1st discovery of a Gulf country, 1st Ramadan, an unforgettable trip
The Paris-Delhi route includes a stopover in Doha. We could have made a stopover in Amsterdam but our consultant at Travel Nation thought it was more fun to make a stopover in Doha. As this trip is part of the round-the-world ticket and it doesn’t cost us anything to add Doha in the list of stops, we said “yes” to learn more about the Gulf countries and discover Ramadan in a Muslim country.
It is the very first time that we spend so much time in this region (well… 1 day and a half only, we should not exaggerate either), but compared to the 2 hours of stopovers at the airport of Dubai, for Anh, it is a real discovery.
Contrary to what we thought, 5* hotels are affordable. I was expecting to have to pay at least 200€/night, finally we found a 5* hotel near the Souq, the Corniche, the Museum of Islamic Art, for 75€/night. The swimming pool is certainly less impressive than at Al Shaqab Hotel but are we there to swim outside when it’s 45°C?
So, four things are essential to Doha
32°C to 45°C in summer
A government “Reflect respect” campaign sums up the country’s code of conduct: shoulders and knees must be covered. Do not wear too tight & transparent clothes (leggings, yoga pants…). Same principle for men (no sleeveless t-shirts, no shorts), but in reality, I have seen many expats in shorts and t-shirts without any problem.
Personally, I think it’s a good idea to show us clearly what they expect from us. A very important detail: it isn’t asked to veil or cover the hair.
During Ramadan, it is better to respect these instructions even more.
For JB, short sleeve shirt, shorts and cap.
For me, long dress covering my ankles, 3/4 sleeves blouse 100% cotton, beige color & scarf (to cover my head because it’s hot).
We “did” Ramadan – halfway. That is, not eating anything until the evening, a small sprain, a few small sips of water during the day (while hiding) and a huge meal in the evening. Luckily for us, the sun sets quite early (6pm) unlike in other countries like Italy (8pm!) It is forbidden to eat or drink in front of others during Ramadan, whether you are allowed to or not (for example pregnant women or women with their period do not do Ramadan). Some restaurants do take-out at noon, but they are very discreet, they lower the curtains so as not to offend those who do Ramadan. The whole country is slowed down because working hours are reduced from 8am to 6am.
For the big evening meal, we have the choice between the iftar (which starts at 6pm and finishes around 8pm) – buffet or à la carte – or Suhoor (8pm to 1am), with traditional music in addition. The price varies a lot from one restaurant to another, QR50/person (12€) for the cheapest, QR250/person (60€) for 5 star hotels. Of course, Suhoor is more expensive than iftar, but we eat later as well.
You really need to visit at least one shopping mall in a Gulf country! We went to the Villaggio, 20mn from the Corniche, which houses an artificial canal that looks like Venice. It makes us think of the Four Seasons Hotel in Macau (which we will visit) which has the same canal.
After 3 months of contact with the Couchsurfing Community in Doha (very reactive, nice and available), we finally arrive in Doha. The plane landed late (after sunset) so not to make the other Muslim friends wait too much, our friend Couchsurfing went to pick us up directly at the airport to bring us near Sealine Beach resort, for an iftar (evening meal) on the dunes in the middle of the desert.
What a magical moment, with a little breeze that makes you forget the 36°C, the moon lights a small lake formed by water that goes up to the desert (a kind of Inland Sea but smaller), jeeps have fun on the dunes by driving on one side of the dunes at 30° (while the water is just below the dune). We are there, with friends we meet for the first time, to tame the dunes, and enjoy a simple dinner, barefoot in the sand, around a fire, making barbecue, tea, smoking chicha.
Small technical detail: Before driving on the sand, they deflate the tires a little bit. Drivers are generally very experienced and have a minimum of equipment. Most people leave their car in the parking lot, we are divided into 3 groups with 3 experienced drivers who know the dunes so well that they know exactly where to go. They are equipped with very strong tires and headlights so bright that you can see them from far away. They usually follow the tire tracks of other cars, but sometimes they take a road by themselves and there, it is the guaranteed strong sensation (imagine the car that goes up a very high dune and then flies? That’s us!). At one point, a pick-up truck waves at us. It is stuck, our driver comes out of nowhere a rope to pull it (apparently everyone has some to help the others). We learn then that there is a club of volunteers sponsored by the government, very well equipped, which takes care to repair the cars stuck in the desert like that. JB remarks to me: we have just landed at the airport, 1 hour later, we are already in the desert doing the roller coaster. It is so unreal!
We see the moon rising and illuminating this small lake at 30m from our feet. We are all dazzled by this spectacle that nature offers us. We see the cars in the distance, going up other dunes, letting us perceive this large space filled with sand, strewn with dunes that seem to never end. Youssef shows us how to determine the North with the stars, while Ali explains how to distinguish the stars from the planets (the planets often have “rings” while the stars are too far away, the light is more diffuse).
Suddenly, I see a shooting star passing by. I can’t believe my eyes and have to describe the experience to be confirmed that it is a shooting star. I am so moved that JB has to remind me to make a wish.
During all this evening, we perceive this sweetness in Doha, the city doesn’t offer crazy activities, so enjoying life in Doha is simply a matter of having a barbecue like this in the desert, parking next to the cornice while sipping a hot tea (karak tea) and enjoying many delicious restaurants. We are a thousand miles away from the Doha bling bling that we will discover the next day.
At 2am, there are a lot of cars in the street, probably because the Suhoor starts soon. We check-in at the hotel, 2am, no worries, under the astonished look of the Saudi customers in traditional hotel clothes who see two extremely badly dressed backpackers for this luxurious hotel.
The next day, we leave at noon to go to the Pearl, a luxurious artificial island in the hope of taking a boat to visit the Corniche. Unfortunately during Ramadan, the area is deserted but remains very beautiful.
We continue to Villaggio, a shopping center known for its copy of the canal in Venice. Nothing very typical in this shopping center because we find luxury brands, Boots, Carrefour, Virgin…
Our Couchsurfing friends then come to pick us up to see a parade of cars on the Corniche. In this country where gasoline is cheaper than water, the show is both impressive and funny, since it is so bling bling but it is also anchored in Doha’s DNA. Every day during Ramadan, an hour before bedtime, the Qataris get out their beautiful car and drive slowly on the right side to show off their toy, much to the delight of luxury car enthusiasts. If they don’t have luxury cars, they arrange to group together between Land Cruiser, Pick up, motorcycles. On the right side, a long row of amateur photographers line up, some with tripods, others on the road to get the best shots, either because the car is expensive, or because the license plate is expensive (the big game being to have the license plate number with as few digits as possible, they can spend hundreds of thousands of Euros for that! If you have the number 193, it’s the great class, while 382305 is the loose), or because they come from Saudi Arabia to take part in this show, pure show off. Some stop to give their Instagram account to the photographers, hoping to be tagged.
We then go to the Great Mosque to visit the interior and especially to see firing a cannon to announce the end of fasting at sunset. There is no countdown, as soon as the prayer of the Great Mosque is heard that the cannon shot is heard, making the spectators startle.
To prevent hungry drivers from causing accidents by trying to get home too quickly, individuals and associations distribute food on the roadside. We are entitled to a few dates, delicious. JB must have written “Christian / miscreant” on his forehead, so he is entitled to a leaflet “What is Islam ?” as a bonus.
We then spend our evening at the Souq Waqif in a traditional restaurant where we sit on the floor on the Arabic carpets and eat with our fingers. 3 qataris next door show us their dish and advise us to have the same. It is delicious! The bread is very hot and the meat is super tender! We do not know exactly what we ate, but it was very good.
We will then look inside the superb Persian restaurant PARISA, a decor worthy of the thousand and one nights.
Renwick, our friend, wants to have chicha so we go to Tajine next door to sip tea (with a little chicha of course) and talk about the future, our plans near and far, our dreams of travel. A small passage to the market where we don’t get solicited by anyone (qataris don’t care about tourists, they are much too rich to take care of them, which is very nice), we spend a little time at the animal stand to make kittens meow and to learn French (in vain) to parrots.
Our friends drop us off at the airport where we tell them that “it’s only goodbye”. We then fly to Delhi with the stars in our eyes.
How to get there
Direct flight from Paris, included in the round-the-world ticket
- Hotel: 75€/night for double room, without breakfast
- Cab: 50€ transfers from and to airports, shopping center & The Pearl
- Shopping : 0€
- Food: 10€/person in a small restaurant in the souq
Total: 265€ for 2 days (1 night), 2 adults, excluding airfare (round-the-world ticket)