Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Stunning Destination: The Maldives

WHITE-SAND BEACHES, WORLD-CLASS surf breaks, stunning reefs, diverse marine life, and a plethora of luxury resorts with drool-worthy overwater bungalows—the Maldives loom large in the popular imagination as a once-in-a-lifetime destination at the edge of the world.
Literally jaw dropping scenery, wake me up pls..
Being part of the 3rd world country made it close to impossible for setting foot on places such as The Maldives. Thanks to promo fares and the perseverance to make it all happen.

There is a gloomy side to this sunny destination, though. Prevailing climate change concerns posit that the country's low-lying atolls and their reefs might not be around for much longer due to rising sea levels. All that added a sense of urgency to my travels, and let it be a catalyst for your own plans as well.

Everyone of us is well aware that going to Maldives can really break your bank (my perception remained to be true even up until now) but this doesn't mean that you will limit your horizon because of this. I know what you're thinking, I get that same crazy reaction before and after my trip. Believe it or not, Maldives is only as expensive as you defined it to be.

I have decided to make a choice to realize that dream and tick one of the places I really wanted to see. What made it even more special, I did it on  my birthday. I will forever be grateful to my travel buddies (coolest gals I've ever met too)

The Maldives Crew (forever grateful to these bunch of coolits)
Nao, Boss Joel, Lora, Yours Truly, Simple

I know you will ask me, how did I get to Maldives. For PH folks, there are 3 cheaper options for us (that I knew). Either you fly to Male (Maldives) via Kuala Lumpur or Thailand (AirAsia) or Fly via Singapore (Scoot Air) both are budget friendly airlines that will take you to Paradise.

Tourism is relatively new to Maldives. The first resort opened in 1973 and for thirty years, the only way to visit as a tourist was via these expensive resorts. In 2009, the Maldivian Government allowed locals  to open their own guesthouses and restaurants to tourists. Now, tourist can visit and stay in local island they choose to. Suddenly, homestays, hotels, and guesthouses have started popping up everywhere!

It was a momentous shift in policy that finally allowed locals a piece of the economic tourist pie.

Here's how we did it.
Day 0 - Fly from Manila to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Day 1 - Stayed overnight to explore Kuala Lumpur and Fly out to Maldives
Day 2 - Arrival at 9PM at Velana Airport. Stayed Overnight in Hulhumale (this is the closest place to the airport. Don't get confused with Male City, the capital of Maldives as this is another island .
Day 3 - Overnight stay Fihalhohi Island Resort. This is the best option we have  (not really cheap as staying in private islands are really expensive).
Day 4 - Overnight Stay in Gulhi Island
Day 5 to 8 - 3 nights in Maafushi (most accessible and tourist friendly island)
Day 9 - Overnight Stay in Male City
Day 10 - Fly out of Maldives via Singapore to the Philippines

We originally planned to explore at least 1 north atoll island but the timing isn't good so we extended our stay in Maafushi.

How much?
Let's say, I got my tickets on promo rates. I booked my PH to KL for only P899 and then my KL to Male for only P2,900.  Just do the Math.  As for the rest of my companion since they got their flight tickets on later dates safest budget to get one way flights to Maldives starts at P12,000.00 give or take.

Finding Cheap Accommodation:

The first thing to note is that there aren’t any super cheap options for accommodation. You won’t find dorm rooms in the Maldives, or a crappy $5 a night bungalow on the beach like you would in Southeast Asia.
There are still plenty of budget guesthouse though and of good value. For $30-60 a night, you’ll receive a clean, modern, and spacious room with air conditioning, a hot shower, free breakfasts and reliable WiFi Connection. The rooms are seriously nice too.

Here's a list of hotels/guesthouses we stayed in Public Islands:
Hulhumale Island - UI Inn
Gulhi Island - Hibiscus Holidays
Maafushi Island - Sunrise Beach and Spa
Male City - Marble Hotel

Finding Cheap Transport:

The cheapest way to travel between the islands is using the local ferry. We spend no more than US$2 using the public ferry. There are also speedboats at US$25 crossing the public islands.  Avoid the seaplanes if you’re travelling on a budget — these will usually cost around $500 return for a 20 minute journey.

Finding Cheap Food: 

Food will set you back around $5-10 per meal, but with most guesthouses offering an enormous free breakfast, you can skip lunch to cut cost.  You can’t complain about spending $5 a day on food!

In general, the smaller the island, the less food options there are, and you’ll likely be eating at your guesthouse for most meals. In Gulhi, there were only three or four restaurants which serves pretty much the same food at the same rates.

For a busy island, such as Maafushi, there were plenty of food options. There are maybe a dozen restaurants on the island, all offering reasonably priced dinners. We paid around $5-10 a meal with 4-5 viand options — and lots of fish based meals!

This is the longest stay I had in a country. Typically, I would stay a max of 4 days, but of course, this is Maldives. This is a different story. Had I given longer time and more bucks to spend, I'd rather stay here for at least 2 weeks to get a feel of what the different islands has to offer. I'd love to explore the North Atolls but with the limited time I had, I maximized it. Explored several islands as much as I can. Splitting the nine day visit into several parts, some public and private islands.

The Happy Smile of Finally landing at Velana International Airport
We arrived at Velana Airport past 9 in the evening local time (Male is 3 hrs behind from PH). We arranged an airport transfer from the airport to hotel for $15 one way. There are also local buses that can take you to Hulhumale proper and would cost you at most $2.  Welcome drink was served while we are waiting for the staff to process our check in

Some of my companions preferred to rest while the three of us went out to have dinner. We grab a bite at the nearest restaurant that serves pasta and seafood and some local dishes and paired it with mocktails.
Mongolian & Nasi Goreng Sea Food
Maldives is a 100% Muslim country and alcoholic beverages in Public islands are prohibited. Time to get healthy, I guess.
Birthday Salubong with Nao & Boss Joel

I had my well deserved rest past 12 midnight. Hurray it's 23 (it's my Birthday)

Day 2:
The following day, we managed to wake up early and explored Hulhumale's Public Beach. It's some few meters walk from UI Inn. As the sun comes out of the Horizon, I can't help but smile and pinch myself. Hey, you are already in Maldives. 

We had a great view of the Sunrise and had some chitchat and photoshoot while talking about what's in store for us in the Private Island we are about to visit.

The kid will always be in us
Maybe considered a public beach but the fine sand can resemble the ones I have seen in Bantayan Island in Cebu.

Enjoying the first heat of the Sun in Maldives

We had a Maldivian Buffet Breakfast (c/o our Hotel) before leaving the island. It was exactly 8 in the morning when the car picked us up to go back to the airport and then take a speedboat to Fihalhohi Island Resort.

Separate Blog about the Private Island Resort Experience:
Life on the High End | The Fihalhohi Island Resort Experience

To Male or not to Male?
Male is the Capital City of Maldives. I finally visited Male as the concluding island for this trip. Of course, the trip to Maldives won't be complete without stepping into its major city.  After several days of being caressed by the passing sea breeze of the island life, stepping into its capital was literal jolt  back to reality.  The City is bustling with people that materialised around every possible quiet corner, filling even the smallest space with noise  and the air with heat.  Definitely not my cup of tea, but if you're a culture-vulture  and want to visit  a museum, then this island is recommended.