The best of all worlds
Do you remember when we went to Indonesia I told you about my husband’s parents and about their disappointment? And about their dreamy vacation in the Maldives, a few years ago, after which they were never the same? If you don’t remember it’s OK, you can (re-)read it now, I’ll wait.
After a pretty hard year for us, considering everything you can read here, we thought we deserved a nice vacation. What brought the Maldives into my attention was a series of cheap tickets from Romania: they were around 500 euro and had a short layover in Vienna. Because we couldn’t start our trip from Bucharest, we thought about buying only the Vienna-Male leg and to find another option to reach Vienna.
Surprise: when I changed the search to see only the second leg, the price went up to 750 euros. I have no good explanation for this, it doesn’t make any sense, but it really annoyed me and I decided to do other types of research. You know me, I’m pretty resourceful when it comes to traveling. Really, how many people do you know that visited Cape Verde?
So I started to abuse Skyscanner and to look for different options for Maldives, Seychelles and other similar destinations. At the same time I was also scraping Booking to have at least a rough estimation on the budget we would need. The small salaries from Switzerland didn’t allow us to spend tens of thousands of euro on a vacation (more about how bad we were screwed over when moving here you can find in Being an Expat).
For some reason, my husband still doesn’t consider me a superhero when it comes to traveling; I don’t know why, because it’s obvious I have my own league when it comes to reading and researching hundreds of sources to get the most out of our money. In the end, I managed to find some tickets that looked pretty cheap; we were supposed to go from Zurich and the tickets were covering both of our birthdays.
We thought that this was a sign. And I stand by my opinion even though, after adding all taxes and fees, these tickets weren’t so cheap after all as they were about 900 CHF/person. But who spent their birthdays in the Maldives?
The next step was to book accommodation somewhere, anywhere, to be sure we were not going to camp under the stars, even though it would not have been so bad, considering the beautiful weather. But this was the moment I started to read everything available on the destination. What most tourists don’t know about the Maldives covers multiple areas.
Or multiple worlds, like we felt it. If you’re the type of tourist that can and will spend 10.000 euro on a vacation, you’re invited to not continue to read because you’ll get depressed. If you would rather enjoy at least two vacations with that amount of money, mind this: not everything is All inclusive!
About the Maldives
The Maldives is a country than spreads across multiple islands, but these islands are not as close as we’re used to when referring to an archipelago. Basically, this country has around 99% water and the rest of it is land. Well, mostly sand. The maximum altitude in this country is 4′11. For comparison, I’m 5′3″.
This is, in the context of modern climate changes, a big problem. So everyone has my warm recommendation to visit this place while it’s still there because it’s very possible that our grandchildren won’t be able to. Always keep these geographical aspects in mind because they explain a lot of things.
The other aspect you need to keep in mind is that the Maldives is a 100% Muslim country. This concerns you only in some specific situations, so don’t start the converting process yet (unless, of course, you actually want to).
The first thing that you need to keep in mind is that, no matter what you choose, you’ll be on an island. This island can be bigger or smaller but is usually a small town. This means you cannot just go to the corner store if you have a massive chocolate craving at 2 AM. It also means you may not receive instant medical care on the island if needed.
Apart from that, if you quickly get bored with one place and you didn’t organize an island-hopping kind of thing, you won’t have a lot of options. And if you’re the athlete type that usually runs in the morning, you’ll probably need to take 20 laps of the entire island or to use the gyms available for tourists.
Also, if you’re not comfortable with water activities, you’re seasick or suffer from panic attacks while at sea, you may pay a huge amount of money on a vacation you won’t enjoy at all because here EVERYTHING is about the sea.
The second thing is a consequence of the first: this is why the prices are so high for the accommodation options. Also, because the islands are gorgeous. But mostly the lack of market competition is the decisive factor, alongside the geographical situation. This is the same in other tropical islands as well, like Bora Bora and Seychelles.
The islands come in three flavors:
This option has only appeared lately as a choice and it has its charm. Some of these islands are only for functional purposes, like the island where the airport is, which is artificial and was built exactly based on the necessities of an airport. The lack of space on these islands decides how they look because the people have to build mostly vertically, so these islands can get very crowded.
I strongly recommend taking a very close look at the island before making the reservation for a hotel. A 20 dollars/night room may sound appealing, but if it’s a hotel near 10 others in a town as crowded as New York, I don’t know if you’ll be so happy about it. You also need to take into account that on these islands the Islamic law is applied.
So here you won’t find alcohol of any kind (not even for medical purposes, you can use vinegar to disinfect wounds if needed), you won’t be able to eat pork and you won’t be able to wear a bathing suit all over the island. On all islands that also have accommodation options, you’ll also find a Bikini beach. That’s the only place where you can wear a usual bathing suit, but not even here you won’t be allowed to practice topless or nude sunbathing.
On the rest of the island everyone, including men, will wear clothes that cover the knees and shoulders. The beaches probably won’t look like the ones on the resort islands, but the cleanliness will most certainly be on point. The local people are usually very sweet and respectful and are not pushy to sell you something, so you won’t ever feel pressured to buy something everywhere you go.
Depending on the island, you may have access to more restaurant options than on the resort islands. Your food will be way cheaper but it’s possible it won’t be as good since these restaurants usually don’t have chefs like the ones from the resort islands. You will also probably find other interesting places: souvenir shops, small stores for snacks, maybe even some agencies where you can buy day trips, including day trips to some of the resort islands nearby.
This is the option everyone knows about, and it’s also the most expensive. Every resort is an island. Everything on that island belongs to the same resort. So, if you didn’t like the food, you will be able to go tomorrow to a different restaurant with a different theme, but it will still be the same resort.
If you’re going to enjoy a massage, you guessed, you’ll still be at the same resort. If you want to buy a day trip it will be the same. These islands don’t have any inhabitants, they are only used for tourists. Absolutely every person in there is around to serve the tourists and they are commuting from the local islands.
Here, you will find prices starting at around 400 dollars/night with half board, but they can reach 2-3000 dollars/night with Ultra All Inclusive. Honestly, when it comes to the prices, the sky is the limit. You’ll have your own crystal globe and you won’t do anything else but relax. Some people come to the Maldives every year and they choose a different island so that it feels like a new destination every time.
Considering how different these islands are, I would do the same if I could afford it. On these islands there’s only one rule: you cannot practice topless of nude sunbathing. Apart from this, nothing else that applies to local islands does apply here.
Do you want a glass of wine for dinner? Great, pay 10 dollars and you’ll have it (if you haven’t decided for All-inclusive, of course).
Do you want a pork steak? Of course, that’s possible, but the chef is probably Muslim and I’m not sure how good he’ll be at cooking it, and he will most certainly not taste it.
Do you want to wander around the whole island in your swimwear? You’re not special at all, everyone does it, the only exception is made at the restaurants, out of respect.
Uninhabited islands and sandbanks
These places are only used for trips if you want to feel that the whole island belongs to you. Well, of course, it will be you and the person that takes you there with the boat. If you intend on staying longer, I recommend an island with some kind of vegetation or to take an umbrella and a cooler box with some food and drinks.
The heat managed to affect even me, and I’m the type of person that intensively hates being cold. You cannot spend a full day under the burning sun, so please pay attention when going on day trips.
Another thing you have to take into account is that the taxes are not usually included in the accommodation price. And they are not small, the percentage is around 25%. You have to also be aware of the transfer from the airport that can sometimes be more expensive than the inter-continental flight that got you there in the first place if it’s with a water plane. These were not included in the room’s price, but they had to be paid and taken into account.
We started gathering information from all of our potential sources. The first lucky guys were my in-laws that dream of going there again, especially since my father-in-law is a passionate diver and my mother-in-law is a passionate relaxer while on vacation. For the two of them, the destination is perfect: the marine life is impressive, the connecting services are top-notch and the spas have options for everyone.
They went to Bandos four years ago and came back fascinated. But, as far as they can remember, the prices were remarkable as well, and we realized why: their accommodation was in a Garden Villa and the dining option was All Inclusive. That explains it I guess.
The next ones were some friends of ours that have chosen the Maldives as their honeymoon destination. They came back fascinated as well. The Dhigali Resort they have chosen was just opened and the services were at the highest level. She told us that a week after coming back she dreamed she was still there.
But because it was their honeymoon they could spend, in my opinion, a small fortune, and they considered it was money well spent. A very nice video made by them is this one:
But for us it was not our honeymoon, it was not a celebration of an unexpected inheritance or a lottery win, so we couldn’t do better than choose in our own special way so that we can enjoy a balanced and memorable experience. So our plan looked like this:
- Wednesday noon, leaving Basel to reach Zurich by train;
- Wednesday evening, taking off from Zurich;
- Thursday morning, landing in Male;
- Thursday – next Wednesday, 6 nights spent on the local island chosen after hours of negotiation and going over hundreds of reviews;
- Wednesday – Saturday, 3 nights in Bandos;
- Saturday – Sunday, 1 night in Hulhumale to be close to the airport;
- Sunday morning, taking off to reach Zurich;
- Sunday afternoon, landing
- Sunday evening, getting back home.
All in one, between the moment we started thinking about this and when we actually left, 8 months have passed. During this time I have continuously bugged my husband reciting “We’re going to the Maldives!” at least once a day.
Yes, we’re still married. Nope, I don’t get it either, why he can still stand me. But this was one of the things that kept me alive during a hard year so I was allowed to be crazy.
Well, one week before leaving I managed to get an interview for a dream job at a dream company for me. I won’t deny, it involved some stalking, but I got to the interview phase and that’s what mattered. The problem was that the only option for the interview day was that Wednesday from above, the one from point 1.
The only thing I could change was the time, I managed to move it one hour earlier. This change allowed me, after some intense analyzing, to change the plan like this (all the steps are at point 0 since everything needed to happen before point 1):
- 0a. Wednesday 12:00, going to the interview;
- 0b. I tell the people involved from the beginning that I have a plane to catch and that I have exactly one bus that takes me to the train station in time to catch my train. This train is kind of the only one that takes me to the airport so that I can be there two hours before take-off;
- 0c. Google maps estimates I’ll reach the train station 8 minutes before the train leaves, giving me enough time to get in;
- 0d. Meanwhile, my husband goes to the train station with all of our luggage minus a backpack that I’ll have. He’s also the one to buy the train tickets for both of us and he goes into the train with the luggage;
- 0e. My husband sends me the platform number where the train is;
- 0f. I reach the train station and get on the train in time.
Getting in the Maldives
So we have a plan. And, as you all know, it’s very important to have a plan. You can read all about another plan of mine here, you’ll love it. I knew I wouldn’t go into vacation mode until I would have got into the plane.
Also, I knew the interview was very important to me, and it came after lots of tries from my part to find a workplace that wouldn’t cause me an increase in gray hair at an exponential rate.
So my attention and focus that day were firstly at the interview, then at catching the train, then at reaching the boarding gate and only at the end at enjoying the destination. But without some adventure, I would have felt this vacation like a sad one. Well, not sad, but unusual for me.
I was lucky enough to find some really cool people at the interview. I was unlucky enough to find the area not even remotely similar to what I found on Google maps due to some intensive construction work right next to the office building.
The people were really understanding especially after I told them the destination. They told me they’d never forgive themselves if I were to miss my flight, jokingly mentioning they wouldn’t like to pay for my vacation. And although I was expecting a simple HR interview, it was actually a more complex one that included a technical interview and a people management one.
A little unexpected, but I was ready for the technical assessment too (it was really my dream job so I was ready for everything they could throw at me). I got out of there a little bit dizzy and I listened to instructions on where to find the newly moved bus station.
I got out of the building and started to look for the station. It was raining like hell, everything was covered in mud and I’m almost sure I crossed a fully functional construction site. In the meantime, I was continuously monitoring the time to see how much I had left from the 6 minutes until the bus would have left without me.
I ran around for how much time my great physical condition allowed me, but I was still not able to find the station, and the increasing frustration wasn’t helping me at all. I started running in the direction where the bus should go, thinking I might encounter it at the next station.
Then, at a crossroads, I looked over my right shoulder for no good reason. On a secondary street, there was my bus, still waiting. I ran to it waving my hands like I was Robinson Crusoe on the island. The nice driver was really helpful and opened the doors for me.
Then he continued to wait for the appropriate time for the departure, about three minutes. It looks like I ran faster than I thought.
Inside the bus, I started to undress. Not like that, don’t throw tomatoes yet! Since I had a very important interview I wanted to look nice so I dressed as nice as I could. But it was pretty uncomfortable for me to run wearing office attire, so I took off my shirt and my blazer and I kept only my T-shirt, and I’ve put my jacket on top of it.
I just wanted to be ready for the next race. Strangely, the bus was late for one minute to the train station. That’s usually not a big deal, but when you have a total of 8 minutes to catch your train, it means something. I ran to the 8th platform that I already knew from my husband.
I got there, got on the train and didn’t see him. So I panicked and thought he didn’t go inside yet, so I got down to search for him on the platform. If he wouldn’t have been inside it would have been not so nice, since he had the tickets for both of us.
I went back to the platform, calling him and looking at every door. Then I saw the train station employees signaling the departure of the train. And I saw him, he had gotten up a little bit further than I expected, with all of our luggage.
I pressed desperately on the button to open the doors, but it didn’t work because the train was ready for departure. He managed to open the door from the inside. I got in and I didn’t even have time to say “Hi!” because the train had already left.
Starting from this moment everything was supposed to be according to plan. We went and sat down where we found some space so I could learn how to breathe again. He had bought some water and a snack for me because I couldn’t eat all day due to nervousness.
But the first thing I wanted to do was to go to the bathroom and change my clothes with the comfortable ones for the flight, and I did that right after the ticket check-up. Then I started eating and telling him all about how the interview went when I got a call.
It was the HR girl from the company and she asked me if I arrived at the train station on time. Then she asked me if I wanted to work with them and described an offer way better than what I have asked for during the interview.
Of course, I accepted without giving it so much thought, and she told me they wanted to let me know right then to give me one more reason to enjoy my vacation. We discussed some more administrative topics and I continued my trip and my lunch, finally telling my husband everything about the company where I was going to work.
We changed trains in Zurich and the second train got us to the airport before anyone had time to check our tickets. But starting from this moment everything worked like a charm. We left our luggage at the check-in office right away, while observing that we couldn’t add our miles to the Miles&More card in here, although the flight was with Swiss Airlines but operated by Edelweiss.
But this day had already too many things to handle so we didn’t even bother about this minor problem right away. Then we started searching for our gate which was, of course, the last one in the whole airport so we had to take a train to get to it. But we were the first ones at the gate, so we probably would have caught the plane even if I would have missed the train, but we would have been on the edge until the very last moment.
Edelweiss is what I would call a low-cost airline for long-haul flights. The comparison with Qatar Airlines, the company we used in Indonesia is by no means fair. The only good thing was that the plane configuration allowed us to sit by ourselves at the window so we could lean on the sides and try to sleep. But everything else was worse.
The legroom was really small for a 10-hour flight and I’m the one saying this, and I’m a shortie. The food had only one option, take it or leave it, and it didn’t even have chocolate.
The drinks were served rarely and in small quantities, and we had to pay a separate fee for the alcoholic ones (we wanted to enjoy a beer for my husband’s birthday since our first island was the local one where we wouldn’t find any alcohol).
The movies were still acceptable but the headphones caused me ear pain for the whole next day. But what’s important is that we arrived there safely and our luggage joined us.
Male airport is really interesting. It looks like a train station with a landing strip. While landing, the landing strip is not visible since it’s right below the plane, and you can only see the water around. You kind of worry something’s going to happen.
But after that, you get off the plane and regret a little bit that you didn’t already change into beachwear, but you can do that before waiting in line to get the visa stamped on your passport, for which you have already filled in a form while still on board.
From here, you get into a big hall like a waiting room in a train station and you look for the counter where someone from your accommodation will wait for you. You know where to go from the person you talked to when arranging your stay.
If your reservation is at a luxury resort, you have access to some sort of a lounge area, where I assume they’re waiting for you with air conditioning and a fresh coconut cocktail. And with the bill, of course. But you know how it this, I’m just saying that because I’m sad I couldn’t afford such a vacation.
The Maldives, Bodufolhudhoo island
A world of the people
These counters are placed right at the Arrivals area in a big room with ceiling fans. To be clear, these counters are like small booths where only a person fits and their only purpose is to have a number to go to. The smaller the number, the better the island. No matter how you made your accommodation reservation you’ll have information about where to go at least one week before your departure.
We landed at around 8 AM after a long and mostly sleepless flight. We didn’t want anything else than to get to the final destination, throw on our swimsuits and either collapse on a sunbed, or float in the Indian Ocean. But when we arrived at the 34th counter we discovered we had to wait until around 10:30.
Of course, we knew the transport won’t be with a speed boat, but with a local one, so their schedule couldn’t be modified for every tourist that arrives, but we hoped that maybe the boat was already in the harbor and we could go there, embark, and maybe even close our eyes a little bit.
I know, we have strange ways of coping with sleep deprivation. But at this counter there was nobody at 8 in the morning, so we got out of the airport to wander around the area, but we couldn’t go too far away because of the huge luggage we had to carry around. Still, even around the harbor area, we could find the nice turquoise water people choose the Maldives for.
No one goes into this water, obviously, but after 10 hours spent in a tiny seat on a flight, you are happy to see that at least the destination seems like it’s how you expect it to be. After this walk that was meant to make us believe the time went faster, but it actually took us around half an hour, we got back to the airport to guard the counter.
We found two seats nearby, put our luggage under our feet and started what felt like a long wait. This meant Candy Crush for me (due to the lack of internet and the placing of my books deep inside the luggage) and some careless sleep for my husband, like he did in Jakarta.
Two hours later we managed to get to the magic boat. And we were a bit too late apparently since in the harbor it didn’t matter how long have we guarded the counter, so we were almost the last ones that arrived.
We know we were almost the last ones because the boat, that had 50 seats split into two lines that should have fitted 3 people on each bench, was already full with two persons on each bench, so they split us apart and send us each on a bench far away from each other. I had the great luck to be seated next to a couple that was quite massive, although very nice and thoughtful.
I’m not slim either, to say it nicely, so sharing that small bench was totally not a good idea for either of us. My husband managed to be in the middle, I have no idea how, so he couldn’t lean sideways at all. This trip was going to last for two and a half hours, from which the first hour and a half were non-stop, and then we went to a different island every 20 minutes.
So the first hour and a half was a nightmare since nothing could have changed in our situation. Luckily, at least the sea wasn’t behaving badly, but when I was feeling dizzy from the lack of sleep and the boat movements, I was trying to close my eyes for a short time to try to recharge my batteries.
Which is pretty damn hard to do when the armrest is shoved into your sideways because you’re in the aisle seat. To fix this problem and ease the burden for my neighbors for a while, I leaned my waist a little bit forward on the bench and put my knees against the front bench.
This helped all of us but after some time my back started to hurt since my lumbar area was feeling all the shocks the boat ride creates. All in all, this part was the not so dreamy one and it didn’t even end on the first island, we had to wait to reach the second island to change something into this configuration.
But we finally arrived in the small harbor where Bary, the owner of the first accommodation, was waiting for us. A thing that’s worth mentioning about accommodation in the Maldives is that almost all units have super good review scores on Booking. Seriously, you can check it out. You can rarely find a place with a less than an 8 score.
And our chosen place is in the same league. If you’ll read the reviews, you’ll see that this Bary is mentioned as a reason for most of them. Bary has a family business in this inn and is being helped by his children to keep it running. The room is acceptable, not very luxurious but not a dumpster either. The air conditioning is a must-have wherever you decide to go; without it, you cannot even sleep at night.
But while we stayed there we had some minor problems like they didn’t clean our room (and I don’t mean daily, but I expect to not have to tell you to please clean our room after three days, when it’s full of sand) and, the thing that bothered me the most, I had to look for someone to ask for more toilet paper (I find it embarrassing to have to do this since I know that these things need to be verified and refilled daily).
And no, I’m not having my head up my ass and I don’t want luxury when I pay a hostel price, but the two things mentioned above feel like common sense for a place with an 8.5 rating on Booking.
Here all days are mostly the same. There’s not so much room for variation when you’re on a 4000 square foot island. The speed of things is light, like a permanent summer break. The first evening was defined by a surprise dinner on the beach for my husband’s birthday.
It was the best dinner, I have to admit, and it consisted of fish, seafood and a huge chocolate cake with strawberries. After dinner, we came back to the accommodation, since we wanted to share the cake with other people because it was too big just for the two of us.
So we met our neighbors, two Italian couples which of course had Romanian friends and they were at their second visit to the Maldives. The other time they went they stayed on the exact same island. They looked at me kind of strange when I said the food is great, but I didn’t realize why until I ate there for a few more days.
That dinner was special, it was not the rule, but the exception. Everything else was, no matter what I choose, similar from one day to another. Almost everything looked and tasted like frozen stuff you just deep fry and that’s it. All salads were the same: some finely cut cabbage, some small pieces of carrots, some onions and mayonnaise, including the Greek salad.
We cannot say we starved in there, but I take back my praise from the first evening. Oh, and the most expensive things on the menu were the dishes with fish and seafood. Which is weird considering you’re in the middle of the ocean. I could honestly catch my dinner while snorkeling, so I really can’t understand how can fish be more expensive than chicken, since I didn’t see any poultry being grown on that island.
The island was, as I previously said, very small. I actually think it was smaller than Bandos, where we went after. We wanted to wander around one day and make some videos and it took us 30 minutes to cover everything on the island. Around the island, people need to dress up properly, as I said, but the distance to the Bikini beach was about 600 feet, so it didn’t feel like such a hassle.
A few times a day you’ll hear the call for prayer from the mosque, but this will also be the case on the tourist islands, so it’s not a big deal. On this island there were no cars and asphalt, but only a few motorbikes used mostly to move the luggage to and from the bay area; everyone else moves around by bike or by foot, and those with not so sensitive feet can actually forget about their shoes in here, since all the alleys are covered in more or less fine sand.
The local beach felt sad, unfortunately. Mostly, but not only because it was empty. It also didn’t seem very clean and the water was not so dreamy either. It made me a little bit sad; I would have wanted to see that they respect their own people like they respect the tourists.
The tourist beach, on the other side, was cleaned twice a day, the only dirt being palm tree leaves, shells and coral pieces from time to time. Even though it was not very big, this beach never felt crowded and we could easily relax while soaking up the sun.
Also, the hammocks, swings, and sunbeds were quite enough for all people that used the tourist beach. The water entry was using a former area where small boats used to go, so it was sandy and the depth increased smoothly, making the beach really nice and easy to use for all types of swimmers and even children.
The underwater world
Since I discovered snorkeling, trying out my husband’s gear on a small beach in Romania, I knew I discovered a new world. His father is a very passionate diver and he shared this passion with his children, both of them being PADI certified divers. For me, considering I don’t quite feel comfortable in the water, diving is not exactly on my wish list.
But snorkeling is exactly at the edge of my comfort zone: I’m at the surface of the sea, I have easy options to breathe normally, my visibility is usually pretty good and I can be in charge of the depth I’m going to. Well, at least this is what I thought, but since then I realized that distances underwater are not as they look like due to the light refraction phenomenon, so I was always going to water deeper than I thought.
Still, what I didn’t know didn’t harm me, but made me braver later, when I realized this happened. But when I first tried snorkeling I didn’t feel very comfortable breathing using only my mouth while being perfectly capable to use my nose, thus managing to fog my goggles pretty often by mistake.
Happily, some people have thought about idiots like me and have invented full-face snorkeling masks. My first try was the one from Decathlon and, as I have fallen in love with this type, I have even converted my husband to this device that’s so much easier to use. We can even talk to each other underwater, a thing that we have discovered embarrassingly late, but that turned out to be extremely useful.
We snorkeled using this type of masks everywhere we went: in the Gili Islands, in Cape Verde, in Sicily, but I was never so happy to have tried it than I was in the Maldives. Here, the underwater world was better than all of the above added up.
Even though climate changes have bleached the corals, so they don’t look like in the edited National Geographic videos, the underwater world is a universe we know nothing about. It’s like our planet has a clone that uses water instead of the atmosphere, but everything else is similar.
What we only use for irrigation, washing and personal use, other living things use as their whole world where they live their whole lives. And we don’t interfere at all! Well, at least not directly, because the way we treat our planet is a way we intervene in places we have no idea we can mess up so badly.
I like to think of whole families that live underwater and their whole lives in there, and we have a way of taking a sneak peek at their lives but these types of activities. I know, I act like a two-year-old that wants to push all the elevator buttons because it seems interesting.
But for a person with some anxiety for the unknown, this is how things look like when you dare to look a little bit outside your comfort bubble.
But what we have to keep in mind, the most important thing, in my opinion, is that we’re here just to see this world. We are not allowed to intervene in its already fragile balance. Nothing that we have found in the sea we didn’t think it was for touching. No matter how tempting it is to just reach for a fish or a delicate anemone, think about the fact that you shouldn’t do that for at least two reasons:
The first one is that you can ruin the environment. The coral is a huge ecosystem that has evolved in thousands of years and we’re already ruining it by making the planer hotter. They may seem strong, but they’re very delicate and every tear can mean you have just pulled out a wall from a fish’s house or you have broken a crab’s family nest.
Some parts can actually be living things that we can’t see or don’t know how to distinguish, and touching them may mean killing them. Most underwater creatures have a protective layer on top of their skin; if we touch it, we may remove it and we’re leaving the animal vulnerable to all sorts of bacteria.
And sometimes we’re the ones bringing some bacteria they cannot fight with because their bodies shouldn’t fight bacteria that are not naturally in their environment.
The second one is that you can injure yourself. The corals can become really sharp due to the continuous water movement around them. I have mistakenly touched a coral that looked like a big pile of flowers (the water became shallow really abruptly and I didn’t have time to adjust my speed) and I can tell you the petals of the flowers were, in fact, very sharp.
The anemones look like some cute and delicate flowers where Nemo likes to hang out, but, as far as I know, they’re poisonous and Nemo is the only one that managed, due to thousands of years of evolution, to be able to stay in the anemones and use them to hide away from predators.
There are, in tropical areas, lots of fish that can be poisonous due to some venom they create, and some others have their skin or fins that are very sharp.
The sea urchins, even though they seem like some really cute puffy stuff, will leave their needles in your cut skin and the effort to remove them will be even worse than the sting itself.
I know that this may sound a little too harsh and explicit, but if the first argument won’t convince people to respect the place, at least the second one should be enough.
Although at the accommodation we had multiple options for day trips, we decided to first see what the house reef had to offer and only after to decide what else we wanted to see. And it was the best decision we could make!
Lots of things I only dreamed of the last year I could spot in the house reef while having one of our relaxed swimming sessions. What we liked the most about the reef was not only its richness but also the easy access.
Basically, you had a stripe of sand that allowed you to enter the water until it reached your chest or shoulder height and after you have put your whole gear, you could choose to go either to the right or the left, the topography looking a bit different depending on your choosing.
If you did this, you would have done your swimming session at 8-9 feet above the corals, which is a very safe distance, and you would have floated right at the place where the water becomes very deep and you couldn’t see anything anymore. You were basically on the edge of the abyss, in the place with the best visibility.
I find it hard to describe the huge amount of fish in every possible color, the other bigger or smaller fish that were actually coming in front of my camera even when I didn’t want to film them and the ones coming really close like saying: “Hey, I’m a star too, put me in the video!”.
I also cannot tell you in simple words how a one foot long starfish looks like, and to explain about some giant shells in bright blue or purple colors would also not be good enough.
And about the sea cucumbers, which we initially thought were some huge and disgusting worms, I would rather not remember and describe, if possible.
But I can describe the joy of seeing not one, not two, but three sea turtles. T
he first meeting was right the second day after we have arrived, and it was as big as me, so big that my husband didn’t even see it at first, he thought her shell was a boulder. I’m glad I managed to give him the camera since I was so afraid to swim with it because it was so big.
This can also be heard on the video and that’s why nobody will see our videos with their original sound. My husband went and swam with the turtle but he barely managed to keep up, even with his usual high speed while swimming and his huge fins.
In the same snorkeling session, when we were going back to the sand stripe, I found another turtle, but it was small, about one foot and a half long. It run away from us pretty quickly because I, the scared one in the above sentence, managed to get so excited and to shout into the water for my husband to see it in such a high pitched voice that I think I have broken a few windows and I was heard by two or three dogs on the island.
Embarrassing, I know. There’s not a big enough facepalm sign to fit me. But this small guy was cute enough that I tried to swim with it, mostly helping it go further away by trying to keep the pace.
The next day, when we were going back again, I was telling my husband we were approaching the place where I had seen this cute turtle a day before and he was telling me he doesn’t think it’s glued in there, so probably I won’t find it in the same place.
But, because karma’s real and apparently it cares about losers as big as me, I have found a third turtle, as big as the second one, in the same area, and I have managed to not scare this one, so we were able to enjoy this cool little creature right near us.
Because it didn’t make any sense to buy day trips to see sea turtles anymore, we decided to go and see what they called The Coral Garden. We woke up really early, got into a rather nice boat and got to the place in about half an hour.
And here I jumped into the water without holding the side of the boat like in Cape Verde, mostly because I didn’t have a margin to hold on to, but this time I didn’t have a floating vest either, and no other floating device attached to guarantee I won’t drown. Who’s strong and brave? Who?
OK, let’s continue (after to stop laughing, of course). This coral garden didn’t seem to be more beautiful than the house reef from the island, in my opinion. The only difference was that in here we found some eagle rays, some nicer cousins of the stingray (I’ve been told), but I was still afraid of them. It was a full family in there, I think it was a family meeting or something, but we did everything we could to not interfere with their family gathering.
After this trip, it felt like our time on this island started to pass faster. Some other small events appeared, like, for example, I had to give in my resignation by mail, and I didn’t have the chance of seeing my boss’s face when he read it.
Of course, I would have made this face to face, like it should be made, but it looked like my new company wanted me rather soon and I didn’t have any other option that still respected the legal notice period. At least I was able to tell my colleagues in person, the boss was “understanding” and allowed me to at least tell them properly.
Another event was a day when it rained so we had the chance to take a warm shower in nature. The entire day was a cloudy one, to be honest, and we used it to walk around the island a little bit and take some shots and some souvenirs from the local shop. But the first rain phase happened while we were in the water, watching the fish in the darker and darker environment.
We didn’t know how to reach the shore faster to hide everything we had under a hammock, even though it felt like we didn’t have things to hide. But we figured out really fast that neither our Kindle nor my books or our phones would be happy to enjoy the rain, no matter if it was a Maldivian one. From all of these, the book I was reading at the moment was the worse, but I managed to almost fix it with the blow-drier.
After we hid everything we decided we might as well spend the rest of the day in the water, under the tropical shower, watching the crabs that were covering the sand and the pontoon’s walls and hoping for a spectacular sunset.
Speaking of books, of course, I didn’t go on this vacation without taking a few pounds of written words with me. This time my father was the provider.
The first book, which I finished in the first 2-3 days of beachside relaxation, was a biography of Ronnie O’Sullivan. Although I’m not a big fan of snooker, I’m actually far away from understanding this sport, I’m a big fan of biographies.
And O’Sullivan is a character you cannot help but fall in love with. I have read “Running” a few years ago and I fell in love with his story and the way he decided to share it with others. I have the constant feeling that he’s doing some sort of therapy through honesty and he’s showing himself naked, weak, simple like radiography does.
The second book that I have finished only after we got back was “JFK”, by Stephen King. After I have read “The Shining” some time ago and was amazed at how much I was able to like it, I was still worried I wouldn’t like what appeared to be a historical novel. But Stephen King knows how to write in such a way so the story just flows like a river after the snow melts, and you don’t even realize when you’ve read 200 pages and you’re already hooked.
Near the end of the book, following a peak for which lots of expectations were created, I started to also eat while reading, not only to commute and spend all of my free hours like that. This is the book that I have taken back to my father wet and dried with the blow drier, and I even had the gut to tell him the value of the book is higher now since the rain that damaged it was from the Maldives.
The Maldives, Bandos island
The world from the tourism brochures
If you book your vacation in the Maldives through a travel agency, as most people do, you won’t need to discuss most things and you’ll only receive an envelope with the important information you need. After your plane lands, you’ll be expected by a nice gentleman with your name written on something.
Then, you’ll follow him to a boat or a seaplane and you’ll go directly to paradise. There, you’ll forget everything about your concerns, your worries, your problems, and you’ll enjoy a constant dream until you’ll have to go back to your life back home, watching time-lapses with great sunsets.
But if you’re like us, a DIY vacation fan, you will have to take care of all the things the agency usually handles. For example, the transfer from the airport. Although Bandos is really close to the airport, the speed boat ride took us 15 minutes and there wasn’t another option to reach the island.
We would have wanted to be “dropped off” in Bandos when we left the local island, so we wouldn’t waste so much time and money. But what do you know, it can’t be done. Maybe if the ride would be in the same atoll it would work this way, but for us, it didn’t work out.
So, one morning, when it looked a little bit cloudy anyway, we got into the same boat that brought us in; this time we managed to stay together and it didn’t get so full either, so we didn’t spend two hours cursing. At the airport, we went to our one digit counter and we were told we had to wait a while because the boat cannot go with only two people.
In my opinion, private speed boats are very harmful, even if they make people feel special. I hope it’s obvious that any type of motorboat pollutes the waters and these rides should be well kept under control, so I would much rather be on a 50 seat boat and keep the Maldives for many years from now instead of feeling special in a private boat and then floating in water with even more chemicals in it.
After more people arrived and we finally filled the 15 people boat, we reached Bandos, one of the resort islands in the Maldives. Choosing it was easy: we had the review from my in-laws, we knew that the coral reef in here was superb, it was closer to the airport so the transfer price wasn’t bigger than the inter-continental flight (like it’s often the case for islands located far away from Male) and we didn’t have enough money for Dhigali, where our other friends were.
After we got there we understood why there are people that come here every year. We didn’t even touch our luggage since we arrived on this island. We didn’t even check-in by ourselves, but we stayed at a table, with air conditioning, we had ice tea and gave our passports to a nice lady to make the check-in process for us.
Then we had our luggage labeled and were accompanied to our room, with a brief presentation of the island on the way there. The only thing that no other person could have done for us was the payment, so we had to be there, but apart from that, someone else did the things for us.
We didn’t even arrange our transfer back, they asked us what’s our new destination and they called the Hulhumale accommodation and told them when we’ll arrive at the airport and where should they wait for us.
As I said, if you’re using an agency’s services you won’t have to do so much, and after you arrive on the island, no matter how the situation is the same.
After we arrived in the room and we received information about the important places on the island we started to look into the brochure with the spa treatments available. We thought that, after a very difficult year, we deserve a nice massage, and Bandos was the place to enjoy it.
Meanwhile, the man with the bags arrived and he did the thing that I never would have expected and the only thing I didn’t like about Bandos: he was just standing there, in the middle of the room, and was looking at us to give him a tip.
I couldn’t believe that, after you pay a small fortune to come here after you pay the Service charge that is NOT included in the room rate after they have signs on every wall that “Tipping is at guest’s discretion”, he still had the nerve to do this.
And no, I’m not a hypocrite, I didn’t forget neither where I’m coming from, nor that I have also worked in fields where most of my income was provided by tips. But I have never done such a thing, standing near the client to pressure him/her to give me something.
And I couldn’t have, I would have been ashamed, and also I was always aware that no one has an obligation towards me. But in the end we didn’t want to ruin our vacation so we gave him something, a few dollars we had cash, and we went out to discover the island and the beach.
You know those wallpaper pictures we use in the summer at the office to make us think about our vacation? Those pictures are made in the Maldives, on the resort islands.
Do you want white, fine sand, like the flour? This is where you’ll find it.
Do you want to spend your day on a comfy sunbed chosen from the ones scattered around the island so that you feel you own the place? Again, this is the place to find that.
Do you want to stay in a beach or water villa so that your Instagram feed looks dreamy? You guessed! You’ll have to choose this place.
Do you want a hammock on a palm tree that has developed almost horizontally? Your best bet is this place.
You can spot so many things just by wandering around the island. It’s almost sure that a team of landscape professionals worked on the whole island. Of course, the trees were probably there, but everything else is so carefully and tastefully trimmed.
Even the trash cans are made from wood. On the palm trees, you can find some small plant pots made out of coconut shells. The alleys have drawings in the shape of marine creatures.
The signs towards different island areas are made out of wood and they use a font that makes you think of the beach (I don’t know how to properly explain this, it’s just a feeling a font gives me, something that also happens with some songs that have a specific sound that makes me think of the beach).
All roofs look the same, are made with hay, and the houses themselves look like some sort of a hut on the outside but are very modern and comfortable on the inside. Also, absolutely every one on that island is there to serve you. It’s probably the main reason all tourists give high review scores on all resorts in the Maldives.
The underwater world from the resort island
We found it easy to set ourselves on the beach and, after a few failed attempts to enter the water due to the water depth being too low above the corals, we finally found a place where we could easily enter. But, what do you know, the underwater world seemed sadder than the one above it.
Maybe it’s because of the intense tourism, or maybe it’s the proximity to the airport and the harbor hence the higher amounts of pollution, but we only know one thing: we liked the reef better on the other island. It was by far not as reach and mostly consisted of boulders that were going to be used by corals in the next years.
Want to protect the coral reef on your next tropical vacation? Try one of these reef-safe sunscreens! The environment will thank you!
Also, when you had to start swimming because the sandy area finished, you were at around 5 feet above the corals and, sometimes, even at two feet water depth. There were areas where I kept myself going using only my hands since I didn’t have enough depth to use my feet. From this area, the abyss was directly starting, without any intermediate options.
And maybe we would have been braver to go further away if the first thing that we saw would not have been a shark as big as me. Yeah, I know, I liked it when it was the sea turtle, but I don’t like it when it’s a shark. Well, yes, this is how we were welcomed.
And even though we knew it’s very possible to meet sharks in the Maldives, and that people are coming here exactly for this reason, we were also kind of expecting that in two feet depth water we’ll not meet them.
And we also know that these species are not aggressive and that they’re almost vegetarians, and I actually think they don’t like people, considering the amount of plastic we wear while in the water.
But we also know they’re quite territorial and don’t attack without a good reason, but only defend themselves, and we can be considered a danger to them. Which we kind of are because, if I think about it, I wouldn’t be very nice if I would find a shark in my living room either.
Oddly enough, we looked into different animal species in the Maldives right the night before. It all started when my husband was trying to explain how the sharks here are some very nice guys, but one thing led to another and we discovered three interesting facts.
It looked like we had on video a poisonous fish, and it was a close-up too. We thought it was a sea urchin but apparently, it was a fish with spikes that could have attacked us at any moment. It looks like there’s some sort of stupid people’s karma that kept us safe, although we maybe would have deserved a lesson.
Stingrays don’t attack you if you don’t bother them. And, even though you would think you’re not bothering them, apparently you can do that without even knowing. They come often times very close to the shore and hide under a very slim layer of sand, but leave the sting just above the sand level. If you’re not really careful when entering the water with your bare feet, you could step on it and it will feel bothered. To sum it up: the sand is not safe either.
Although most dangerous fish also look dangerous, almost like they’re telling you to keep away, there’s also one that’s very attractive. Its name is triggerfish, it’s quite big and it looks really nice. Come on, look it up, I’ll wait.
It seems nice, right? Apparently, it usually is very nice and doesn’t really care about people. But when it’s the mating season it seems like it’s going into parent mode and becoming more sensitive. So, if you see it in a vertical position, with the head pointing downwards to a pink-orange mousse on a rock, keep in mind that it’s protecting its future children. And to keep us safe we should keep a distance of at least 8-9 feet so that the fish doesn’t feel threatened.
Well, knowledge is power, even if it’s received later than it should have. Because apparently we met this guy on the other island too but it was really well behaved and I don’t even remember this meeting. But in Bandos, we managed to get it upset, unfortunately.
As we were swimming along and I was continuously looking after the shark mentioned above, I find myself pushed away by my husband. He didn’t have time to say anything except “It’s that fish!” and to push me sideways. Due to inertia, he went forward two more feet. And, unfortunately, the water depth was at most three feet, so we were too close to the angry parent.
The fish, as its name calls for it, got triggered by our presence and snapped towards my husband. He managed to hit it with one of his fins when he tried to just go back and swim away. Luckily, it didn’t follow us, but we got really scared and my husband managed to pull a muscle from trying to escape what was about to happen. Weird how this guy was less friendly than the shark, right?
After these first adventures, we had the first day I wished nothing but laying around on a sunbed and have a cool time-lapse of a gorgeous sunset. So we found two sunbeds in a superb spot, I mounted my camera on my tripod, I opened my book and forgot about the world. My sunset looks cool with all the people that decided to stop right in front of my camera to take pictures.
As a bonus, with the extended family of Asian tourists that choose the exact same area to take the photoshoot of the day. I think they honestly took one million pictures in there, most of them with a two-year-old that cried all the time, probably due to so much fuss around him.
So, the sunsets are dreamy in the Maldives, a must-do experience, but if you would also like to have a video of it you have to either book the water villa or have dinner at the Sunset bar.
When it comes to food and fun I can say there’s just one candidate to the throne: the resort island. There usually are various meal options you can opt for. You can choose to have only the breakfast, half board – which includes breakfast and dinner, full board – which includes all three meals or all-inclusive – all three meals and a drinks package.
Probably there are also other levels of Ultra mega super all-inclusive where the caviar’s black is darker and the champagne is finer, but each resort has its own policy when it comes to this. Since we’re not great eaters and could easily resist without any drinks (although back then we didn’t know about the shark and the triggerfish) we choose the half-board option.
Often times while on vacation we have a rich breakfast and only stop for dinner, and we also didn’t want to be tied up to some fixed lunchtimes when maybe we would rather stay on the beach instead. The food on resort islands is usually more, better and diverse.
A huge open bar takes up one or two halls at mealtime and your stomach is not enough for how many things you would like to try. Especially after the disappointment from the local island, we were eager to try almost everything we could see in there, but we refrained from filling our plates too much and still managed to taste everything we wanted.
It was a really hard choice since there were lots of options for salads, side dishes, meat options, seafood, fish, freshly cooked dishes, fruit, sweets and cheese platters. You cannot leave that area hungry or unsatisfied no matter how picky you might be.
The entertainment could be found every night at an open-air terrace and could mean either a stand-up comedy show, a live concert or a movie night. Probably there were more options but we didn’t stay there long enough to see them all. And we usually have decided on having a long walk around the island every evening because we felt that this sort of life may make us unfit for the clothes we came dressed with.
The spa day was a beautiful dream. On the island, there was something that we thought was a building, but it was, in fact, a garden set aside only for the spa. Here, around several small pools, jacuzzi and saunas, one can find some small houses, arranged in a feng-shui kind of way, that are the massage rooms.
Right after entering this area you are transported into a parallel universe where you have to relax even more than you already did. And this is a very difficult task after you spend a whole week on the island, doing nothing, and your only concern is to not get a sunburn or to not find a coral piece in the sand.
But yes, a massage with some bio coconut oil and a spa day can get you to the maximum amount of relaxation a person can experience in a lifetime. We spent half a day there and then we took an island tour during the daytime; we even found some gardens that made us think the salads were probably grown here, so they were really, really fresh.
The Maldives, Hulhumale
Coming back from paradise to reality
After these three days of soaking the sun on the beach without any concerns, we had to go to Hulhumale, the airport island. Taking into account that our flight back was scheduled for 8 AM we decided to spend the night before on this island, in a hotel with the transfer included, to not feel like we would depend on the weather that morning.
Before we left Bandos we went to the souvenir shop for a short visit and we discovered there IS a way to take sand and shells out from the Maldives: we could have bought some special small bottles from this shop and to fill them ourselves, but we didn’t know this beforehand.
Yes, it is forbidden to take anything from the Maldives, to protect the beaches, which is completely understandable. Or so we thought until we discovered this option and we understood that it’s forbidden to do it for free, but quite OK if you pay for it.
Hulhumale, while not being the capital city of the Maldives, is still a very crowded island. The whole country, in fact, is on both extremes, some islands having a few hundreds of inhabitants, some having only tourists and some having almost all people that work on resort islands. Because let’s face it, it is surely not easy to live here.
I know we all go on vacations in gorgeous places and we think we would like to live there, in paradise, but I honestly think I wouldn’t like having to take a one or two hour boat trip if I need some medical attention, I wouldn’t like to work in the tourism industry whether I like it or not and I wouldn’t like not being able to leave the island in the middle of the night if I wanted to.
Well, on this local island it is still easier to live. Here we could see schools, universities, hospitals, markets, parks and all kinds of stores. Yes, in here maybe it’s not so bad to live, knowing that there’s a paradise island one or two hours away by boat.
Still, these islands are usually very crowded and the traffic is awful, and also most of the time the beaches don’t look like the ones on the resort islands and are sometimes very dirty. Because in fact the Maldives is not very well optimized for waste disposal.
These are still some pretty small islands and it’s really hard to optimize the small surface they have in hand. On the first local island we received bottled water, and we received these plastic bottles every day, even if we said we had our Chilly bottle with us for this exact reason, to lower our plastic footprint. They didn’t care, so we had no option but to move drinkable water from one bottle to the other for six days.
In Bandos, we received daily two glass bottles of water, and the water honestly tasted better than the one kept in plastic, and it was specified on the package that it was perfectly drinkable water but the fact that it was glass allowed them to keep these islands plastic-free.
On the local islands, though we could see areas of the beach where one could find garbage, most of it brought in by the sea, but not all of it. I am deeply sorry to say this, but it seemed to me they’re taking very good care of the beaches where the tourists go just to make a good impression on them.
Otherwise, on the local beaches and the more crowded islands, it seems they don’t respect themselves that much. And I find this sad. These are people that deserve respect and they deserve the same treatment as the tourists get, they deserve to be respected in their country and to enjoy the same benefits as the people coming to visit.
On this island, we couldn’t do too many things. We just had a walk, had some dinner at a pretty good Indian restaurant, and then went back to the hotel. On the way there we found a massage place and my husband thought we could go in to relax before the Edelweiss flight we had the next day.
We went in, although I felt the place is shady. Here we enjoyed a nice, relaxing massage, but not even remotely close to the one we had in Bandos. Well, it also was at half the price. But we didn’t like the fact that the two ladies decided to start talking to each other at some point and didn’t stop until we were finished.
They were somehow canceling all the good work they were doing with the massage itself. Of course, since we’re two losers, we were embarrassed to tell them we were bothered about this, so I’m complaining in here to feel like I did something about it. From the massage place, we went straight home to finish preparing and to check-in for the flight.
Coming back from the Maldives
And because the flight was by Swiss, operated by Edelweiss and the ticketing system was from Lufthansa, of course, our check-in process was a total mess. The randomly allocated seats were, presumably, on the emergency row, which would have meant more legroom. I would have wanted a window seat, but my husband said he would rather have more legroom than a window seat.
Still, when I was looking into the seat configuration for the aircraft, it seemed like we were in the middle row, right behind the emergency row. I even searched on an independent website about this and it looked the same. I really wanted the window seats, and I could have reserved those because they were still available, but I gave up and just hoped for the best.
Of course, when we got on the plane, our seats were right behind the emergency row, so we were in the middle row and with no legroom. Great! Well, lesson learned for the future. The ten hours felt more no matter how many movies I watched.
Even I felt the numbness, but I was looking at other tall men around that looked more in pain that I did. The way back from Zurich to Basel didn’t feel even remotely as adventurous as when we left. I mostly answered “Happy birthday!” messages I had gathered while in airplane mode.
Everyone was saying they’re sorry I spent my birthday on a plane. Yeah, it’s really bad to spend your birthday coming back after a ten days vacation in the Maldives and with a job offer to die for! Happy birthday to me!