Things I (Still) Haven’t Seen in the Maldives #20

Havent Seen - acrylic table

Despite a double visit in the past year, the list of things I haven’t seen in the Maldives (yet) continues to compile. At least it is the shortest list I have ever posted which is maybe a sign that the resorts are introducing about everything one could imagine.

1.  Artistic Acrylic Table – We might not have the whole table (see photo table), but our son Chase bought us a gorgeous cutting board by this maker which evokes the Maldives ocean edge every time we every time we serve with it.

2.  Geode Slice Light Table – I highlighted the Maldives aesthetic of blue geodes as #1 in Haven’t Seen Yet #16, but Faithful Counter top have taken them to a new level incorporating a collection of them, AND lit from underneath.

3. Plankton Stars Blue Light Alert – This notion came to me during our recent visit to Sun Siyam Vilu Reef where we were delighted with seeing the “diamonds” of sparkling blue lights washing up on shore as a small bloom of bioluminescent plankton washed ashore. The word spread somewhat haphazardly through the resort and we only stumbled upon it when a bartender informed us. For something this magical, I would propose that a resort have a “blue light” special inspired alert with some blue LEDs they could light up whenever this relatively rare and precious occurrence is spotted.

4. Sound Walk – Another inspiration from our son Chase who studied Sound Art & Design and took us on this “sound walk” in London’s Regent’s Park. The artist had composed various sound art pieces incorporating field recording from the park. When you tuned into the app on your phone, the music morphed into different pieces inspired by your specific location in the park.

5. Water Concerto – DJ’s are so commonplace now. This should be the new ‘wave’ of musical entertainment.

6. Hanging Pilates – With all of the innovative wellness and fitness activities in the Maldives, I’ve seen hanging yoga, and hanging silks as well as several variations on pilates, but I’ve never seen hanging pilates.

7. Spin Tubing – I’ve featured lots of fanciful and thrilling water sports for water zoomies, but have never seen such a carnival-esque contraption as this one.

8. Surf Jetty – At a world-class surf destination like the Maldives, you could laboriously paddle out to your break, or holidaying in luxury, you could just stroll out. Especially with the Maldives’ famously modest sized waves known more for their length than their height. Or this might be a clever means to provide ready access to an especially fine snorkel point that is beyond a wave break.

9. Shark Wearable Blanket – No “Haven’t Seen” post would be complete without the obligatory shark item. Land Shark!

10. Kulhi Boakibaa – Cited in a nifty piece in National Geographic “Five Unmissable Dishes That Define the Maldives”. I’ve seen 3 of them, but Kulhi Boakibaa, not yet.

Havent Seen Yet - Kulhi Boakibaa

11. Kaya – Coconut Jam? I only found about it in Saveur’s article “Meet the Coffee-Shop Staple Serving Up Coconutty Vibes Around the World”.

Havent Seen - coconut jam

12. Fresh Hot Donuts – Such a simple delight that they make them in food trucks at fun fairs. The donuts served at ALL resorts (even the luxury ones) are stodgy, stale and second-rate.  Many must get tossed for being too past their sell-by-dart to put out again.  So why not have a donut station making them fresh (with an array for special toppings…like coconut jam).


Creative Faces of the Maldives

Vogue Maldivians 2

Maldives National Day is an apropos time to showcase more prominent Maldive nationals. Actually, Vogue Middle East recently published a great piece, “Faces of the Maldives”, an array of creative locals and talking about their aspirations and opportunities in 21st century Maldives:

  • Shaziya Saeed, diving instructor & eco-warrior
  • Mohamed Shiuz, musician
  • Aishath Naj, photographer
  • Aishath Shamla, fashion designer
  • Ahmed Fatheen, chef
  • Ahmed Riyaz and Mohamed Fayaz, entrepreneurs
  • · Iru Zareer, marine conservationist

Vogue Maldivians

Vogue Maldives women

Best of the Maldives: Largest Underwater Restaurant – Ailafushi/Lobigili

While I’ve already highlighted Aiafushi/Lobigili’s underwater treasure hunt at their underwater restaurant, Only Blu, our recent visit allowed us to see all of its spaciousness which also makes it the largest underwater restaurant in the Maldives. And with lots of restaurant real estate come lots of windows to see the vibrant aquatic life. Especially with every panoramic portal packed with fish frolicking corals. The most vibrant fish life of any underwater restaurant we have been to. Probably because (a) there is limited coral elsewhere in the area, and (b) they were drawn by the light of the diners.

Best of the Maldives: Massage View – Sun Siyam Iru Veli

Iruveli - massage view

Sun Siyam Iru Veli isn’t the first spa treatment with a view, but it is the one of the best I have come across. Both the glass floor portal and the head rest are open enough for easily opening your eyes and gazing at the aquatic life passing by. And the ocean underneath has several fish-attracting coral croppings to maximise the visual interest. [NOTE: I titled this post “Clear View” to distinguish it from another fine spa view at Coco Bodu Hithi, but which it obstructed a bit by the design on the glass and the flower arrangement on top]

A treatment room with a view.

Best of the Maldives: Sand Spit Breakfast – Sun Siyam Vilu Reef

The intimacy between land and sea in the Maldives is perhaps most vividly characterised by the ubiquitous tendrils of sand spits extending into the shallow lagoons. These tidally shifting, fragile peninsulas take you out into the water like a VIP gangway.

I have often celebrated the most distinctive of sand-spits in the Maldives, and now Sun Siyam Vilu Reef has made it a venue for celebrating the breaking of fast. We’ve had breakfast in lots of romantic and unique venues and this was one of our favourites. The elongated topology means that the diminutive rippled rolling in from each side crash together at your feet creating a percussive symphony of cross-lapping waves (see video).  And being at the very tip of your drop-of-sand-in-the-middle-of-the-ocean island where you are immersed on three sides by the aquatic world around you so it seems even more immersive than sand bank dining or water’s edge dining.

Best of the Maldives: Mist Hammocks – Dhawa Iruhu

Dhawa Ihuru - mist hammock

Overwater and on-water hammocks have become almost cliché from the countless Instagram photos posted of them, but Dhawa Ihuru offers the first (I’ve seen) *in* water hammocks. No, not sitting in the lagoon. But you sitting in a refreshing mist of cool spray while you relax in the tropical sun. For making your own misty water-coloured memories of the way you were in paradise.


Why Do I Tour in the First Place?

Tour 2023 map

This was my most difficult tour yet. In fact, research trips have gotten more and more challenging in recent years. Primarily driven by the scourge of “influencers”, but lots of other variables as well. With zero revenue for the Maldives Complete website, the cost of research is high in the best of times. If I am paying full rack rates (as well as lots of extra and expensive transfers) for the privilege of spending 24 hours running around to get content and promote the destination and resort, then the cost-benefit equation for all the work I do year-round tends to be questionable. Part of the motivation was the enthusiastic greetings and often special support and consideration given to my visit.

With American Labor Day weekend upon us, I reflected on tis labor of love enterprise and the changes from when I started Maldives Complete in 2009 and now 14 years later. It is a lens to how the industry has changed in 14 years:

  • Resort Organisation:
    • Before: Most resorts were local with limited marketing resources who welcomed any assistance.
    • Today: Most resorts are international with big corporate marketing departments in some remote country
  • Web
    • Before: When I started, the resort websites were very basic and there was a thirst for my content creation.
    • Today: Maldives content is commoditised with every guest cranking out material in Instagram and TripAdvisor posts.
  • Ministry of Tourism
    • Before: The MMPRC embraced the Maldives Complete site and helped me extensively to get materials. The destination was a bit of lesser-known niche sun-spot for Europeans.
    • Today: They don’t return emails now that they have been turned into a global bucket-list destination with the lifestyle porn abounding on social media.
  • Industry
    • Before: The tourism industry was relatively small and there was a close-knit community of people involved with it who all helped each other out.
    • Today: The sector is several times larger and mostly corporatised by remote bureaucrats.
  • Price Points
    • Before: Starting as a dive destination with basic accommodation, the Maldives resorts started going mostly into mid-market properties with a few luxury properties sprinkled amongst.
    • Today:  Now the majority are luxury (if you have a limited amount of real estate, get the most you can for each square metre) and many are super-luxury. As a result, even with industry rates, the costs of a visit are huge (not problem for operators who can just write it off, but a direct expense to me).
  • Transience
    • Before: Long-term players were prevalent…people who embraced the destination for extended periods allowing relationships to form.
    • Today: Short-stint secondments by corporate staff are more prevalent making supportive relationships harder to nurture.
  • Atoll Logistics
    • Before: I used to choose an atoll each year to fly to and then island hop around fairly easily.
    • Today: Having been to every major atoll, fashioning an itinerary of resorts involves longer, complicated, more expensive transfers to get to the far-flung outliers I have so far missed.

The question remains, “In the Digital Age, is there any need for in-person visits to the Maldives to research the website?” The question is no unlike the one circulating the post-COVID corporate executive suites about how important face-to-face time is and how much companies should encourage if not force staff to return to the workplace. I have always held (for over a decade) that remote working is not an “either-or” question, but a “how much” question dependent on the dynamics of the job(s) to be done. And similarly. Keeping Maldives Complete…well…”complete”, requires a non-zero amount of time on the ground at the destination.

The benefits boil down to three key areas (which are pretty similar for any remote working):

· Relationships – One of the top arguments for spending SOME time together in the remote working is relationship building. In my work environment, I always try to meet someone face-to-face even if most of our interaction will be remote. Establishing that initial introduction and rapport facilitates the teleconferencing interaction, but cannot be effectively achieved by it. In many cases, I end up with more material from the resort after the visit than during it. The reason is because having been there and gotten to know the (right) staff, they understand me better and are more responsive and effective in forwarding me useful material for the site.

· First-Hand – The terabytes of information are great for basic research, but there is just no substitute for seeing the whole property, in context of both the surroundings and the minute details often overlooked or not visible in the countless pictures. Especially as Maldives Complete’s blog often focusses on the unique and distinctive, those features can be hard to search for online when buried under a mountain of the same old pictures of palm trees and blue vistas.

· Serendipity – The final benefit to “getting over there” is the sheer serendipity that happens when you are in the thick of things. Bumping into people you know (in fact, I created a “Crossing Paths” tag in the blog to mark these occasions) or other interesting staff or guests who just happen to be around.

Actually, one of the books I brought and read on this trip is a travelog about the Maldives: “Gatecrashing Paradise” (stay tuned for post about it) which included a fine quote from travel writer Paul Theroux justifying the need for re-visiting in this digital age:

  • “If the Internet were everything it is cracked up to be, we would all stay at home and be brilliantly insightful. Yet with so much contractor information available, there is more reason to travel than ever before: to look closer, to dig deeper, to sort the authentic from the fake, to verify, to smell, to touch, to taste, to hear, and sometimes – importantly – suffer the effects of curiosity.”

I’ll keep pushing forward trying to see as much of the new Maldives as possible (I think I have seen all but a handful of the resorts that were around when I first started the website).