In a nation where more than 75% of the population lives in the capital city, you would think that getting a feel for Doha, Qatar would be a straightforward affair. Developing at a rate unmatched elsewhere in the world yet still in the shadows of Dubai, Doha is a city I’ve struggled to find, yet found it in its struggles. As much as it would like to be, Doha is much more than reflective skyscraper glass and World Cup construction. Rather, Doha is a place to treat your stomach, camera, and lungs by slightly shocking each one.
Starting With Souq Waqif
The word ‘souk’ – an Arab bazaar – misleads you to believe that one of Doha’s most famous travel destinations is anything close to the modern market is has come to be. Sure, Souq Waqif is wearing an Arabesque veil, but it’s not much cover for the steel construction and freshly dried plaster its shops are made of. Imagine an American strip mall having an “Arabian Nights” theme and you might come up with something close to what Souq Waqif looks like – but you’ll be nowhere near what it tastes like.
The path through Souq Waqif is like eating your way around half the world – Moroccan soup at Tagine, dishes from Yemen, and wonderfully spicy roller coasters of Malaysian curries. You haven’t been to Souq Waqif if you haven’t eaten there. At least several times. Or more.
The Tense Side Streets Of Doha’s Workforce
Over 60% of the people living in Qatar are foreign citizens, mostly coming from southeast Asia to power the machines that are actively building the city. As I mentioned on my night walks along Doha’s deceptive streets, these communities are generally isolated physically and socioeconomically. Both Qataris and immigrants mentioned that living with the other was often an uneasy balance of necessity. Though somewhat intimidating, you should take the opportunity to walk through the Nepalese, Bangladeshi, and other neighborhoods; treating your stomach and wallet at the same time.
You can easily enjoy a meal for less than 10 Qatari riyals (~$2.75) in one of the many ethic restaurants that are filled to the edges after working hours. Your travel budget will thank you while visiting the second most expensive city in the Arab world. I drew quite a bit of attention whenever I walked into one of these smaller places to eat. This actually made it easier to engage people who were curious as to what this (Arab-looking) guy was doing in a neighborhood an Arab Qatari might never eat in.
Great Views And Collection At Doha’s Museum Of Islamic Art
Most museums tend to leave you disappointed; a feeling that’s only amplified the more of them you see. I still go to museums in most of the cities I visit in the hopes of finding a gem and Doha’s Museum of Islamic Art is certainly one of them. Several stories high with an impressive collection of artifacts, artwork, and exhibits from all over the Muslim world, the Museum of Islamic Art also happens to be one of the best places to photograph Doha from.
The museum sits along Doha’s corniche (a close second in my book to Muscat’s version) with different heights and angles to take pictures of the city, Persian Gulf, and the interior of the museum itself.
Using All The Senses You Aren’t Supposed To
It’s not difficult to get stuck on Doha’s concrete forest and glamorous glass in the making, so rather than force your eyes to guide you, take a page from the forgetful traveler’s book. Work with your other senses – tasting the international cuisine and moving away from the lights to give you a flavor of what Doha’s steel buildings are really built upon.