The Most Luxurious Layover in Doha, Qatar
Arriving at Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar from Istanbul, Turkey was an experience all its own. This airport was brand spankin’ new as it literally just opened in 2014, and had only been opened for about a year and a half at that point. Knowing that it was in the world’s richest country (per capita) and it was brand new, we expected the airport to be really nice, and we definitely were not disappointed.
After deplaning our luxurious A330 flight from Istanbul, we had an extended layover of 7 hours, and searched for the Qatar business class lounge to drop off our luggage. Walking around the airport, you can’t help but notice the giant teddy bear in the middle of the terminal.
This teddy bear is no ordinary bear, but is a world famous art-sculpture worth an estimated $6.8MM USD and is owned by a member of the Qatar royal family. This gives you an idea of the amount of absurd wealth and luxury on display everywhere in this airport (and city!) in general.
Not far from the teddy bear, was what caught Minh’s eye – luxury sports cars and motorcycles on display.
Most of these on display were up for raffle, and the tickets came at a hefty price tag for people who were serious about trying to win! Really shows the amount of wealthy travelers that pass through this airport, as these containers had at least a few thousand dollars’ worth of tickets in them!
We made our way to what we thought was the Qatar lounge, and were told that we were at the wrong lounge. Our first impressions of the entrance to that lounge was already really nice, and we were hoping that the Qatar lounge would be just as nice. The lounge attendant pointed us in the right direction and told us to head to the business class lounge, as Qatar has a separate lounge for business and first class passengers.
Arriving at the Qatar lounge completely blew our expectations out of the water (and the lounge we went to earlier)! Minh and I literally muttered under our breaths “holy crap” to each other when we walked in. We had expectations of a luxurious lounge, but weren’t expecting the over-the-top extravagance that we’re used to seeing in a Las Vegas 5-star resort.
There’s a full restaurant on the second floor, another made-to-order panini cafe, business center, game room, showers, and so much more.
After taking in all of this extravagance, all I could think was – if this is the business class lounge, what does the first class lounge look like??
Since we had plenty of time to kill, we dropped our luggage off at the lockers, and went back out to explore the rest of the airport. As we were walking around, we noticed a stand for complimentary Doha City Tours for Qatar Airways passengers. We weren’t planning on leaving the airport, but we had plenty of time until our next flight, so we signed up for the last tour of the day departing in 20 mins!
We were lead out of the airport, where we got an exit stamp in our passports, and into a large and brand new (of course), 30+ passenger tour bus. The tour was pretty small, with only about 5 or 6 people including us. The majority of people were American, on a layover to their next destination.
Our tour guide was really friendly and told us a lot about Doha and the Qatari people. Some random fun facts we learned from our tour guide:
- Qataris (descendant of a Qatari mother and father) are the only people allowed to buy property and receive full benefits (there is, however, a new section for foreigners being built, with properties starting about about $1.1MM USD for a small apartment).
- Gas is about 1/5 of what we pay in the US, but water is expensive and costs more per liter than gas.
- Qatar is a Muslim country, and alcohol is illegal and only served in hotels to those with a valid foreign passport.
- There are 5 stadiums set to be built for the 2020 FIFA World Cup, all with powerful solar powered air conditioning for players and fans to escape the extreme weather of Qatar.
- Doha is a rapidly developing city, with its oldest hotel being the Sheraton, which was built in 1982!
Our first stop was to an amazing view of the night time skyline of Doha and Museum of Islamic Art.
Our next stop was to The Pearl, a man-made island with luxury apartments and shopping (which includes previously mentioned apartments that will be up for sale to foreigners). The project is still underway, but once completed, it is estimated to cost about $15 billion!
This area reminded me a lot of the shopping areas in Las Vegas that are specifically catered to the big-spending clientele. We were given some time to walk around, which Minh enjoyed a lot, since he’s a car and watch aficionado.
As we made our way to the Ferrari dealership, a few Qatari men pulled up in a Range Roger and were either test-driving or had just purchased the most expensive car there.
Riding around the city, it’s very obvious the huge difference in classes here. Before even getting out of the bus, we could see the assortment of Japanese SUVs, American muscle cars, economy Fords, and then sprinkles of outrageously expensive exotic rides like Bentleys, Ferraris, Range Rovers, and Ducatis on the road. It seems like a country of a huge divide between the filthy rich, and those living in poverty who are basically there to work for said filthy rich. It has been said that there have been many questions of labor rights and human rights in the country of Qatar, in which migrant workers are basically treated like slaves. One American man in particular on our tour decided to ask our tour guide (who is a foreign worker from Nepal), a bunch of awkward questions such as “Is there a lot of discrimination between Qataris and foreign workers? Is it true they take your passports and not let you leave? Do you like working here?”
Minh and I couldn’t help but cringe at each question – these are very personal and probably taboo questions to ask someone who’s giving a tour for a Qatari owned company! Our tour guide managed to answer all these questions diplomatically without making himself or Qataris look bad.
Our last stop of the tour was the the Souq Waqif, the oldest marketplace in Doha, dating back to at least 100 years. It’s been renovated over the years and is the main tourist attraction in Doha. There are plenty of restaurants along the main walkway of the market, with several hookah bars. Since alcohol is only sold in hotel bars and is prohibited from being consumed in public, it seems that hookah is the alternate substitute for hanging out at a bar and grabbing drinks with friends, as the area was lined with outdoor patios for hookah patrons.
The market is surprisingly clean and very large. While the front portion of the market seems to be catered to tourists, the deeper you go into the market, the more you’ll find bulk goods and shops that are meant for locals.
While walking through the back alleys of the market, we found ourselves in the animal and pet section of the market. There were several vendors selling puppies, kittens, bunnies, birds, and several different animals!
After about an hour of “free time” to walk around, it was time to hop on our bus back to the airport. We caught a few more landmarks such as the Islamic Cultural Center, and the Pearl Monument.
On our way back, we noticed some of the older, underdeveloped areas and homes that looked very similar to parts of Marrakesh in Morocco. The tour drove straight past these areas and made no mention of them. As we approached the airport, we noticed a very fancy looking building in the distance and asked the tour guide about it.
This extravagant building is the private airport terminal built just to be used by the Royal Family, Government Officials, and VIPs. It’s appropriately titled the “Emiri Terminal” (Emir meaning Prince) and complete with its own fancy lagoon in front. Wow, can’t get over the extravagance and exclusion that is so evident here!
The tour was a nice unplanned discovery that we found. I’m glad we were able to join the tour, as it was a great way to get a feel for the city and worked out perfectly during our layover. It was well planned out, professional, and informative! If anyone happens to have an extended layover at Doha with Qatar Airways, I highly recommend taking the Doha City tour!
We made our way back into the airport and were directed over to the Business class security entrance – a completely separate section off to the side – and with no lines!
Minh and I kept referring to our printed business class flight tickets as the “magic ticket” as everyone treats you differently and you get to skip all the lines. Qatar really knows how to treat the wealthy class well (also reflected in their society)! As we made our way down the exclusive business/first class escalator (which I nicknamed the “rich people escalator”) down into the terminal, a man handed me an ad for Hublot watches (which retail for $15,000+ USD). Even more evidence the type of clientele that come through this airport. He’s a smart man to advertise at the bottom of the “rich people escalator!”
We made our way back to the Qatar Business Class Lounge to have a late dinner at the upstairs restaurant. There were items to select from, buffet style, but also table side menu service, from which you could order fresh from the kitchen.
Our delicious steak and salmon ordered off the menu:
Minh, being the food lover he is, had to try the buffet options as well.
To make sure we didn’t have anymore paperwork snafus again, we headed to the large business center after dinner to print out any necessary documents we thought we might need.
After a long transit day and exploring the city, it was wonderful to make use of the private shower facilities before hopping on our next flight. The shower rooms were luxurious private suites with a full shower, toilet, sink, toiletries, and fluffy towels. Before we knew it, our “long” layover was over and it was time for us to head to our final flight to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam!
Shortly after departing, we were served our meal – our second dinner for the night. Even though we ate at the lounge, we had to try the food being served in-flight! Being budget travelers on a RTW trip, we don’t get many fancy meals and were up for all the fine dining and yummy food we could get (don’t judge us…lol).
This second flight was also on an Airbus A330, but one of the older models, so it wasn’t as fancy as our earlier flight. Nonetheless, it was still nice, but would have been nice to have completely lie flat seats for the 9 hour overnight flight. They provided nice Giorgio Armani his and her amenity kits and even comfy pajamas to sleep in.
About an hour before landing, the crew woke us up and served us our breakfast. At this point I was still so full, so I opted just for some fruit and juice. Minh, never one to say no to try more yummy food, made sure to enjoy his full meal.
Upon landing, we were excited to embark on the Asian segment of our travels, but we were also sad that our fancy schmancy experience was coming to an end. Our extravagant business class experience was way better than we had anticipated and we were so happy we were able to book it using our points. What we thought would just be a fancy flight, turned out to be a full luxury experience – complete with a city tour! Now, we’re always trying to find possible ways to somehow work a layover in Qatar into our travels again – especially since they’ve just revealed the new Qsuite Business Class cabins with mini-private suites with full lie flat seats! If you’re able to book an award flight in a Qatar business cabin (or if you can afford the ticket), I’d highly recommend flying with them!