Travel to Qatar – Episode 530categories: asia travel, middle east travel
Qatar Photos on this page were taken by Gary Arndt and are used by permission
Hear about travel to Qatar as the Amateur Traveler talks to Richard Parr from the Best In The World Podcast about this middle eastern country where he lived for 6 years in Doha.
Richard says “so many people fly through Doha airport with Qatar airways but no one ever goes through the doors to see what it has on offer. It is the kind of place where I would not recommend you go for a long holiday but I think if you were to go for 4 or 5 days there is plenty to do. If you like great weather there are certain times of the year you can relax and get a nice tan by a pool but you don’t want to go in the middle of Summer because it hits 50 degrees [Celsius, 122 Fahrenheit]. From the end of October to the beginning of May, the weather is beautiful.”
“They’re very big on their cultural sites. You’ve got the Museum of Islamic Art with lots of various artifacts from across the Middle East region.” The museum is on the bay in the Corniche area with a beautiful view of the city of Doha. For shopping, the Villaggio Mall has an experience like out of the Venetian in Las Vegas with gondolas on indoor canals and shops that neither Richard nor Chris could afford. But they also have a modern Souq design in a more traditional style where you can buy your scarves or pashminas.
“There’s about 2.5 million inhabitants which is amazing because back in 1970 there were only about 100,000. The actual Qatareese are about 13% of that population so it really is an expat population.” There are a lot of Indians, Filipinos and other nationalities. “I didn’t really need Arabic in the country because there are so many people from around the world and most of them know more English than they do Arabic.”
Richard also takes us out of Doha to the Inland Sea near Saudi Arabia, to the north to a place where you can go kayaking among the mangroves and also to the desert where you can go four-wheeling. He also takes to some small out of the way but wonderful restaurants and to places where you can sit with the locals and have a sheesha. Come discover Doha and Qatar through the eyes of an expat.
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Museum of Islamic Art
Katara Cultural Village
City Center Doha
Pearl of Beirut
Mangrove Kayaking Tours
Aqua Park Qatar
W Doha Hotel
Marriott Marquis City Center Doha Hotel
Qatar National Day
Chinglish Menu Items in Shanghai
Best in the World with Richard Parr
Scott sent me a picture of he and his significant other having a pint with Amber from AmericanTourGuideInLondon.com who was our guest for a two part episode on London. She was there private tour guide for the day.
Some recent iTunes reviews (some on some very old episodes)
Chris: Amateur Traveler Episode 530. Today, the Amateur Traveler talks about desert drives and an inland sea, souks and modern malls and Islamic art as we go to Qatar. Welcome to the Amateur Traveler, I’m your host, Chris Christensen. No sponsor for today’s episode, but if somebody would like to sponsor it just draw me an email to host at amateurtraveler.com.
Now, let’s talk about Qatar. I’d like to welcome to the show Richard Parr from the Best in the World with Richard Parr. Richard, welcome to the show.
Richard: Thank you very much for having me Chris, really excited to be here today.
Chris: We’ll talk a little more about the Best of the World with Richard Parr which is a podcast in the area of sports or sport. Depending on where you’re from sports for me, sport for you, but we’ll talk more about that at the end, I should just say though it’s very convenient that they got you as a host for that show.
Richard: I know though it’s a tough selection process, I’ll tell you.
Chris: But that is not what we have you on the show to talk about today. Where are we going in the world today?
Richard: Well, we’re going to a place I know really, really well. I’ve spent six years in Qatar in the Middle East in Doha in particular and it’s a really growing city and country and I thought I’d let people who listen to your podcast know a little bit more about it because so many people fly through Doha airport with Qatar airways but no one ever really goes through the doors to see what it has on offer. So I thought I’d let your listeners know a little bit more about it.
Chris: Okay, and so we’re in the Middle East. We’re in one of the Gulf States. I want to pause here and talk about the pronunciation because I’ve always heard it was Qatar so that’s not what you’re saying.
Richard: It’s funny, before I went there back in 2008 I would have called it Qatar and then when you go there you hear other people would call it Qatar and from my few Arabic lessons which I did, which I’ll talk a bit more about the language in a moment but you do hear more people go Qatar. But actually, both are pretty interchangeable, no one would get offended if you said one or the other.
Chris: Okay, excellent. Why should we go to Qatar?
Richard: That’s a kind of tough question. It’s the kind of place where I wouldn’t recommend you go for a long holiday but I think if you were to go for four or five days, there’s plenty on offer for you to do. Now, if you like good weather, there’s certain times of the year where you could get a nice tan and relax by a pool and have a drink, but you don’t want to go in the middle of summer, you don’t want to do that June, July, August because it hits 50 degrees.
Chris: Ouch! And we are talking obviously in Celsius here so we’re well over like 110 in Fahrenheit, so ouch!
Richard: Yeah, it’s crazy and all you end up doing is going from an air conditioned house or hotel to a mall or an office and in the end because there’s so much air conditioning you just get a cold from the air conditioning. But for the rest of the year, certainly from I would say end of October through to beginning of May the weather is beautiful and in fact around about January, February it gets a little cold a little nippy but for the rest of that time you can be out there, you can be relaxing by the pool. So you’ve got that kind of aspect but then they’re very big on their cultural sides so you’ve got the Museum of Islamic art with lots of various artifacts from across the Middle East region. In fact, they’ve got a beautiful park there, the Museum of Islamic Park, really nice places to stay, relax and you can kind of look over the bay, the Corniche area of Doha. And then they’ve got another area caller Qattara which has a huge amphitheater and lots of other things related to the city and you can try the local Chai, there’s lots going on by of culturally. But then also if you like shopping, you’ve got places like the Villaggio Mall, City Center Mall, Landmark Mall and they have a variety of like high end shops from your Louis Vuitton and the kind of shops I can’t really afford Chris, I’ll be honest until you’re more kind of basic, like we’ve got a place caller Carrefour, which is kind of the European equivalent of Walmart so you can buy a souvenirs. But then you’ve also got what is known as the Souk. It’s designed as if it was like a traditional souk, a traditional market where you can buy your kind of scarves and pashminas and things like that but it’s actually a new version where you can kind of wander around, walk around and you can have shisha, and try some of the local food and maybe food from the region like they’re very into that kind of like Iraqi food and Lebanese food. And those are what you’d call your traditional tourist hot spots that people normally go to when they visit.
Chris: Excellent, and we’ll want to go back through a lot of that in a little more detail. The first thing I should do is a little fact checking on myself. I realized after I said that 50 Degrees Celsius was 110 that I was under estimating and 50 degrees Celsius is 122 Degrees Fahrenheit, so double ouch. So you talked about the museum first, the Museum of Islamic art, can you tell me anything more about that?
Richard: Well, I can tell you a lot about the outside of it, Chris…
Chris: Sounds like you haven’t been in there.
Richard: I actually never went inside. Like I said, I really enjoy the park. The park is…
Chris: Got it.
Richard: Full of greenery and you don’t have that too often in Qatar, like, when you have these really high temperatures there isn’t too much kind of green area. But this is the one kind of relaxing area where you can have a Tea, kids are playing in the playground, running around, you can hire a bike and just kind of wander that area. From the outside, it is designed by the IM Pei, the Museum of Islamic art and it’s been around about five years and I believe they’ve got a really good restaurant in there. Because what Qatar’s trying to do, Chris, is while you’ve kind of got the Dubai acting as almost like the Las Vegas of the Middle East, Qatar wants to be a little bit more subdued, it wants to be a little bit more relaxed and it wants to be seen more as the cultural hub of the Middle East.
Chris: Okay, and it looks like the name of the restaurant is Idam, I-D-A-M?
Richard: Yeah, the guy who runs the restaurant is Alain Ducasse, so a friend of mine who I used to play football with, he was actually one of the waiters there and he always recommended it to me. And so if I ever make a trip back there soon, I’ll go and check it out.
Chris: Excellent, and one thing I want to talk about, we talked about the location of where we are here, Qatar is not that big, how big is it total, I mean roughly?
Richard: I don’t know the exact size, but what I can tell you is there’s about two and half million inhabitants which is amazing because back in 1970, there was only about 100,000 and…
Chris: Oh my.
Richard: They say by 2020 they’ll be 2.8 million. But at the rate they’re growing, I think it will be a lot bigger than that.
Chris: So most of those would not be people who are native to the country?
Richard: No, I believe the actual Qataris are about 13% of that population. So it really is an expat population, so obviously I was there, I was there working for Al Jazeera English as a media journalist, but you have a lot of Indian workers that they do a lot of the construction work and taxi driving and jobs like that. Then you’ve got a lot of Southeast Asian and lot of Filipinos in particular who work in the service industry and we mentioned language earlier about Arabic. I didn’t really need Arabic in the country whatsoever because there are so many people from around the world and most of them know more English than they do Arabic. So you’ll go to a Mall and you’ll be speaking in English. You’ll be going to a restaurant you’ll be speaking in in English. There’s a lot of situations where you actually don’t need Arabic at all.
Chris: That surprises me, interesting. And I should say that in answer to my own question, it’s a peninsula, it looks like it’s only about just a little short of 100 Miles long.
Richard: You could travel the whole country in about day, like I’ve traveled north to a place called Al Khor. And they’ve got a fantastic small little seafood restaurant there which is I think it’s called the Pearl of Qatar, it’s where you would go to some of the most expensive restaurants in Qatar say the W Hotel and you could be spending minimum say $50 per person just for food alone. You can go to this place and you’re spending probably about $5 for food which is just as good, just as tasty. They’ve also got an area in that place called Al Khor which is like mangroves where you can kind of go kayaking and, again, you feel like you’re out of Qatar for a bit, you’ll feel you’re actually in nature because a lot of Doha itself is high rise buildings or sand.
Richard: Well, and you mentioned Doha, we didn’t say you’ve been talking mostly so far I believe about the capital, about Doha.
Richard: Effectively, Qatar is Doha, Doha is the main place, there’s not really much to see now. You mentioned that I do a sports podcast, I also play quite a lot of sport at a very bad level but I still enjoy it and I played a lot of football and that would only really be the time when I would actually go and see different parts of Qatar, parts of Doha. I would travel past this area called Losail which is where they hold the Moto GP and where they held the world Handball championships. But also to an area called Al Wakrah and you go to these towns and there’s not really much there other than housing complexes, the old school and the old Sports Center.
Chris: Interesting. So most of the rest of the country is suburbs where people live and commute into Doha?
Richard: Most people live in Doha.
Chris: Most people live in Doha, okay.
Richard: Yeah, the only people who don’t live in Qatar normally live in Al Wakrah, but Al Wakrah is almost like a suburb of Doha anyway. Al Khor is probably the furthest anyone lives and other than that there’s not really too much to see other than if you were to go North, there’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site called Al Zubara, which is an old Fort but I remember I traveled quite a way for it and you got to remember that Table Mountain is a UNESCO Heritage Site and that is incredibly impressive and then you kind of go to this small old Fort and it’s not quite so great, but it has its historical meaning…
Richard: And if you’re into history and everything like that, for me, it just didn’t really do it for me kind of like Table Mountain. And it kind of did when I went to South Africa.
Chris: And then you started us with the Corniche, so you started us on the bay here in Doha, across from Doha.
Richard: Yeah, so the bay area is kind of one of the focal points for a lot of the families. So the weekends in Qatar are Friday and Saturday, like they are in a lot of the Islam world and that is the place where families of all different religions and backgrounds, they all kind of go to commune and they’ll bring some deck chairs and relax and maybe have a picnic and kids will kind of be running around and they don’t do it so much now. In fact, I haven’t really recalled of too many incidents, but a few years ago they actually had a rule that it was for families only. So what they refer to as single bachelor men weren’t allowed on that Corniche during the family time. I believe that’s kind of been a rule which has been relaxed a little, whether it’s been taken out of the law or not I don’t actually know, but it’s certainly been more relaxed. And they used to do similar in the malls of Friday being a family day, no bachelors and there were stories of people not being allowed in but that seems to have calmed down quite a lot.
Chris: And were you a bachelor when you were in Qatar?
Richard: I was a bachelor, but I was allowed in.
Chris: Interesting. When you mentioned malls, you actually went to a mall and of course if we’re there in the summertime we’re going to be spending a lot of time indoors and you mentioned the Villaggio as a place to go because that was called a place where you and I are not shopping.
Richard: No, well we’re shopping in parts of it, there’s one part of it where we’re definitely not shopping where they have your Armani and your Louis Vuitton and places like that, but then there are other parts such as your Virgin Megastores and your H&M and your Zara, your high street chains. But it’s quite an impressive mall, it’s got the look of Venice. I don’t know if you’ve been to Last Vegas…
Chris: Sure, sure.
Richard: But the Venetian Hotel is kind of based on that where you’ve got the sky painted on…
Chris: Perpetual, indoor summers sunlight or.
Richard: Precisely, and you’ve got a canal there which you can go on a gondola and then they’ve got an actual kind of mini theme park inside where there’s a few scary rides. I say scary, one of them is quite rickety and so that’s why it’s scary more than it’s actually fast, but they also have go-karting there and it’s a pretty decent go-karting track and it’s there for both adults and children alike, so that’s a pretty fun activity to do. And they’ve also got laser warriors, I played it with our friends leaving due. And we had some great fun kind of running around in our early 30s sweating a lot but it was good fun.
Chris: Now, I’m sort of getting the impression here that if I’m going there especially in light of how many people aren’t from there that it’s a very international place. Are there differences when I’m there? Can I tell I’m not at the Mall of America in Minnesota, except that there are probably less blondes?
Richard: Definitely, because you’ve got so many people wearing national dress, even if they’re not from Qatar, they might be from the UAE or other parts of the Middle East. So, you see a lot of ladies in the burkas which are all dressed in black and you see a lot of the men all dressed in white, almost within seconds, you realize you’re in a different place.
Chris: And did you get to the point where you could recognize, I know when I was in Jordan our guide would quickly look over and say, “Oh yeah, that couple is from Saudi Arabia and they’re from…” For them, it was quite obvious, for me, it wasn’t. I mean do you get the point where you recognize who is local and who’s from UAE or whatever or is that just more subtle than I would think?
Richard: You can to a slight degree.
Richard: If you were to put five people from the Middle East in front of me and asked me which one’s from Jordan? Which one’s from Qatar? I wouldn’t be able to do it, but certain groups you can see…
Chris: Dress would be, I would think, the number one thing you’d be able to tell if you’re able to tell at all.
Richard: It would be real guesswork more than anything.
Chris: Okay, is there going to be a shop in the Villaggio that it’s going to surprise me that clearly is not coming from the Mall of America or some big mall here in the US?
Richard: And that’s not really why you would go to Villaggio, you would go for that kind of I’m in the Middle East, I kind of want a taste of America, I want to play some ice hockey or watch some ice hockey or have a McDonald’s or something like that. You’d go to the Souk for something more traditional.
Chris: And that’s where I was going to take you to then next. So, well you said something more traditional but it’s not, it didn’t give the impression that it is an old souk that has been there for hundreds and hundreds of years. You said it’s more in the motif of that, it’s what it sounded like when you were describing it before.
Richard: Yeah, it’s very much like that, but there are also what they call the kind of old areas which again, the mall just kind of like old shops because they’re outdated in their old, but they don’t have that same kind of traditional like you would probably get in Marrakech or that tradition feeling. But there’s one area they call the Filipino Souq where all the Filipinos go and it’s a lot more basic while the actual main souk is Souq waqif, they call it, or Souq waqif, depending on your pronunciation. As we mentioned earlier there’s different slight different pronunciations for the same thing throughout their country, but that Souq waqif or Souq waqif is the kind of more of traditional area. And it’s the most popular area, you’ve got all of these restaurants where everyone can kind of sit outside trying the different food and smoking shisha. Before I went to Qatar, I had not smoked shisha. Before I hadn’t even smoked a cigarette.
Chris: Well, and like you mentioned shisha, describe for our audience what you’re talking about.
Richard: You’d most compare it to say a bong. It’s kind of a…
Chris: It’s a water pipe.
Richard: It’s a water pipe, yes where you’ve kind of got so much like a vase at the bottom filled with water and then it comes out to almost like a snake like tube and then you’re blowing into it and then you kind of blow out the smoke and it’s all different flavors from lemon Mint to double apples to orange to… And then they make up all these different ones such as fruit cocktail and pineapple and they vary in price though so…
Chris: I think in, I think it was Turkey or Egypt that I was the apple was very popular, is there a popular flavor? Or does that change daily or weekly in Doha?
Richard: Yeah, it’s double Apple is probably the most popular, and a lot of people like mint as well. It does become addictive. So, I’d never done it but then you kind of go once and the culture in England for example is we would have a beer after work or a bit of most nights of the week in England. But in Qatar you can go and have a beer, there are bars and restaurants that you can go to but if you’re near the souk, is a nice atmosphere and it’s relaxing and it’s that kind of actually I don’t fancy beer, I actually fancy going to Qatar, to Souq waqif and having a shisha and just relaxing. And because there’s so many tourists it becomes quite the people watching place as well, seeing all the different people kind of milling around and seeing what’s going on.
Chris: Well, and my impression is that if I’m in, let’s say, Old Town in Cairo and I’m at a place where shisha it’s almost all men quite often. But here it sounds like it’s more of a mix and they even let in the bachelors.
Richard: Yeah, it’s definitely a mix. Everyone’s kind of welcome in the souk and yeah it’s a place where a lot of people just kind of go to relax and spend the evening and it can be busy till like very, very late. It amazes me sometimes how the different time zones kind of work in Qatar. Some people get up to work so early at like 5:00, 6:00 in the morning like school starts pretty earlier. I think it’s like 6:00 or 7:00 in Qatar. But then sometimes you’ll see people out as late as midnight, 1:00 in the souk and what we’re talking families and children as well, especially at the weekends. So, I’m amazed when anyone actually gets any sleep at times.
Chris: And is that all times of year or mostly during the hot portions of the year when you’d want to be out more when it’s not 122 or 50 degrees depending on your system?
Richard: No, it’s definitely more so from your October to May.
Richard: But then, from June, July, August people would still got to the souk, they’ll still have air conditioning, they’ll still be areas inside but yeah you got to be pretty brave to last too long outside.
Chris: Now, my impression is you lived in Qatar as an expat which is going to be a little different than my experience as a tourist and I’m kind of getting the impression as you’re describing it that I could be there and if I wanted to I wouldn’t have to connect that much with the local culture. Sounded like you probably got out because of sport and things like that and we’re mixing more with the people than some of the expats that you were living there with. Is that, am I on track or way off base?
Richard: Yeah, I was lucky because I’ve lived abroad before. I lived in Madrid and I lived in Paris, so I kind of have done the expat experience before so I know that you’ve kind of got to make an effort. But it’s very easy for people to kind of stay in cliques and stay in groups.
Chris: Sure, yeah.
Richard: Your main expat job certainly for the Westerner is you’re either working in media with Al Jazeera, you’re either working as a teacher or you’re working in the oil and gas industry.
Richard: And again, you can be in these housing compounds where you’ve got all these little houses and it’s kind of something out of The Stepford Wives or something like that where you’ve kind of got a basketball court, and you’ve got a swimming pool and everyone knows each other and everyone knows each other’s business and you kind of just be in those communities and that’s great. And especially if you have a family and the kids are playing with different kids and there’s many benefits like that but it can be very easy to kind of stay in your cliques, so the benefit I have is I have had that experience from being an expat abroad before because you can get a little bit stuck too much in your clique and in your group but, like I said, that by me playing football as one of the activities that I did while I was out there you start to meet lots of different people and it’s a really great way of meeting people who work in all different types of jobs and from all different types of backgrounds as well.
Chris: And then you said compound and it just occurred to me that there are probably people who wonder why we didn’t talk about the safety and security. I don’t get the impression that this is a place that you worried about it that much, but could you talk about that?
Richard: Qatar is probably the safest country I have ever visited. And I’ve visited about 40 countries. My feeling is there’s no crime because everyone who is there wants to keep their job. Now, because so many people are expats, they don’t want to go back to their home country where they’ll be earning less because the big selling point of Qatar is its tax free and its high wages and its paid accommodation.
Chris: Oh tax free, I did not realize, okay.
Richard: So that is the massive benefit, people don’t want to ruin a good thing. So for example, I could be in a bar and I could leave my wallet on the bar go to the toilet come back and it would still be there with everything in it, no one’s going to steal it. And for the locals they get given quite a lot of things from the government, don’t quote me exactly, but there’s talk about things like when a family gets married, they might be given some land, or a house, or when a certain child reaches a certain age and you don’t pay any utility bills, if you’re a Qataris national or if you work for a government company. So Al-Jazeera was financed by the government, so I didn’t pay for any of my electricity or water or anything like that.
Richard: So, but the only thing which is dangerous though Chris is the driving, is the traffic. Seriously, it’s…
Chris: Which is honestly the truth in most countries is that the things that people don’t realize they’re afraid of terrorism and it’s really the driving that’s going to kill them.
Richard: Oh, no, no, you don’t worry about terrorism, worry about the roads. What I did find though is it was always safer when I was driving.
Richard: Now the first, I was there in 2008 to 2009 and then I returned in 2011 for the last 5 years until 2016, earlier in April. And in that first time, I didn’t have a car, I just got a taxi everywhere and you realize that you’re putting your life into someone else’s hands and they will drive a lot faster. They’ll try and find shortcuts. But also back then there was a lot of roundabouts.
Richard: And not so many people are educated properly in how to use a roundabout. So, it was almost if there’s a gap, go in. And there would be so many accidents, the most random thing I saw was actually a boat stuck on the roundabout, in the middle of the roundabout not allowing anyone through because its fallen off the trailer, because clearly someone had tried to drive as quickly as they could to get onto the roundabout and then the boat fell off and it caused massive tail backs going along the road by the Corniche. So that kind of happens, however, about two or three years ago they started to tear up most of the roundabouts and change them to traffic lights and it has made a huge difference. They’ve also put in a lot more speed cameras. So they’ll stop people from speeding quite so much. One of the things which I did when I finally did start driving is I made sure I got myself a big car. Now, in the UK you can’t really drive a big car.
Chris: Very true.
Richard: You can’t park anywhere, you need like a smart car to be able to park anywhere. But there I got myself a 4×4 a Ford Explorer mainly because I wanted to be safe on the roads because if you’re going to get hit by something, you kind of want to be in the bigger car and especially when there were the roundabouts, you wanted to be just that little bit higher up to kind of see what was going on. There were still pretty scary moments because people are educated for their driving skills at completely different levels because they’re all from different parts of the world.
Chris: Right, right, right. Now, I’m curious, you were there for over a longer period of time, what was the biggest difference between when you first got there and when you left? How had the country changed?
Richard: I think there’s more going on and I think it was becoming more diverse.
Richard: We talked about the different nationalities earlier and I mentioned Indians, Filipinos, a few people from the west. And what you would see is very much for example, the service industry was nearly fully serviced by people from the Philippines. And as it started to grow, you’re seeing more and more of these jobs from people from all different countries and nationalities like for example, you could have a Polish waiter or a Dutch bar manager or various differences or someone from Portugal or different parts of the country and you could just feel that it was attracting more of a diverse backgrounds and it was growing. Because for example if you were to go to Dubai and you we’re to go into the mall in Dubai you’d see every single nationality under the sun. And in Qatar, it’s just becoming a little bit more diverse. And also you just see rapid growth.
When I first went to Doha in 2008 there’s an area called West Bay where I actually lived where there’s a… well, in fact, there’s a famous picture in 1970 of this area called West Bay and it’s got one hotel and it’s of the Sheraton Hotel and it looks like a spaceship has just landed there. It’s that type of design, almost in like a pyramid style. And if you would look at West Bay now you will see that it is the main commercial area and you’ve got dozens and dozens of high rise buildings of 50 floors plus. And even from my time when I left in 2009 to when I returned in 2011, you could see that there was at least another two dozen high rise buildings that they completely fly up and it’s that visual impact which is kind of changing more than anything. And it’s going to continue to happen I believe they’ve got a 2030 vision, they’re obviously hosting the World Cup in 2022. So they’ve got a really busy and expansive, expansion plan to try and make Qatar open to the rest of the world.
Chris: Excellent, I want you to put your tourist hat on here for a little bit and think about, you had days that you could go out and play tourist, what was your best day as a tourist in Qatar?
Richard: The water park.
Chris: Which is your traditional Middle Eastern.
Richard: Exactly. It’s quite a way outside of Doha but I’m just a big kid and there is this water park and I was a little bit heavier those days. And so they had one kind of ride where two of you could go in together and everyone kind of wanted to go on that ride with me because I was a little bit heavier that meant the ride went a little bit faster. But yeah it was, that was just kind of a fun day but you can do desert trips as well. The desert trips are fun. You can go and someone driving a 4×4 or Jeep for you and kind of go Dune Bashing and you kind of ride up and down the dunes. They’ll sometimes go to the one which is almost like a cliff and reverse down it. I really recommend you get someone to do it for you rather than you have a go because they do have fatalities there. If you don’t know the dunes and you don’t know where people are coming from there’s very often head on collisions, so it can be dangerous. And then they’ve got this place called the inland sea where you can see Saudi Arabia across it and it’s just a nice area you can go and have a picnic, you can go and relax. You can go see a traditional tent and ride a camel, and just try those different type of things. I also went quad biking.
Chris: The inland sea would be the water that separates the peninsula from Saudi Arabia?
Richard: No, it’s actually a stretch of water in the actual country I believe.
Chris: Oh, okay.
Richard: I don’t believe it’s the peninsula, I believe it is actually just inside the country. But I once went quad biking and it was a friend of mine who had only a few weeks before had not worn a helmet, didn’t judge the dunes properly, flew far into the air and landed and as he landed he smashed the handle bars into his face and cut his face almost nearly from the edge of his mouth to his ear and he did many, many stitches and very, very painful. Fortunately, for me, I wore a helmet and I almost did the exact same thing because you just don’t know where some of these dunes begin and end and luckily I was wearing the helmet and I was absolutely fine I had a bit of whiplash for that one evening. But you have to be really careful and they might not enforce you to wear a helmet but safety first sometimes.
Chris: Well, and I know that quad biking no matter where you are has not the best safety record. They’re not as stable as people suspect because of the four wheels is really the problem. Definitely something to wear the helmet even if you’re not in the Middle East. Now, you were there as an expat, so do you have any recommendations on where people who are coming as a tourist should stay?
Richard: It depends on your budget. And at the high end you’ve got places like the W Hotel, you’ve got the Grand Hyatt, you’ve got the Four Seasons, they’re all really good. What I would really recommend though if you’re a tourist and you like food is to do one of their Friday brunches. They’re so extravagant. You think of a food they normally have it. And it’s all with free alcohol if you like to drink, if you don’t like to drink, you can get as many different kind of soft drinks. You probably won’t eat for two days afterwards but what also makes it great is the service is superb, it’s on point and for example, they’ll give you champagne and you’ll look one side and then though your glass will be full without you even realizing and that’s not something you can do every week. It’s certainly not something I would do every week. You can’t really afford it but if you are tourist, whenever I would have friends or family come to visit, we’d try and go and do something because it’s a really kind of fun way to do. And again, yes, it’s quite expat Central, you do meet a lot of kind of Westerners but it’s a nice fun way to spend kind of a Friday afternoon. But then as you were asking about the hotels, most of them will have very nice restaurants, very nice bars and just nice kind of pool areas and fitness centers if you’re into your swimming and some beaches they’re all man-made beaches though that none of these are actually…
Richard: Natural. So they have to kind of remake them and there is one difficulty in Qatar is there aren’t too many public beaches. You kind of have to go on the outskirts of Qatar and even then they don’t have really too many basic facilities. So if you do want to go and chill by a Beach and maybe you’re visiting friends and you’re staying with them, you’re going have to pay for a day rate to stay at one of the hotels perhaps the Hilton or somewhere like that.
Chris: And if I want to go a little down market in terms of places to stay, any recommendations?
Richard: I wouldn’t highly recommend it. There was a Marriott connected to the city center which I just really liked. It’s not as expensive as say the Four Seasons and The new Shangri-La. and places like that, but what it really was good at it was connected the City Center Mall. So even if you didn’t want to spend money in their restaurant, you could go to the food court there or try some of the restaurants within the City Center Mall and then it did have some nice restaurants and it had a sports bar. So that’s always going to get my attention, Chris, and there’s a pool there as well and it’s the most central location you can get. That would be my tip for anyone going there who doesn’t want to spend a fortune on let’s say the Hyatt or the Ritz Carlton or something like that, the Marriott City Center.
Chris: Okay. And then beaches, so we’re not in the South of Spain. So anything I should know as a tourist going to the beach in terms of different cultural expectations?
Richard: Depends on what beach you go to now in general unless you’re going to hotel ladies would really need to be covered up.
Richard: So they’re probably need to be wearing like a T-shirt if they were to go into the water or something which covers their knees as well. But if you were to go to one of the top hotels or something like that, you can pretty much wear whatever you want.
Chris: Okay, and then by the way I looked up and in the inland sea is at the Southern part of the Peninsula. So as I’m looking over at Saudi Arabia, I’m looking to the South which it wasn’t what I was picturing, so that was useful to know. And then you mentioned food? Best food experiences in Qatar?
Richard: Mine is at the very, very, very cheap scale.
Chris: You are talking my language here sir.
Richard: There are some fantastic restaurants, one called the spice market in the W Hotel that’s very expensive but excellent. They’ve got some really good Tai restaurants actually in Doha though one also in the Four Seasons. But my favorite restaurant by far is this place called Nasco. So I first went to Nasco in 2008 and my friend said to me, “Richard, we’re going out for dinner today.” And so I put on a nice shirt put on some jeans, put on some nice shoes and thought I was going to this fancy restaurant in one of these expensive hotels and we’re walking down the street and we go into this small kind of like almost like a shack. It looked like it was just a place which sold fruit juices and we sit down and I’m wondering why we’re sat here and most of the people there are in construction outfits or taxi drivers and I thought, “Okay, we’re just stopping for a juice before we go to one of those nice hotels.” Then I said, “So, we were just getting an orange juice?” And my friend says to me, “No, no, this is where we’re eating today.” And I went, “No, no, you’re joking. We’re not eating here, we’re going to like a nice restaurant where I can have a beer or red wine with my meal right?” “No, no, we’re eating here Richard”. “Okay.” He said, “Trust me, the foods really good, just trust me.” So he ordered me a half chicken spicy and it was absolutely delicious. It was so tasty just right off the grill from the front, from the guy who’s literally sweating. His sweat might be part of the special sauce for all I know, but it was unbelievable. And then the bill came and I’d ordered this chicken spicy with this never ending bread with salads, with tomatoes, with a coke really, really full and the bill came and my whole meal cost me in dollars probably about $3 dollars and it was incredible.
So I then found out I lived very near to it and I would go once a week for that year that I lived in that area and then when I didn’t live in that area I’d go at least once a month and the same thing would happen with everyone I would take there. They would enter this place and say, “Richard, what are we doing here? I don’t want to be here.” And then I’d say, “Trust me, you’re going to enjoy it.” And they’d have the food and they’d absolutely love it, and I’ve got one friend. He’s a sports broadcaster for Al Jazeera called Robin Adams, one of the nicest people I know, and he even took the South African Ambassador there who absolutely loved it too. And in fact I had one friend over and we had quite a fun weekend on the Friday, I took him to the brunch as I was telling you about on the Friday night. Again, these brunches can be up to about $200 or something ridiculous like that.
Chris: All right.
Richard: Then on the Saturday I took him for lunch at The Four Seasons because we’ve been given a guest pass there and then on the Sunday I took him to Nasco and he said to me, “Richard, I loved the brunch on Friday, it was fantastic.” “I loved lunch at The Four Seasons, it was great. But why have you waited three days to take me to Nasco?”
Richard: And he absolutely loved it. So, Nasco is my number one choice for anyone who goes to Qatar. It’s not that easy to find, I think is Al Matar St, it’s near the Museum of Islamic art and actually if you were to Google Search Nasco and click video, the one and only video will find me on the Doha Corniche making like a joke video about Nasco. So a friend of mine wanted to practice his camera skills and so we went down to the Corniche and we were practicing some filming and then I just kind of got a little bit bored of it and thought I’d just play around and due to my love of Nasco, I was like why don’t I make a little video about Nasco? And then all of a sudden my friend decided to post it online, and as new people kind of come to Qatar and I tell them about Nasco, they go on Google search and they find me making a silly kind of advert, so I’m the unofficial advert of Nasco as well.
Chris: Excellent. Well, I want to start wrapping this up, a couple questions for you. Best day of the year to be in Qatar.
Richard: I’ll tell you what is the best day of the year for a lot of people but not necessarily me and that’s Qatar national day. It’s the 18th of December, it’s going to be the day that they have the World Cup final in 2022.
Richard: Interestingly, it’s also my birthday that day the 18th of December. Same as Brad Pitt, obviously, Chris.
Chris: Well, of course, four days after mine just for the record for those who are keeping score at home.
Richard: Sagittarius as well?
Chris: Apparently so.
Richard: The why they celebrate is they’ll have parades and they’ll have fireworks and it’s all done on the Corniche and so that stops but the why a lot of people in Qatar like to celebrate is to go in their cars and hoot their horns and wave their flags and it causes absolute gridlock and you can’t go anywhere from A to B, they really appreciate they cars, they build them and rebuild them and even get motor trade insurance to secure their beloved vehicles. And one year in particular I nearly got in a car crash because people are trying to get to places as quick as they can even though there’s gridlock. It can be quite dangerous as well and everyone’s there having fun, but if you have any dinner reservations or any plans to get from anywhere then that’s not a good time. But to be fair it is a day of pride for Qatar and it is their national day and in many respects it’s a really good day of the year, just don’t try and do anything other than going to see the parade and I’d recommend walking there.
Chris: Okay, what’s going to surprise me when I go to Qatar?
Richard: When you meet Qataris, they’re very, very friendly people. It’s that kind of thing where you might notice in a lot of this conversation that I’ve been talking about expat life and talking about the times I spent with expats but I did have some Qatari friends and they’re very generous. They’re very kind. They do keep a lot of their things to themselves and keep a lot very often to their families, but in general they’re very hospitable, they’ll always offer you gifts, they’ll always offer you food, they’ll always make sure you’re fed and watered and really make the most of it if you do get to meet a Qataris and spend some time with them.
Chris: The other question I have for you Richard is why after you’ve been to 40 countries are you surprised when the locals are friendly?
Richard: But maybe not as generous as they are.
Chris: Got it. All right.
Richard: I know they have a lot of money, but they’re very generous as well.
Chris: Excellent. All right. You’re standing in the prettiest spot in the whole country, where are you standing and what are you looking at?
Richard: Museum of Islamic art looking over the pool and looking over at West Bay.
Chris: Excellent. One thing that makes you laugh and say only in Qatar?
Richard: Spelling mistakes on signs everywhere.
Chris: So these are things, assuming to be in English you’re saying?
Richard: Yes, exactly. It’s probably got two translations, one in Arabic and one in English and the version they’ve translated from the Arabic has gone slightly amiss.
Chris: If you want to know my favorite of all my travels I’ve seen that Google from our trip to China Chinglish menu and you’ll see some great laugh out loud menu items from a restaurant in Shanghai that something did not quite go right in the translation, I think the worst one was decayed meet.
Richard: Oh tasty.
Chris: Yeah, well it’s supposed to be aged beef, but finish the sentence you really know you’re in Qatar when what?
Richard: When you’re stuck in traffic.
Chris: Wow that may have been just a little too much honesty for this show. And if you had to summarize the country in three words, what three words would you use?
Richard: Safe, affluent, clean.
Chris: Interesting. Okay. And you didn’t mention that before but that’s just something that you noticed all the time when you were there is…
Richard: Mainly because everything is so new. It hasn’t really had the time to get old and get dirty. So it feels like a model city at times because everything is only about forty years old.
Chris: Interesting, our guest again has been Richard Parr from the Best in the World with Richard Parr, tell us a little more about your podcast Richard?
Richard: So I interview Olympic and world champions and world number ones and former world record holders to find out what they do differently from other Athletes and sports stars and as every day folk, and we delve into things such as nutrition, routines and training schedules and what they might have for breakfast or whether they have any visualization techniques or anything to do with meditation and we talk about their different incredible stories of how they became the very best in the moment when they reach that pinnacle. And we also have guests on who were once fantastic sports stars and are now in a different walk of life for example we had a Baroness from the House of Lords and we had a marketing executive from Moët & Chandon and we had someone who’s now working on climate change for protect our winters and we tried to find out what they used for their sporting lives in their current roles and what makes them the very best at what they do and hopefully it can help us in our athletic endeavors or in our everyday lives.
Chris: Excellent, excellent and what is the URL if people want to check it out?
Richard: Best place to go is on iTunes, so you can get straight to the iTunes page on richardparr.net/itunes same with on Stitcher if you use an Android phone so it’s richardparr.net/stitcher and just richardparr.net has more information about me and it’s got all of the archive of all the podcasts.
Chris: Excellent. Well, Richard, thanks so much for coming on the Amateur Traveler and sharing with us your love for either Qatar or Qatar.
Richard: Thank you so much for having me Chris, thanks.
Chris: In news of the community, I love the post that I got on Facebook this week from Scott. Scott sent me a picture of he and his significant other having a pint with Amber from American tour guide in london.com and that is significant to this show because Amber was a guest on this show twice doing a two part episode a while back about London but it’s fun that people are still listening to the older episodes hence in this case still connected with Amber and did a private tour of London. Thanks to all of you who did a recent iTunes review, I had a chance to read them all recently from all over the place and they’re generally good and there’s a mixed bag. We had last day Prepper who said, “Wow, glad I found you. I have enjoyed 10 podcasts and desire to start at your first episode. I love the four questions and the informal format, thank you Chris.”
I’m not sure I would recommend starting with the first episode because you get this other review that is probably reviewing an older episode. “I would like to like this podcast but Chris you brief so heavily and so close to the mic that it drowns out your guests. Seriously, mute your mic or lean back so we can hear something besides your labored breathing.” That is true, I think it’s also old, but unfortunately people rate whatever episode they happen to listen to. Somebody didn’t like the Fort Worth episode, apparently we missed some things there, but someone else really enjoyed the episode that we did on Xinjiang China, “knew very little about the area but definitely on my list now.” I feel the same way. Again, thanks to all of you who took the time to review the show especially those of you who did not give me a one star review for listening to an old episode.
With that, we’re going to end this episode of the Amateur Traveler. The transcript of this episode is again sponsored by JayWay Travel experts in Eastern European Travel. You can reach me on Facebook the way Scott did by going to facebook.com/amateustraveler and as always thanks so much for listening.
Transcription sponsored by JayWay Travel, specialists in Central & Eastern Europe custom tours.
+Chris Christensen | @chris2x | facebook
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