I didn’t expect to like Qatar when we stopped there for several days on our way home from Nepal. But I did.
I loved wandering past the spice shops and bird markets of the labyrinthine souq near our Doha hotel. There was a camel pen next door and a falcon market up the street. On our first evening, we were eating at a Syrian restaurant when a magician began performing for the family at the table next to us. Two nights later we ate dinner on the floor of a Yemeni restaurant, then ate Moroccan the next night.
We reveled in two world-class museums, one about Islamic art and the other about Qatar’s history. We visited a cultural village with multiple attractions and a man-made luxury island lined with yachts and restaurants. We traveled into the desert to tour a fish market, a nature preserve, an old fort and an ancient village.
It all cost less than we expected since hotels slashed their prices after the World Cup ended. We stayed in a five-star hotel — usually far beyond our budget — for less than we’ve paid for some Best Westerns here. Several Uber trips cost the same as our single ride home when we landed in North Carolina.
We went to Qatar mainly to decompress after our family reunion in Nepal, and to break up the long trip home. We’d passed through Doha on previous trips and decided to stop and take a look this time.
We had several concerns about going there. There was Qatar’s disturbing human rights record and treatment of migrant workers, including from Nepal. I’d listened to an entire podcast series about how Qatar bribed its way to the World Cup. Photos of Doha’s skyline and architecture looked glitzy rather than appealing, at least to me.
Our visit didn’t erase those concerns but it did modify them. We met several Nepali workers and spoke with them privately, in Nepali. All said they were working hard for low wages but were happy to be there. It was a limited sample size, but still.
We saw some of the World Cup stadiums and wondered what Qatar will now do with them. But we also heard enormous pride, from a Pakistani guide, a Djiboutian taxi driver and a Nepali lab technician, about how well the tournament went.
There were plentiful new buildings with gleaming facades and blinking evening lights but also old shops piled with carpets or kitchen goods. There were families out strolling and kids playing. Some of the women we saw were completely covered. Others wore scarves, or hijabs or no head covering at all. Some were driving.
For such a small country, there was a lot to see, taste, smell and learn. So Qatar surprised us, in a good way. We’re glad we checked it out.