Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Qatar Ambassador is fascinated with Thailand

Qatar Ambassador in Nursery Chiang Mai

The exotic Thai culture, hospitality and friendly nature of the people have made a big impression on Abdalla Al-Hamar, the Qatari ambassador to Thailand.

"I have travelled extensively for both business and leisure, and I can honestly say that I have never come across such delightful people. People around the world are stressed living in a cut throat and fiercely competitive society. Thais don't let stress get the better off them," he said.

Before taking up his post here a year ago, ambassador Al-Hamar first came here in 1999 as part of a Qatari delegation visiting Thailand and immediately fell in love with the Kingdom's charming people and culture. He fondly recalls how his delegation, impressed by what they saw and experienced here, decided to extend their stay in Thailand by two days in order to understand the country better.

Mr Al-Hamar says Thais have a remarkable way of helping foreigners blend into their society. Arabs love Thailand because they feel free to be themselves and nobody gives a fig.

Approximately 10,000 Qataris visit Thailand annually for shopping and medical reasons, whereas Thais travelling the opposite way mostly constitute manual workers, although Thai businessmen have lately started making more forays to the Middle East country.

The ambassador revealed that Thai architects were part of the team that built the Athletes' Village for the Asian Games later this year in Doha, the Qatari capital.

As a matter of fact, the torch for the quadrennial event is scheduled to pass through Thailand shortly. After the games the facility will be turned into a hospital.

Chiang Mai Nursery

How would you describe yourself as a traveller?

I am an active and curious person by nature, so when I'm on vacation I like to explore my new surroundings. And by that I mean everything. I am never truly relaxed because I find every living thing around me interesting. My mind keeps wandering as I travel about how people live in different habitats.

What do you usually do to get a better feel of a country you are visiting first time?

My normal practice is to sit in a coffee shop, enjoy the local brew or tea and watch people go about their daily chores. Chatting and exchanging ideas with locals is another way to learn about their culture and traditions.

How popular is Thailand among Qataris?

Qatar is a wealthy country so normally people travel to Europe on vacation. However, Thailand is becoming increasing popular for its great shopping malls, top hotels and medical services which are much cheaper than in Europe. Thai hospitality is also well-known at home. Middle Easterners feel comfortable in Thailand because they can wear their traditional attire, eat Arabic food and listen to Arabic music in restaurants they frequent.

Arab people tend to travel with their family. I have found that during high season there's not enough accommodation in Bangkok. So I would like to see more serviced apartments and hotels built to cater to these long-staying guests.

What type of tourism-related projects you have in mind to promote Qatar in Thailand?

Shortly, our embassy will organise a 'Qatar Week' to showcase the nation's culture and traditions and highlight it as a tourist destination using cutting-edge multimedia technology.

We will participate in the Royal Flora Ratchaphruek 2006, an international horticultural exposition to be held in honour of His Majesty in Chiang Mai later this year. I believe that these events will not only improve relations between Qatar and Thailand, but also be instrumental in promoting tourism either way.

Meanwhile, the Tourism Authority of Thailand has been proactive in attracting Qatari travellers. Last year, it organised a series of roadshows in Doha. The response has been overwhelming. The number of Qatari travellers to Thailand has increased dramatically since.

I would like to invite Thai people to come to Doha during the Asian Games, not just to cheer their sportsmen, but also use the opportunity to visit some interesting historical sites.

Nursery Chiang Mai

What three attractions would you recommend Thais to visit in Qatar?

Qatar is a blessed country. Doha is a nice modern city by the Persian Gulf. We also have beautiful beaches and mystical sand dunes. I would recommend anybody visiting Qatar, even if it is for a short period of time, not to miss Al Corniche.

Al Corniche is the heart of Doha. It's a seven-kilometre stretch along the coast, a great place to feel the pulse of the nation because families go there to picnic. It is also a popular place to go for a stroll or jogging. Al Corniche also gives visitors a bird's eye view of Doha and the Gulf of Persia.

Souq Waqif is another must see attraction in Doha. 'Souq' in Arabic means market. Souq Waqif is the oldest and most popular market in Qatar. Apart from the fun and exotic atmosphere, you will find yourself lost in time shopping for a wide variety of goods that are on sale. You can also bargain the prices down.

Going on a desert safari is just as interesting as surfing and our beaches are breathtaking. Just imagine swimming or camping by the desert. It's a truly rare experience. Tour operators are selling packages which include a night spent in a traditional Arab tent sampling local cuisine and enjoying traditional Arab music and performances.

What have you to say about the cartoons of the Prophet that appeared in a Danish publication, the fallout and the issue of freedom of speech?

Qatar is home to the popular television network Al-Jazeera and Doha Debates which is aired on BBC. On this very sensitive issue I would like to say that we are all for press freedom, and don't mind anyone making fun of other aspects of the Arab world, but when it comes to disrespecting Prophet Mohammed or the Koran, we Muslims can't brush it (caricatures) under the carpet.

People should not cross the line when it comes to issues that a certain group of people hold in high esteem. I would however like people to protest peacefully and rectify the issue through dialogue.

source: Bangkok Post

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