoor area by the sea. The Intercontinental tower hotel had a bar/restaurant on the top floor with great views. I did not personally eat there but did meet friends there on occasion, it was a cosy lounge and perhaps a good place for a quiet drink. There was also the Oryx jazz bar at the Rotana hotel near the old Airport. Although slightly expensive it was good with comfortable lounge style recliners where one could eat some bar food and nibbles whilst watching a jazz band.
I am guessing since I left Qatar’s nightlife has improved significantly, although admittedly although not bad at the time it was not amazing; It is this that in part at least why many would take a long weekend break to a Beirut or Dubai for a change of scene.
I noticed and wondered why many of the local males often liked to drive off road 4x4 Jeeps (normally a beige Toyota Land cruiser) and soon discovered that it was due to fact that ‘dune bashing’ was a favourite local past time. I went on one of the tourist days trips version and although enjoyable it was hair-raising stuff. Our driver was immensely skilful and was able to up and down the dunes of varying sizes and shapes at a range of colours. Many of the locals start earlier, and clearly attempt often dangerous stunts with their jeeps with little concern for safety. Because of the number of accidents and deaths the ambulance department of the country’s health service developed a helicopter service so that they could get to the victims faster. Although, there was an observable macho streak to dune streaking it was well worth a day trip for a visitor (with a skilled driver doing the driver) and having lunch in the desert (One could also take half day or overnight trips).
About an hour ride east out of Doha one would come to seaside resort called Messiad, a popular seaside resort among locals, expats, and families alike. I did not stay there overnight but I did like the place. Day time visitors paid 150 dirhams then (in 2014) about 25 pounds for entry. Lunch was available-either a buffet style or on order-and although not high end I thought it was charming place with a nice old worldly homely feel about it and certainly a good day trip out of Doha. There were several swimming pools and of course a clean and pristine beach. One could swim, lounge on the beach, go quad biking or dune bashing. Contrary to stereotypes about Muslim countries many of the locals had no issues with foreigners in bikinis and trunks if they were only visible at the appropriate places.
For me I had a wonderful 3 years in Qatar. I felt it was a nice, safe and pleasant place to live and work, more than a top choice tourist destination. The locals were friendly and standoffish, after a short while it was clear to me that it was best not to get too familiar with the Qatari section of society; , as a colleague said to me, they do not want you here they just need you. Fun places like Dubai and Beirut were a short flight and it was not too far from London either which was hugely convenient. The weather was nice and warm most of the year-although too hot in the summers-. At first, I thought I might need Arabic, but it was unnecessary as English is the language of business, and most of the expats working there able to communicate it in effectively (as an expat one tended to have minimal contact with the Arabic speaking locals). If I get the chance to work, there again and the terms and conditions are right I would most definitely consider and certainly intend to visit again at some point.
To my surprise there was far more on the sporting side of life here than I anticipated. Due to winning the World cup bid the interest in football has clearly increased locally. Qatar even has its own domestic football league, the standard of football was very decent, and several high-profile international players were either playing there at the time or had played there including the likes of Batistuta, Raul, Fernando Herero. It was clear that the authorities wanted to develop their domestic football to show the World that Qatar can also play football not just host it. The games were played regularly and could be watched for next to nothing in cost.
Qatar also hosted international friendlies and club friendlies. For a very decent price, I was able to watch Brazil vs Egypt and PSG vs Real Madrid, meaning I was able to see some of the game’s biggest names like Cristiano Ronaldo and Ibrahimović at very reasonable prices. The Khalifa stadium although on the smaller side was a very decent stadium by World standards (however the ones for the World Cup I understand will be hugely impressive).
Qatar also hosts a yearly tennis tournament where some of the top players would turn up and once again the prices compared to the likes Wimbledon were a bargain. I managed to see Rafael Nadal win one year. The cricket set-up was not to my liking at the time, but there were plenty of sporting options available; everything from the gym and surfing to horse riding (all at very reasonable prices).