It was in the middle of my first night back from the Maldives. I woke up with a jolt, for a moment not sure where I was, but soon realizing that I was back at home.
I wanted to go into the kitchen for a drink of water, but the apartment was dark. I sat in bed for a few seconds, trying to think of the layout of my bedroom, so I could feel my way to the door without switching on the light. I truly couldn’t remember. I could only picture the gap between the teak headboard and the table that led me to the outdoor bathroom of the villa in the Maldives. I gave up and switched on the light.
One night and I missed the Maldives already.
The Maldives had always been my dream destination, but it’s forbiddingly expensive. On one particularly gloomy and cold spring day, however, persuaded by the pictures in hotel brochures of fine sand, crystal-clear water and blue sky, I decided to book the beach vacation to the Maldives and tick one item off my bucket list.
To me, the Maldives offers the perfect holiday for two sun-starved residents of Switzerland. I expected to waste my time reading, swimming and sleeping. This time, I wasn’t too interested in knowing the culture, visiting historical sites, or even sampling the local food. In short, I wanted the coddled, canned resort experience favored by so many Europeans – thanks to Club Med.
We selected a half-board accommodation in a resort in the southern part of the Maldives that will remain unnamed. With half-board, our main meals were taken care of and I didn’t have to research for restaurants to sample. The island was 1.6 kilometer long and about 100 meter wide so there was nowhere to go. All I had to do was think of programs to join during our 7-day stay.
Diving and snorkeling were the main attractions but I don’t do either of them, although in the end, I was glad to have been tempted to join a snorkeling trip to a particularly beautiful but shallow reef where I, a non-snorkeler, could stand on sandy floor, dip my head into the clear water and watched colorful scenes from Nemo. Above water, there are plenty of things to do: picnics on secluded parts of the islands, sunset boat trips, yoga classes, baby-shark feeding session, paddle-boarding, etc.
I understand from the resort staff that it’s not a popular destination for Indonesians, despite some celebrity visits in the news. Nevertheless, here are a few tips if you’re thinking of visiting the Maldives:
- It’s known as an expensive holiday destination but there’s something for everyone. Most resorts offer luxury island experience but some do specialize. We wanted to relax and be pampered, so we appreciated the half-board meal option, the excellent spa treatments and the expansive villa overlooking the beach. Our island was also big enough to give us a private-beach feel and we even managed to picnic in some corners of the island, where we somewhat felt like we were in a “Robinson Crusoe” adventure. Most resorts are accommodative to guests’ detailed inquiry to ensure a perfect stay so please ask.
- The Maldivian islands are made of coral atoll and have little soil. Logistics are complicated so please bear in mind that things are expensive. Water comes from desalination plant on the island and power is supplied by on-site generators. Food is sent from overseas by supply ships that come every few days. Comparing and converting prices to different currencies will only destroy the mood.
- The Maldives, despite the resort image, is a Muslim country. Alcohol is forbidden anywhere outside the resorts, which charge exorbitant price for the privilege, and tourists should dress conservatively in Male, the capital. But the resorts are another different world.
- The Maldives is for sun and sand. The proper day attire is swimsuits, covered by flimsy, transparent beach-cover and flip-flops. Smart-casual dress code is sometimes required for dinner, but that just means slightly longer dress of equal skimpiness for women and covered torso for men. I met a few Chinese tourists who swam in plastic jackets, their legs wrapped in black tights, and who carried umbrellas everywhere. I wondered why they bothered to go to the Maldives.
- Each resort is normally housed on an island so no shopping is possible besides the resort’s souvenir shop. There are excursions to “local island’s” souvenir shops, but those are housed in huts. For tourists who prefer shopping, this is not a good holiday destination. For me, it was great due to lack of temptation and I came back with lighter suitcases and nothing to declare at the customs.
- On the other hand, the Maldives is great for a completely active or completely lazy holiday. All sorts of water sports are offered: swimming is excellent, as each island is normally surrounded by shallow reefs. Diving and snorkeling are the things to do because of the beautiful coral reefs. Yoga has a special space in the resort, with shady groves under some Banyan tree facing the ocean. Alternatively, one can choose to be fully horizontal after breakfast by lying under an umbrella or a tree reading, sleeping, or floating by the pool.
- The resort is normally self-contained so it’s advisable to get the half-board option, so your breakfast and dinner are covered. My trick is to have late breakfast (almost a brunch) and skip lunch. There are normally plenty of snacks such as pizza, sandwiches, ice cream and cakes to indulge if necessary. Each resort will have their own policy regarding food and beverages but one thing for sure, if you don’t like what’s offered on the island, it can be a very difficult stay. Again, ask for menu beforehand from the resort for your consideration.
- Domestic flight plus speedboats or fancy seaplanes? The second option is more convenient, but also more expensive and less certain. Seaplanes do not operate in bad weather and after dark. But first time visitors are advised to try the seaplanes once to get the drone-view of the archipelago.
- It’s known as a honeymoon/anniversary/special-occasion sites, so do expect a lot of couples, heterosexual or otherwise. Some are determined to look into each other’s eyes at every occasion, but others may enjoy the island by walking in parallel, each staring into a phone attached to its very own selfie-stick. Due to its romantic nature, some resorts may ban children on the premises, but there are plenty of family-friendly resorts with its own day-care and playgrounds for the little guests.
- Lastly, do try their spa facilities, preferably on the last day. After a week in the sun and water, my skin was chapped and my muscles sore. A sauna session followed by a full pampering program restored me into that tanned, smooth, luxurious holiday-goers envied by friends back home. Now, I was ready to go home.
Except that I wasn’t. A week in the Maldives went really quickly. We are already making plans to visit next year.
See Venny’s recipes for cooking Indonesian food for the ingredients deprived.
Venny Ng is a financial analyst who loves cooking. She is currently living in Switzerland.