Happy Belated New Years 2014 and Happy Year of the Horse everyone!
Over winter break we went to the Republic of Maldives in the Indian Ocean. The Maldives is a republic that consists of over 200 Atolls (coral islands), and many resorts that each occupy one atoll. It is an ever increasingly popular destination for those seeking a secluded, relaxing beach vacation, and there is also a notion that in a few decades the whole nation will be underwater. Furthermore it is not too far from most Asian metropolitan areas, only 4.5 hours by flight from Singapore. The Maldives is a place where the photos in magazines and online sites seem photoshopped and simply surreal. But I must say once you get there, you realize the waters and views are actually even more beautiful than the photos you see, which adds to how magical and surreal it is.
We flew Singapore Airlines from Taipei to Singapore and stayed a night at the Crowne Plaza Changi Airport, a very nice airport hotel, before departing to Male on Singapore’s 3xweekly daytime flight to Male (they fly a daily night time arrival). We then took the daytime return flight and also stayed a night in Singapore.
With well over 100 resorts to choose from in the Maldives, it can be quite a tough decision. Our choices came down to a couple of resorts, but we settled for Six Senses Laamu because it is the only hotel in the Laamu Atoll, it is far away from the capital city of Male, during this peak holiday season their minimum night stay was 5 nights instead of 7-10 like in many other resorts, and because we had never stayed at a Six Senses but have heard many great things about it.
It turns out we made the right choice.
Upon arrival at Male International Airport we were greeted by Six Senses staff and guided to the domestic terminal and to the domestic lounge where we waited for our 45 minute flight on Maldivian Airlines to Kadhoo Airport in Laamu Atoll. From there we were again greeted by hotel staff who took us to the docks to board “Sense of Speed,” for a 20 minute speedboat ride to the resort. On the boat we were given “down to earth” bags to put our shoes in and from then on we were pretty much barefoot during out entire 6 day stay. While this may seem like a tiring journey, it was well worth it, there are no other resorts or tourists around and you wont hear or see planes, except on occasion the 1-2 domestic arrivals, and the coral and marine life is unspoiled. The local culture is also great here and the Maldivian people are very friendly.
At the arrival jetty we were greeted by our GEM, Guest Experience Maker, as well as one of the directors of guest relations. The GEM is responsible for helping you plan your trip, getting your activities sorted and meeting your needs and expectations. Check in was done in the villa. We booked 3 nights in a Laamu Water Villa and 2 nights in an Ocean Beach Villa hoping to experience both types of rooms, but they then offered to extend our water villa stay at no extra costs and we went for it but still toured the beach villas and realized we made a good call, the overwater villas are the way to go and is a highlight of the Maldivian resort experience. We were at the end of Jetty B, and it turned out to be amazing. The rooms are very spacious, well designed and eco-friendly. The bathroom is outdoors and features a see-through fiberglass bathtub, which was really cool and also interesting to bathe in to say the least. The toilet is in a separate small room and features a glass panel to watch marine life. The sinks come in old-school leather suitcases. The deck features a sunken glass bottom dining area, lounge chairs, and hammocks. There is also a small rooftop balcony with a small couch. Each guest also gets a bicycle and with lammu villas, they get personalized wooden name plates. Climbing down the stairs from the bathroom or deck you enter the crystal clear turquoise waters of the lagoon, and right outside our two villas was a vibrant patch of coral teeming with life.
The resort has 97 villas in total, but only 82 or so are available because a few of the beach villas have become uninhabitable due to the erosion, but you don’t really notice the erosion unless you purposely go take a look or only near the main area, where sandbags are used to prevent erosion. This sounds like a lot of villas compared to many other Maldivian resorts, and it is, but there was not a single time that I felt the resort was too crowded or loud and it still felt secluded and away from civilization.
Six Senses Laamu features the largest overwater structure in the Maldives, this is where the lobby, gift shop, dive center, wine cellar, library, and 3 of the 4 main restaurants are located. Its also where you’ll find the Chill Bar and Ice Cream bar (featuring over 40 flavors of homemade ice creams and sorbets, all for free!). The other main restaurant is Leaf which features a fun wooden rope suspension bridge as its main entryway, here is also where you’ll find the organic garden and chili table (outdoor dining table). Six Senses has made a name for itself through its spa, and the spa facility in Laamu is quite impressive, it features Cocoons as treatment rooms, some face the lagoon others face the forest, but they are these rounded structures made from twigs and branches and blend into the forest. The spa treatments are pricey but worth it, the massages are quite good and its worth to just get a massage in those cocoons, luckily with the Laamu Villa we each got a complimentary 30 minute massage, some of us decided to get full treatments because it was so nice. We got from place to place using our bikes or walking, you can also always call for a buggy service.
We soon realized that coming to the Maldives is not just about relaxing on the beach and not doing anything, though one can certainly opt to do that too. Six Senses Laamu offers a menu of daily activities for all ages, some are free others require a fee, there is also the Ocean Dimensions Dive and Water Sports centers, a kids club as well as many daily excursions to choose from. There is also an outdoor jungle cinema! We did lots of diving with Ocean Dimensions and it was amazing, the marine life here is quite diverse and exciting and the dive center, owned by Petra and Marc, is great with very friendly and professional instructors and staff. We went to a few dive sites, the best of which was Manta Point even though we were not lucky enough to catch a Manta Ray, though I swear I saw a shadow of one in the distance. We saw many large fish, corals, puffer fish, lion fish, spotted a few sea turtles and rays, and even a very rare ornate ghost pipefish, which according one instructor, David, is worth 15 Manta Ray sightings. Another great dive experience was the night dive, which was eerie but spectacular with many species of fish and coral you dont get to see during the day! And at night both in the water and on the beach, if you agitate the water or kick the sand you’ll see sparkles which are the bioluminescent plankton, which are the same things that make up the famous pictures of glow in the dark beaches! We didnt get to see them on such a large scale, but they were nonetheless surreal.
We also took a day trip to visit local islands and get a glimpse of local culture and life in the Maldives, one that mainly sustains itself through fishing and tourism. Its great that hotels like Six Senses offers these excursions, because too often people think of the Maldives as simply a beach vacation destination and forget that it is actually a country. The locals are very welcoming and from what I gathered don’t seem too worried about the prospects that their nation may be underwater in a few decades, they seem to believe strongly in living and embracing the present. It was also interesting to learn that the government subsidizes a lot of the infrastructure in the Maldives and tourism actually does help the local population. In school, the kids learn English and Dhievhi (the Maldivian language) as well as computer skills, most kids finish primary and secondary school. Many Maldivians do go to college, all of which are located in Male. Six Senses has also been a big part of the Laamu Atoll’s community, they recently upgraded and revamped the local school.
Maldivian food is spicy! We got to taste a bit of it at the resort, they featured a small Maldivian buffet which sadly didnt attract many guests, perhaps it was too spicy? But the food has a lot of Indian and Sri Lankan influences, so lots of curries and plenty of spices and herbs. It was good but personally I couldnt handle too much of the hotness.
The resort’s other foods were quite good. At first we were not impressed with the food but on our second meal onwards the food were all consistent and tasty. We opted to book the Full Board dine around option which means, included in our rate, we were able to eat any restaurant in the hotel as well as book any special dining experiences within the island, drinks however were not included. This turned out to be great because we looked at the pricetag for an average three course dinner and it was $98++ per person! Furthermore we did do some special dining experiences all of which were $100+++ per person. The best lunch is at Leaf which serves Vietnamese food for lunch. We did three special dining experiences, two included in our rate. We did the sunken sand table dinner on the beach which was very unique and a must do experience in the Maldives, though our’s was cut short due to a tropical storm, it was during this meal that I had the best dish at Laamu, the cod. We also did dinner at the candle lit outdoor wooden Chili Table in the garden which featured a 5 course meal, each containing various local spices grown in the resort’s organic garden, it made for a flavorful, zesty and spicy meal but it was one of the best meals we had. Our third special dining experience was a private sandbank BBQ on the resort’s private sandbank, this was a special experience dining under the stars all by ourselves. One of the best food features is the Ice Cream bar featuring 40 flavors of homemade ice cream and sorbets, and complimentary for all guests! The breakfast is decent, the best part being the crepe station and the wide selection of fresh squeezed juices and smoothies, the Laamu Villas also come with a Nespresso machine which I thought was pretty nifty and the coffee tasted great in the morning. Six Senses Laamu also has a very good wine selection and a very cool wine cellar called Altitude, we enjoyed a very tasty bottle of white wine and champagne (on NYE) during our stay. The New Year’s Eve sandbank sunset cocktail party was lots of fun, I learned some Maldivian dance moves from a traditional fisherman’s dance, which locals do to bid good luck and a good catch to departing fisherman, from the local dancers who were performing and the resort created a surreal setup on the sandbank, the NYE buffet was fairly good but it was the setup that was impressive, lining the entirety of the overwater structure; and the countdown was anti-climatic (no fireworks, a bad DJ and Auld Lang Syne was never played, I just think this is such a classic NYE song!), but hey, dancing on the beach under the stars with a fine glass of champagne still made it a memorable and fun New Year’s Eve. (NOTE: I had since gotten a response from the GM to my tripadvisor review with a great explanation for lack of fireworks and Auld Lang Syne, and it is because 1) Environmental protection and sustainability that they do not want to put on fireworks, 2) they are focused on preserving and respecting local culture and thus did not play more global NYE songs, nonetheless this doesnt change the fact that the DJ was not good). During our excursion we also had a picnic on an uninhabited island, which was a very nice experience and the picnic food was fresh and good.
I dont want to give away too much here, but really, the Maldives is heaven on Earth, there are countless different types of hotels and resorts that cater to traveler of all styles and in all price ranges too, though in general even the cheapest hotel in the Maldives is expensive, its just a very expensive country, we spent $12 for one meal at the airport McDonald’s (expensive for airport standards too!). That being said, I think its worth stretching one’s budget for. We really enjoyed our time in the Maldives, from the resort to the diving and food and excursions.
I highly recommend Six Senses Laamu, it is away from everything and thus feels very secluded, the whole resort feels warm, down to earth, minimalist and organic. It is rustic luxury at its best. The staff here are all very friendly and greet you with smiles and genuinely want you to enjoy yourself. The resort attracts a lot of families, which adds to the friendly and calm atmosphere. It doesnt feel pretentious at all. The diving and snorkeling is great and there is a wide range of other activities to choose from. The villas are amazing and quite different from the more generic ones most other Maldivian resorts feature.
Like I said, everything here is expensive especially the alcohol, and even in the dine around option drinks were not included BUT DO NOT attempt to bring in your own bottles of alcohol from the duty free! The Republic of Maldives is an Islamic country and bringing alcohol into the country is illegal and will be confiscated at customs and you will be penalized with a fee, not sure if it gets any more severe than this. Furthermore, it is advisable to always cover up a bit (as in dont walk around half naked or only in your bikini) when in public areas such as restaurants out of respect for many of the local staff, and if you opt to do a local excursion, definitely cover up knees and shoulders, even if your guide says its ok, do it.
There is a local currency, but you dont really need to exchange any money at all, all resorts price things in USD and the airport and resorts all accept USD, you may want to exchange a little bit for tipping or for your excursion to local communities, but even then you can tip in USD.
If possible, I’d try to get in during the day because its less tiring but also if you take a boat, seaplane or domestic flight you can gaze at amazing views of the country and its countless atolls and blue waters. Singapore Airlines, Bangkok Air, Air Asia X and Korean Air it seems are the only Asian airlines that have daytime flights into Male the rest such as Cathay Pacific, Malaysia Airlines arrive at night. For those flying from Europe or The Americas, there are many charter airlines that fly as well as a couple of major airlines like British Airways but one can also fly through the Middle East on Qatar, Emirates or Etihad, there are also countless flights to India and Sri Lanka.
Last but not least, have fun! Relax, and soak in the sun, after all the Maldivian tourism tagline is: The Sunny Side of Life.
Six Senses Laamu
Also check out this brilliant video I found on youtube, shot entirely at Six Senses Laamu and its neighboring local islands:
The above video truly captures the feeling and vibes one gets during their Six Senses Laamu stay.
Embrace the sunny side of life,