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Maldives – A Handy Guide to your next Holiday in Paradise

Maldives
Darren: “Let’s go Maldives.”
“Huh? Where did you say again?” I thought I heard wrongly. Frugal Darren rarely travels further than a 4-hour flight radius for a personal holiday.
“Let’s explore Maldives! I just read an article about it on the plane. Let’s go next month.”
What an impulse trip. Whoopee!
But that also meant I only had less than 3 weeks to plan a trip to paradise. Normal people usually dream about it a lifetime. and take up to a year to plan. Not fair. Nut I ain’t gonna let this opportunity slip, and so I embarked on countless nights of trip research (if I were that hardworking in school, I could have been President).

Getting to Maldives proved to be a little more complex than just buying a ticket and booking a resort, so I thought I would share some handy tips on visiting Maldives gleaned from my recent experience. Did I enjoy my impromptu trip? I most certainly did. In fact, I am dreaming of going back again :)

Maldives

Arriving at the capital (and largest) city of Maldives, Male

WHERE IS MALDIVES?
The Maldives is an island nation in the Indian Ocean–Arabian Sea area, consisting of a double chain of twenty-six atolls (giant ringlike coral formations), about 700 kilometres south-west of Sri Lanka and 400 kilometres south-west of India. It is also the smallest Asian country in both population and land area.

WHEN TO GO?
The best time to visit Maldives is from January to April when the sky is blue and sea most calm (read: peak season = high accommodation rate). Low season begins in May when the weather is getting unpredictable (may have short bursts of rain on some days but accommodation is cheaper), and the monsoon season arrives in November to December (best avoided; high chance of rainy days). Most people still go during Christmas and the New Year, as well as to get married no matter what season.

WHERE TO STAY?
Most people will stay on one of the resort islands. For the budget-conscious and more adventurous, you can opt to stay in a guesthouse on one of the local islands to experience the local culture. More on accommodation later in this post.

CULTURE
Maldivians are almost entirely Sunni Muslim and conservative. Muslim laws are enforced on the local islands, meaning no alcohol, no bikinis, no see-through clothing, and shoulders and knees have to be covered at all times (both men & women). These laws are not enforced on resort islands. All’s not lost for those staying on a local island – you can arrange with your accommodation for trips to nearby uninhabited islands where bikinis are allowed. For men, we know you want to show your well-toned pecs, but do bring a few tops with sleeves as your resort may have a minimum dress code (always check unless you don’t mind donning your partner’s floral shawl during meal times).

LANGUAGE
The official and common language is Dhivehi, an Indo-European language. The staff at your resort will have a basic understanding of English. If you are going to the local islands, most of the people may not understand English. Here’s some useful phrases if you wish to sound friendly.
Hello                         Assalaamu alaikum
How are you?          Kihineh?
Thank you               Shukuriyaa
Excuse me               Ma-aaf kurey
Good morning       Bajaveri hendhune
Goodbye                  Dhanee

CURRENCY
Maldivian rufiyaa is the currency used, but US dollar is widely accepted and used at the resorts. The exchange rate is about USD1 to 15.82 rufiyaa. You should bring with you US dollars. There is no need to change a lot of money since you will probably be at the resort most of the time and all expenses will be charged to your room. Do bring small change (UDS1/USD5 bills) as you will be expected to tip (you can change with the resort reception).

SOUVENIRS
Do note that the exporting of sand, seashells or coral is forbidden so do not buy these items. You will be able to buy all the corals and shells you want from the shops (some may even offer you ‘certificates’), but most likely you will be stopped at customs and slapped a hefty fine. And apparently, picking shells or sand from the beach is not allowed too. One way you can get some of these back is buying from the souvenir shops at the airport – I got a pretty, decorated glass bottle of sand with tiny seashells in it for USD5.

Maldives

Maldives is well-served by a international network of airlines which land at Malé/Nasir Ibrahim International Airport.

TRANSFERS
You will need a transfer to your accommodation upon arrival. Note that this will have to be arranged beforehand when booking your accommodation. Depending on the distance from Malé (where the airport is located) to your accommodation, you can transfer via a local ferry (cheapest), speedboat (about USD150; around 10 to 60mins depending on the location of your accommodation) or seaplane (can cost up to USD350 for a return trip; 30mins to 1hr). You may not have a choice if your accommodation is far away – a seaplane may be the only choice (which turned out to be abut the same price as our air ticket there lol!). Hence you should take this into consideration when choosing where to stay. The nearer you stay to Male, the cheaper your transfer. However, it will be noisier with so many planes and boats moving around. The atolls further away are more peaceful and tend to have better reefs as well.

Maldives

The airport is served by several food establishments, so you can spend your time here while waiting for your boat transfer (the seaplane terminal is 5mins away via a free shuttle). We found the food here to be a little expensive – a set meal at Burger King costs about USD10. Afterall, it’s Maldives.

Maldives

You will be greeted by a representative from your resort when you exit customs. They will guide you with your transfer. Otherwise, just approach their counter located just in front. There are about 60 counters, so do ask your resort which counter number they are at.

Maldives

A speedboat in the foreground and local ferry in the background
Speedboat transfers operate 24 hours a day. Note local ferries have different operating schedules to different atolls, so do check before you book your flight. There are no ferries operating on Fridays so avoid planning any transfers on that day. If there’s no choice, private boat charters are available but expensive. Otherwise enquire if a local fishing boat is going your way and get a cheap ride with the tunas.

Maldives

Checking in for our seaplane ride
Note you are allowed 20kg check-in and 5kg handcarry. You will be required to put your haversacks at the back of the seaplane when you board as seating area is cramped. Note that the seaplane fare is payable on the day of arrival at your resort.

Maldives

Seaplanes only operate during daylight from 6:00AM to 4:30PM daily.
You must arrive in Malé before 3:30PM in order to catch the seaplane. Otherwise, you will need to stay overnight at Malé. Book accommodation near the airport to minimize travel time. Alternatively, take the opportunity to explore Malé city. One day is enough.Schedules vary depending on the arrival and departure of all guests on a particular day, and can only be confirmed around 6:00PM the day before (do confirm with your resort the seaplane timing for your transfer back to Malé). We waited about 1.5hours at the resort airport lounge before our seaplane arrived.

Maldives

That’s our pilot in berms – and barefooted! :D

Maldives

The seaplane is TINY. It can seat only 15 guests and is super cramped. So do not bring gigantic luggage. And it only had a small fan blowing, no air-conditioning. Did I mention this ride cost me USD330?

Maldives

The awesome view out there made me forget the minor discomfort within.

Seaplane taking off!

Maldives

A little orientation of Maldives
Maldives is made up of an archipelago of 1,192 tiny islands grouped into 26 coral atolls. They include resort islands (one resort per island), inhabited islands (local communities and guesthouses) and uninhabited islands.Up until recently, tourists were not allowed to step foot on the local islands. Now cheap accommodation options in the form of guesthouses have sprung up on them. Do check up on reviews if you are intending to stay in one. It may not be quite the Maldives you expect. The local Maldivians are generally poor, so the local islands are in stark contrast to luxurious resorts we have been sold on. More importantly, what I also gathered from research is the coral reef along the South Ari atoll tends to be better, so that was where I headed to.

Maldives

Out of the 1,192 islands, only 200 of them are inhabited, plus 80 islands with tourist resorts.

Maldives

A resort island
It’s important to stay in a relatively decent resort cos’:
– you’ll be stuck on the resort the whole time so it should offer many activities to sufficiently occupy you
– you will have to eat all your meals there so it better be yummy with variety
– lastly, you have come all the way here to be treated as king & queen for your dream holiday, not nightmare or L.O.S.T.

Maldives

The seaplane will land on a small wooden platform in the middle of the sea

Maldives

Your resort will send a boat to pick you up from the seaplane. This transfer takes only 5 to 10mins.

Maldives

And finally – we reach PARADISE! Hello home for the week :)

SO WHICH ACCOMMODATION OPTION?
These are a few options offered by the resorts. Do check with your particular resort for their specific accommodation offerings.
– Room only
No meals included, pay as you consume. A la carte prices are scarily high, so unless you are going for a Survivor-style holiday and bring your own instant noodles and dry supplies, I would recommend not getting this option. Even bottled water is chargeable at about USD3 per bottle. And no mom-and-pop store nor 7-Eleven on the island yar…No coconuts for you to pluck too.
– Half-board
Breakfast and dinner provided. Lunch on your own. Meals at resorts are usually buffet style, so if you foresee skipping lunch or are going for many day cruises where lunch is provided, you can select this option.
– Full-board

Breakfast, lunch and dinner provided.
– All Inclusive (AI)
Breakfast, lunch and dinner provided; in addition to a selection of alcohol and in-room bar drinks. Some resorts will also include some activities such as 1 sunset cruise, snorkelling/windsurfing/tennis lessons in the AI package. Ours came with a small bottle of champagne too. If you are not into alcohol, the full-board option may be a more cost-efficient option for you. Compare the difference in cost, and the amount of water/drinks you are likely to consume to decide which option works better for you.

TYPES OF ROOMS
Essentially there are two types of room on any resort:
– Beach Villa (Usually one-storey bungalow facing the sea with 2 personal deckchairs in front. Some resorts have double-storey terraces)
– Water Villa (This, is what most people dream of – the bungalow built over water, where a staircase from the balcony leads you to the school of fish swimming just below. And naturally the most expensive option)
– Garden Villa (Some resorts may have this option which is located in the middle of the island with no view)

MANDATORY BED TAX
All accommodation charge a bed tax of USD8 per person per night, regardless of age. You may be glad to know this bed tax is used to fund education for the Maldivians. Also to note is your expenses are subject to a 10% service charge plus 8% GST. Check if all these taxes are already included in your daily room rate, or separately payable.

HOW LONG TO STAY?
Some resorts have a minimum booking period of about 6 days (you can book via Agoda to get around this). I would recommend spending a minimum of 4 days to a maximum of 2 weeks. Beyond that you will get jaded with too much goodness. By Day 5, we started categorising resort guests by the number of days they have stayed from observing them (Day 1 – visibly excited, everything also take picture; Day 2 – Sporting a light tan and going on snorkelling excursions; Day 3 – Lazing by the beach; Day 4 – Sporting a sunburn; Day 5 – Hiding in the bar with a drink in hand; Day 6 – Hiding in the jacuzzi in the room; and not even a manta ray can excite them. And the list goes on…just for fun lol.) We stayed a comfortable 6 days, enough to experience most of what’s available, yet yearn to come back for more.

WHERE TO STAY?
This really depends on your budget. I would say you need a bare minimum of USD1,200 to USD1,500 per pax, to whatever amount you can afford. For a budget stay, consider guesthouses in one of the local islands. Maafushi is one of the islands pretty popular with budget travellers due to its proximity to Male and availability of ferries daily (USD3 per way). There are also dive centres at some of the guesthouses which also provide trips to other islands. Other popular local islands include Guraidhoo, Himmafushi, Dhangethi, Rasdhoo and Thulusdhoo. But bear in mind these look nothing like the Maldives ads you see.

For us, we opted to stay at a resort for our first experience. Reviews from Tripadvisor say that the South Ari atoll have better reefs, so we opted for this area when searching for accommodation.

SOME RECOMMENDED RESORTS
The criteria we used while searching for accommodation included:
– Availability of a good house reef (being able to snorkel along the beach means you do not have to spend on daily boat trips out to snorkel)
– Variety of food (we didn’t think we could survive a week eating the same thing 3 times a day)
– Availability of activities on the resort and trips offered (unless all you want to do is make babies)
– Accommodation options available (we tried to opt for full board or all inclusive so we don’t get a shock when the bill comes)
– Price (but of course!)
You may have different criteria, so do check out forums such as Tripadvisor to help you decide on your ultimate resort.

I have listed some of the Maldives accommodation with relatively positive reviews for your reference:
Narnia Maldives (budget)
Reethi Beach (budget)
Ras Reef Guest House (budget)
Kaani Beach Hotel (budget)
Vilamendhoo Island Resort (mid-range, and where we chose)
Veligandu Island Resort (mid-range)
LUX* Maldives (mid-range)
Kuredu Island Resort (mid-range)
Kuramathi Island Resort (mid-range)
Lily Beach Resort (luxury)
Diamonds Athuruga Beach & Water Villas (luxury)
Constance Moofushi (luxury)
Conrad Maldives Rangali Island Resort (luxury)
Jumeirah Dhevanafushi Resort (luxury)
Six Senses Laamu (luxury)
Milaidhoo Island (ultimate luxury)
Taj Exotica Resort & Spa (ultimate luxury)
One&Only Reethi Rah (ultimate luxury)
Cocoa Island by COMO (ultimate luxury)
Gili Lankanfushi (ultimate luxury – they have a chocolate cave!)
– If you want to see more of Maldives, why don’t you consider a cruise? Check for cruises on the Liveaboard Association of Maldives website. Some cruise operators you can consider include The Four Seasons Explorer, Maldives Dive Travel, Voyages Maldives and Maldives Cruise Guide.

If you have stayed in any of the above resorts or have one to recommend, do drop me a note, I would love to hear from you! Hope this has been useful for your Maldives holiday, or at least inspire you to plan for your next vacation to paradise ;)

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Gaya Island Resort – Finding Zen at the Spa Village

Gaya Island Resort - Spa Village

The urbanites in us found much-needed zen and pampering during our vacation at Gaya Island Resort’s Spa Village

Set amidst lush mangroves, Gaya Island Resort Spa Village is a tranquil hideaway surrounded by the island’s flora and fauna. Their spa treatments take inspiration from the ancient healing practices of Sabah’s indigenous people, from specialised rice scrubs of the Kadazandusun, to the age-old practices of the Bajau sea nomads, using only fresh local ingredients. I was looking forward to some much-needed pampering during our vacation to restore balance to our battered bodies & stressed minds.

Gaya Island Resort - Spa Village

Entering the sanctuary

Gaya Island Resort - Spa Village

The Spa Village is set amidst mangroves in the jungle (read: mozzies; get citronella spray from the staff). You can get your foot massage done at one of the pavilions built on stilts, and who knows what exotic fauna may just fly past during your treatment.

Gaya Island Resort - Spa Village

No guesses who couldn’t wait to be pampered from head to toe

Gaya Island Resort - Spa Village

I love the high ceiling and open concept of the waiting area. I could sit here and just dream the day away.

Gaya Island Resort - Spa Village

The lovely green pottery at the retail area caught my eye.

Gaya Island Resort - Spa Village

We were served an extremely delicious welcome drink of lime, pineapple & guava juice with dashes of chilli, ginger and star anise. We were told it’s excellent for digestion and detoxifying the body. It was so good I attempted to re-create this at home.

Gaya Island Resort - Spa Village

Being a resort spa, the environment was tranquil, and the abundance of space made the experience more exclusive.

Gaya Island Resort - Spa Village

Nosing our way through different scents
Before our treatments, we met Irene our scent artist for the Sabah Scent Adventures to learn more about essential oils, their benefits and custom blended our own scents which would be used during our treatment. What a unique treat!

Gaya Island Resort - Spa Village

Smelling our way around
We were asked to select 3 favourite scents from the numerous bottles which would then be blended together with a base oil made from rice to create our very own personal scent. The scent artist could also tell you a bit about your character from the essential oils that you chose.

Gaya Island Resort - Spa Village

Parfum de Spunktitude was hence born.
My personal scent consisted of Ylang Ylang, Geranium, Ginger and Lavender. It was supposed to be only 3 scents, but I persuaded my way through to include 4 scents. Afterall, multi-faceted is what Spunktitude is about. :)

Gaya Island Resort - Spa Village

I love my scent! And no, it definitely didn’t smell anything like BO.

Gaya Island Resort - Spa Village

The studio where we had our Scent Adventure is also used for yoga and meditation sessions. I think it looks darn good for power naps as well lol.

Gaya Island Resort - Spa Village

Receiving a warm welcome from my very friendly therapist Angela as I entered my treatment room
We booked the 2-hour Aki Nabalu massage which was inspired by Mount Kinabalu’s botanical biodiversity, comprising a foot scrub, body steaming with a warm herbal ginger blend followed by a deep tissue massage.

Gaya Island Resort - Spa Village

Thrilled at the sight of a floral foot soak

Gaya Island Resort - Spa Village

Angela explaining the ingredients used for the foot scrub
Her gentle disposition put me much at ease and I could feel the tension draining out of my feet.

Gaya Island Resort - Spa Village

I felt like a steamed giant grouper cooked in ginger. Add some spring onion and I was ready to be served on the dinner table. Or massage bed in this case.
Basically, I sat on a wooden bench, got zipped up and sweat like a pig. It was so hot that I had difficulty making it through the 15-minute treatment. But the detoxifying and fat-melting was worth the effort. In fact, it felt so good I contemplated buying a steamer to use at home.

Gaya Island Resort - Spa Village

Apart from spa treatments, the Spa Village also holds free yoga sessions for all guests on alternate mornings at 7.45am. As class size is kept at an intimate number, it would be best to check the schedule and book in advance with the reception.

Gaya Island Resort - Spa Village

Streeeeeetchhhhhh

Gaya Island Resort - Spa Village

Just as I savoured the welcome drink, the hot pandan/ginger tea served at the end of our visit spiced me up to enjoy the rest of my awesome vacation
It was an enjoyable experience at the Spa Village, and with a plethora of activities from spa treatments, scent classes to yoga to choose from, it’s a must-visit during your stay at the resort.

More on Gaya Island Resort:
Gaya Island Resort – Romancing Sunset
Gaya Island – Private Paradise at Tavajun Bay
Chasing Nature at Gaya Island Resort


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Gaya Island Resort – Romancing Sunset

Sunset Cruise at Gaya Island Resort

At a loss for words. For once.

Sunset Cruise at Gaya Island Resort

Best way to take in Sabah’s breathtaking natural scenes?
Go on board the Lumba-Lumba & catch the best sunset of a lifetime

One of the most memorable experiences Darren & I had at Gaya Island Resort was on board a yatch. No resort getaway would be complete without a romantic sunset cruise, so I determinedly pestered him to go on one. Our ‘ dream carriage’ came in the form of a private 64-foot Princess yacht, Lumba-Lumba (even the name sounds so whimsical!).

Sunset Cruise at Gaya Island Resort

Big bright smiles in anticipation of a gorgeous sunset

Sunset Cruise at Gaya Island Resort

We had a majestic view of sunrise over Mount Kinabalu from the resort, so we had to go around the island to view the equally spectacular sunset just behind the hill. Doesn’t the resort look like a natural sanctuary nestled amongst the lush greenery?

Sunset Cruise at Gaya Island Resort

Interior of the Lumba-Lumba outfitted by Louis Vuitton
Melissa, seen in the photo, was ever-so-friendly and kindly showed us around this mini palace. It was so well-equipped it could pass off as a real living room!

Sunset Cruise at Gaya Island Resort

Can you think of anything more romantic than lying on your bed and gazing at the stars with a loved one? *swoon*
Lumba-Lumba has a total of 4 cabins that can accommodate 8 guests. The main suite comes with an attached bathroom and skylight for stargazing.

Sunset Cruise at Gaya Island Resort

Welcome to my living room! For 5 minutes. Duh.
It was so comfortable and cool I was reluctant to peel myself off the couch.

Sunset Cruise at Gaya Island Resort

Eagerly moving towards the golden sun
This was one of the rare times I forgot all about freckles and embraced the sunshine in front of me

Sunset Cruise at Gaya Island Resort

Greek God basking in the sun
Who says you can’t have your cake and eat it? What a sight for sore eyes, what a treat! ;)

Sunset Cruise at Gaya Island Resort

Meanwhile I attempted to masquerade as the figurehead maiden found on the ship’s bow
Lucky the boat didn’t tip forward from severe weight imbalance.

Sunset Cruise at Gaya Island Resort

Panoramic view of the horizon
Going on the sunset cruise is definitely one of the best ways to take in Sabah’s natural wonders, from the majestic Mount Kinabalu, untouched lush rainforests and the great expanse of the South China Sea. No words can do enough justice to the ethereal experience.

Sunset Cruise at Gaya Island Resort

Speechless. Brilliant. Jaw-dropping.

Sunset Cruise at Gaya Island Resort

Perfect setting for honeymooners
This intimate scene of a sweet pair of Australian newlyweds admiring the opulent sunset looked so surreal.

Sunset Cruise at Gaya Island Resort

The sun transitioned into a warmer hue as it prepared to bow out for the day. And what cute cloud formations!

Sunset Cruise at Gaya Island Resort

Choose to admire the sunset on the upper deck if you prefer shade, or like us – laze on the deck and feel the breeze caress our faces. And cam-whore.
Free flow of drinks (wine, soft drinks) and nuts to nibble are served throughout the 1.5hour cruise. The sunset cruise is offered only on Tuesdays and Fridays, and strictly takes up to 12 guests at a time, so do book early with the concierge. It’s worth the RM250 per pax.
For an even more indulgent experience, you can charter the entire yacht for a private dinner and do some star gazing. Or negotiate with the owner to book it overnight and start procreating for the newly weds *wink*

Sunset Cruise at Gaya Island Resort

The sun gets playful with peeka-boo!

Sunset Cruise at Gaya Island Resort

As the sun hid behind the fluffy clouds, it looked as if a magical kingdom had materialised right before our eyes. I half-expected a dragon to fly out of it any time.

Sunset Cruise at Gaya Island Resort

What a dramatic sky. Nature’s canvas was so opulent it’s quite impossible to take a bad photo.

Sunset Cruise at Gaya Island Resort

Transitioning into hues of pink and purple

Sunset Cruise at Gaya Island Resort

Dusk finally set in, and it was time to head back to the resort. I felt like I had just been to a theatrical performance, where the stage was the vast horizon and the sun the lead dancer, keeping me transfixed with every minute that passed.

Sunset Cruise at Gaya Island Resort

Definitely a day to remember for a long time to come
It was a short 1.5 hours, but to us it felt like eternity cos’ we simply lost track of time, wanting to prolong every moment. The sunset was just indescribable; it was so mesmerizing we could not take our eyes off it, just like a ravishing beauty. Its ever-changing hues and appearance kept us anticipating for more, ooh-ing & ahhh-ing by the minute. If only a man would describe me in the same way, I would die a very happy dame. Damn.

More on Gaya Island Resort:
Chasing Nature at Gaya Island Resort
Gaya Island – Private Paradise at Tavajun Bay
Gaya Island Resort – Finding Zen at the Spa Village