Doha: The Desert Port

Financial District of Doha

As part of my trip to the Middle East, I went to Qatar after my time in Istanbul. My visit to Dubai years ago kinda sparked an interest in the Gulf cities so I was excited to go to a second one.

In general, the Gulf cities are just known for their extravagance and luxury. I wanted to see what Doha had to offer.

My first impression of Doha was.. that it was not Dubai.

The Qatar Islamic Culture Center
The Qatar Islamic Culture Center.

I know that sounds a bit strange considering how they’re different cities in different countries, but when you look at the history of the two cities, there’s a lot more in common than you’d think.

I mean geographically they’re fairly close and both countries turned from being a farming and fishing based economy into one that exports a lot of oil and natural gas. And they both poured a ton of this newfound #OilMoney into building the most ridiculous things. Things are so similar that in an alternate timeline Qatar could’ve even joined the UAE.

Dubai, of course, is famous for its Burj Khalifa and ridiculous skyline. Doha, on the other hand, is visually less impressive. The city is still ridiculous but in comparison, it’s a bit smaller and quieter than Dubai.

Doha Skyline
Doha’s skyline.

I mean, you can tell just from a look at the skyline. Still an amazing and ridiculous one, but the tallest building in the country is only 300 meters and it’s not even in the skyline.

Where Dubai went for the high-end hyper modern luxurious look, Doha went for a bit more of a subtle approach, focusing on creating and enhancing a lot of the more traditional and cultural elements instead.

All around the city you see a lot more architecture that’s inspired by a lot of Qatari culture and Islam. In a way, it’s actually kinda cool how they tried to focus on traditional elements and kind of keep the spirit of what it means to be Qatari.

The Pearl Monument
A callback to Qatar’s old pearling industry.

Doha sits at the edge of the Persian Gulf and at the center of the city sits the Corniche, a crescent-shaped waterfront boardwalk. The south side of the Corniche is where I spent most of my time since that’s where the Souq, Museum of Islamic Art, and National Museum of Qatar is.

Souq Waqif is in the style of a traditional market but like everything in the city, it was built recently. Regardless, there’s a lot of shops and restaurants there and I was really surprised by how busy it got at night.

I didn’t expect people to actually hang out there but once the sun set and people got off work, a lot of people ended up hanging out around the Souq and the waterfront. It definitely added a lot of energy to the place but I’m not sure how many locals actually hang out there; maybe it’s just all the foreign workers and expats.

Souq Waqif Thumb
Some random thumb in the Souq.

The two museums I listed above are also worth checking out. Even if you’re not interested in the museum contents themselves, the architecture of the buildings is something to behold.

The Museum of Islamic Art sits right on the water and not only is it a cool building, but from there you can get a really good view of the financial district of the city, where all the fancy skyscrapers are.

If you’re into Islamic art at all, it’s a nice museum to check out as well. One of my favourite things about Islamic art is the amount of detail and intricate patterns in their work, and all of that is on full display at the museum.

The National Museum of Qatar
The National Museum of Qatar with its desert-inspired architecture and Arabic-inspired fountains.

The National Museum of Qatar is also incredibly unique. It’s shaped like a desert rose and the building looks so organic and beautiful. The museum itself goes into the history of Qatar and it does a pretty good job of explaining how the country evolved over time.

In terms of buildings though, my favourite building I saw in Doha was the Education City Mosque. After seeing so many beautiful mosques in Istanbul, I didn’t think that I would be able to see another mosque so soon that would impress me.

But man, that mosque was really something else.

Education City Mosque
A spaceship that doubles as a mosque.

All the mosques in Istanbul are old and used traditional Ottoman architecture. The Education City Mosque in Doha, on the other hand, decided to say “screw tradition” and went for an aesthetic that challenged what a mosque is supposed to look like.

What they ended up building was this crazy looking hyper-modern mosque that honestly looks straight out of science fiction. It almost looks like a spaceship and despite being there during prayer time and seeing it in action, to this day I can’t believe it’s a mosque.

We were there for sunset and that was one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve seen in my life. It was really surreal watching the Arabian sun set while standing on this ridiculously futuristic building. That was definitely one of the highlights of the trip.

Sunset from the Education City Mosque
Sunset from the Education City Mosque.

Outside of fancy buildings, Doha has a bunch of other areas that are worth checking out as well. Katara is one of those areas and it’s designated as a cultural village.

It just so happened that they were having the Ajyal Film Festival when I went to Doha and so a bunch of events were being held in Katara. They even had a gaming function going on there. I didn’t really expect to see some small scale esports tournaments going on in Qatar and so that was a pleasant surprise.

The area itself contains a bunch of neat buildings and small shops. It’s also by the water and they had this pretty large and open beach area with a giant open air amphitheater. That area was nice and looked like it would be a really fun place to hang out in too.

Katara
Those are pigeon roosts.

Further north of the city sits the Pearl, an artificial island where all the rich people hang out. On the surface, it’s looks kinda nice. There’s a bunch of new buildings, a lot of nice looking yachts, they even have this fake Venice area.

But, it was so eerie because the entire place felt like a ghost town.

The place was lined with all these artisan stores, fancy cafes, and nice restaurants but there were only a handful of people in the entire area. It was so empty that the entire area felt so forced and unnecessary.

Like some sort of weird movie set that someone built just to say they built it.

The Pearl District
The oddly empty Pearl District.

Speaking of building stuff for the sake of building stuff, I arrived in Doha a day after their second metro line opened. It’s kinda crazy because in 2018, Doha had zero metro lines. The day I got there they opened their second line and they opened their third line like two weeks ago.

I can’t even imagine Toronto opening up infrastructure that quickly.

Anyways, their subways are beautiful and new, as expected. They’re also incredibly cheap and for all intensive purposes, seem like they’re great.

But one thing I noticed was that the metro services the people incredibly poorly. They’re in weird parts of the city and access to the stations is actually somewhat cumbersome. Like, the station closest to Katara is on the other side of this highway that has no pedestrian crossing.

Souq Waqif Station
The Souq Waqif metro station.

You’d imagine that a subway station’s usefulness is directly related to how useful it is to the average person using it, and I think that Doha’s metro is a perfect example of a service being designed and developed by people who don’t care about the people using it.

Alas, I think that’s just a recurring problem with the Gulf cities in general. Everything is a facade and done to look good. At the end of the day, the locals have money and they want to flaunt it to the world.

Overall, Doha was fun but I don’t think you need to spend that much time there. A couple days, or an extended layover (take Qatar Airways), would be enough time.

Doha is a confusing city because on the surface, it seems like a city that is proud of its heritage and culture, which is refreshing. But then you remember that it’s an extremely conservative Gulf city with way too much money and it really makes you question how genuine everything is.

Author: Gary

Explorer, Creator, Gamer. #IDKAIST MSc and #UOITGameDev Alumni.

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