Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Qatar 2023 ✈ Doha Transit Tour

Before Covid, I have never been or traveled through Doha airport before. However, since 2021, I've traveled through Doha airport multiple times (7 times to be exact), and it's probably one of my most 'transitted' airport over the past 3 years. Even though I've had long transits in this airport previously, they had always been in the middle of the night so I've never gotten out of the airport. During my recent trip in May, I intentionally scheduled my flight with a 19-hour transit in Doha and finally had the opportunity to visit Doha with the Discover Doha Transit Tour.

19 May 2023 (Friday): 3-hours Discover Doha Transit Tour
For passengers transitting through Qatar for 8 hours and more, Discover Qatar offers several transit tour options for tourists to make the most of the transit time to discover Qatar. Even though the transit tours are not free, it is a very convenient way to see a new country/city in a short amount of time without having to plan anything in advance. The website provides option to book the tours in advance, but it was quick and easy enough to sign up for it at the airport.

1.10pm: After my flight from KL landed Doha airport at 12.30pm, and I went to the Discover Qatar desk at the main terminal (in front of the teddy bear) to sign up for the next Discover Doha transit tour at 3pm. I paid QAR 99 (~$27) with my credit card and the staff asked me to meet at the same place at 1.45pm. I was then given a slip of paper to be used for immigration.

1.45pm: We met the Discover Qatar staff who led us through immigration. I was traveling in Business Class so the staff asked me to follow the Al Safwa First & Al Mourjan Business sign. I was confused initially and was very surprised when I found out that there is a very nice dedicated immigration area for Qatar Airways First and Business class!! It was like an 'immigration lounge' and there was no lines at all. The immigration officer looked at my passport and that slip, and I cleared immigration within 3 minutes...that was amazing! 

2.00pm: Since I cleared immigration so quickly, I waited for about 10 minutes for everyone else to clear immigration before the staff led us to the information counter, and asked us to come back to this information counter at 2.45pm. 

2.15pm: I had about 30 minutes to wait and spotted the Arrival Lounge near the information desk. As I was traveling Business Class, I was able to visit the Qatar Airways Arrival Lounge, which was very nice. Qatar certainly treats their First and Business Class passengers like VIP. The lounge was totally empty and I was the only guest!

There were quite a few food options in the lounge but  I wasn't feeling hungry so I just requested for a cup of cappucino and used the bathroom, which was super nice too. 

2.45pm: Our group met the staff at the information desk and the staff led us to the arrival area to board the bus.

2.45pm: The bus was air-conditioned and had a lavatory. Complimentary chilled bottled water was also provided in the bus. There were only 9 of us so we had ample space to spread out in the big bus.

3.00pm: The tour started on time and our tour guide briefed us on the route for the next 3 hours. He also introduced the sights as we drove by them, such as Stadium 974 which was constructed from shipping containers for FIFA World Cup 2022, and the Flag Plaza which is home to 119 national and coalition flags. We also saw a traditional dhow boats docked along Doha Corniche, and learnt that pearl diving was one of the country's main sources of income prior to the discovery of oil in Qatar.

3.15pm: Our first stop is at the Museum of Islamic Art. This iconic building on the Doha Corniche, designed by the famous architect I. M. Pei. We were also given about 10 minutes to take photos at Doha's iconic waterfront with the panoramic views of Doha’s impressive skyline.

3.50pm: Our next stop was Katara Cultural Village, a cultural and commercial complex with a lot of outdoor walking areas. 

The Katara Mosque (the 'Blue Mosque') and the Golden Masjid (the 'Gold Mosque') in Katara Cultural Village.

Katara Plaza, Galleries Lafayette, OliOli Doha Children's Museum. Those vent holes on the ground are actually air-conditioning vents to keep the outdoor areas cooler during the hot summer months.

4.15pm: Our last stop at Katara Cultural Village was the Katara Amphitheatre, a crafted balance between the classical Greek theatre concept and Islamic features.

4.30pm: Next stop was at the Camels Pen where we saw a camels getting a 'bath' and just hanging out. It was my first time seeing camels so I was glad to be able to get close enough for selfies. 

4.45pm: Another quick stop to see the national bird of Qatar - Falcon at Falcon Souq. There's even a Falcon hospital, which is one of the largest in the Middle East.

4.50pm: Final stop of the tour was at Souq Waqif, a marketplace (souq) that sells traditional garments, spices, handicrafts, and souvenirs. We were given about 30 minutes to walk around ourselves before meeting back at the bus at 5.30pm.

5.50pm: We made it back to the airport on time after a successful afternoon of sightseeing. The airport staff had to help me get approval to get back to airside as I had more than 12 hours to wait before my next flight but since I already have my boarding pass for my next flight, I was able to get back in after the staff obtained the approval.

All in all, this transit tour was good and well organized. Best of all, this was an easy and cheap ($27) way to add one more new country to my 'traveled to' list. =) 

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