The World’s Richest Country: Qatar

Katara Cultural Centre

Qatar – a country that has the highest GDP per capita thanks to a rebound in oil prices and its massive natural gas reserves. The country has been pouring money into construction for the 2022 World Cup, and you can clearly see it if you visit the country these days.

I’m not sure if anyone would ever want to visit Qatar as a tourist unless they have families and friends living there at the time being but here comes my next post about Doha, the capital of The State of Qatar.

Doha is located in The Middle East and it is only 45 minutes flight away from Dubai. It is not as popular as Dubai but it is a perfect place if you are looking for relaxed and quiter environment in The Middle East.

The currency being used in Qatar is Qatari Riyals, and you need a taxi or a private car to get around the city. In terms of dress code, you don’t need to cover up but you are expected to respect the locals. Women should cover their shoulders and knees in public areas, however this rule is not valid in hotels. Forget about swimming with your bikinis in public beaches like Katara Beach, and use hotel beaches by paying 300-400 QAR entrance fees on weekends.Or just stay in a hotel, and your beach access would be covered.

Cost of living in this under-construction city is expensive but one can always benefit from happy hours and ladies nights offered by hotels. If you are considering about finding alcohol in markets or even bringing to the country – forget about it too. The alcohol is sold only in hotel bar and restaurants, and a liquor store called QDC for those who hold a liquor license.Pork is also not permitted and you can’t even find it in hotel restaurants.

When it comes to lifestyle, Doha offers visitors some Michelin star restaurants like Hakkasan and Nobu, pretty good art scenery at Museum of Islamic Art, Al Riwaq and Modern Art Museum of Qatar, and cultural experiences in Souq Wakif and Katara Cultural Centre. There are also fun activities for attraction seekers such as desert safari, camping and kite surfing. Hotels’ friday brunches and outdoor/beach parties are like a tradition for expats living in Qatar.

As the weather gets really hot in summer, I would recommend visiting Qatar in winter when the weather gets cooler. You may even swim from March till June, and from September till November. Life may get a bit difficult during Ramadan as there is almost no activity during days, restaurants and malls are closed and alcohol consumption is strictly forbidden.

Things To Do In Qatar:

MIA: Museum of Islamic Art is a very special architecture offering very nice photography scenery.

Al Riwaq Gallery: Just next to the MIA, this gallery hosted a lot of famous exhibitions. It is a must-visit place if you are into arts.

Souq Wakif: You may have a nice shisha in the Souq Wakif while tasting local or Arabic food for a reasonable price. Walk between narrow streets until you reach the Falcon Souq. You will be amazed by the number of falcons there!

Corniche: Take a walk along the cornice towards the Sheraton Hotel.

Katara: This cultural center offers exhibition halls and an amphitheater. There is also a Karak & Chapati café where you can taste the local Karak tea.

The Pearl: This man-made island offers lots of shops and restaurants. There is a marina where the yachts are docked and you can take a walk around it while enjoying luxurious stores. If you want more, take a walk towards the Madina Centrale area where you can find more restaurant and cafes.

Aspire Park: Located just next to Villagio Shopping Mall, this park is beautiful with the huge torch tower view.

Malls to visit (In case you visit Qatar in summer):

Mall of Qatar: The newest mall in Qatar. Even though it’s a bit far from the city centre, it holds the biggest mall label in the country.
Villagio: Inspired by The Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, this mall’s ceiling is painted as clouds and blue sky.
Landmark: Surrounded by other malls such as Ezdan and Gulf Mall, this mall offers good shops and a cinema saloon.

There are daily tours offered by some companies in Doha, so try one of them if you are transiting through. If not, take your time and it will not take more than 3 days to see everything in the city.

And of course, thanks to Qatar for being home for a few years already!

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Thailand: Phuket and Phi Phi Islands

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It was my first trip to Far East and Thailand is probably one of the best destinations for ‘Far East For Dummies’kind of a trip. I still haven’t been to Bangkok but from what I‘ve seen in Thailand – I can say it is a natural beauty with its hidden treasures and crystal clear waters.

We arrived Phuket early in the morning and took a ferry to get to Holiday Inn Phi Phi. The top floor of the ferry was full of foreigners from different nationalities, with stickers on their chests stating which hotel they are heading to. After 3 hours of a sea trip, we finally stopped in the middle of the sea so that long tail boats could take us to our hotel- Holiday Inn Phi Phi. When we were getting closer to the land, I said to myself ‘This must be the heaven on earth!’

Phi Phi is known with its beach fire parties, crazy fun and bars, however, where we ended up was a quiet paradise on the northern side where all honeymooners were staying at. It was not what I was expecting but just an eye candy! With the hotel upgrading us for free, we would‘t complain that we are not in a crazy place anymore. To be honest, it is a place to go with your loved one – not with a friend.

The red and blue colours of the sky during sunset, long tail boats and swings on the beach, flower arrangements for a beach wedding, the white sand and green sea were just unforgettable.

When the sun set and it got dark, all bars on the beach were closed and we were stuck at the hotel as we didn‘t arrange any transportation to lively parts of the island at night. So I made a decision to discover the island the next day – on foot! I was pretty successful about that after walking for an hour toward the south. I reached Loh Bagao Bay, which was a bit more lively than our place. I found a local guy to take me back to the hotel with his bike and told him to come and pick us up at night again. What a mistake to trust people, he didn‘t show up and we walked another hour right before the sun set. It was worth it though, as we met lots of people and had fun! The Thai girl working at the bar followed us back to the hotel as she was interested in my friend, what a courage.

The Beach Bar Koh Phi Phi

The next day, we arranged an islands boat trip at the hotel. After checking out, we visited the famous Maya Bay (from Leonardo Di Capri’s The Beach movie) Then went for snorkelling at Loh Sama Bay and swam in Bi Leh‘s crystal waters with the fish. The last stop was Monkey Bay, to watch monkeys from our long tail boat. The whole trip was 1,600 Baht, and we were dropped back to Phi Phi centre to get a fast boat back to Phuket! Luckily it took less than an hour instead of another 3 hours. It was also a fun one.

Tip: If you plan to go to Phi Phi from Phuket, take a fast boat instead of regular ones. They are cheaper if you get on the boat with other 10 people or so.

Phuket:

We stayed at The Holiday Inn Phuket at the famous Patong Beach in Phuket. Unfortunately the beach was not even comparable to Phi Phi‘s, but we had fun. Lots of people, shops, bars, lady boys and crazy stuff! The famous Bangla Street was full of bars with strippers and prostitutes. It was amazing to see how many old men were there to be with asian chicks and lady boys. It was sad to see all those people in need of money but that’s the reality of Thailand.

The way back was easier as we were already in the town, relaxed.

Thank you Thailand, for showing us both of your hidden treasures and the crazy fun. I will make sure to visit you once again to discover more!

Bali: Gili Islands, Seminyak and Ubud

Here I start my blog with Bali and Gili Islands which amazed me in just 9 days with its extremely friendly people, nature, temples, rice terraces, monkeys, spa saloons, greenery, turtles and magnificent underground and the peace it offers to its visitors.

The weather is quite rainy between November and March, however it was still humid when we were there in February. Showers are not a problem at all. Everyone ride their motorcycles around the town and no body seems to be bothered with the rain. Just don’t forget to take your umbrella with you, or borrow one from the hotel.

Denpasar Airport is on the south of the island, and not really inside Denpasar. You can take a taxi from the airport but make sure to ask how much you are willing to pay forehand as drivers are keen on asking for more – just like anywhere else in the world. When you go up to the north, you will see dark coloured sands on the beach as the volcanic Batur Mountain is located there. The Mount Batur is known as a sacred mountain and stands at  1717 above the sea level. We didn’t have a chance to see it but I’ve heard it’s good for trekking and those who seek to push their physical limits. Kuta has lively bars, while Seminyak, Jimbaran and Nusa Dua are popular resort towns. On the east, you will see three small islands — Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air which are very close to Lombok. I will write about these later on.

The most common food are Nasi Goreng (fried rice), all kinds of sea food and pork. For sure, you’ll have lots of spices and vegetables within your meal. Speaking of pork, almost 100% of Balinese people are Hindu while Indonesia is a Muslim country. All houses have their own temples, and religious celebrations are very common. There are lots of temple ceremonies, and you can see offerings in front of all shops, restaurants and even beaches. Offerings consist of rice, flowers, drinks placed on a banana leaf. So better watch where you step.

Temples are usually very colourful. The animal figures in front of temples represent Hindu gods, covered by black&white cotton. Here, black represents the bad and white the good as Hindus pray for both bad and good so that the bad wouldn’t harm them.

Names in Bali have some system as well – first child of a family is called ‘Wayan’ (just like the woman in Eat, Pray, Love movie), second called “Made” and the third as “Komang”.

When it comes to shopping, you will find amazing art galleries in Ubud while there are amazing design boutique stores in Seminyak. Also hippie clothes, spa materials, soaps, candles and stone/wood carvings are very common in the island. Don’t forget to bargain though, as they decrease prices from 600 IDRs to 50 IDRs.

After a general information about the island, here is what we’ve done in 9 days:

Gili Islands (Lombok)

We arrived the airport late afternoon on a Friday and took the shuttle to Padang Bai as it is where the fast boats leave and naturally the closest point to Gili Islands. If you stay in Kuta or Seminyak, you will need to take a shuttle to Padang Bai early in the morning so this option definitely saved us some time and we avoided the traffic stress.

Tip: Arrange the boat when you arrive there! Fast boat prices almost double when you book online. We paid 450K IDR for a return trip to islands, and all we needed to do was to ask the reception of the hotel.

There are 3 Gili islands, and think about what you want before hand if you are planning to visit one of them. Seeing the crowd going to Gili Trawangan, we’ve decided to go to Gili Air at the last minute, and guess what it was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made! The fast boat goes to Gili T. And Gili Air only. If you’d like to go to Gili Meno, you will have to take the fast boat to Gili T. and arrange a local boat to Gili M.

As we didn’t book a hotel in any of the islands, we started walking on the coast of Gili Air from the harbour. Good that we asked an Indonesian guy about where the central area is, we decided to stay at Chill Out Bungalows. Bungalows were a few steps away from the beach bar and crystal waters. What else would be better than having 3 meals of the day just above the sand and sipping cocktails at the sunset, watching the mountains of Lombok and the sea.The hotel replaces sun beds with dinner tables and candles around 5pm and you get to eat the BBQ actually on the beach all night long.

If you’re not sure which island to visit:

Gili Trawangan: The biggest and the crowdest island. Full of young tourists, backpackers and party people. If you want to meet new people and party, this island is for you.
Gili Meno: The most difficult one to get to. The beaches are supposed to be the best among the three and it is supposed to be the deserted one. You may actually find a place to stay right on the beach here.
Gili Air: Easy to get to and quite peaceful. No bungalows or resorts on the beach but there are plenty of beach bars and diving centres. A relaxed island where you can chill, dive and even find drugs if you dare to try.

Seminyak

We used Seminyak as a pitstop to see temples and to do the other touristic sights. However, our hotel – Aroma Exclusive Villas was a bit far from the city centre and crowded beaches. We had a private villa with a private swimming pool and it was extremely spoiling. As we didn’t buy any tours, we arranged a driver from the hotel for the next day. We had a list of places to go, so the driver took us to all those even though it was raining all day. If you’d like to follow our route, here it is:

1- Pura Taman Ayun Temple: A temple in a small jungle, surrounded by a river. Lotus plants in the lake at the entrance are worth to see.

2- Tegal Sarı Coffee Plantatıon: I wasn’t impressed with this plantation but we had a chance to see the animal Luwak – which helps coffeemakers to produce the world’s most expensive coffee. Also, we tasted different kinds of teas and coffees for free. You need to pay extra for Luwak tasting though.

3- Pura Ulun Danu Beratan Temple: The most beautiful temple that I’ve seen in Bali. It is also surrounded by a river, but a bigger one and you can actually see people fishing, or cruising on the river. You may also have a lunch at the temple’s restaurant.

4- Alas Kedaton Monkey Forest: One of the monkey forests in Bali. We were guided by a woman who helped us to see around and feed monkeys. She also warned us to be careful with the little ones as they may not have manners.

5- Jatiluwih Rice Terraces: A UNESCO rice terrace. It was raining cats and dogs, so we only had a chance to stay out for a bit and take pictures. The view was amazing.

6- Tanah Lot Temple: Another temple which amazed me.Surrounded by a few other temples, this area is full of people especially at the sunset. We were not lucky to see the sunset clearly but it was a good place to have dinner, watching the temple from top.

We spent our second day on the beach. We walked towards the centre from the beach and decided to lay on one of the sun beds. The beach is not really for swimming but to learn surfing. After an hour of laying on the beach in front of the Spanish Bar La Plancha, it started raining and we spent half day at the bar, drinking. It was a happy moment – sitting outside, watching the rain and sipping our drinks. As the rain didn’t stop, we decided to walk towards the central area and passed by a champagne bar to change our wet clothes and drink more. It was almost sunset time, so we had to walk towards the KuDeTa where I heard sunsets are amazing. And yes, it was indeed! The place was packed, but we were lucky to find seats and have dinner. It was the most expensive restaurant/bar we’ve been in Bali but the atmosphere was worth it.

Ubud:

We wanted to finish the holiday in our very best mood, so Ubud was our last stop. Ubud and staying at The Hanging Gardens of Bali was my dream. Waking up in the woods, watching monkeys around our private villa and swimming in our panoramic pool which was literally inside the greenery was a real experience. The Spa which we had a chance to get massage at was another unforgettable experience.

Even though we had to change our villa after the 1st day (due to hotel‘s incapability of handling reservations), both villas were amazing. If you ever plan to visit this hotel, I would definitely recommend panoramic villas – either it is family villa or a normal one. Even though we paid around 750 euros for two nights, the spa experience and the dinner which was complementary after the reservation failure of the hotel made it totally worthwhile. (not to mention we had to pay an extra million IDR for a bottle of wine and got sick). The bar didn‘t have cigarettes, and it was impossible to obtain unless we decided to take the shuttle to the centre. The staff could have been better at the service but at least they were very friendly with us.

The hotel is 30 minutes away from Ubud centre, so there was a free shuttle every two hours until 5.30pm. Full of honeymooners, it was a quiet place with only a bar playing club music and a restaurant. We had monkey visitors in our balcony – at some point we had around 10 monkeys playing with each other. Be careful though, they are there to steal and eat. If you feed them, they award you with things that they stole from others! The main pool of the hotel was awarded as the best pool of the world and a lot of models had photo shootings there, so couples were queueing to have their photos taken as well. The breakfast was ok, nothing special but again the view was amazing!

Nights were dark, and there is not much to do, so we decided to stay in Ubud centre the next evening to watch Kecak dance and trance show at a temple. It was not the plan as we walked around Ubud the whole day, looking at art galleries, visiting Neka Art Museum and the Ubud Market under the rain, but it was so tempting to stay a bit more. Kecak dance was also spontaneous – we went to the temple we saw during the day and the old man brought us to the show area, sold tickets for 80K IDR and we found ourselves watching men singing ‘chak, chak, chak‘, making vocals around a fire with a few other dancers with colourful dresses. The religious performance is about the war between good and bad. Interesting but it was actually created by a German man in 1930s, and based on a famous Hindu story. If you plan to watch this performance and don‘t know where to, the best shows are at Uluwatu Temple, right after the sun sets.

On the last day, we headed to spa to have our 90 minutes massage just before our flight back to Doha. We just could‘t describe how amazing it was – right next to the river, with the sound of birds and a relaxing spa music.

Thank you Bali, for treating us so good, and for making us realise the beauty of nature once more.