“Is it safe?” That’s what people kept asking me when I told them our layover back to Indonesia would be in Qatar. Well, after asking, “Where is that?” The Middle East, especially in America, is often talked about with fear and apprehension. It’s not really a top destination in the minds of many Americans. But as a not so typical American, I was quite excited about this layover. Instead of choosing just 2 hours to transfer flights from Chicago to Indonesia with our 3 month old baby, we decided to chose 25 hours instead. Qatar Airways helped seal the deal by offering a hotel promotion. Once the trip was booked, I began to start dreaming of deserts and camels.
We landed in Doha, Qatar, around 4pm. After a decent wait through immigration, we were in a taxi ready to find our hotel by 6:30pm. Thanks to the Qatar Airways promo, we were staying downtown near the souq or market at Souq Waqif Boutique Hotels. It’s a collection of hotels spread out around the Souq, and we didn’t actually know the name of our exact hotel until we arrived. We checked in at the main lobby, and then by golf cart we traveled to our specific hotel. We were given a beautiful 1 bedroom suite, which was perfect for our little one to have her pack n play set up in her own space. I loved the location of our hotel, because we stepped out of the lobby and we were in the marketplace.
Souq Waqif is a massive market in downtown Doha. It’s full of food stalls, restaurants, hookah bars, camels, falcons, coffee, tropical birds, and shopping for anything from carpets to clothing to spices to toys to souvenirs. And it’s really alive at night. Tourists and locals alike were out for an evening at the market. We also arrived during the Equestrian Festival, so there was even extra activity down the market. We weaved through alleyways and around busy streets, taking in all the colorful sights and sounds of the market. We finally decided to try local homemade Qatari food at a buffet set up across from the Equestrian Festival. We tried potato dishes, pasta dishes, and chicken dishes each packed full of flavors and seasoning. As we walked back to our hotel, we found a restaurant selling freshly made bread & hummus, a must-try in the Middle East, and it was delicious.
Jetlag got the best of us that night, and we were up before the sun. We decided to make the most of the cooler temperatures, and set out for some early sightseeing. Our first stop was my highly anticipated camel pen. I love a geographically specific animal. Yes, I rode an elephant in Thailand and held a koala in Australia. Finding a camel was the first item on my Qatar bucket list. And mere 5 minute walk from our hotel was an open air pen filled with majestic camels. I squealed with delight. I pulled out the camera and snapped away. A nice man working in the pen asked if we wanted to come in, and of course we did. I took even more photos and camel selfies. And then he asked if I wanted to RIDE A CAMEL. I immediately said yes. And almost as quickly began to regret that decision. First of all, camels are HUGE and TALL. Sure they lay down for you to climb on, but there’s a GIANT hump in the middle of their back! So I sit behind the hump, and as he begins to stand, I hold on to his mane for dear life as I feel myself sliding off it’s back. But he levels out, and I maintain my balance. And there I am, atop of a camel in the Middle East. Mission accomplished. But of course I have to get off, which was almost as terrifying. I don’t know if I will voluntarily ride a camel again.
After our camel adventures, we continued to walk around downtown Doha along the Persian Gulf waterfront, called The Corniche. Unfortunately it was a very cloudy/dusty day, so we had no view of the glimmering skyscrapers across the water. But it was still a pretty walk. We went back to our hotel and rested up for our final Doha excursion. I had read about the Museum of Islamic Arts, and definitely wanted to check it out. The building itself is a work of art, and the exhibits were fabulous as well. Definitely not a bad way to spend the heat of the day!
By this time, it was time to head back to the airport. Our time in Qatar and the Middle East had come to an end. It somehow managed to be nothing that I expected and exceed my expectations. The culture captivated me, the people welcomed me, the food satisfied me, and the experience moved me. I’m so glad we took the time to explore this beautiful culture. I found nothing to fear, and everything to enjoy. I hope you will too.