The moment came when I had to try and visit Qatar for the third time. The first two tries were unsuccessful, so I was really hoping that I would have more luck this time and get a visa. The good news arrived to Bulgaria on the 22nd of June, when I found out that we were on the list of people for visa on arrival. I got on the plane from Sofia heading to Doha and in about 5 hours I landed at the modern airport of Hamad.
Hamad International Airport (HIA)
It is located 13 kilometers southeast from the center of the city. It was labeled as the best airport in the Middle East, followed by the two airports of the United Arabic Emirates, located in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. In 2017 Hamad airport joined the world class elite of airports, by becoming the sixth airport in the world that received SKYTRAX’s 5 star rating. Qatar Airways was announced as the best world airline for 2017 by SKYTRAX. The carrier based in Doha won the prestigious award for the fourth time.
I immediately headed to immigration services for a visa. There was a crowd and to my surprise the line was going very fast. After about ten minutes I was face to face with the immigration agent. I got asked the standard questions: when I would leave the country, where my next destination was and where I was staying. I replied sincerely, that I intended to stay with a friend, showing his address in Doha. With a hand motion, my agent told me he does not care and required a copy of his identity card. I showed it to him of course, after that a senior agent was called in to confirm everything was in order.
Visa On Arrival
Visas for 70 approved countries can be received on arrival to Qatar. The visa cost me 100 QAR (€ 23.61). It could be paid for directly to the immigration services worker. They accept credit or debit cards. It is possible to apply online before arrival. A short while after this, Qatar removed entry visas for 80 countries, including Bulgaria.
Doha is one of those cities, which turned to a popular travel destination over the past few years. The city is developing with a fast pace and as a result of this you can see the fascinating new buildings, hotels, shopping malls and sport centres, coming out of the desert background as a futuristic oasis.
Happy and glad I headed for the exit with a light step, where Svetlana had to get me. Heading outside, I faced the harsh reality – 36°C and the insane heat made standing outside impossible. It felt like the hot was stabbing my body like a knife and my whole shirt was wet in just a few minutes and I realized it was better to enter the hall. Thankfully Svetlana was on time and I quickly slid into the car. We headed for the apartment, where I had to spend the night. The host, who was also called Iliyan, was incredibly welcoming and introduced me to the depths of Arabic cuisine. We tried a few local specialties accompanied with cheers with full glasses of the Irish elixir – Guinness in the company of Svetlana and two more Bulgarians, which have been living in Doha for years.
As we celebrated our name days with Svetlana and her friends we headed to a chic bar called Wahm. Bars in Qatar close at exactly 02.00 in the morning. There were people from all over the world in the club, who were having fun and you could not tell in any way you were in an Islamic country. There were all kinds of alcohol available, even though it is way more expensive than in Europe. For example a beer costs around QR 50 (€ 11.80), as well as a glass of wine. To order an alcoholic drink, you would need to bring your passport to show it.
Our plans for the next day had to completely change, because due to the hot burning sun there was no way for us to get to the desert. The temperature at midday was right above 45°C but it felt like it was over 50°C.
Despite that we went for a short stroll around the main landmarks and wakeboarding. The latter turned out to be not so easy for a beginner. This is one of the fastest developing water sports and is very popular in Doha. It is a combination of water skis, snowboard and surf. Despite everything we had a great afternoon on the motorboat of the Arabian Sea, full of pleasant music, cocktails and fun moments.
When should we visit Qatar?
The best time to visit Qatar is in February, when the average temperature is around 20°C. In comparison it gets up to 45°C in the summer. It’s also import to say that the weekend is on Friday and Saturday.
Museum of Islamic Art
This emblematic for Doha building contains the biggest collection of Islamic art from three continents, encompassing 1400 years. It was designed by the Pritzker prize holder I.M. Pei (architect of the pyramid of the Louvre). The museum is free and open during different working hours during the week, so you have to plan your visit in advance.
Souq Waqif is the best place for shopping in Doha. Here you can find precious stones and jewellery on the gold market, silk, textile, spices and perfume. Don’t miss visiting the falcon market, a symbol of prestige in this part of the world. Souq Waqif is also full of restaurants and cafes where you could find all sorts of tasty Arabic dishes.
This is a relatively new district in Doha. It is considered one of the most famous and preferred in the city. It has many modern buildings, unlike other older neighbourhoods in the capital.
On the other side of the bay is The Pearl – a city within a city full of designer stores and luxurious apartments, built on an artificial island in the bay.
After exactly 24 hours I left Doha heading for Jakarta, Indonesia. Here I would like to thank Svetlana for being with me the whole time and showing me life in the Qatar’s capital, as well as Iliyan’s incredible hospitality.