Kihine and welcome to the Maldives, a chain of islands spread across 750 kilometres off the southern tip of India. The mere mention of the name Maldives (pronounced Mawl-deevz) conjures up many pictures in the minds of people; a string of pearl-like islands scattered across a flawless ocean, resorts built over the water, holidays of the rich and famous and endless sunny weather. Like most stereotypes, there is certainly truth there, but there is a lot more to this obscure country that most people don’t know about.
Arriving at Kuala Lumpur airport, we were asked is we had booked business class tickets. We looked at each other, unsure if we should say anything! Breaking the awkward silence, the check-in clerk explained that because the flight had been overbooked in economy class, we had been automatically upgraded. Kewl! Malaysia Airlines’ business class is known as being among the world’s best, and we were certainly up for the challenge! From pre-take off guava juice to the constant enquiries about how comfortable I was, I could not fault the service of our delightful flight attendant Natasha. Flying to the Maldives is as good as a domestic flight from KL (4 hours), so a smaller aircraft, a 160 seat 737, is used. Business class was not the flat-bed experience of long haul international flights, but the extra wide seats, fine food and generous leg-room were definitely appreciated (I couldn’t reach the wall in front of me!!).
We landed in the capital of the Maldives, Malé (pronounced mar-leh) late on Sunday night. The island of Malé is tiny, just 2 kms by 1 km, and it’s one of the world’s smallest capital cities. It is home to 103,000 people, making it one of the most densely populated places on earth. Space is at a premium, and streets are intentionally built narrow so as not to waste land. A large jet needs a runway of 3 or 4 kms to land on, which makes the airport larger than the capital city itself – as a result, Malé International Airport is built on another island, Hulhulé, 2 kms away. After clearing customs we walked out to the arrivals and met by a representative from the Malé hotel where we would spend the night. They led us out to the water taxi rank for the transfer to the capital city. The transfer would prove a very short but eventful journey; within ten minutes we were welcomed to Malé, given bottled water and a cool refresher towel, nearly collided with another boat, returned to dock to pick up some late arrivals, headed out again, battened down the hatches for a brief rain shower and then landed at the dock in the capital. We were then put into a people mover for the 25 metre drive to the hotel. I kid you not. Exhausted, we slept immediately.
Waking in Malé the next morning, we realised a couple of things; firstly, the final 12 hours of Sunday were extraordinary for many reasons. Secondly, our hotel room was the size of a shoebox. Thirdly, our hotel was full of clueless tourists who had just arrived on a direct flight from Guangzhou. By 10am, we had arrived back at the airport by a less-exciting water taxi ride. We were then shuttled around to the lagoon on the other side of the airport where seaplanes depart. Once there, we were ushered to the registration lounge for our resort where we were told that the aircraft was fully loaded, and that as a result, our luggage would arrive at the resort by speedboat an hour later. Soon, we boarded our 19-seat seaplane to Fesdu Island in Ari Atoll, a 30 minute flight east of the capital. Maldivian Air Taxi’s seaplanes are chartered out to resorts or wealthy individuals according to their requirements. As you’ve probably figured by now, the Maldives is not the place for anyone who has unresolved issues concerning boats or small planes, however for the Maldives, it is the only way to link a nation where some of the largest islands aren’t big enough to fit an airport – and bridges would be simply unsightly and impractical. The national airline, Maldivian, operates a fleet of propeller-driven Dash 8s to the five solid runways in the country, and couple of jets to a handful of destinations around the southern subcontinent.
After half an hour scooting just below the clouds, over the aqua blue reefs and rings of pure white sandy islands, we touched down at Fesdu Island on idyllic Ari Atoll…
Check back next time to read all about the beautiful W Maldives Resort and Spa on Fesdu Island!
Culture shock: 2/10
Language difficulty: 2/10
Quality of food: 7/10
Physical demand: 3/10
Advice and warnings
The Maldives is a very safe place, and even on the rare occasions when there has been political turmoil, it has seldom affected foreign visitors. The island resorts are like enclaves of the Western world, but on regular islands like Malé, the Maldives is a fairly conservative Muslim nation, and you should take care not to offend – that means modest dress, no alcohol and no eating or drinking outdoors during Ramadan. It is illegal to bring alcohol into the Maldives.
All nationalities (including Pakistanis and Indians) can get a free, 30-day tourist visa on arrival at the airport in Malé, provided they show evidence of a return flight ticket and either a hotel booking, or funds to sustain them for the duration of their stay. For more information, see Maldives Department of Immigration and Emigration.
Getting there and around
From Australia, Singapore Airlines flies to Malé daily via Singapore;
from Melbourne (from $1,396 return)
from Sydney (from $1,413 return)
From Lahore, Emirates offers the best connections via Dubai, from PKR 102,134 return.
From Chennai, Maldivian flies directly to Malé from INR 14,184 return.
We stayed at the Traders Hotel, Malé’s top hotel.