Stopover Short Break in Doha, Qatar:
Obviously, the only civilized thing to do first thing on a Sunday Morning in Doha is to have breakfast at the Shangri-la Doha Horizon Club lounge on the 43rd floor. With 6 lifts in the hotel, there is never a wait and I arrive relaxed and raring to start the day.
The view is amazing from this height and the breakfast is equally impressive and a good match, with eggs Benedict done to perfection. This is the place to be. Coffee served is typically western style, so I can enjoy a few cups while I catch up on some work. A great way to start the day.
Meanwhile, the girls had gone to view different spa treatments; each hotel has a range of different health and well-being offerings, in much the same way that they all have different restaurant options. Perfect for a relaxing stopover in Doha. We all met up at the pool at the Intercontinental Doha for brunch at Mykonos, a Greek restaurant overlooking the pool.
After brunch, a trip out to the desert for some Dune Bashing, one of the must-do activities in Qatar, whether you are there for a short break, a stopover or a longer stay.
From the centre of Doha to the dunes is a 45-minute drive, or less if you miss the rush hour. It seems that the norm is for public companies to finish at 4 pm and private companies at 6 pm so that there isn’t a big traffic jam. For us, the traffic seemed heavy but always moving – much better than London or New York.
As you head towards the dunes the road signs indicate different exits. Some exits are for competitive racing events, some for locals only without any tourist frills, and obviously the safer areas for us. On arrival we disembark to a coffee shack and comfortable shaded seating in front of which is a selection of camels to ride should you want to. Rides can be short or a whole day, and if you’ve never ridden a camel are a must-do!
Why the JCB’s in the picture? Well, the wind blows the sand all over the roads, so the diggers shovel it off the same as we use snow ploughs. Except they do it every day!
Whilst some were taking camel rides our driver started letting the air out of the tyres. 40psi is great for the roads, but 12psi is needed in the desert to make the tyres work better with the sand.
The drivers can go slow or fast, steady or wild, so you can set the pace. But remember, it is their car so they aren’t going to do anything that risks damaging it, themselves or you. As we drove, a sign was pointed out to us indicating dunes that should not be driven. The driver shrugged; “it’s there to warn idiots” he says.
As we headed out into the desert we crossed the salt flats, where the sea rises up through the sand leaving a bed of glistening white salt, almost like frost. The drivers take maximum use of this to drift the cars sideways like you never thought a four by four could do. Not to be done on a full stomach.
Watch the video here to see how calm they are whilst making you scream in fun!
Crossing the flats we saw dog trainers out with their hounds which ran around the cars excitedly, oblivious to any dangers. Falconry and the hunting dogs that go with it is a rich and high-class pastime and both dogs and birds are exercised regularly.
As we enter the start of the real desert sand, we see kite surfers using the desert winds and lift from the hot sand.
Going through the sand dunes, the cars looped and rode high up the dunes before sliding down again. The sand acts very much like the sea, so dune bashing is a bit like surfing.
Then, as we came over the last dune the desert sand gave way to a vast expanse of sea. A complete shock, it remains one of those OMG moments where nature just totally surprises you.
Tea was set out on the sand overlooking the gentle waves of the inland sea. We chatted to our guide and shared tea with him, although usually, the guides sit away with the cars, doing their own thing so that couples or groups can enjoy their own company in private. If we had more time we should have arrived in the morning, set up a tent, and swam in the sea as much as we liked, making a full day of this location. Sadly we didn’t have time this trip.
As the sun went down, the sunset changed the dunes from golden to orange, then red, and finally engulfed them in the darkness. Now was the time to head back to the Shangri-la Doha, and with headlights on, we were glad that the guides knew where to go. It is so easy to get lost in the desert and almost guaranteed in the darkness without a guide. At one point the car stopped and all the lights were turned off. Total blackness. With no streetlights or anything around it was totally black, and only slowly did your eyes adjust and start to see stars. A magical moment that is almost impossible to achieve these days.
Qatar is a small country, and whilst in the desert, my phone had already connected to Saudia Arabia Telecom, its capital hundreds of miles away across the sand. I hope I have a good roaming package!
After a quick shower and change back at the hotel (I must have brought half the desert sand back in my hair and shoes) we head out for a 10-minute drive to the Souq Waqif.
The first thing we spot is a Falcon Hospital. It is in the Souq to make it accessible to all, but shows how proud and loving the people are of their birds.
The Souq Waqif is often described as a traditional market but that doesn’t really explain its importance. It is the oldest surviving covered market in the Middle East and an active market for the population of Doha. Don’t expect lines of souvenir shops; this market is used by locals the way we might use a large supermarket. Set into sections, there are food stores, household, clothing, kitchenware, and numerous coffee shops serving Arabic coffee.
There are also numerous restaurants within the Souq, all of which serve good food, mainly aimed at locals, so if you like authentic food then this is the place to come. Remember though, only 5-star hotels can serve alcohol, so expect to be offered an amazing range of non-alcoholic drinks.
As we arrived late there were many streets within the market with colourful wheelbarrows lined up against the walls. These belong to the runners, people that follow you around like a living trolley and take your shopping out to your car, which will have been parked quite away from the market.
Look out for the streets. Some narrow so that only a small child can escape down. The locals point them out and laugh, proud of their own curiosities.
Walking through the Souq Waqif with all its different sectors and displays is an experience in itself, and with more time I would happily have done it again, lingering longer at stores I was interested in. At no point was I ever approached to buy something or hassled in any way, which made me more willing to peer into shops and anything I was curious about.
How unlike mine and many other peoples’ experience of markets in other countries! I could have spent a day here and still had things to see, but now was time to head back to the hotel.
Crashing back to bed, the room lit by the azure blue twinkling lights of the distant buildings, I am glad I had left time to pack in the morning to get to the airport. Right now I was in awe, impressed and tired, and I hit the bed more satisfied and happy than I have been in a long time. There’s so much to do on a short break or stopover in Qatar that I’m tempted to stay for longer
We were guests of the Qatar Tourist Authority
Shangri-La Hotel Doha
Sheraton Grand Hotel Doha
Thinking of visiting yourself? why not pin this post for later!