I’ll probably be crucified for writing this, especially when there is currently a gay man in the United Arab Emirates being held in jail for brushing up against two men in a bar, but I’m still going to go ahead and say it: I love the Middle East. Not all of it, but lots of it.
I don’t like the politics or, in some cases, the extremism that exists, but instead, I love the history, culture, food, and environment (even if it proves to be scary at times). I’ve always been a traveler who happens to be gay. Sometimes I’m a gay traveler, but the majority of the time, my main focus of a trip is experiencing life like a local, and when in the Middle East, that doesn’t include (for the most part) gay locals.
I’ve come to realize that no matter where I go, my American privilege expires the moment the airplane reaches cruising altitude. Once we land, I’m a guest in a foreign land and no matter what my personal beliefs are, I respect the laws of the land. And in places like the Middle East, I’m not going to push any boundaries because it’s simply not worth it.
But why go there and support the economy with your tourism dollars? There’s no simple answer, and as an avid traveler, you learn to pick your battles. I’d rather go to the more welcoming countries in the Middle East and possibly meet or speak with gay men there instead of just exiling them in general because I don’t agree with their country’s government. Do I actively go there and hunt for guys to talk to? Not really, but I do my research beforehand and make connections at times.
You might be surprised to know that there are active gay communities all over the world, and just because there might not be a gay bar in a city, doesn’t mean gays don’t all frequent a bar on certain nights.
Now I’m not telling you this so you can fly to Iraq or Saudi Arabia looking for the best bar on a Thursday, because some countries are complete danger zones that all travelers should avoid right nowbut there are definitely some outstanding countries, mostly in the Gulf region that cater to tourism and where anyone, even a gay man, can experience a one of a kind trip.
Traveling there is not for everyone, so if in the end all you get from reading this is a sense of appreciation for a part of the world that you don’t know much about, I’m good with that.
Diving Into Doha
I’ve been to Doha a handful of times, mostly because it’s a really great connection to the rest of the world, although at times it could add flight hours to your trip, depending on where you’re going.
But, Qatar Airways has thought of that so they tend to have below average fares and offer stopover connections so you can get a taste of Doha while on your way to Africa, Asia or wherever you are going.
Hamad International Airport is massive and filled with everything any traveler may need, including world-class lounges, restaurants, and shopping. For stopover tourists, there are free day trips to Doha with guided tours, a plus for those who really just want a preview, but are not ready to explore on their own.
On a personal note, the Grindr scene is relatively safe here, although always exude caution when planning to meet with anyone online, and your hotel is the safest option for a meeting point. Doha is a melting pot of nationalities from all over the world as every industry recruits top performers in their respective fields to come and work in the city. That being said, it’s not just Middle Eastern men on the app looking for company.
Below are some of my highlights of the city:
The Museum of Islamic Art (MIA)
This is hands down, my most favorite place to visit in Doha. Even if you’re not fully into art museums, the grounds at MIA alone are spectacular, and the peacefulness and serenity inside the museum are infectious. The view of the city center from the museum is the best vantage point for photos and if you’re looking for one of the best restaurants in Doha, don’t look any further than the top floor of the building where you will find IDAM, an Alain Ducasse restaurant.
Khor Al Adaid
Just 60km from Doha is the vastness of the desert and a UNESCO recognized natural reserve. The Inland Sea is one of the few places in the world where the sea meets the heart of the desert. The only way to reach this phenomenal place is by driving across the rolling dunes, best done with a guide who will take you dune bashing along the way. The sunsets here are one of a kind as the sun can appear to be massive and extra orange/red during parts of the year.
I discovered this group of museums during my last trip to Doha and left with a new sense of appreciation for the country I’m so fond of. The Msheireb Museums celebrate the history of four historic houses in the heart of downtown Doha. The focus of the museums is Qatar’s natural history and they reveal aspects of the country’s cultural and social development. The good, the bad, and the ugly are all discussed here and help to bring the conversation of the past and future to the table.
Doha is no stranger to new projects and developments and each time I return, I find more and more new things to see. The last time I was there, The Pearl, a residential and commercial community attached to a pier with yacht parking, was the new and shiny place to check out (and still is). But now, Katara is the new kid on the block, inspiring cultural enrichment through theaters, galleries, and performance venuesin addition to top-notch restaurants and a spacious public beach as a backdrop.
The thing about going out in Doha is that it’s expensive, due to the tax on liquor. But it’s a bizarre scene, mostly made up of wealthy locals and Russians, so going out can be extremely entertaining. Z Lounge at the Kempinski Residences & Suites is located on the 61st floor of the building and has stellar views of the city. The W Hotel Doha has both the Wahm Lounge and the Crystal Lounge, both equally as fabulous with the latter being the more upscale sister. And then finally, there’s the world’s largest Nobu restaurant, located at the Four Seasons Hotel Doha. With more than 26,000 square feet of space overlooking the Arabian Gulf, including seven unique spaces, such as the main dining room and rooftop lounge, this is the premier place to dine and party in Doha.