There are some places in the world where solo travel is easier than others. But Qatar? What on earth can do you on your own in Qatar?
First things first, though. For a UK citizen, you will need a Qatari Visa, but this process is done upon landing in Doha Airport where you have to queue for AGES (not a good start to my trip in Qatar) to get the visa approved. You don’t need to do any applying before you arrive, but be aware that the 100 Qatari Riyals fee for the visa must be paid by credit or debit card (they do not take cash, for some reason). I visited Cambodia and got a visa on arrival, and they seem capable of giving change in a multitude of currencies, but it seems the Qatari immigration officials can’t/won’t.
After experiencing the expense of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, I found Doha to be quite a bit easier on the wallet. I really enjoyed my stay there and met some very friendly Qataris who were genuinely interested in my swift visit to their country. Taxi drivers, especially, were very keen to offer me advice as to which shopping centre to visit, and which restaurants at which to dine – and not in a creepy ‘give me your money’ kind of way like you get with the taxi drivers in Bangkok or Bali. And as for the camels, I don’t think they’re on the menu in Doha; they are considered a sign of wealth to the Qataris.
One of the most interesting things I noticed with Doha was that it wasn’t as architecturally impressive as I thought it would be. There seems to be a lot of areas impoverished, with many residents living below the living wage (is there such a thing in Qatar?). Some areas of Doha looked quite decrepit, and this is in stark contrast to the skyscrapers you will see gloriously lit around Doha Bay. Although moat Qataris are naturally very friendly, I would still urge caution walking around in the back streets, as it seemed much more intimidating that similar urban areas in Dubai or Abu Dhabi.
For solo travellers, I wouldn’t recommend using public buses in Doha. It can get quite intimidating as a foreigner, as the local Qataris cast their glaring eyes over you. I imagine this would be even worse for a female backpacker. In pairs and groups, it may not be a problem, but as a solo traveller, you should avoid these public buses and instead use the tourist hop on hop off bus that goes to many of the main areas, including the Pearl, Souq Waqif, and the Corniche.
One thing I knew I must do when I was in Qatar was experience a desert safari. My hotel recommended that I book myself some sand dune-bashing along with a desert safari. I had another solo traveller with me during the desert safari, so I wasn’t completely alone. I saw some amazing wildlife, including the national animal the Arabian oryx, as well as the picture-postcard Arabian sunset. You cannot come to Qatar and not try out a desert safari. It’s a great experience, regardless of how many people in your group.
You cannot expect a trip to Doha to be as exciting as a trip to Dubai, for example, but the likes of Doha Fort and the Islamic Arts Museum were tourist attractions that I visited while in the city, and I found them to be a very impressive cultural marvels, with the Islamic Arts Museum in particular being one of the museums I can remember visiting. In fact, Doha has various museums and art exhibitions popping up all over the place, and this gives tourists of all budgets much to see – and much of it is completely free!
Dhow cruises on Doha Bay are one of the most popular tourist pastimes in the city. I have travelled on an abra on the Dubai Creek, and the Dhow is basically a much larger vessel, which is used more to transport people, rather than for food and supplies like the traditional purpose of the abra. Not all Dhows were full of tourists, but you can see why people enjoy the mode of transport around these parts – the setting was incredible!
One problem I did encounter in Doha was when I was trying to visit Aspire Park near The Torch for a nice late afternoon stroll. As I as heading into the park, I was screamed at by park guards that I was not allowed in to the park as a single male, as it was for families only (unless I was there to specifically play sport). It reminded me that I am in an Islamic state and I must be respectful of their culture and laws. Whether the guards were right or wrong on the matter is not the issue here; I was not going to argue, so I turned around sheepishly and walked off. This kind of sex-segregation is also apparent even at McDonald’s restaurants in the region, where men and women have to queue for their food in separate lines! I never got to visit The Torch, either, as it doesn’t have an observation deck.
I found the food in Qatar to be not very diverse at all. I have written about Arabic food before, and although it is a nice cuisine to enjoy occasionally, I wouldn’t like to live on it permanently and consume it on a daily basis. However, there are fast food restaurants around Doha, such as McDonald’s and KFC, which are probably better suited to solo travellers if you fancy a bite to eat, rather than sit in a fancy Arabic restaurant where you get all the locals stare at you while you eat!
One of the best parts of Doha was Souq Waqif. It was an amazing experience to walk through a ‘real’ souq like that, especially since the only other one I have visited was a so-called gold souq in Dubai, which was not very authentic or representative to how Arabic people used to live before the days of brand names and luxury malls. One of the things I really wanted to try in the Souk was some traditional Arabic coffee (gahwa). I don’t know where gahwa originated from, but they certainly drink it by the bucket load in Qatar, it seems!
I would very much like to return to Qatar one day. The country (on the whole) left a very good impression on me. It may not have the glitz and glamour of the UAE, and it may not have the history of nearby Egypt or Oman, but Qatar is kind of cool nonetheless!