Monday, January 13, 2014

Backpacking Maldives (Or, What Have We Gotten Ourselves Into?!)

Oh the spell of eternal summer. Either we're under it or we seek it. Or it seeks us.

Like how a $0.6 ticket to Male presented itself to me one oddly cold October morning. Hubby and I purchased tickets in a heartbeat. And debate followed soon after. Shoestring budget or splurge?

Well, we kinda did both. Though our budget wasn't exactly shoestring-y by Southeast Asia standards and our splurge was limited to only one night in an entry level luxury resort. We dipped our toes in local communities. And wriggled our toes in the surrounding waters of a posh resort as well. The varied experiences helped us gain a well-grounded perception of what Maldives really is. Not just as a tourist destination, but as a nation.

Just outside our room, a slice of sandy heaven. Eriyadu Island Resort, North Male Atoll.
I say break that bank to see the two sides of a coin. But if your bank's already uhm, shattered into pieces, then our rough guide below might just help you spend wisely.

Fast Facts

Official Name: Republic of Maldives
Religion: Islam
Language: Maldivian Dhivehi
Country Code: +960
Maldives Standard Time: +5 hrs GMT
Electricity: 220V, Euro plug
When to go: September to May

Maldives For The Pinoy Backpacker

Philippine passport holders get free visa on arrival for 30 days. No form to fill out. No space-consuming visa sticker either. Immigration officers simply stamp passports upon arrival. No questions asked. No "Haalu kihineh?". 

It would be wise to have a copy of your flight out and proof of sufficient funds (either a confirmed hotel reservation or US$100 + $50 per day in cash). We were not asked for any of these.

Do not attempt to sneak in chicharon. Importing pork products into Maldives is forbidden. Alcohol too.

Booking Accommodations

So how cheap is cheap? Make that, how expensive is cheap?

According to the article Backpackers Invade Exclusive Island Paradise, "Since a reform under the country's first democratically-elected president Mohamed Nasheed in 2009, Maldivians have been allowed to open their own guesthouses on populated islands.". And Sundhara Palace guesthouse in capital city Male which opened September last year was cited as an example. It mentioned a $30 rate for a basic en-suite accommodation per night, but did not indicate if it's per head. Nor if it includes 10% service charge, $8 "bed tax" (charged per guest regardless of age) and Tourism Goods and Services Tax.

Yep, that's about 18% + $8 on top of the published rate on booking sites. And if you pay by credit card at the hotel, there's an additional 3.5%.

Our $70+ room in Hulhumalé Inn.
In Male and reclaimed island Hulhumalé (adjoining Hulhulé Island where Malé International Airport is located) standard price for a double room is $55-$70 exclusive of service charge and taxes. We stayed for two nights in Hulhumalé Inn ($70 a night for 2 adults and a child). It's near the beach, quite near the airport, and has WiFi!

If you intend to venture further for some snorkeling, you may want to stay on Maafushi Island, an inhabited island in South Male Atoll. Relatively near the capital. Its beach, though not extremely pretty, is natural unlike Male's and Hulhumalé's. Rooms in guesthouses start at $40-50 exclusive of service charge and taxes. 

Because we only paid about $4 for three Kuala Lumpur-Male roundtrip tickets (and because it was our anniversary), we agreed on splurging for a night at Eriyadu Island Resort in North Male Atoll. We paid $400 for a beachfront superior room (they won't let us stay in a standard room because we're three). Included taxes and all that crap plus brekkie and dinner. The resort's house reef is stunning! Worth every buck.


Currency: Rufiyaa (15.45 MVR = 1 USD). Dollar bills are widely accepted.

If you're gonna be whisked to a resort upon arrival, withdraw cash at the airport because ATMs are not available on the islands. And if the ATM doesn't dispense small bills, exchange your dollars. You'll need them for tips.

Getting Around

If your destination is the capital, from the airport you could simply walk out of the arrivals hall and head to the public ferry dock. Ferries to Male leave every 10-15 minutes at daytime. Costs $1 and takes 15-20 minutes. Roving cabs in Male's got a flag-down rate of $1.30, and there's a $0.3 charge per bag on top of that.

If you're going to Hulhumalé, there's a public bus which operates on a schedule. Costs only $1, however, only one item of luggage is allowed per person. Public bus can be found to the right of the international arrivals area. No roving cabs there, but your guesthouse could book a pickup service. The minivan will pool guests of various guesthouses at the arrivals so expect to wait.

 Airport's arrivals hall. Transfer desks of resorts.

Transfers to island resorts are arranged by the resorts themselves, and payment may be on top of the accommodation rate. Speedboat transfer's price, of course, depends on the distance. Sometimes on the number of people aboard. A guesthouse in Maafushi gave us a quote of $185 + tax (10% Service charge + 8% TGST) one way for three people. $300 + tax (10% Service charge + 8% TGST) for round trip.

I know, I know. Darn it. Transport's even pricier than the rooms.

There are a few islands that can be reached by passenger ferries. Only costs $2. Ferries service Maafushi (trip takes an hour and half). I believe there's only one trip per day though. And not available on a Friday. They depart/arrive at Villingili Ferry Terminal in Male. Which means if you're coming from the airport, you have to take the ferry from Hulhulé to Male first.

In case you're wondering, seaplane transfers could cost $200 + tax (10% Service charge + 8% TGST + your sanity and/or your soul) one way.

Dining Out

Male's got a great range of restaurants aimed at tourists. Prices aimed at tourists too. At the airport, Burger King (opened June 30 last year) sells meals at $10-$12. Neighbor Thai Express offers dishes that are also priced at $10 (their Pad Thai's pretty good).

 Waiter said it's made of fish and vegetable. Didn't know he was referring to a chili pepper. Paired this with sweet sticky rice. Lost my sense of taste for hours.

Local fast food can be bought from small cafes called hotaa  or sai hotaa (teashop). Hotaas serve Maldivian quick bites such as fried samosas (pastry with savory filling) which are locally called bajiyaa, gulha (ball-shaped dumplings made of tuna, flour, coconut, onion and chili), and roshi (Maldivian roti). Meals cost only $1-1.50. Some hotaas also serve unappetizing-but-cheap burgers. Diners share communal tables, so it's the ideal environment to have a chitchat with locals. Similar to India and Sri Lanka, hotaas are dominated by male customers.

Bottle of water is $.50-$1 in Male and Hulhumalé convenience stores.

Tip: Bring bottles of drinking water to resorts if taking speedboat/passenger ferry (luggage weight is checked before boarding seaplanes) cause a bottle of water in an island resort is $4-5!

Brekkie at Eriyadu Island Resort. Roshi (Maldivian roti) and mas riha (tuna curry)!

In island resorts, meals are usually served buffet style. In Eriyadu Island Resort where we stayed for a night, a la carte dishes are not offered in the restaurant. We were charged $30 per person for buffet lunch, a good deal for such resort. I ate tuna in every meal.

Maldivian curry dishes are tongue-numbing, and tastes similar to Sri Lankan curries.

Experiences You Spend Money On

Granting Male's few attractions (Hukuru Miskiiy, National Museum, Republic Square) don't interest you (and you got the spare dough), these might:

Whale Submarine 'dive' for non-divers. Designed and constructed in Karlsrhue, Germany. It can carry fifty passengers to a dive depth of 150 meters. Expensive at $85 for a 45-minute dive (sub is anchored, only goes up and down). But hey, you get to tell people you've ridden a sub! Great for families with kids. Dives in every hour and a half, day and night, starting 9:00 AM 'til 8:00 PM.

 If staying in an island resort, choose one that has a good "house reef" so you need not book a day trip to elsewhere. Eriyadu Island Resort's is spectacular.

Snorkeling and diving at Maafushi (they got three dive centers) in Kaafu Atoll. If you're interested to see stingrays and sharks, ask your hotel/guesthouse in Male for packages.

Night fishing trip — or shall I say fishing lesson — with a local fisherman. Also, whale and dolphin watching.

Day trip to the uninhabited island of Kuda Bandos. Ideal for a romantic picnic. I believe guesthouses in Male and Hulhumalé offer this for about $50 per head. Includes transfers and a bottle of water.

Hulhumalé Island's artificial beach is packed with locals in the afternoon.

Laze on Male's artificial beach. Or take the passenger ferry to Hulhumalé Island and laze on its own artifical beach. Important: Because there are communities on both islands, women are not allowed to wear bikinis on public beaches. Sorry ladies, no sexy selfies.

If you wish to consume alcohol, the only bar in Maldives that isn't on a safari boat or in an island resort can be found Hulhule Island Hotel on Hulhule Island where the airport is. If you're staying in Male, this means you must take the ferry for a tipple!

Getting Out

Passengers are not allowed inside the departure area until check in counter opens. Ticket is inspected by a guard at the entrance.

There's a left luggage service outside the arrivals area, $5 per bag a day.

Departure taxes are included in the ticket.

Spend your leftover rufiyaa on souvenirs at the airport. A fridge magnet though is $4-5.

Have you been? Share us some tips as well!


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January 13, 2014 at 7:30 PM

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marxtermind said...
January 13, 2014 at 11:12 PM

Na-excite naman ako bigla sa trip din namin.
Magdadala na ako ng 10 liters of drinking water!!! :) said...
January 13, 2014 at 11:45 PM

After reading the entire post, what stuck to me was the no chicharons allowed part. gasp. then to close it off with $4-5 for a fridge magnet? double gasp. but i'll still buy it anyway when we go there someday, my mom won't let me get inside the house from a trip without a ref magnet. Haha

Can you adopt me? :) - Gem

photocache said...
January 14, 2014 at 2:38 AM

island resorts are very expensive. if one really wants to go sometimes it's cheaper to go the package tour route, although i'm afraid that wouldn't go well with the backpacker crowd :)

Harry A. Balais said...
January 14, 2014 at 9:54 AM

Maldives on my mind. We should go there before the country is submerged. Read somewhere highest elevation is 2.6 meters. Great post as usual.

Sky Summer said...
January 14, 2014 at 10:36 AM

I guess we have to duplicate your idea. Stay in Hulhumale and stay overnight on luxury resort or day tour perhaps. We'd already ditch the idea of staying in Maafushi due to time constraint and your honest opinion of their beach. Can you say Hulhumale Public Beach is somewhere near _____(Phil Beach) as comparison? Thanks Gaye, We'll asking more on this. Advance apologies harhar.

Filipina Explorer said...
January 14, 2014 at 10:38 AM

I gasp at the sparkly water and white sand every time. Always wanted to go there myself but ya, figured it's kind of expensive by Pinoy standards. Maybe someday.

Micamyx|Senyorita said...
January 14, 2014 at 12:48 PM

Sumakit ulo ko dun sa transport fare computation haha :D hindi ako nakapag-book nung may glitch, pero nice to have an idea na rin about sa cost ng accommodation, transfers and food :D

Pupunta lang ako dyan kapag makiki-anniversary na rin sa special someone teehee

Alexandrea said...
January 14, 2014 at 5:23 PM

Booked a glitch ticket, too. And now sumasakit na ulo ko, di ko alam pano mag-strike ng balance between splurge and spend.

eeyandgreat said...
January 14, 2014 at 7:28 PM

how can one book a glitch ticket by the way? said...
January 14, 2014 at 8:34 PM

Thank you, Harry! said...
January 14, 2014 at 8:37 PM

Hulhumale Beach is actually kind of pretty. Sometimes not clean kasi hindi mindful ang locals. And yes, there are day trips to luxury resorts! Try one if you can throw in the extra dibs. Parang sayang kasi ang punta kung Male lang :( said...
January 14, 2014 at 8:40 PM

It's really something one must save up for. The view of the atolls from the plane... UHmazing! said...
January 14, 2014 at 8:41 PM

Hahaha! Nahilo ako sa math na pinaggagawa ko teh! said...
January 14, 2014 at 8:42 PM

Hahahaha! Lustay sa day trip to luxury resort! said...
January 14, 2014 at 8:42 PM

We just chanced upon it :)

catherine iblan said...
January 15, 2014 at 6:05 AM

Sayang ang binook ko na 4 return ticket (premium seats pa yung one-way dun)! Kung pwede lang sanang ipamigay! Di ko carrybells na mag stay lang sa isang island resort -with my mom actually scared on open water. Epic fail! </3 Pag mag *ahem* honeymoon na lang ako hahaha

Alexandrea said...
January 15, 2014 at 9:48 AM

By wild chance. I was looking for flights to Incheon on Air Asia when I saw their announcement that they were going to offer flights to Maldives. I checked the price out of curiosity. DIdn;t plan to book at all. But well, I couldn't say no to a 30-peso round trip Maldives ticket. :)

Alexandrea said...
January 15, 2014 at 9:50 AM

Speaking of views, saang side better umupo sa plane pag papunta, left or right? Pag pauwi naman, anong side? :)

Alexandrea said...
January 15, 2014 at 9:53 AM

Aaaah sayang! Four tickets pa man din! Have you thought of going alone? Based sa FB group, marami ka namang kasabay on the dates na na-book mo.

ian | going places said...
January 16, 2014 at 1:33 AM

Buti Pinoys are visa free... Pero kung worth it ang pricey accomodations at tour, ok lang at least you get to make memories that will last for a lifetime!

Tetoy Silvestre said...
January 16, 2014 at 11:18 PM

Maldives. Pangarap ko 'yan. Should have booked the ticket when I knew about the promotion. Thanks for sharing a very informative post, didn't know that service charge is that high in Maldives.

Stella S., Cebu Beaches said...
January 17, 2014 at 4:50 PM

Great photos and info. Will now be able to add specific notes to my bucket list entry "Maldivers". Thanks!

Dahlia Coggan said...
January 19, 2014 at 6:29 PM

Nice photos!

Dahlia Coggan said...
January 19, 2014 at 6:30 PM said...
January 20, 2014 at 10:31 PM

Thank you! said...
January 20, 2014 at 10:32 PM

Service charge is insane :( said...
January 20, 2014 at 10:32 PM

Yes! Maldives is definitely the kind of place people visit to celebrate something big.

lyn said...
February 26, 2014 at 7:47 AM

wow ! you can really explore Maldives through this pictures :)

Misa Goco said...
April 18, 2014 at 9:38 PM

Good day!tanong ko lng.. d naman masyadong strict ang embassy if traveling alone? said...
April 28, 2014 at 7:42 PM

Nope, they're not :) said...
April 28, 2014 at 7:42 PM

Thanks Dahlia!

Allane Milliane said...
May 2, 2014 at 5:52 AM

Great tips! The Maldives is really a paradise :) I just posted on my blog about my honeymoon in the Maldives.

Charisse Santos said...
May 15, 2014 at 10:40 AM

hi ask ko lng kung anong flight kinuha nyo from Philippines to Maldives? said...
May 27, 2014 at 11:55 AM

We did the Air Asia flight from Kuala Lumpur to Maldives, not sure if it's still offered.

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