So, it’s my third full day in the Maldives. And one of the most interesting things about going to the Maldives is the reactions you get when you’re telling people you’re going to the Maldives. Here they are, ranked from most to least frequent, and with my own responses:
- “Maldives! Oh em gee, you’re so lucky – that’s my dream destination!” – Well, in principle I recognize that I am lucky, but mostly I’m just dead inside. How I wish I could feel the kind of joy that you seem to feel – even vicariously! Please weep for me.
- “Maldives! You need to send me pictures!” – Well, maybe later…
- “Maldives! Isn’t that, like, where movie stars go?” – Well, yeah but not only, not anymore…
- “Maldives? Where’s that?” – Well, basically south of India…
- “Maldives! You must be rich!” – Well, not exactly, because…
In the last few years the Maldivian government has moved beyond the ultra-deluxe private island resort market and begun allowing tourist development on local islands. It’s still not a cheap place to travel – the logistics of providing anything close to western amenities in a remote archipelago of tiny islands remain daunting. And this is still a country that emphatically does not cater to the 21-year old Party Hostel Banana Pancake Gap Year Finding-Yourself Party Party Party Party Party Party demographic (a group for which I clearly have the utmost affection). So, if you can’t afford the debauchery of the private islands, where apparently anything goes; if hate alcohol and nightlife as much as I do, and love being on a traditional island where strict Islamic values prevail; and if don’t mind skimping on some frills like formal transportation, here’s how you can survive, if not thrive, in the Maldives on a Bloggerbels Cheapo budget:
- Pick an island that’s big enough to have a few local food options – Those tourist restaurants can be scary expensive. (Or, the same prices as in Canada, which is basically the same thing.)
- Pick an island with enough beaches that you don’t need to get on a boat everytime you want to go for a swim.(I chose the agricultural island of Thoddoo – one of the “biggest” islands in the country at about 3 kilometres across – for both of those reasons. Also, because they’re known for growing delicious papayas! Also, because I hoped it was far enough from the airport to not yet be totally inundated with mass tourism – but I only partially succeeded on the last point…)
- Instead of taking a speedboat like all sane people do, ride the much slower midnight fruit transport ferry from the capital of Male. Actually, after waiting for a while at an incredibly dodgy pier, one of the boatmen informed me that the boat was in fact leaving at 5 AM, and that I should really sleep on board until then so that nobody robs me. After mulling over whether I should accept a strange man’s invitation onto an unlit boat, I finally decided to be touched by his concern. However, I still had considerable difficulty hopping onto a gently swaying, fairly tall fruit transport without the benefit of a ladder. (Visions of my laptop falling into the Indian ocean!) Eventually I got onboard, had a surprisingly comfortable sleep on a floor mat as the boat rocked back and forth, woke up both refreshed and alive, and finally made it to the island by 10:30 AM.
- Go to a resort’s Facebook page and engage in an endlessly drawn-out Messenger conversation to get a better-than-listed deal on a room. I managed to snag an air-conditioned room with breakfast included for one week at $300 US, cash. Unfortunately, this is a very good deal for Maldives. And very importantly, and unusually, the hotel also has a public kitchen!
- Breakfast: Free hotel breakfast, but not until after going to the beach to buy fresh fish from a fisherman.Lunch: Cook attempted Maldivian fish curry with rice in the shared kitchen. Ingredients: Curry powder, coconut milk, onions, garlic, chillies. With most vegetables costing more than fish in this land-starved, marine life-rich country, you’d better really love eating fish… And I do!Dinner: A whole lot of tasty snacks and hot black tea at the local tea houses, which are exclusively patronized by men, most of whom seem to be Bangladeshi workers. (Although if you’re a woman, hopefully you won’t get anything worse than a whole lot of attention if you do go… I understand that they crack down hard on crimes against tourists here.) Even the various samosas and curry puffs are filled with fish – and I ain’t complaining!
- Of course, the worst way to save money in Maldives is to not go anywhere. The local beach is nice, but you do need to shell out a few USD to visit deserted islands, swim with the manta rays, and all that stuff – That is, after all, largely the purpose of being here.
Oh, and I almost forgot – how is it? Well, the beaches on Thoddoo would be considered very good, but not the very best, by the standards of the Philippines – a country which is, needless to say, much cheaper to travel. I’ll reserve full judgment until I go on a boat tour, which will be in a few days. It’s quite possible that the Maldives still has the Philippines beat in the marine life department, and there’s only one way to find out. Either way, however, it’s definitely a pleasant place with a unique culture, and I love observing local life – I’m fascinated to see how people live in a place that is so remote and where land is so incredibly scarce. Local people are a bit hard to figure out, but I’m working on it – I enjoy seeing their reactions when I greet them on my walks, which range from friendly to bewildered to totally deadpan.
And did you think I was joking about not showing any pictures? Nope – It wouldn’t be fair to do that before my island-hopping trips.