In September of 2022 I set out on my big 10 week trip through the middle east and Asia in general. The first stops would be Kuwait and Qatar, two small gulf countries, and as such it would be a short visit to each, with just a grand total of 3 days spent in total.
Kuwait is essentially for intents and purposes just one city, Kuwait City. There’s other smaller towns and communities, but for visitors, Kuwait City is pretty much the only worthwhile stop. There’s also a big amount of desert with oil fields, and you can even travel north along the “Highway of Death” towards the border to Iraq, from where Saddam Hussein launched the invasion of Kuwait in the 1990s, thus giving the road its name. But alas, my trip was limited to Kuwait City.
I arrived in Kuwaits international airport in the middle of the night, and spent some time trying to navigate the airport to get the visa on arrival, but different airport staff kept sending me in opposite directions, signage was lacking and as the final touch, the actual desk for visa on arrival was placed inside a no longer in use gate-area, so it was near impossible to just find it. Anyhow, in the end I got my visa on arrival, and ventured outside. I has researched from home that there should be busses every 30 min through the night going to the general area of where my hotel was located, so i went to the bus station. Yet another not so obvious task, as the bus stop is also poorly signed, it is very obvious that tourists are expected to take a taxi rather than the busses. And it did quickly become clear why, as the busstop was only occupied by immigrant laborers. My bus also never shower up even after over an hour of waiting. Other busses for other parts of town did show up, and lets just say the quality was rather poor for a country that is otherwise extremely rich and developed. This would be a general theme of the stay in Kuwait, public transport is near non existing, as all the locals are rich and own big cars, and the immigrant labor force and taken around in old run down company busses.
Anyhow, in the end I gave up waiting, as it was now very very late, so I ended up taking a taxi, paying the fixed price of 30 euros, for a drive that took about 10 minutes across the completely empty highways of Kuwait City here at 3:30am. I checked in to my hotel, changed to my running clothes and went out and did a half hour run, benefitting from it only being 31 degrees at 4am, quite a bit less than during the day. Ran along the corniche out to the Kuwait Towers watertowers, the most iconic landmark of Kuwait. There was a extremely harsh wind blowing in from the Persian gulf, so it was actually fairly ok to run, granted the wind also meant a lot of sand in the air. Back the hotel for a well deserved sleep!
Next day getting up, and actually spending the morning in the hotel bed, both to rest up, and also because there was a big marathon happening that morning, that was being livestreamed, and with quite a few danes from my city participating, I had to watch. After that, around noon, I ventured outside where the temperature had now risen to well past 40 degrees. Luckily the heat in Kuwait is extremely dry, so it could have been worse, but still pretty insufferable temperatures.
The first trip into town consisted of me walking from the hotel, past the grand mosque of Kuwait (non-muslims not allowed inside), down to the corniche and following it for a few kilometers out to the Kuwait Towers, seeing them again, but in daylight this time. You can go up into a rotating viewing deck on one of the 3 tall towers, but since I’d rather see the view at dark, and equally because a mild sandstorm was rolling over the capital, making the air extremely hazy and unable to see far ahead, so I opted for a pit-stop at the McDonals right below the towers this time around, and come back another time for the city view.
After refreshing with a soda and icecream at McDonalds, I continued further down along the Corniche. The corniche and beaches being mostly empty here in the middle of the day. Only one guy was crazy enough to walk around in the heat and sandy air – me. Multiple places along the corniche south of the Kuwait Towers, there’s fishing piers sticking a couple 10s of meters into the persian gulf, where you can go to watch the skyline of the city – that is if the air was clear. Out on the piers were however also a few tough fishermen hoping to make the days catch, in the not pleasant looking water.
Deciding I’d had enough of the corniche, heat and sand in the air, I crossed back into the city center, making my way down to the largest green area of the town, known as Al Shaheed Park, which is a huge recreational area that offers a lot of amenities for the Kuwaitis and tourists alike. There’s a underground (read: cooled) museum of the city, outdoor monuments and fountains galore, beautiful flower and trees, running paths partly shaded by plants, restaurants and much more. But the park was also sparsely visited here at the peak hot hours of the day. Taking a few rests at some of the main sights of the park, which includes a spectacular fountain with a backdrop of the financial quarters super tall skyscrapers in the distance made a great stop.
After having traverse most of the length of the park, I turned north walking back up to my hotel, picking up some drinks and snacks on the way to keep myself supplied for the next few hours of siesta, until I would head out again after the sun had set. But for the first night, being very tired, and having a full schedule for the next day, I settled with just heading outside to find some dinner nearby, delicious chicken and vegetables, and then retreating for the night.
The next day I had one important mission first of all, which was to get a PCR test. Because the next day I would leave for Qatar, and Qatar being one of the more strict corona places on this trip demanded a negative PCR test for entry. Kuwait, like most of the rest of the world, had already gotten past this point, restrictions and testing being almost non existent. But with some help from the hotel staff, and walking around for a while trying to locate the small test centre, I eventually got a PCR test taken. It was a very brief experience, the swabber barely even touched the inside of my nostrils before the nurse declared it was done. It took like 5 seconds total. I would get the negative result that same evening, giving me the OK to leave for Qatar the next day.
But before that, I still had a full day ahead of me to spend in Kuwait city! Beyond the huge Kuwait Towers watertowers, there’s several clusters of smaller watertowers spread out around the outer city quarters, mostly placed in parks in the various city quarters. I’d seen pictures of them before, and really liked the simple yet elegant design of the towers. Very iconic buildings for Kuwait, and more architecturally pleasing than the Kuwait Towers. So naturally I wanted to go have a look at some of them. Unfortunately the most impressive ones (also being the nearest ones to the hotel) were 10 kms away. Google maps told me there was regular busses out to that general area, so I went to the busstop. Lo and behold, after waiting for the scheduled next 2 busses (40 minutes), but no bus showing up, I just gave up and decided to walk it.
The walk out there, in the heat of the day, was hot yet also interesting, as it took me from the city center through government quarters with ministry buildings and into the “suburbs” of the city, with the regular houses where the Kuwaiti families live, although its not so much houses as huge mansions. Really gives you a direct view of the richness of this country, and how immigrant labor is heavily utilized here, there being many garden workers and street cleaners of a clear south asian origin in these areas. It felt a little strange walking around these streets of immense wealth as a poorly dressed tourist. But I wasn’t questioned by security or anything atleast. At most people probably just thought I was nuts to be walking in the heat instead of driving or taking a taxi. It was probably stupid to insist on walking instead of paying a few 10s of euros tops for a taxi, but I’m still glad I did it.
Eventually I made it to the park, and the walk was worth it. The water towers was as amazing as I had imagined, if not even more so. Tall and commanding, a cluster of 9 towers sticking up from the landscape, the mushroom tops providing ample shade for the park benches underneath. Here I had a long siesta with drinks and snacks that I had picked up from a proper big supermarket located right next to the park – it was truly a godsend. Taking lots of photos from various angles, and watching the local people in the park running around, or walking in loops. Another thing to know about these water towers are that they were designed and constructed by Yugoslav companies. Yet another use of foreign ingenuity and design. Money truly can buy anything.
While I rested at the park, I realized that right next door was a big sports stadium with a running track! As you might know I’m an avid runner, and I was walking around in my running shoes and essentially running clothes, so I couldn’t miss this opportunity to run on a Kuwaiti track. I sneaked my way inside, seeing that a youths group of sprinters was already on the track with a coach, and some teenage footballers also getting ready to use the football field in the middle of the track. I tried asking if it was ok if I used the track, but nobody seemingly understood or cared, so I just went for it, and ran a few laps, making one powerful effort for a all out 400m to finish it off. Didn’t do more than 3 laps total though, as it was still about 40 degrees, me already having walked over 10 km, and having to walk a lot more afterwards.
After this small side-step, I found my way back towards the city center, walking the long road back again through more suburban mansion streets, eventually as the sunset happened reaching the outskirts of the Al Shaheed park once again. This time with clear air, and now darkening skies really making the skyline stand out. So I used the dusk atmosphere to photograph the skyline with all its lights, before venturing into the south end of the Al Shaheed park. And now after sunset the park had come to life, especially the running path was now full of people running in these more humane temperatures, but also just families out walking with their children in the greenery. I strolled through the park, making another stop at the same spectacular fountain with the skyline backdrop for more photos.
In the end I followed the same route I had used the previous day, to get back to the Kuwait Towers. Now was the time to go up into the viewing deck. The towers were not very busy at all, so I could just go directly up. Mind you at this point I had walked almost 20 km for the day, and was also pretty sweaty and smelly, and apparently this rotating skybar/viewing deck is a bit more formal and high class, so it as a little awkward going up there, but nobody commented on it. But it turned out you can’t bring a camera up there – only your phone. But the view was pretty disappointing anyhow, atleast for photo purposes. The view from Al Shaheed Park is better! But now having paid a fair entrance price, I just used the opportunity to not walk for a little while, while also getting a cold refreshing drink, and enjoying the 360 view, although the part of the view showing the persian gulf is rather pointless at night time.
After a short stay at the viewing deck, I ventured back down, still thirsty, extremely tired and feeling as if covered in a layer of grime after walking the whole day, so I made a stop the McDonalds right next to the towers, and ordered a hearty amount of food, including a McArabia, a special Kuwaiti (possibly other arab countries has it too?) menu item which is just a small doner with chicken – surprisingly tasty! Can highly recommend! Along with some fried chicken – which it appears most McDonalds’ across Asia carries – get on that european McDonalds! and some burgers and such, before trodding back to the hotel on dead legs. At the hotel I consumed this splendid McDonalds feast and rested for the rest of the night. And with that the Kuwait part of the trip was over.
The next morning I took a taxi to the airport, cleared all the formalities with PCR test, vaccination cards etc and flew to Doha. A rather short little hop over the Persian gulf. I would only have about 24 hours in Qatar before flying onwards to Pakistan the next day, so I had already scheduled a guided tour of the desert south of Doha, wanting to get away from the big city glitz and glammer.
It should be no secret that I’m not a big fan of Qatar, and the sole reason I decided to come here was to cross it off the list of visited countries. The human rights record is appalling, and the attempted sports washing, with the world cup being just 1.5 months away at the time of my visit doesn’t help. Combine that with the strict total monarchy and despicable treatment of immigrants (which to be fair happens all over this region, including in Kuwait, not unique to Qatar). At the same time its a pretty soulless place without much charm, as the entire place is recently build after the oil boom, and these gulf emirates with big fancy glamorous cities, but not much else, doesn’t do much for me.
But anyhow, now I was there, and determined to get the best out of it. The first thing you notice upon arrival is that the crazy hot, but dry, heat of Kuwait has been replaced by suffocatingly hot and humid weather, you just breaking into a sweat without moving at all. It was absolutely brutal. I arrived around noon and had a few hours before I would be picked up from the hotel to go on a sunset excursion into the desert. So after arriving at the hotel, which was also a farce as they at first couldn’t find my booking in their system, I quickly went out into town to check out some sights. My hotel was on the south side of town, away from the big fancy city center with all the skyscrapers, but that meant I had a view of the skyline across the water instead, arguably a better position to be placed at.
But as mentioned, the weather was absolutely brutal, and I broke into a heavy sweat immediately. But still there were plenty of south asian immigrant slaves working in the streets and all along the corniche, out in the baking sun, with heavy menial labor, laying bricks and making the last finishing touches of the city before the football fans would soon flock to the city. Absolutely appalling to witness this. With the heat in mind, the goal just became to get to the corniche, check out the skyline and then get back to the hotel. It wasn’t worth it staying outside. I guess with a bit of good luck the place where I entered the corniche was near the world cup flag pole place, with the flags of all the nations qualified to the world cup. That was at least pretty cool. But there wasn’t any time to enjoy it. The heat was killing me. Straight back to the hotel – picking up drinks along the way.
In the afternoon I was picked up, and along with 4 other people – 2 couples – plus our guide and driver driven south out of town, passing a few football stadiums and oil wells, before reaching the end of paved roads at the southern end of Qatar, where the desert begins, and further inland the border with Saudi Arabia. Here at the terminus of the road is a camel farm, where you can ride a camel into the nearby dunes for a few minutes, for the photo op. Its just a silly gimmick, and the animal welfare here probably isn’t the best. After grudgingly taking a small ride on a camel, and photographing a bit, we were offered a tea while waiting in a small shaded hut. While we drank our tea, the driver prepared the 4×4 truck for dune bashing, by letting out a bit of air from each tire.
Before long we drove straight into the desert, on what can best be described as a chaotic roller coaster ride, up and down tall and steep dunes, sometimes even driving along the sides of some dunes. It felt we could roll over at every single dune. There was a lot of screaming both of joy and terror from time to time. It was entertaining, but I was also happy when we made a stop in the middle of the desert. For this stop, on the top of some dunes with a spectacular view of just the desert all around us, we go to enjoy the golden nuances of the sun slowly setting. Our guide had also brought along sand-boarding boards. Essentially snowboards, but used for gliding down the dunes instead. We all had a go at this, but it was surprisingly hard to keep ones balance, and by the way walking back up a dune is hard hard work!
After this stop we drove on, all the way to the southern end of Qatar, at a special place simply called “the Inland Sea”. It is as the name suggests, what looks like a sea in the middle of the desert. What it really is though, is a inlet from the Perseian gulf making its way into a depression in the desert, forming a huge sea right on the border with Saudi Arabia. Here we settled down to view the sunset over the sea. It was almost unreal with the sunset painting the sky in vivid shades of red, orange and purple. At this moment you really got a sense of Arabian nights. It was a great end to this short tour out of the big city. Then followed a drive back through the now slightly dark desert, and then back to the hotel. It’s not a super long drive (maybe an hour), but at this point, after a long of traveling and experiencing, I was absolutely knackered.
After being dropped off at the hotel, I went out to find some dinner, ending up at a omani restaurant not too far from the hotel. I ate omani style, aka sitting on the floor with food – rice and chicken – served on the floor as well, while eating with your hands. Its a nice way to eat a meal, and I’d tried it years before in Oman as well, so it was a welcome return to that experience. During the walk to and from the restaurant, I also felt that the heat had become somewhat more humane and manageable after sunset, so I made one final expedition back to the corniche, to see the skyline at night and take photos. But after that, I also headed straight back to the hotel to sleep after a very long day, and with a slightly fear inducing flight Pakistan the next day, I needed all the rest I could get!
And that’s the end of the middle eastern trip for this time! With Kuwait and Qatar crossed off the list, there’s now only 4 countries in the middle east left for me to visit. Those being Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen.
To watch images from the countries, look at these two Flickr albums from each.