In early 2009 my wife was asked to work in Doha as her job in the UK was being axed. The was in part quite a large blow as I had just found a job in Coventry and Doha does not really have a requirement for electronic engineers. We have therefore been living in separate countries for the last 6 months. The following is mostly an introduction into what Doha, and Qatar as a whole, is about.
Qatar is an Arab state in the Middle East, West of Dubai. It is in fact a peninsula on the north coast of what is the large Arabian Peninsula, this in the large part the state of Saudi Arabia. Qatar is surrounded by the Persian Gulf except where it joins the mainland.
Without going into much detail, Qatar was once a British protectorate, however it became fully independent in 1971. It has been ruled by the al-Thani family since 1878 however the current Amir has continued to modernize the government structure. Doha is a Islamic state, and the main religion is Islam. Unlike other Arab states, other regions are welcome to operate (with maybe one exception), and in 2008 a Roman Catholic Church was consecrated.
Although the main export is still oil and gas, making up around 85% of earnings in the, it has, like its neighbors, attempted to expand into other areas. It has however looked at educational and scientific establishments as the main means to develop, unlike Dubai in the Arab Emirates which focused on banking and property.
As banking and real estate faltered in the 2008/2009 financial slump Dubai was hit quite considerably, however Doha was relatively protected. This is not to say that Doha does not have a rapid building program, the majority of the West Bay area is in essence a building site. New and better high rise buildings are being developed, however as the west bay area is currently under the landing path for the airport, there is a limit to how high the buildings can go.
It shouldn't be glossed over that Qatar is also trying to increase its footing in the financial and legal markets. (Hence why my wife is there). It was a relative late comer to these sorts of markets, and this is maybe why it has not suffered as much. It is also, to some extent reaping the benefits of the collapse as many things are now much cheaper.
Doha is also the home of Aljazeera news which sparked heated hatred in America over it's coverage of the Iraq war. It has since launched a English spoken version with broadcast centers in Doha, Malaysia and the UK.
Visiting or Living in Qatar
If you are intending to visit Doha, there are two primary areas. The West Bay area which is in (or some would say "is") the heart of the financial district. In West Bay area you will find most of the upmarket hotels including the Sheraton, Ramada, Four Seasons and soon the Hilton (which is currently being built).
There is also the old town which is famous for the traditional souq. How traditional this souq remains is arguable as the whole lot was demolished and rebuilt using modern materials and made to look like the original. At the other end of Doha near the airport is the Sharq Village & Spa I haven't been there but it is said to be a very good hotel however it is currently under the flight path of the main airport runway and is quite near the major building works for the new airport.
Other than hotels there are also serviced apartments. The W is a hotel come service apartment complex in the heart of the West Bay area is one of the newest. The Somerset group also have apartments in a stones throw of the W. As one of the earliest buildings it did have and for a while longer it still will have excellent views, however as new taller buildings emerge it will be gradually cut off and hidden.
People needing to live in Doha have many options. Most people will rent, and there are plenty of places in the West Bay area. This has a large community of ex pats from many different countries. There are of course cheaper places, some in enclosed comminutes with private security etc. My wife has not ventured to these, but eventually I will get more information. The west bay area is not really idea for people working at the oil and gas plants nor is it close to the University and Science park so you should always look around.
Foreigners are not allowed to buy property in Doha unless it is in one of the specially set up zones, one of the newest being the Pearl area which encompasses two man made islands in the shape of pearls. I have not yet been to the area so can not tell you much about it.
As I have not really been to many places in Doha I can not say which are the best places to eat. Of course there are different styles and different price ranges. I will only focus on the few places I and/or my wife has been to.
Four Seasons Hotel. They have a fantastic buffet which is open to people outside of the hotel. Every night has a theme and I would advise checking before you go so you are not disappointed.
Ramada Hotel - Indian. My wife has been to here and says the food is very good. Now coming from a Malaysian (Malaysia is the home of food I am told) this is high praise.
Movenpic - Wok Mee. If you like asian food then you can't really go wrong here. Noodles galore.
Beverly Hills - Cafe 29. My wife says it is ok. New in 2009 after major referb. Which caused several floods in the building apparently.
W - Spice Market. I have to say that although the food was ok it isn't as good as some people make out. Service was also quite poor but I will give them a second chance as I did go in the first month it was open. My wife has been to the Market and it is apparently better.
Villiagio - Thai Chi. I would recommend this place as the food is almost authentic - not quite as I am sure Thai food really needs pork in some of the food.
I haven't yet managed to catch any of the major entertainment in Doha or Qatar as a whole. Having been twice I have still managed to leave a day early, arrive a day late or not know that an event is taking place.
DJ Tiesto has played and I think Armin Van Buuren was also there.
Sport wise there Qatar does host the MotoGP - which was ironically delayed by rain - the day I left I think. Camel races are quite popular.
As with most of this page I will update as I see or hear of any more information.
Places to Go, Things to Do
Shopping seems to be one of the main pastimes for the local and ex pats alike. In Westbay there is the City Centre mall however this is one of less attractive shopping centers that you can go to.
A much better place is Villiagio with its inside canal is designed to represent the whole Venetian experience with painted ceiling and designer shops. Most of the shops are designer labels however you will also find Boots, Virgin and Carrfour.
Landmark is another major mall. It sits between City Centre and Villiagio in terms of status as far as I am concerned. You do also have Souq Waqif, the Gold Souq and the Wholesale Markets for more traditional shopping and Bargaining.
One of the major attractions to locals and ex pats alike is the Corniche or Doha Seafront. This is a long stretch of foot path starting at the Sheraton and along the entire bay until just beyond the the Museum of Islamic Arts. It is very popular on Saturday (which equivalent to Sunday in the the UK) when many families come out to eat in the park and lawn areas.
One of the newest sites to see is the Museum of Islamic Arts. It was opened in late 2008 and is housed in a purpose major new building, designed by I. M. Pei. The museum houses a major collection of art owned by the royal family of qatar. This collection has been widely expanded upon in the lead up to the museum opening and at considerable cost.
I would have to say that the museum is quite good. It does have a lot of information on each item as well as an audio guide. There is also strict rules on taking photos and the use of mobile phone, which are enforced on the locals as well as the visitors (locals are well know for not following laws or rules and many places just put up with it).
For a Islamic museum it is also quite open in accepting that there are other religions. There are examples of Christian artifacts along side the Islamic items. The museum is operated by the British Museum for the Qatar government and is free to all to visit. You would need to have a couple of hours to see the entire place.
Outside of Doha there are fewer places to see. I did make the trip to Sealine which is a beach resort on the East coast below Doha. It is supposedly popular with foreigners as a retreat from the City. However it seemed shabby to me and you could get some much more for your money in Doha itself or even hopping across to Dubai.
Sealine is near some of the major oil and gas fields but equally important are the major sand dunes all around. Many dune surfing trips start out from the Sealine area and head further south into the open sand.
One of the other major sites and something you really should see is Al Zubara fort in the North West as shown in the following map. It is not as old as I originally thought, only being built in the 1930s (in fact our house in Coventry is nearly as old). Finding the place is a almost impossible I expect at the best of times >however when we went the entire highway from Doha to the northern town of Abu Az Zuluf is being replaced - in one go. I really do mean in one go. You wouldn't go more than 500 yards without seeing a JCB or other construction vehicle for the entire length. Anyway, we ended up in Abu Az Zuluf and then took the costal road on the west to the fort. There is a caretaker who will give you keys and you can explore the whole fort on your own.