The Eye-Catching Colors of Maafushi

There are two beaches in Maafushi. One is Bikini Beach for tourists, and the other is on the opposite side and a little rougher and frankly less beautiful. However, the sunset on that side can be very nice.

I have decided after my trip to Maldives that I will go to the beaches more often from now on.

In this post a few weeks back, I shared with you guys the real reason I had been beach-averse for the longest time was I didn’t know how to swim.

The other (less important) reason was I consider myself a pretty “voracious” traveler. I don’t get to travel as often as I want to, so whenever I visit a place I just want to see as much of it as possible. The thought of seeing nothing but ocean, lying on the beaches, reading and listening to music, and then dozing off day in day out is a tad scary to me. Everyday life is mundane enough, you know; I don’t want to be bored on my holidays 😀

But you know what? Seeing nothing but ocean and lying on the beaches reading, listening to music, and sleeping were exactly what I needed and essentially all I did day in day out for almost a week.

And it felt truly FANTASTIC.

The relax mode didn’t come to me naturally, though, because like most people I have been trained to always have something to do and think about so well that slowing down and staying present would feel weird. We all know slowing down is essential to our well-being yet how many of us can say with confidence that we know how to do it and do it frequently?

I now appreciate the beaches for that very reason. I’m forced to do things that are emotionally and mentally healthy. No laptop, no WiFi, no TV…just endless beautiful ocean in front of you and a copious amount of sunshine and breeze.

As I mentioned, I spent most of my time in Maafushi island and was very pleasantly surprised with its playful vibrancy, which reminded me of Europe. I haven’t been to many islands in Asia yet so I’m no authority, but all the places that I have visited in South East Asia pale in comparison when it comes to vivid color palettes.

Another part of Maafushi that I greatly appreciated is it knows how to throw a New Year’s Eve party. There was a open-air dance party for everyone on Dec 31st, followed by fireworks. When I and a Japanese friend of mine arrived, it was mostly just foreign visitors dancing. The locals were shy and just stood on the side watching and giggling and occasionally grooving to the music.

However, in the span of 30 minutes, something happened and they went in and started showing off their moves. Let me tell you this: some Maldivians are beasts on the dance floor 😀

Here’s a short Instagram video I made:

Now, allow me to show you guys the colors of Maafushi.

The person who decided on these colors must have a very sunny disposition, and I’m not complaining.

This legitimately is a good color combo.

So is this!

I’m no flower expert and so can’t tell what this is. But I know it looks delicate and beautiful.

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10 Practical Tips for Traveling the Maldives Independently

Honestly, this view has completed me in a way.

If you have ever shrugged when people talk about the Maldives and silently told yourself it really is not the kind of destination for you (or more correctly, your budget!), you’re not alone. I used to react similarly!

This is, after all, the place where resorts that cost hundreds to thousands of dollars per night are the norm. Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes honeymooned there. David Beckham and his entire family spent their Christmas holiday there. The list of filthy rich celebrities vacationing in this far-away Indian Ocean nation goes on and on.

Thus, it’s very normal to be intimidated.

However, after spending a week there last month, I realized Maldives is NOT as prohibitively expensive and impossible as people usually make it out to be.

There’s no denying that it’s more expensive than, say, the Philippines, Indonesia, or Thailand. But you still can have a hell of a good time on a budget, and I’m here to testify that what Maldives lacks in affordability it more than makes up in natural beauty.

Otherworldly, drop-dead gorgeous natural beauty.

In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s one of the most beautiful places you will ever see in your life in terms of beachside destinations.

The reasons Maldives is no longer exclusively catered to the upper echelon of visitors are that the government has permitted locals on inhabited islands to open guesthouses and hotels and that budget airlines like Tigerair and AirAsia have launched direct flights from Singapore, Bangkok, and Kuala Lumpur.

And I feel like the timing of my trip couldn’t have been any better. The country has been increasingly hospitable to budget travelers and there are more of them there than ever, but not to any extent that sends off negative vibes. I wouldn’t say that I had the most authentic, immersive experience, but I’m glad that I still got to observe and have conversations with local people and learn a thing or two about their lives.

The flip side of not that many young, independent travelers visiting Maldives yet is the dearth of travel information on the Internet. I personally prefer to read travel blogs to guidebooks when researching, and if you google you won’t find a lot of travel bloggers talk about this destination. However, the two excellent ones I used extensively pre-trip are Never Ending Footsteps (Lauren spent a few weeks in the country in 2014) and Expat of the World (Sarah taught English there for quite some time so she had some very interesting experiences and stories).

Before I offer some practical advice based on my experience, I want to share with you a breakdown of my expenses for your reference. I didn’t skimp or splurge, as it was a short vacation after more than 6 months straight of staying put and just working and I didn’t want to think too much. However, I did a quick comparison with other travelers, and our numbers appeared roughly the same.

  • Flight: $550 ($250 for Singapore <-> Maldives, and the rest was Vietnam <-> Singapore)
  • Hotel: $506/ 6 nights (it would have been $70 less if I hadn’t had to cancel a part of my trip)
  • Food: $130 (I didn’t have to pay for breakfasts; they were included in the hotels’ charges)
  • Activities (1 snorkeling day trip and 2 resort trips): $170
  • Transportation (ferries, speedboats, and taxis): $32

TOTAL: $1388/7 days

(compared to the $2-3,000 tour packages…yikes!)

My snorkeling trip in the middle of Indian Ocean wasn’t a very pleasant experience because of the rain (taken with iPhone)

*****

1. The most budget-friendly way to get in is to fly from somewhere in Asia

If you’re traveling around India or Sri Lanka, perfect. Flights from these two countries to Male (Maldives’ capital) are short and inexpensive and frequent. I met people who booked their tickets from Colombo, Sri Lanka ONE day in advance.

If you’re traveling around South East Asia or anywhere else like Korea or Japan, it’s still easy, though it will take longer and require some coordination.

Wherever you fly from, rest assured that the views from your airplane windows will be INSANE (taken with iPhone)

Like I mentioned, Tigerair and AirAsia have direct flights from Singapore and Kuala Lumpur several times per week. The round-trip ticket is around USD250 if you’re lucky. Your itinerary will look like this: Somewhere -> Singapore or Kuala Lumpur (you can always find cheap tickets on this route) -> Male.

For me, it was Hanoi-Singapore, Singapore-Male, all with Tigerair. I did have to stay overnight in Singapore on my way to and back from Maldives, but I didn’t mind. Changi airport makes spending a night in airport such a breeze with free WiFi, 24/7 cafes and restaurants and even places to rest. I also got to explore Singapore a little bit, so it was the best of both worlds.

The most delightful boarding pass of all time. OF ALL TIME, Y’ALL!!!

2. Local islands offer the most budget-friendly accommodations

This is surely a game-changer for both Maldives tourism and all of us, budget travelers. And it’s not just about costs because staying on local islands allows us to get a glimpse into daily Maldivian life, which is circumscribed, relaxing, peaceful and involves a lot of hanging out on the beaches and watching sunsets. I loved it and wouldn’t have traded the experience for resorts (I mean, I wouldn’t deny myself a night or two at a resort with over the water bungalows, but I wouldn’t spend my entire vacation. Too boring!)

Guesthouses and hotels on local islands usually cost USD 50-100 per night, depending on seasons and types of rooms. Very reasonable if you split it with your travel partner.

3. Have realistic expectations about Maafushi

There’s a score of inhabited islands in Maldives, but Maafushi is probably the most vibrant, easy to access, has great infrastructure, and offers a variety of excursions. It’s located in South Malé Atoll (an hour and a half from Malé by public ferry), with a population of less than 3,000. These days the island has more than 40 different guesthouses. I was even more impressed when I learned that it was heavily damaged in the 2004 tsunami. Talk about resilience!

Here’s the thing: Except for resort-goers, everyone and their mother will stay at Maafushi at one point or another. Thus, it’s been commercialized. Also, the beaches there are not the most pristine or heavenly, so adjust your expectations. Some of the reviews on the Internet are so negative, but let me tell you from my personal experience that those people can’t be satisfied and will complain no matter what.

Maafushi is clean and beautiful enough. Full stop.

Can you argue with this?

Or this?

I was in Maafushi for the most part and stayed at Summer Villa Guesthouse, which was affordable, clean, and friendly. I enthusiastically recommend!

Dramatic sunrise on Maafushi.

Some lesser-known islands include Gulhi (very quite and peaceful according to fellow travelers I talked to), Hulhumalé (an artificial island near Male; the reviews are mixed), and Fulidhoo (pretty remote. I went so I’ll talk about it in a separate post).

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These 10 Photos of the Maldives Will Make Your Jaw Drop

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We were greeted by this boat and this water when we approached Fulidhoo, one of the inhabited islands. I literally went out of control, snapping about 50 photos on both my DSLR and iPhone in the span of, like, 7 minutes.

It’s funny that just three months ago I was adamant that I wasn’t a beach person at all. Whenever I was asked whether I preferred to go the beaches, the answer was always a resounding NO. Growing up, my family rarely went on a beach vacation, so I didn’t develop an affinity for it. I also said I needed constant visual and auditory stimulation when traveling, and while beaches are beautiful, they wouldn’t be able to assault my all senses the way cities do.

I didn’t lie to people, but it wasn’t the real reason.

Back in September, I received a promotional email from Tigerair about special deals from Singapore to the Maldives. The round-trip fare was $250. I didn’t really know anything about the Maldives then other than they have beautiful beaches and are a dream honeymoon destination. However, the fare was too good to pass, so I booked my ticket and went on with my life. I even thought that if I had to cancel the trip because of work, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal.

And it almost became a self-fulfilling wish when a week before the departure date, I had a motorbike accident.

Fortunately, it wasn’t serious and I recovered in time. This view healed my body and soul completely and is currently my iPhone wallpaper.

Anyway, the real reason I was beach-averse for practically most of my life is that I didn’t know how to swim. For me, it was an awfully embarrassing thing to admit to. All the more so when it was entirely my fault. I didn’t have any traumatizing experience with water when I was a child and thus wasn’t naturally jumpy in the swimming pools like many people. And I already took two swimming courses in the past.

YET at the age of 25, I was still swimming-illiterate. And goodness knows swimming is an IMPORTANT life skill to have!

So, a month before my trip, I registered for a swimming course. Thanks to the combination of a competent instructor and me really wanting to overcome my past failures, I was able to swim (the breaststroke) in less than a week. I’m not a good swimmer yet, but now swimming has now become a part of my exercise routine.

It’s unquestionably one of the best things I did for myself in 2015.

Here is the truth: Knowing how to swim made a world of difference to my time in the Maldives. My experience was so, so much better because what I could do was no longer confined to sunbathing and watching sunsets, even though I did a hell lot of both. I was able to partake in fun, beach-exclusive activities like snorkeling, something I had never ever done before.

(Technically, you can go snorkeling without knowing how to swim. But if you know how to, you’ll be more relaxed and able to snorkel in deep water, which is where all the out-of-this-world amazing-ness is.)

Bottom line is it’s fine if you swim well but genuinely dislike the beaches. You don’t have to go if you don’t want to; we all have our preferences. But if you don’t enjoy the beaches because you don’t know how to swim or are not very good at it, just be honest with yourself and fix that issue. There’s no reason to let it hold you back 😉

I’m in the process of finishing up my epic post about things you need to know if you visit the Maldives independently and on budget. Before it goes live, I want to share with you 10 of the best photos I took during my time there. I guess we can call this post a teaser, but I hope you find it a visually pleasing teaser nonetheless.

The water really, really looks like this in real life. CRAZY!!!

With this photo, I want you to know that you could still potentially look tan and chill AF when you get old, just like these two Europeans 😀

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