The Al-Emadi fan village in Doha, Qatar
An employee walks past cabins at the Al-Emadi fan village in Doha on November 9, 2022, ahead of the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup football tournament. Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV/Getty Images.

DOHA, Qatar -- You may have seen images of them on your telly or online: the endless row after row after row of drab trailers or – worse! – shipping containers used to create so-called Fan Villages at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Doha, Qatar.

Didn’t migrant workers die in those things? I’m here to tell you, they’re not so bad. Or at least the one I visited – Fan Village Caravan City. In fact, compared with other, more expensive options in Doha, it’s pretty darn good.

I’m here for 15 days, staying mostly in brand new, very beige serviced apartments with icy marble floors and absolutely nothing on the walls. These colorless structures come with names like Al Sadd 38 Apartments (Al Sadd is the neighborhood), Building 74 (FYI, I was relocated from Building 63). I booked them through the official Qatari accommodation site, but finding them in your Uber at times can be a challenge.

With row after row of yellow, brown and beige buildings, you need to know the Zone, Street and Building numbers, which are found on little blue metal squares on each structure. Some streets have numbers, some have names. And many have nothing at all. The buildings are so new, some have not yet been added to Google Maps, which is what all the Uber drivers use here.

My first flat (Zone 38, Street 817, Building 23), which I share with father-son friends from the UK (“We’re from Cambridge!”), was a 2-BR, 2-BA, with full kitchen and a view of a bulldozer in a vacant lot. That was US$379 per night.

A wide view of the caravan city. Steven Shundich/Special to Latin Times

After the friends left, I downgraded to a 1-BR, 1-BA, with full kitchen in the same neighborhood (Zone 38, Street 950, Building 74) for US$287 per night. The view there was not much better – just another eyeful of yellow, beige and brown buildings outside my fifth-floor window.

The view from my apartment in Al-Sadd. Steven Shundich/Special to Latin Times

But here, as I wandered around to get my bearings, I discover I am only steps away from Caravan City. I decide to investigate.

I spot a Mexican fan (they are easy to spot, usually in their green jerseys or sombreros), Nestor, who is walking along the street in the direction of the Fan Village. He carries a couple of plastic bags full of groceries, restocking his fridge, no doubt. I ask if I can come along, and in a show of typical Mexican hospitality, he says, “Of course!”

I worry about security. There are guards stand at every entry point. “Will they let me in?” I ask. Nestor says all I need is the secret password: “Hi.” (Also: “Hello). It works! I’m in!

We walk into the giant lot, along a sandy, gravel surface road past dozens of trailers or “caravans,” as they like to say here, all neatly angled, in row after row. Triangular colored banners hang overhead, like what you might see at a used car lot.

Nestor is kind enough to show me inside his US$207 per night trailer. I climb the three step metal stairs and open the door. What I see inside is nothing short of astounding. A carpeted living area with king bed! A groovy, circular modular faux leather seating area! Large flat-screen TV! WiFi! The bathroom is modern, with sink, shower and toilet and a tiled floor. All in gleaming white. This was not at all what I expected. How can so much be packed into such a small space?

Here's how some of the caravans in Caravan city looks like from the inside. Not too shabby! Steven Shundich/Special to Latin Times

Outside in the sprawling grounds, there is everything a fútbol fan needs. There’s an artificial grass pitch, with some local teens at play. There are two miniature horses for little children to ride, plus a camel – for larger kids and adults. It’s nice to see local residents taking advantage of some of the many services added for this monthlong tournament. Lord knows what this place will look like in a few months.

Also on site is a spa, Thala, which offers not-so-cheap (by Asian standards) 60 to 90 minute massages (US$75 to $109), and about 20 food trucks, with about half devoted to coffee or drinks (Coke, Pepsi and Fanta products) and the other half serving everything from pizza to shawarma. I ordered some Tanzanian “kanisia” street food from Rahma, a vendor at the Oman station.

After a series of thrilling matches, fans can sit back and relax on these spa centers in Caravan city. Steven Shundich/Special to Latin Times

During the day, the village is almost empty. Most tourists are at matches or downtown at one of the hug Fan Zones, where they serve beer (US$12 Budweiser only). The food truck workers sadly stand idle – they are here to make money. They told me there is some activity in the morning, as people awake. And then in the evenings, where those who are not inside stadiums can watch the 7 pm and 10 pm fixtures on a movie-size screen. There is a sea of huge maroon and red plush pillows to lay on. Or, if you’re eating, picnic tables able to easily seat (optimistically) more than 1,000.

I returned in the evening, using my secret password again (success!). The security guard barely lifts his head. Rahma had told me that if you are white, almost no one will bother to check your ID.

At 11 pm, for the second half of the Spain vs. Germany match, the picnic tables are about 75 percent full. Virtually ALL of the plush, ground-level seats in front are full. The food trucks have some business and everyone seems to be having a good time. When the match concludes, around midnight, the crowd dissipates, with most heading back to their trailers and a few exiting the village all together. No doubt, it’s a much better experience at night, when it’s also much cooler.

Another look on hundreds, if not thousands of fans swarming one of the outdoor theaters to watch the match between Spain and Germany. Steven Shundich/Special to Latin Times

And it’s only a few blocks from the Joaan Metro station. Had I known what the experience was actually like, rather than what I saw online, I probably would have stayed here a few nights and saved a few bucks.

Meanwhile, I’m in the process of moving to my third apartment, this time a studio (also with kitchen), but it’s in an exclusive neighborhood – The Pearl – where the USMNT is staying at the super-lux Kempinski, which presently goes for US$3,200-5,000 per night (four night minimum) through the end of the World Cup. My “servants quarters” size one-room flat goes for $322 per night.

I’ll finish my stay in Qatar with three nights at a friend’s apartment. He is stationed here with the US military, but hails from my hometown of Cincinnati. Finally, a room in Doha that I can finally afford – it’s free.

Steven F. Shundich is a Chicago-based travel writer and humorist. He’s currently on a World Cup bender in Qatar, after 10 days in Jordan, and will soon move on to Singapore, Australia and New Zealand. Follow him on IG at #wtfshundich.

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