WHEN one hears about the Middle East, it's all about the sand dunes, desert and the scorching temperature that seems impossible to bear. Take a walk in the streets at daytime and you will be greeted by the fury of forty seven degrees Celsius.
What most people do not know is that the desert can turn into a wonder by night. Living in Doha proves there is more to it than dry patches of land. By the time the sun sets, an eve of merriment comes to life.
Vibrant, colorful and captivating images of people, brightly colored carpets, gold lamps, birds and restaurants spring up.
I was instantly brought into a scene out of the Arabian Nights. It was as if Aladdin is somewhere hiding and I can easily call on to the gentle genie as I rub one of the golden lamps sold on the streets - and wish for love and a million dollars.
Named as the "Social Heart" of Doha, the Souq Waqif means "standing market" and refers to the nomadic traders who never left the site for more than a hundred years selling animals, birds, carpets, clothes and handmade crafts all spread out at their feet.
The streets that had seemed so lifeless during the day with stores closed are now beaming with life and excitement. Now I know why the Souq has become the most talked about tourist attraction in Doha. It is the best place to explore and enjoy the culture, arts, food, sights and shisha.
We went around for a quick stroll at around five thirty in the afternoon and enjoyed a chocolate gelato that quickly melted due to the humid weather. I savored it while adoring the picturesque view of the sea and the tall skyscrapers of Corniche.
While I was sitting at a nearby bench waiting for my colleague to finish her ice cream, I saw men mounted in their horses dressed in dish dash animatedly talking to each other, a ravishing sight in front of the sunset.
We then set out for a nice dinner at the Jasmine Restaurant where we ordered the best Kebab platter - a fusion of chicken, beef and veal kebab mixed with herbed tortilla, fries and salad.
Outside the restaurant is a lineup of food stalls that sells traditional Qatari food. The dumpling sold by our fellow kababayan Jen are also to die for. They are perfectly rounded dough fried and soaked in corn syrup and honey.
Satisfied with our cravings, we venture into the unknown corners of the Souq. Allowing ourselves to get lost in its maze-like structure and suddenly be found by a posh art museum.
Across the mud rendered shops, we discover an art haven where one can enroll in painting and sculpture classes for free. The Souq Waqif Art Center is a magical place in the heart of the market. Its intricate wall linings and elegantly pieced decors make it an expensive hub for art lovers. The place is filled with over a hundred renditions of paintings and sculptures suited to the unique style of its artists. What's even better is that more than fifty percent of its artists are Filipinos.
Later that evening, we resigned onto one of the local cafes to try the popular shisha - it is a unique way smoking flavored tobacco through a narrow vintage tube.
In Cafe Tasse, we enjoyed the shisha over a good conversation while observing the people around us. If you are well suited to sit in a spot where anyone is walking and get a bird's eye view of everything, this is the best bet. Trying it was the total opposite of what I expected it to be. Contrary to the usual cigarettes, which I never tried, it was sweet and relaxing. One can choose from a variety of flavors; however I would recommend the watermelon shisha since it's the most saleable in their cafe.
As we visit more shops and stalls, I realize that Souq Waqif is more than just the usual standing market; it is a walking paradise that opens your mind and broadens your horizons in life.
More than its Arabian setting, it is a colorful melting pot for different cultures. Filipinos, Europeans, Arabs, Chinese, Thai and other nationalities be it Muslims, Christians or Buddhists all gather in this place to enjoy, dine and have fun.