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QATAR (قطر‎)

Qatar is a pickle like peninsula, sticking out into the Persian Gulf. Since independence in 1971, it has grown in stature and regional importance. In an area of rich countries, Qatar is the richest by far. It has the highest GDP per Capita on earth, and one of the highest growth rates which leaves the likes of China in it's dust. Qatar isn't just rich, it's sick rich. With a small population and massive reserves of gas and oil, it is giddy with wealth. Rumours abound of the fact that every year, the Emir pays off everyone's debts. Conference centres are built for a conference, and then abandoned while another one is built for another conference. The towers that dominate the Doha skyline are mostly empty, built through boredom and huge wealth. It's not unsurprising that  Qataris can be found at the top of the world obesity rankings, as well as GDP per captia. Most don't work and live private lives with their families. Most labour based jobs are filled by immigrants, mostly from the Indian continent and SE Asia. A number of whom were paid derisory rates. A taxi driver I had was from the Philippines, trying to put his son through university. In recent years, Qatar has won the World Cup bid for 2022 (see pic below), in a country with temperatures consistently in the 40s Celsius during the summer. Qatar's wealth means it can double the size of it's current stadiums, and pump in air conditioning.  Qatar took over the Al Jazeera news channel, formerly the BBC's Arabic Service, which has provided a welcome response to the global news outlets based in the West.

Apart from numerous transits through Doha Airport, the regional hub. I only spent two days in Qatar. Due to no budget accommodation, I opted to use the couchsurfing site, and stayed with an interesting Western chap, staying with his mother who was involved in the hotel business. He was gracious enough to not only host me, but show me around. There aren't many highlights in Qatar, but we started off at Katara, a cultural village with an amphitheatre for staging events. The blistering sun seeking to toast my pale British skin as we strolled about. We also went to the Pearl, a man-made island full of luxury apartments and berths for large yachts. Accompanied by a splattering of luxury shops of course. During the afternoon we walked into town and went to the main mall in the centre of Doha. I was told it was family day, so we might not be allowed in. But we were. It was interesting to see Qataris close up, as they usually hide away in their cars and homes, not really wandering the streets. The obesity was quite obvious, as the men's stomach's pushed their white robes out from their body. The shops were mostly European or North American chains. That evening we wandered the narrow streets of the Souq Waqif, rammed with locals in their traditional dress of white robes for men, and black for the women. Restaurants and coffee/hookah smoking cafes filled out from the premises into the street, and were filled with those people watching, and others greeting people as they wandered the souq.

The following day I hired a car, and drove up the coast to Al Khor, a small town with a promenade/corniche. A small traditional wooden dhow ship yard, being one of the limited attractions. I pressed on with little regard for how fast I was going, fuel was 8pence a litre! I pressed on up the Al Shamal Rd to Al Ruwais, the Eastern most town on the tip of the peninsula. There was little to see, other than smart white homes with satellite dishes and modern pick up trucks outside. I drove down the coast to check out some ghost fishing villages (GES piece here), a glimpse of how Qataris were living up to 40 years ago, and the incomprehensible difference to how they live today. I then headed down to the major oil town of Dukhan, stopping off to see the rock formations at Zekreet. The light was fading as I arrived in Dukhan, however there wasn't much to see, as it was mostly behind walls in compounds. No Photography signs littered the area, and patrol cars backed them up. Oddly I didn't feel welcome, and head back across the peninsula to Doha. There I met up with my host, and we went to the Villagio mall. Doha's largest,and styled on Venice. Like the Center Mall, it was full of the usual European and North American stores. We ate in a Thai restaurant, that wasn't the greatest Thai meal i'd ever had.


Essential Information

Language: Arabic

Currency: Qatari riyal (QR)

Visa: Visa on arrival is granted to most Western Countries for a fee, QR105 in 2012.

Plug: British 3 flat pins in a triangular shape, 220v


GDP Ranking (IMF): #2 £61,340

Communications: Country code is +974

Health: No vaccinations or preventative medicines are needed for Qatar.  The main concern should be in the sky, the sun. Protect against it and drink lots of water.

When to Visit: April to October are the hottest months, with average temperatures from 26 to 35c. Rain is very rare at any time of the year.

Personal Safety: The country is very safe, most people are far too rich to want to commit crime. Women should be aware of possible harassment, although very rarely physical (unless working as a housemaid in a Qatari home).

Getting Around: An intercity bus service exists, you'll need a Karwa Smart Card as they don't accept cash. Car hire would be the best way to get around, unless money is no object, in which case limousine services are popular.

What to see/do: Wander the Corniche of Doha or whichever city you're staying in, to observe the local familes out for a stroll. The Museum of Islamic Art, Doha and Mathaf museum of modern art provide cultural opportunities. Hiring a car, one can see more 'down to earth' towns such as Al Khor and Al Ruwais and it's nearby ghost fishing villages. The real highlight is heading to Dukhan, and going to Zekreet to see the rock formations, and for those with 4x4s or willing to walk half a kilometre in the sand, Zekreet Fort.

Food & Drink: Qatar doesn't have much in the way of traditional food, it mainly offers food from around the region and the world. For a glimpse at authenticity, eat in the souks. Although alcohol is not banned, Qatar doesn't brew any of it's own.

Other notes: Although it has pleasant beaches, the sea is very shallow around Qatar, and not suited to swimming.