I Love My Neighborhood: Doha’s West Bay

In this series, I ask expats to share the joys of local life they’ve found in their corner of the world. If you’re just joining in now, check out other cities that have been covered so far here.

Today’s guest post comes from Sam, a British expat in Qatar — but she used to live in China, which is where we met, waaay back in 2008. There were few expats in Dalian back then, so we quickly bonded over many ladies’ nights and Korean BBQs. I have so many photos from those days, I really should dig them out sometime…

Anyway, Sam is an old friend and I’m so pleased that we’re still in touch five years later — and that she’s agreed to write about her new home, a place that I’ve heard much about but know so little: Doha, Qatar.

Sam: Why I Love West Bay

Doha is a city many people find difficult to love.

It’s a city under construction.

With its dusty sand encrusted streets, menacing traffic, non-stop building work, and blazing hot temperatures, Doha can give newly arrived expats quite a culture shock.

Doha doesn’t lend itself well to exploration on foot. In fact, we barely even have mailing addresses, let alone ‘neighbourhoods’ with all the communal sense that word implies. Every place of real interest is out of reach on foot, especially in the height of Doha’s vicious summer months. Doha is a city of drivers, not cyclists, definitely not pedestrians.

The closest thing Doha has to a traditional neighbourhood is the Pearl, a luxury apartment and shopping complex built on reclaimed land outside the main city limits. The Pearl is pretentious, cliquey and overpriced…and I don’t live there.

If you’ve ever been to Doha, or seen it in pictures, you probably recall the cluster of shiny, futuristic buildings clustered together along the bay. It’s Doha’s attempt at creating a memorable skyline, New York or Hong Kong style.

This is West Bay, and it’s my neighbourhood.

Burj Qatar

Shiny buildings of West Bay, with the spiked Burj Qatar on the right

Among the tall shiny buildings in West Bay is the award-winning Burj Qatar. It’s my favourite — not only because of its unique and eye-catching shape (Doha expats call it the ‘condom building’). The Burj Qatar also projects cool orange and white light shows on its side during the nighttime hours, which look stunning from the Corniche. It reminds me of Gotham City in the Batman movies.

Doha Corniche

People strolling along the Corniche

For me, the Corniche is Doha’s ultimate highlight. It’s what keeps me sane, keeps me in shape, gives me my vitamin C, and gives me room to breathe. The Corniche is a waterfront promenade running for several kilometres along Doha Bay. It’s perfect for running, has a wonderful view of the bay (great photo ops!) and offers fresh sea breezes in an otherwise stifling city. After a sweaty run, I always drink loads of freshly squeezed fruit juice at the conveniently located coffee shop.

Sheraton Park

Families picnicking in the park in front of Doha Bay

At the West Bay end of the Corniche there is Sheraton Park, a neat little spot of greenery that comes complete with its own Wi-Fi access. It’s nice to sit there in the evenings with a book or iPad and relax with some fruit juice or karak (Arabic style tea with milk, sugar and cardamom), watching the world go by.

Souq Waqif

For those times when I want to get closer to Qatari culture, I head up the Corniche to Souq Waqif. In the winding labyrinths you can find a medley of things to buy, from falcons and kittens to abayas and artwork. It’s a real hub of traditional local culture and has some of Doha’s best places to eat. If you like smoking shisha there are plenty of cafés where you can buy it in heaps of different flavours. I’m not a shisha fan, but it certainly makes the souq smell amazing. Souq Waqif is a perfect place to hang out with locals and practice Arabic over a mint tea, karak or shisha pipe.

Camels

These cute camels live on a nearby farm. They pop up in other unexpected spots too, like running across the highway! You’ve got to be alert for this when driving fast at night. There’s a camel racetrack in town, and places in the desert where tourists can ride them. I rode on the two-hump variety during a trip to Inner Mongolia, but haven’t tried it in Qatar — yet.

Doha may have its challenges, but it certainly has its charms too.

About the author: Samantha North, known as Sam, moved from the English countryside to China in 2005 and has been living the expat life ever since. She’s lived in three Chinese cities, in the heart of Europe (Brussels), and ended up in Doha, Qatar — working in PR & communications. Sam blogs at Places | Brands about how countries can improve their reputations. Yes, even North Korea. Follow Sam on Twitter @halfpatbxl.

All photos courtesy of the author.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Comments

  1. Callie says:

    This was cool to read – I flew through Doha once and seeing the crazy futuristic skyline from the air made me wonder what life is actually like on the ground. It’s awesome that they have camel races!

    • sam says:

      Hi Callie, well what can I say, life in Doha isn’t quite as futuristic as the skyline suggests. In fact, I had a huge disappointment in my very first weekend in Doha, when I rushed excitedly down to wander among those amazing buildings, only to find the area completely deserted and rather spooky. Many of those amazing buildings are still waiting for tenants. It’s a great area for taking photos though! I’ve never been to the camel races but riding one was a definitely a unique experience.

  2. erica says:

    That tea sounds amazing. I’m not sure I’d have what it takes to live in an Arabic State. I was in a couple for only a few days each, and I found myself with quite a bit of culture shock on my hands. To be fair, I was in the most touristy destinations, where I’m sure you get touted the most.

    • sam says:

      Hi Erica,
      Yes the tea is out of this world. I still miss it even though I’m back in England. Our tea is nothing compared to karak! Which Arab countries did you visit? Egypt by any chance?

  3. GACH says:

    Of course there would be challenges of living in a Muslim Country but such a modernized city like Doha must have been a piece of cake. The skyline definitely gives it a look of NYC or Seattle or the likes.

    Great interview =)

  4. Zehra says:

    Sam–It was so nice to read about your experience in Doha–the good and the bad. Is it very common for people to jog at the Corniche? I came for a quick visit last week and didn’t get a chance to explore. I am moving there next week and am trying to figure out where to live. Are there many residential buildings in West Bay? I keep getting referred to the Pearl. Fingers crossed for finding some cool digs near work!

    • Sam says:

      Hi Zehra,
      Exciting to hear that you’re heading to Doha! Yes, everyone jogs on the corniche, it’s the best place for that. Aspire Park is also quite good. As for places to live, West Bay has lots of nice apartment buildings, so you should be ok. The Pearl is overpriced, pretentious, and has a distinct Truman Show vibe…
      Best of luck with your move!

      • Barry says:

        Hi Sam
        Just spent a month in Doha. Had accomodation in Al Muntazah which was fine. But liked to get to West Bay on a Thursday evening or Friday for the brunches.
        I have taken up employment in Doha and intend to travel at the end of May. The offices are in the Pearl – but i take your comments on board. Have you any recommendations in terms of accomodation in West Bay? Somewhere close to amenities etc.

        • sam says:

          Hi Barry,
          Congrats on the new job in Doha!
          West Bay is a good choice for accommodation, although the road between there and the Pearl can be horribly hectic. It may be better for your sanity to consider living in the Pearl…But if you want to go for WB, I can recommend a number of apartment buildings near the City Centre Mall, such as Beach Tower, Ezdan, or Al Safa. Most of the apartment blocks are brand new and luxurious, with swimming pools, gyms, sauna etc. Try this website: http://www.mycoreo.com/ to see more Doha property listings.
          Let me know how you get on.

          • Reuben says:

            Hi Sam,

            Thanks for your insight into life in Doha. I accepted a contract position to work there for 12 months, and will be heading out in about 3 days. The company I’ll be working for has provided me an apartment in West Bay Gardens, in the West Bay area; does ‘West Bay Gardens’ sound familiar – could do with knowing what its like before getting there? Thanks for your thoughts.

            Reuben.

  5. Vic R says:

    Hi Sam, I’ve just recently arrived in Doha from the UK and top priority is finding a 1 bed apartment in West Bay, City Centre area, I was wondering if you have any recommendations on any no-commissions agents or even any specific nice apartment buildings worth checking out, please do feedback. My wife and I plan to walk around the City Centre area tomorrow, so any advice prior would be much appreciated. I work close to the General Post Office / Commercial Bank Plaza so something a short cab ride away would be ideal. As we don’t plan to have a car anytime soon, being close to City Centre malls and amenities would be great. Many thanks in advance, hope to hear from you soon!

    • Vic R says:

      I forgot to say, Sam, that we are not looking for a Serviced Apartment….just regular partly or fully furnished apartment. Saw Ezdan yesterday, that seemed not very nice, Beach Tower didn’t have any 1 beds….saw a few wbuildings which were Serviced Apts but they are too expensive, hence not considering Serviced Apts going forward with the search. We have 2 weeks to find something suitable. Will walk around West Bay tomorrow and adhoc walk into buildings and enquire too…

      • Sam says:

        Hi Vic,
        I only just rediscovered this comments thread, so apologies for missing your questions. Did you get everything sorted out? How’s life going for you in Doha?

  6. Harry says:

    Hi Sam,
    I am currently engaged in discussions for a potential role in Doha and hence doing some ground work. Youe article has been brilliant in answering some of my basic questions including accommodation location and rents. Thank you!

    I tried to follow you on twitter but the hashtag does not seem to exist?!

    H

    • Sam says:

      Hi Harry, I’ve just revisited this article and am surprised to find so many comments here. I’m pleased to hear my article could be of some help to you. Hope you’re settling in well in Doha. My twitter is @placesbrands if you still wish to follow me.

  7. Susanne Boyle says:

    Moving to Doha on October 20 from Scotland, UK.
    Living in West Bay
    First time living overseas and interested in more ideas about how to meet and socialise with ex pats

    • Sam says:

      Hi Susanne. You must have just arrived in Doha by now. I found the Internations website http://www.internations.org was a great place to meet expats to socialise with, plus to find details of parties and events. You can also try the What’s Going on Qatar Facebook page, also the Qatar Couchsurfing group organises regular social events (desert camping, BBQ, dinners out, house parties etc). Oh and follow Doha News for the latest ‘real’ news stories from around the city.
      Feel free to let me know if you need any more advice. I’m on Twitter: twitter.com/placesbrands

  8. April says:

    Hi Sam!

    I will be moving to Doha in December due to my husband relocting for work. We are Americans and all the information out there is so overwhelming. I am trying to find a teaching job out there as that is what I do now can you recommend any schools? Also we are wanting to live in westbay as well but in a villa as we plan to bring our dogs with us. I have heard stories about dogs being stoned and what not even though the vet clinic I talked to over there said that many expats bring their dogs over and don’t have any issues.

    • Sam says:

      Hi April,
      Congrats on the move!
      What sort of teaching is it you do? For EFL corporate training jobs you could try Qatar Petroleum or Qatar Aeronautical College. Otherwise there are quite a few international schools that hire foreign teachers. Whatever you choose to do work-wise, be aware that your Qatari employer will become your ‘sponsor’, and will control many aspects of your daily life (most importantly: changing jobs, and exiting the country…This means you can’t leave Qatar freely without sponsor permission).
      I’ve never heard anything about dogs being stoned,…and I know a few expats who have dogs without problems. You should be fine. Let me know if you have any more questions…and good luck!

  9. Rebecca Wyatt says:

    Aloha Sam!

    My husband’s job is taking us from Honolulu, HI to Doha in the very near future. I’ll be there Nov. 2 and have a week to find us a new home while he gets started at the new job. Believe his work is in the city center/West Bay area (near Al Fardan Tower?) and we’d like to live close by and avoid the traffic. We have a dog and cat, so I need a pet friendly place. I would love to hear what buildings you would recommend and what we should avoid at all costs :) Trying to be positive about this move and your article gives me hope!

    • Sam says:

      Hi Rebecca, congrats on the move to Doha. West Bay is a good place to live although expensive. You could try looking at Beach Tower, Al Fardan Tower, or any of the others close by to these. I’m not sure about which ones are pet-friendly, so you’d have to ask around. Lots of people have pets though, even unofficially.
      Best of luck and let me know how it all goes!

  10. Raissa says:

    Hi Sam, My husband also is moving to Doha because of his job and I´m planning to move to next year 2014, we don´t have any child. You said “Whatever you choose to do work-wise, be aware that your Qatari employer will become your ‘sponsor’, and will control many aspects of your daily life (most importantly: changing jobs, and exiting the country…This means you can’t leave Qatar freely without sponsor permission).” But he will be my sponsor and not the company, am I right? I thought for us under his sponsor there are not that rules you mention, can you explain me better? I have another question about temporary jobs in Doha, is it hard to get it? Im feel so scary to move there…Can you send me your email? Thanks for you attention.

    • Sam says:

      Hi Raissa,
      I only just noticed your comment. Hope I’m not too late to help. Let me explain the sponsorship system further. Every company in Qatar operating must have an individual Qatari sponsor. So it doesn’t matter whether you’re sponsored by a company or an individual, it all comes down to the same thing. The rules are exactly the same as far as I know. If your employer wants to stop you leaving at any time, he will simply refuse to sign your exit visa. In this situation there’s nothing anyone can do to help, even your embassy will be powerless to intervene. Send me your email address if you like and I’ll explain more about temporary jobs.

  11. Dara Muehlen says:

    Hi Sam,

    my family will move to Doha in 2014. We read a lot of negative comments about Doha but we are looking forward to this move and are quite positive. Only schooling and traffic seem to be the biggest challenges. Since we are a large family and my hubby will work at the airport, is Westbay still an option or is the traffic too bad? Which other area would you recommend and which good Int school is in the airport area. Many thx for your suppoprt

    • sam says:

      Hi Dara,
      I tried to reply to your comment before, but the site was playing up and wouldn’t let me post.
      Did you move to Doha already? Hope all’s going well. let me know if I can still help.
      Best,
      Sam

  12. Priyanka says:

    Very good read! and super encouraging. My husband has recently moved to Qatar and this brings a huge sense of relief for me!!!

  13. kombizz says:

    Nice informative reading. I liked the way you show us your love to Doha.
    Good luck for your future projects.

  14. Alex Ricour says:

    Hi Sam,
    My husband and arrived yesterday as he started work today. We have come from South Africa although we both originally come from the UK. This morning was so scary being left on my own in our hotel!! I thought I was well travelled but it’s a very different feeling here!! I just came across your article and felt instantly better and not so scared. His offices are about to move to. West Bay and now I will look there. I have just joined you on Twiter. Thank you

Trackbacks

  1. [...] referred to jokingly by expats as the ‘condom building’, the Burj Qatar, or Doha Tower, was [...]

Speak Your Mind

*