Okay, this post has been delayed for two years – I was scrolling through my iPhotos and came across photos from our 2016 Maldives trip and decided to finally share our experiences. I wrote a post from the plane and said I would update, and never did #liar
Disclaimer: Most of the photos are of Ashraf because I am more click-happy than he is, and he didn’t complete his insta-husband training yet at that point.
Almost two years ago I was bored at work and started browsing AirAsia, just mengada to see what deals they had and to daydream about taking time off. For some reason, 45 minutes later I found myself whipping out my credit card and paying around RM1,500 for two round trip tickets to Male, Maldives for Ashraf and I.
He was due to start working at KNB in 3 weeks and I thought it would be nice for us to have a nice holiday before he started on his new adventure. Two weeks later we found ourselves at KLIA 2 boarding a red plane to Male.
I had done all the bookings (as most wives do!) and found Kaani Beach Hotel on Maafushi Island on Agoda. I also read them up on Have Halal Will Travel where they made the ‘Top 6 Budget Hotels’ list. Now though we did decide to do this trip on a whim, I was very much aware that this would be a budget trip, and we didn’t mind. It’s no underwater Muraka USD 50K per night hotel room, but for me what matters is having Ashraf there with me as we explore budget, bizarre, or wallet-breaking trips #semut
Very similar to our Hong Kong Trip, here are some tips and tricks I’d love to pass on to those who want to see Maldives with slightly less cash.
1. Know What Time You Are Arriving Male
If you are flying on a budget airline like AirAsia as we did, you will probably won’t have much choice on timing options as they have a few flights in and out each week from Kuala Lumpur to Male. We arrived Male (the capital of Maldives) roughly around 8PM. Unbeknownst to us, our hotel was on a little island 45 minutes and there was NO WAY we could get there at night because there are no more speedboat or ferry services after 7PM.
I really didn’t know what to do. Ashraf and I stood in the middle of the airport arrival hall arguing on what to do while other passengers got picked up by their fancy Hilton, Shangri-la and Club Med vans. We had already paid for the night at Kaani Beach Hotel, they were expecting us – how do we get there?! I found a free phone and called the hotel. They told us they would arrange someone from their ‘sister hotel’ in Male to pick us up from the ferry and we would stay at this sister hotel for the night and they’ll arrange a boat for us the next day.
Ashraf and I were still fuming with each other because I felt he always left decisions up to me, and he was mad that I was mad #typical. We paid USD 1 (each) for the ferry and apologised to each other on the 2 minute boat ride from the airport to Male’s main island.
We were picked up by a sketchy man who made us walk quite a distance via back alleyways and shortcuts till we reached an extremely dodgy hotel located in a back street. Ashraf and I looked at each other in disbelief as to how our holiday in beach paradise ended up with us bunking in a rundown in the sketchiest part of Male. Oh well, we wanted an adventure!
We slept fully clothed on a very questionable bed (I didn’t even dare touch the blanket) and counted down the hours to daylight! We finally made it to Kaani Beach the next morning after walking 20 minutes to another ferry dock where we paid USD 50 for safe passage via speedboat to Maafushi island!
Lesson: if you are too late to catch a speedboat or ferry upon arrival in Male, book an ACCEPTABLE hotel in Male ahead of time. The perk was we got to see a little bit of Male when we took a stroll at night after “checking in” to the dodgy sister hotel.
Though the islands and beaches are what Maldives is famous for, it was nice to see the rooftops of Male for a bit of authentic experience. These photos were taken the morning after we arrived while we had breakfast on the rooftop of the dodgy sister hotel.
2. Bring USD and Not Maldivian Rufiyaa
We spent several days scouring the many money changers in KL and none of them had Maldivian Ruifyaa – apparently it’s not a currency people typically look for. After doing some research, we decided to bring USD instead and that served us quite well.
You can use USD almost anywhere in Male and most of the prices in restaurants, hotels, etc are shown in USD too. We brought about USD 500 and that was enough for the two of us for five days.
We mostly spent it on food and activities, and even splurged on Burger King at the airport before our flight back to KL (we couldn’t wait to taste real food again!). I think our Burger King meal cost us about RM 200 – prices are quite inflated at tourist places, so don’t be fooled!
3. Snacks, snacks, snacks!
Be wary that you are not going to be staying at a 5-star hotel where they have Michelin chefs cooking for you in their seaside restaurants. Most budget hotels are on inhabited islands and their meal forte is probably an off-brand breakfast buffet. You’re going to be lucky if you get real Koko Krunch, if you know what I mean. I ate a lot of boiled eggs during those five days!
Some budget hotels do have restaurants that you can order meals from but Maldives isn’t really known for their food. You will probably have many western choices, and even then it won’t be the best. Islands usually have tuck shops around where you can buy snacks but they won’t be extremely well stocked and you may be paying a premium for them.
Just remember that you’re there to enjoy the beach and serenity of Maldives, not their food – so make sure you pack yourself food and snacks from home and you won’t have to live on chips, skittles and ginger ale like Ashraf and I did for 5 days.
4. Discover The Island
RESORTS are basically when an entire island is taken up by a hotel chain and made up to be almost like paradise on earth. This is where most of the Instagram people go. All those huts-on-stilts-over-the-water type resorts, you know, these ones: The 10 Best Maldives Resorts, Trip Advisor. The whole island is dedicated to your leisure and pleasure.
BUDGET HOTELS are smaller hotels or guesthouses, usually only 3-4 storeys high located on an island where local Maldivians live.We paid about RM 250 per night at Kaani Beach Hotel, which is really affordable! The perk of staying on a ‘real’ island is that you will probably see young children playing around in the water, a primary and high school, many houses and possibly even a prison. Yes, there was a prison on the same 1.2KM island where we stayed. Talk about adventure!
We really enjoyed the opportunity to stay within the local community, even though there were guesthouses and hotels littered everywhere. We took bike rides in the evenings and explored the entire island several times over. We saw young boys play football/soccer, little girls getting their hair braided at the entrance of their houses and women cooking dinner. It’s definitely something you wouldn’t see at a full fledged resort.
A part of me really appreciated the authentic experience. Maldives is an Islamic country, so there were many mosques on Maafushi too. You can hear the Azan loud and clear, and all the stores closed during prayers. The public beaches have strict rules and you are not allowed to be ‘immodest’. All tourists who want to wear their bikinis, swimsuits, tan in the nude, etc, are confined to the slice of beach owned by their hotel clearly marked by bamboo fences.
5. Explore The Ocean and It’s Okay To Get Sunburnt
We are more ‘city’ people when it comes to travel – I love exploring new places and doing tons of tours and activities. I do enjoy a rare beach holiday once in a while but laying but the pool or sea gets a bit boring after one day.
I highly recommend that you carve out one day for pure laziness by the ocean – swimming, reading, napping, reading a good book, etc, but then the rest of the time to load up on some really fun activities. This is what we did:
5a. Hop On An Island Excursion
Most hotels and guesthouses offer a one-day trip which includes snorkelling, lunch on a sandbank, a boat ride around the islands and a dolphin/turtle viewing. We signed up for a one of these trips and it cost us about USD 75 per person. Ashraf isn’t a swimmer so I was a bit nervous about chucking him in the ocean but I had nothing to worry about. He did great and snorkelled longer than I did. I just had a procedure done to my ear and couldn’t handle the pressure underwater so I didn’t last very long. But it was amazing to view all the fish and coral!
Lunch on the sandbank was also fun – it’s literally a 500M block of sand in the middle of the ocean with the clearest water you will ever see. We were given about an hour to eat and laze in the sun till we left to do another bout of snorkelling. The boat’s captain tried to look for dolphins but after 30 mins of searching we had to conclude the trip and I didn’t get the chance to see any dolphins – no rezeki.
Please note that you’re going to get super sunburnt! No amount of sunscreen (please bring sunscreen!) is going to help you. I am naturally quite tan, so I got even tanner, and my poor pale husband had the worst case of sunburn he had ever experienced. I really felt bad for him, but it was also quite cute seeing him all red – as if he was blushing profusely around me. Haha! Also bring soothing aloe vera gel, it’ll really help with cooling down your skin after a day out in the sun. We got through a whole tub for Ashraf, so kesian.
A huge waterproof beach bag is also useful for just throwing in your things after activities and a day out on the boat.
5b. Catch Fish At Night
I know that sounds kind of lame, but it’s honestly really fun. The captain took us and a Russian couple out on his boat about an hour before sunset and we got to enjoy watching the sun go down from a cute little boat in the middle of the sea.
We were also given “fishing wheel” – a plastic ring which act as a fishing rod, attached to an entire spool of fishing wire. I wasn’t too sure what to do with it but just did monkey see monkey do with the captain and I managed to catch five huge fish! I was pretty proud of myself, especially since Ashraf only caught three puny ones #anaknelayan
After some time out at sea, we rode back to Maafushi and were taken to a rooftop terrace where the kitchen staff took our (extremely) fresh fish and grilled it for us. They slathered on barbecue sauce, which really killed the taste ( plus I don’t really like BBQ sauce) but it was an experience nonetheless.
5c. Do Water Sports
On our second last day on Maafushi we decided to go all out and try out the water activities which were tempting us from Day One. There were so many kids playing around in the water, riding along on jet skis, and do tricks while wake boarding – we did not want to pass up on that sort of fun.
We walked 5 minutes away from our hotel to a little independent water sports hut that had a sign saying “Let’s Have Fun” on it – we were sold. We paid USD 100 for the two of us to ride jet skis and have some time knee boarding for a few hours. Our guide was Riya, an awesome Maldivian who lived on Maafushi with this five kids. He had these crazy cool blond dreadlocks and showed Ashraf how to ride the jet ski like a pro.
We had the best time on the water and really enjoyed playing around with the kids too because they helped Riya with the jet ski every time we came back to shore. I really recommend checking out ‘Active Watersports Maafushi‘ if you’re looking for some fun on the island. They can also take you out sailing, diving and on excursions.
5d. Make Time For Sunrises and Sunsets
You’re not supposed to sleep after Subuh anyway right?
The sunrises are slow and spectacular, just as they are in all the different parts of the world, but it’s extra special on Maafushi. We woke up extra early to find a spot on the beach and sit there quietly till we saw the sun on the horizon. The streaks of pink and white take my breath away every time.
Just as stunning are its sunsets. Kaani was located right on the beach so we had a perfect view of the sunset from our room, but it’s always nicer to sit in the sand and let it playfully sift through your hands as you watched the sun turn the sky orange.
We made sure to never miss a sunset and it was by far one of the best decisions we made during the trip. It sounds so simple, but you don’t realise how easy it is to have dusk slip by without you noticing!
6. Rest, Relax, Rejoice Life
Beach holidays are meant to be relaxing, so do exactly that. Don’t stress yourself out over getting Insta-worthy photos because having a cute ‘gram shouldn’t affect the level of happiness on your holiday – you’re on a freaking holiday! Enjoy it.
If you’re in Maldives with your partner, then I suggest you truly take the time to enjoy each other. Lock your phones away (not like Ashraf in this photo!), have meaningful conversations with each other, spend time doing things you like (bring a board game or cards! We really wished we did), take long walks on the beach.
Ashraf and I had the best time just reconnecting and laughing with each other. Yes, we’re married and we see each other everyday, but how much of that day is actually spent doing quality things to build our relationship stronger? That’s why we love taking time away together to explore, learn about new places (and each other) and go through a new experience with each other.
If you’re a newly married couple and you’re looking for a fun stress-free holiday on a budget, I really recommend Maldives. All in all we spent under RM 5,000 in total for the two of us. People think it has to be done the “right” way on a fancy 5-star resort, but who’s to say that that’s the right way? Any way is the right way as long as you have your partner with you and you’re willing to do and see something new together.
I hope you get to see Maldives soon. Inshallah I hope we can go back some time soon too. Maybe we’ll bump into you at the airport and we can share a speedboat together.