Pit Stop: Maldives

Not exactly Fiji, but diverting all my research efforts into debunking Maldives is what we’ll be squaring off in today’s episode of Ecel’s lattermost first-world problems. Lol.

Essentially, Fiji necessitates a lay over flight from this side of the globe, top that with cracking our travel fund into a state of collapse. Being in Fiji filled up my reverie for months, it is an off-beaten track for vitamin sea-deficient wanderlusts, and that idea just made me exacerbate on the things I can’t do and can’t go to. So please, hit me in the head for feigning a billionaire heiress confused on where to splurge money on, because going to Maldives for honeymoon is not something a mediocre couple like us should be saddened about. Word: MEDIOCRE.

Agree with me when I say that anywhere isolated makes up an immaculate honeymoon spot. And after the conundrum of wedding planning, who wouldn’t deserve to be abstracted from the crunch of all that? If you’re a just-married person considering Maldives, or simply a travelbug-bitten individual dreaming of this paradise, you may continue to read on and live up to my exceedingly dull travel chronicles. If not, you can just turn your back and close this page. Details of my globetrotting baloney won’t interest you.

Snippets of what you should know…

Point of compass

 

In Indian Ocean, about more than 1,000 coral islands are scattered into 26 atolls, all inhabited by around 300,000 Maldivians. It is considered as the smallest country in South Asia with only a combined land area of 298 sq km.  

Their culture, religion and way of life have always been associated and somehow linked to that of India. That’s no wonder as these 2 countries are located side by side with each other. As tiny as Maldives may seem, but do you know that it is classified as an upper middle income archipelago, amassing its wealth mainly from their wonderfully preserved marine life attracting tourists all over the world?

 

Climate

2 seasons dominate the weather in Maldives:

Dry Season (November to April) – Influx of travelers is observed during these months. There is presence of minimal rain but water temperature is still around 25deg mostly.

Wet Season (end April to October) – Humidity spikes during these months and large amount of rainfall could be experienced. Not really suitable for island life, so you might want to consider not wasting money on planning a trip.

Though generally the climate is of tropical monsoon, Maldives weather does not normally conform to the pattern of other South Asian countries. Factors like equatorial influence and the perennial problem of global warming could be attributed to such.

Local Tongue and Belief

Dhivehi is the official language used by locals, but we’ve got to give credit on how all citizens are good, if not fluent, in English. Why not when tourism is the major source of income to most of them.

About 98% of Maldivians are Muslims since the 12th century. But there was a period before that when Buddhism is the only religion they practice. It was a Moroccan trader that has influenced the country’s conversion to Islam.

Currency


1 Maldivian Rufiyaa — approx. $0.09 SG1

Maldivian Rufiyaa — approx. Php 3.251

Maldivian Rufiyaa — approx. $0.06 US

 

Noteworthy:

Although Maldivian Rufiyaa is the official currency, most of the commodities are being offered in US$, especially in restaurants and souvenir shops. One important thing though, when you pay in $, expect the change to be in Maldivian Rufiyaa. We were told by the Money Changer in airport that their law prohibits them to sell their US$. So much for dollar reserve! Insist on paying in local currency if possible, but never exchange too much of it too as you cannot change them back to US$ when you leave.

Getting There

Ibrahim Nasir International Airport or simply Male International Airport is located in a separate, tiny island called Hulhule in the North Male Atoll. Male City is a 2-minute ferry ride from where it is located. The airport is not too big, just modestly designed, but convenient enough for one’s safe arrival and departure.

 

This is the only airport in the entire archipelago that caters to international flights. So if you have chosen an island resort that is located far north or down south, this is where your speedboat or seaplane should fetch you when you touchdown. Details of airport transfers could be seen on the Globetrotter Tips section.

I’m not too sure about Manila, but Singapore has 2 airlines that offer direct flights to Maldives everyday. Tiger Air is the more budget-friendly option at hand, while luxurious travelers could decide on flying with Singapore Airlines. Being a government employee in SG, I have discounts and free Board-Me-First privileges in Tiger, so it was just a matter of finding the lowest ticket price that made us pick this airline. Also, I wouldn’t mind saving the almost $400 difference between the two, you know what I mean.

 

 

What you NEED to GET IN

One of the best things that travellers could delight in when entering Maldives borders is the visa-free entry to almost all passport holders. US and EU citizens, as well as most of Asian countries including Singapore and the Philippines could enjoy a 30-day stay, as long as the basic requirements such as passport with more than 6 months validity is met.

In their Immigration website, little things like return tickets,  confirmed booking from any hotel or resort and a budget of at least $150 US per person are listed as simple entry requirements. It is also possible to extend one’s stay up to 90 days, you just have to consult their Immigration office for the conditions you may have to ensue.

If unsure whether your country requires Visa to the Republic of Maldives, check the URL below and make sure no blunder shall annihilate your dream holiday.

Where to Stay

Photos online can cajole you to the brink of madness when choosing what island to stay. Your purpose of going should primarily be taken into account, because it’s not an easy task to ignore that water villa with a spectacular seaview nor that beachfront penthouse with private jacuzzi — both could rack you up to $3,000 a night. That’s preposterous! It’s the same Indian Ocean and Arabic sea water for f*ck’s sake! It’s more of the amenities, perhaps the view that makes all the difference. And I’m betting high on the location, because the more confined your desired island is, the level of privacy is heightened, subsequently, the more costly it would be. So unless you are born a Kardashian or a god-damned offspring of a Billionaire Wall Street Baller trying to conceal yourself from the mischievous lenses of paparazzi’s, I see no point in exhausting your 1-month salary for 1 night. More importantly, I’m in no shoe to afford such opulence, no shame in being a cheapskate.

Fihalhohi Island Resort’s obscure location, middle-class amenities and average price range is beyond doubt the right choice. It falls into the family-friendly category, brandishing its own mix of untainted shorelines, trifling lagoon and tree-covered surroundings. The entire island is accessible to all guests, so there are legions of activities you could do if you plan to stay a bit longer. Service is good, the staff are considerate and it’s so peaceful until sun down.

The island is not too far from the airport, about 28 km. and could easily be reached via speedboat in under 1 hour. There are available airport transfers to and from the island, but you would have to contact their customer service at least 48 hours before your arrival. This is on top of the room reservation that you have paid, and the timing is crucial because a different rate applies when your flight is after 6pm.

As of this writing, the rates and schedule of transfer for each guest are the following:

  • From airport to Fihalhohi – 9am to 10pm
  • From Fihalhohi to airport – 6am to 7:30pm

Rates:

Adult – $140 US (return)

Child – $70 US (return)

A surcharge of $25 per person, per way is imposed for transfers from airport to island after 6pm. Flights after 10pm will have to wait til the next day for the earliest available trip to the resort.

 

Their accommodation rates vary on the type of room that you would want to stay in. Price range is from $375 to $2,800 US per night. To check the availability year-round and to view the rooms that this resort offers, you could check out their website through this URL:

 

 

 

Gastronomic Gratification

Buffet all day. That is how I simply remember everything. So you see, there isn’t much I could share this time when it comes to sustenance. International cuisine could be enjoyed each meal time, ranging from steaks (yup, it’s a staple so thank.food.gods), root veggies & greens, baked sweets and even cakes on the dessert section, tropical fruits, and there’s the inevitable presence of seafood on the buffet table, because hello, you’re surrounded with ocean water, what’s the surprise? And discernibly it’s a Muslim country, so a “No Pork” diet is in the cards.

A full board accommodation usually includes all 3 meals of the day. The practicality of it is something you should keep in mind, because if nobody has ever mentioned to you yet, living or staying in a Maldives island is expensive from dusk til dawn. I won’t be exaggerating when I say that every move you make MUST be fueled by $$$. One marvelous package they have, by the way, is an all-you-can consume alcoholic beverages from the island bar. BUT, it’s non-transferrable, meaning if you are a group or couple, all or both of you should avail it. It’s all or nothing. Clever huh.

 

 

Photo Gallery

Some of the photos we’ve taken, and in all likelihood I would have to ask for your forgiveness because of our audacious display of conceit in a lot of them. Seriously, how many times in your life do you intend to shell out that big bucks for a holiday? There may be no ROI in this expense but you gain photos, gobs of them, so why not share, right?

Overtly, most of these were taken I think during the first 2 days of our stay. It was when we’re still in the state of euphoria, that –– wiiii, we’re in Maldives kind of gait that you pretty much document every move and capture every corner for social media’s sake. But yeah, the hullabaloo eventually died down because what else could you do if you’re in reclusion but be your lazy and gnarly self?

You know what they say, if there’s no photo, it didn’t happen! And I remember clearly that at this point my husband was already complaining about my vanity. He was easily abraded whenever I tell him to take my photos, haha, andropause much my love?

Even right now I am in maximal disbelief whenever I see this amazing backdrop! The fine white sand, the azure, hand-painted sky and the crystal clear water, not to mention the exquisite water villas situated on the prime locus of this island. We’ve been to this paradise, bitches, not photoshopped!

Never dare to miss. . .

 

Water Activities

Soaking up on one of the clearest sea waters you’ll ever see is just the curtain-raiser to totally being smitten with Maldives. And in the words of my ever witty husband, Finding Nemo will be the least of your problems — that’s the extent of clean and clear we are talking about.

 To kill time when you’re trapped in a resort could make you try out scanty water activities. That is, if your water sports game is strong.

But let’s talk about the part where we didn’t do any water activity the entire time, deliberately. HAHA. It’s not that we are LAZY, but if there is a Nobel Peace Prize for laziness, we’d probably ask somebody to pick it up for us. You get the picture.



Dolphin Cruise and Close Encounter with Sea Creatures

This particular activity was immediately slashed-off by us when we were reviewing the list of activities we could do. A small ferry would bring a group of tourists to a location where sightings of these playful dolphins are experienced. The downside though, there’s no guarantee as to how long it will take for them to come out and swim closely with the boat, and if you don’t have enough luck on your side, you won’t see any of them dolphins at all. I was so not ready to that kind of heart ache!

Package price: up to $125 US per head, depends on the number of people and if you opt to have meals onboard.

My girl pal Nicole, who recently had her holiday in Maldives, bravely playing with some friendly sting rays by the shore. Kudos, girl!



Diving and Snorkeling

The thing about these two water activities is that being spontaneous doesn’t necessarily apply. It’s not like you’ll wake up in an island and decide, “Oh, I’ll do some diving today.” Your enthusiasm is needed, BUT training is a MUST. My husband surfs, I could too (barely). But diving? We both have not tried ever. But I’ve learned online that Maldives is every diver’s paradise. And if you’re a professional or a highly skilled one, pretty sure you have to allot an entire day for this, not to mention, dole up some cash for equipment rentals and tour.

Rates start at $250 US per pax, depending on the diving spot you want to explore. Diving gears could be rented for $75 per set, snorkel masks at $5.

 

Trip to Picnic Island

This excursion is being offered in Maafushi which is a local island. We were told that a 20min. boat ride could take you to a divine sandbank, a perfect spot for attaining those gorgeous tan lines. Package includes transfer to and from the picnic island, some bottled water to fight dehydration and bbq lunch comprising of freshly caught seafood. But i don’t dig the fact that we’re gonna be staying for 1 whole day in a place with barely nothing to cover us from the sun, so naturally we didn’t go.

Tour costs $30 US per head, lunch included. Water resistant cameras are also available for guests to use, free of charge, and the guides could help you snap some photos if you want to.



Visit a Local Island

It was a plus point that the local island of Maafushi is easily accessible. Maafushi is NOT a resort! It is a large island inhabited by perfectly tanned, big-haired and extremely welcoming locals, and is just around 90 minutes away from Male City.


The best part, there is a public ferry that could take you here from one of the jetties in the city center. One way trip costs $2 US, the ferry departs from Villingili Terminal in Male at 2:30pm everyday except Fridays.

In Maafushi, we booked a room at Arena Beach Hotel. I believe it is the biggest one in the entire island, and has the most strategic location. The beach is just a few paces away from the hotel’s lobby, and from there you could circle around the whole place to look for different eating spots and shops selling island souvenirs. It was a good decision on our part to check out this local island!

A night stroll made us burrow ourselves into Maldivian’s authentic island life. There were bars and dinner-by-the-seashore restaurants that exude of romantic feels, perfect for traveling couples like us. The catch? It was way cheaper as compared to the island resort. In Arena Beach Hotel, a buffet dinner costs $12 US per head, and they have it every night. Food selection is quite okay, they even have a pasta corner where a chef could whip up your choice of sauce and noodles in a jiffy. This is not the only restaurant that has buffet dining options, some other smaller guest houses offer as low as $10 US.

It was one of those nights where a local singing group was performing by the beach. Their jam? Bob Marley! Couldn’t be more apropos isn’t it? The lovely atmosphere combined with the dazzling lights drifted our minds away from it all. A jewel moment.

And then, there was this…


Not a joke, there really was a Crab Race happening that night. Turns out, it’s the island’s version of F1 Grand Prix, sans the roar of engines.

Guests and locals were all huddled together in a circle, and at the center was the race track for the mighty hermit crabs competing that night. Joining is free, each one will receive a crab and there’s an elimination and final round. Sounds really fun, and they take the glory of winning seriously. At stake is a 1-hour FREE diving lessons from the pro’s who are also behind this event.


This is him, our gallant hermit crab who made it to the semi’s but was thwarted to qualify for the finals. Not to worry, the entertainment alone made us all so proud of him!

SOME INSIDER BITS:

But don’t get too caught up in the enjoyment of your travel experience. Here are some guidelines to ponder when visiting locally inhabited islands in Maldives:

  • There is a strict dress code for tourists who want to stay, and this is more for women than men because one could not just wear a 2pc swimsuit while wandering around. In Maafushi, there is a designated public beach which is the only place where you could swim in a provocative clothing. Since this is a Muslim nation, a more conservative approach is practiced when it comes to properly dressing up. Island resorts or sandbanks are relatively free zones so sexy bikinis are acceptable.
  • Total alcohol ban islandwide, even in Male City. If you ever plan of sneaking in a bottle of wine and spirit or fooling authorities with a clear vodka in a water bottle, think again. A special place in prison awaits you.
  • Handshake is the common greeting in meeting people for the first time. But if you’re a guy, try not getting into any physical contact with local females.

If we would be granted a next trip to Maldives, I wouldn’t have second thoughts in visiting another local island like Maafushi. A life hack is certainly not needed to thoroughly imbibe the vitality the Maldivians uniquely possess. Well maybe waking up to a Utopia each day is the sole explanation why they are what they are.

Male City Tour

We had more than 5 hours to crumble before our flight back to SG, checking their capital is already on the table, all we have to do is start unearthing what’s in store. In the end, we realized we had too much time because the locations of those we should see are just few trots away from each other. It was the sun’s blistering heat that gave us the perplexity, otherwise it would have been easy to check out the city merely by walking.It was a bit disappointing to traverse the whole stretch of the city’s major roads. Structures were mostly under-developed, and every thing looks dirty and old. If tourism is the primary source of wealth by a nation, shouldn’t they improve the face that greets the incoming foreigners? One noticeable as well is that almost no female can be seen roaming around. Then I remember, that is how Muslims protect their women.

Grand Friday Mosque 

Islam being the religion of almost all Maldivians, Grand Friday Mosque is the center of religious activities here in Male. It is a giant landmark in the heart of the city that is noticeable even on air. The structure was of marble makings and it is so big that it could house up to 5,000 worshippers.

I really wanted to go in, my curiosity was killing me. But me and my husband were both afraid to even dare set foot near the entrance of the mosque. I was also very reluctant to ask a local about taking a peep inside for I wasn’t a learned on the ethics of this country. So we decided to just sit on the covered bench beside the mosque and spent a few quiet moments observing the flow of people in and around.





Mulee’Aage Palace (Muliaage)

This colorful house just a few meters away from the Grand Mosque is the Muliaage Palace — official residence of the Maldives President. It looks normal at first glance, like a common dwelling in some Caribbean country because of the choice of colors that were used during construction. What’s surprising is that there were no security people patrolling, nonconformist from what we are used to seeing in the White House or any another place that shelters a head of state.



Republic Square

The Republic Square, is just the Republic Square. Nothing compelling when you step in the area, it’s a huge open space with a building that I think houses their central ruling body. It faces this bay area with parked boats and yachts. I can still feel the biting UV rays on my skin whenever I look at these.



The President’s Office

Did we know that it’s the President’s Office? Of course not. Haha. We were on our way to some place else when I saw the signage, next step was immediately to take a we-fie. That was all that. Who would notice that this building is important? Had we missed the sign, we wouldn’t either.

Hukuru Miskiy or Old Friday Mosque

This is the most interesting sight for me of all the things that Male City has. It was erected in the 1600’s and is just one of the few coral mosques in the country. And this used to be the center of all things Muslim in its time. Since the devotees have grown massively, there came a point that it could not accommodate them all, thus the Grand Mosque was built for the same purpose.

What engrossed me was the abandoned cemetery at the back. It’s like seeing a scene from an M. Night Shyamalan’s movie or a page in one of Stephen King’s books. Yeah, my imagination’s coltish like that (too much reading, i’m not sorry).

 

 

 

Globetrotter Tips

 

Airport Transfers 

As the islands of Maldives are extensively dispersed, this is the biggest challenge that you have to capitulate if you prefer to make your holiday DIY (which I did, and it saved me tons of $$$ honestly), because your planning will not be the usual 2-step booking process. Aside from your flight and hotel, a big chunk of the travel fund could easily be depleted in this alone.

There could only be 2 ways to reach your destination: SAIL or FLY.

Now remember how I emphasized that location is a cardinal reason why these resorts could literally cost you your life savings? Because if the amount of accommodation didn’t completely bust out your bank account, the airport transfer will be the death of it.

iCom Tours provides speedboat transfers from Maafushi to Male city or the airport. One way costs $25 US per head. This is too cheap considering the destination is only 30 minutes away. Some resorts like the Fihalhohi charges more because their service is exclusive only for guests. In the arrival area of the airport, there are stalls that offer transfers to your desired island, but I would have to warn you that price could mount up to $250 US per head, per way.


One side of the airport is where all these seaplanes are located. And if you ever wonder how much it will take you to get yourself flown with one of those? Cheapest I have seen so far is $400 US per head, per way. If that didn’t capsize you in your seat, I don’t know what will.

So research, research and research. It’s not enough that you could afford a once in a lifetime 3-night stay in a secluded island paradise, check how much and how far will you need to travel before getting into it. Smart is the new sexy.



Fund the Fun & Basic Commodities

Just how much do you really need to be in Maldives?

Well, how swanky do you intend to be?

This is the part that you alone can answer. I could dexterously say that a cool 2 grand would suffice, but people have different purposes and needs. For such chintzy travelers like my husband and me, we are easily appeased with little comforts and are not quickly swayed with what’s in the mainstream. We value our money. Base on the assumption that you have saved well enough and that you are clamouring for some good relaxation, you could conveniently be ensconced to a hedonistic island resort if you pine for it. As long as you think you deserve that, no one in their right mind should question you.

Globetrotter Rating

Tanned. 
Tired. 
Happy. 
3 things that elucidate our 6 days of honeymoon in Maldives, with a rate of 9 for the exalting experience that comes with it. 
Perhaps it was too ill-fitting for me to place it as a second option. I have uprightly schemed the whole trip with half a heart because I was too riveted with my Fiji-filled dreams, but you know what’s bewildering beyond all that? It’s the element of wham you feel because you never expected that something you don’t really plan came out celestially special. Maybe it’s the water or the people or the sand. Or maybe because I was there with the only person that completes me, the person holding my heart whom I am married to. ❤️

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