November 26 – 30, 2011
When thinking of honeymoon destinations, faraway islands always seem to come to mind first. In the months leading to my wedding, one of the most frequently asked question was “Where are you going on your honeymoon?” And invariably the question would lead to some eager suggestions. I had expected different places to be mentioned, but eight times out of ten it was Maldives, the island nation in the Indian Ocean famous for its atolls and resorts.
My personal feeling about Maldives is it has a persuasive marketing campaign. There are thousands of islands being threatened by global warming, yet Maldives seems better able to capture the public imagination than most others. It is often labeled as paradise on earth, but Maldives has its share of environmental and political problems – just like anywhere else (Note: the coup happened in February 2012, more than two months after our honeymoon).
So why did we choose Maldives? Because at the end I have to admit it offers the best mix of exoticism, convenience, relaxation and attractiveness.
It is never cheap to visit Maldives. The package I found was reasonable, and the biggest catch was we would fly into Malé (capital of Maldives) on a direct flight from Hong Kong with a new charter airline called Mega Maldives (founded in 2010 with a fleet size of two planes). The alternative was Singapore Airlines with a transfer in Singapore. In retrospect, it was a mistake and I should have gone with Singapore Airlines. Mega Maldives is to airlines what Taco Bell is to restaurants – it is a joke in every sense of the word.
Leave aside the airline’s obvious shortcomings in every tangible categories like punctuality, service, food and aircraft maintenance, my biggest complaint is the crew’s utter inability to maintain order during flight. Even though the flight took off from Hong Kong, 99% of its passengers were middle-aged Mainland Chinese on package tours. After the in-flight meal, sensing the lack of enforcement from the crew, my fellow passengers started to do whatever the hell they felt like. The noise decibel level soon matched the jet engine’s – it was like a social gathering event where everyone got up and held conversations with others. To be trapped in a enclosed object 30,000 ft above ground with nonstop high-pitch chatter was an excruciating way to begin any trip.
Once landed in Malé we were transferred to a speedboat. The boat ride took around half an hour in the very choppy water and we arrived the island just past midnight.
(I am not sure if the island itself should be addressed as just Ihuru or along with the resort name Angsana, so I will just go with the full name)
Angsana Ihuru looks like the prototypical Maldivian atoll – an oval shaped island of white sand that can be circled on foot in twenty minutes. The resort’s famous house reef, underneath the turquoise blue water, surrounds the island. Along the beach is a ring of villas (with two grades – Deluxe and Regular Beachfront Villas, around forty in total) while most of the facilities such as reception, bar, restaurant and scuba rental are clustered around the pier at the northeast side of the island. The island’s centre are the spa area and staff residence. A five-minute boat ride links Angsana Ihuru to its sister resort Banyan Tree, which is much larger and hosts a stingray feeding at 17:00 daily.
The clientele was predominantly middle-aged European couples, with the rest mostly being Chinese. The atmosphere was quiet and laid back and everyone blended in well.
With a name like “Deluxe Beachfront Villa”, I did have a little bit of expectation. Unfortunately it turned out to be a dark and sultry beach cabin that’s wholly mediocre. There’re a king-size bed, a sofa, a countertop acting as a mini-bar and a set of nightstands. The combination light-green walls with red wall lamps looked like a design of someone who was absolutely high. Normally it wouldn’t matter much as we would be at the beach, but the stormy weather forced us indoor for much of the first two days, especially since the resort didn’t have any recreational facility.
While the room was at least functional, the same cannot be said about the half-open washroom. The roof only extended up to the toilet and sink which left the shower area unsheltered. That might be a good idea for some places where fabulous weather is a guarantee, but Maldives is not such a place. Standing under heavy rain and strong wind to take my shower was not something I had expected on my honeymoon.
What’s above the water is secondary – in Maldives it is what’s in the turquoise blue water that counts. And on this front Angsana Ihuru rates highly. I had read that Angsana Ihuru has one of the better house reefs in the country, but to actually swim among schools of fish and above a sprawling bed of coral reef was a remarkable experience.
I floated along the current at the outer rim of the reef and took photos of whatever happened to be nearby like way back when I got my first digital camera. The battery of my Olympus TG-610 lasted about 1.5 hour which gave me time to cover no more than 1/8 of the reef. I couldn’t wait to get back in the water the moment I got ashore.
With the exception of the reception desk, the service level of the other departments was solid. The crew at the restaurant was especially friendly and I had learned a small deal of local custom from them, such as the reason why no Maldivian female worked at Angsana Ihuru was because most local women have to care for their children as they generally get married at a young age.
But the reception was a complete failure. Its staff’s approach was unprofessionally casual and gave me an impression that their priority was to joke around instead of providing a quality service to their customers. They lost track on my booking, never once acknowledged that we were on our honeymoon, delayed our complimentary champagne till the last day and were generally unresponsive to our requests.
Finally, this is not really a complaint – just to state the fact. One of the few inconvenience of staying at a small resort is that many of the less popular excursions will never happen because of a lack of participants. I had inquired about three different excursions – a seaplane tour, a visit to an inhabited island and a dolphin watching boat trip. Only the dolphin trip generated enough interest.
The 3.5 hour overpriced boat ride to the South Malé Atoll cost $85 per person, but it was very exciting to see dolphins in the wild, especially when a school of at least a dozen showed up. There were so many of them, and each swam so fast, just deciding which one to focus on made me felt a little disoriented.
Our full board package included three meals at the only restaurant on the island. Breakfast and lunch were served as buffet. Dinner rotated between buffet and set dinner.
Given our resort’s size, the buffet’s choices were expectedly limited. For breakfast there were stations of salad, bread, cereal, six hot dishes and omelette. Lunch and dinner were mostly similar – with a swap of the omelette to a grill station and an additional dessert section.
The first day’s buffets were passable, but when many of the same offerings showed up on the trays again the next day, our appetite sank like a dropped stone in water. Luckily, the set dinner that was served every other night was more enticing.
In short – the buffets were forgettable, though the kitchen redeemed itself on the set dinners.
With our budget I think Maldives is not a very ideal honeymoon destination. What we paid was far from enough for the best resorts in Maldives, although we could stay at some of the very best in cheaper destinations like Thailand or Indonesia. Or maybe even Palau.
The snorkeling alone justifies a trip to the Maldives. Though for me personally a trip on a special occasion in the future like our five-year anniversary should allow us to enjoy a more luxurious stay that’s more in line with the general expectation of a honeymoon.