Best of the Maldives: Luxury (2011) – Cocoa Island

Trip Advisor Readers Choice Awards 2011

The Trip Advisor Traveller’s Choice Awards have been announced and the top Maldives resort was Cocoa Island, the only one featured in their 10 lists. It came in #5 in the ‘Top Luxury’ resorts worldwide (wresting the title from last year’s honoree Angasana).  A well deserved honour, it would seem, given the very recent report by Francis where he described it as bringing him to tears. Just to top it all off, Cocoa Island also tops Trip Advisor with the highest review ratings of any Maldives resort.

Best of the Maldives: Lacustrine – Shangri-La Villingili

Hithadoo Lake 1

If 49 metres at Anantara Kihavah is not long enough (and you prefer your swimming in fresh water), then consider Shangri-La Villingili. Villingili is situated on the island of Gan which has 3 fresh water lakes including its largest, Hithadoo.

 

Hithadoo Lake

Best of the Maldives: Longest Pool – Anantara Kihavah

Anantara Kihavah pool

 

Winner of the ‘Newest Resort’ award goes to Anantara Kihavah which opened this past week. Unfortunately, especially the way Maldives development is going, such a recognition is fleeting at best. So I have had a run through of some of the early glimpses from this glittering new addition for a more enduring accolade.

Actually, a number of innovations and designs have caught my eye and are likely fodder for future posts. The ‘Sky-Fire-Salt-Sea’ restaurant/bar/deck is a creative and ambitious concept with both underwater venue and elevated roof deck. High and low. Unfortunately, this part is about the one piece left not quite finished (it is due to be completed in mid-March). Francisco Negrin is there as this very moment so I await his accounts.

In the meantime, let’s start with something simple. A distinctive that does stand out which is their pool length…

“At 49 metres, Manzaru pool bar boasts the longest swimming pool in the Maldives and Sunshine Butlers are always on hand with fruit skewers and cold face towels to cool sunbathers down. Casual lunches of crisp salads and traditional pastas are served poolside.”

So if doing your morning laps gets tedious in typically diminutive hotel pools, then consider Kihavah.

Best of the Maldives: Romantic Treatment – Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru

Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru tantric chakra

Maldives is arguably the most romantic place on earth. Today is the most romantic day of the year. So where precisely do you want to be?

Well, I would propose Four Seasons’ Landaa Giraavaru’s Spa and Ayurvedic Retreat. They offer a striking array of treatments impressive even on Maldives standards (a few years ago Maldives was awarded ‘Spa Capital of Asia’). But one stands out on this day of lovers – ‘Tantric Traditions’.

Now anyone who’s read Hello magazine on the flight over will be familiar with Sting’s infamous advocacy of tantric practices in a loving relationship. While in the West, ‘Tantric’ is most commonly associated with romantic intimacy, it is actually part of a larger tradition and practice “channel [divine] energy, within the human microcosm, in creative and emancipatory ways

Landaa’s session involves two therapists, male and female, working together with a couple…

“Our Tantriks in LG, seek to work with the life force energy or prana by means of yoga asanas, pranayama, meditation techniques, mantra chanting, invigorating massages etc in their rituals resulting in channelizing the prana along the nadis and activating the chakra points, the ultimate aim being to stimulate the kundalini. However this is only an attempt in that direction. The positive outcome of the treatment in a modern sense is the attainment of optimal autonomic balance leading to peace and relaxation.”

Landaa emphasizes that everything in the session is completely conventional and respectable. But what each couple choose to take back to the privacy of their own villa for further practice is up to them…

Best of Maldives Online – Visitor Contribution: Francisco Negrin

Francisco Negrin

It just gets easier and easier to work on Maldives Complete because more and more visitors are kindly writing to me with help, suggestions, missing information, corrections. But one individual stands above all his ability to ferret out the most esoteric and obscure details – Francis Negrin.

He has identified new islands, quirky features, and buried website troves of tidbits. Sometimes I actually have come across some of these things and I think he finds it fun sport to see if he can uncover something missing in the Maldives Complete collection. We also have good chats about all sorts of Maldives topics.

And if his current trip is any indication, he stands out in his adoration of the Maldives. Many people feel blessed with one week in the Maldives though if budget and holiday time permits so many people prefer two. Francisco and his friends are going for an entire month during which include Rihiveli (“truly stunning and very very cheap. A gem . The rare find . Way way better than any resort at that price range except there is no house reef”), Cocoa Island (“Cocoa is stunning. I even cried a bit when i got here.”), Dhoni Island, (excursion to Athuruga from there) , Alila Villas Hadahaa, Kanuhura, and Anantara Kihavah.

To add to his long collection of contributions, the Cocoa Island profile is now 100% complete thanks to his snapping me a picture of the fitness centre that I have just loaded up. You too can follow along (if you can tolerate the envy) at his photo-blog http://gallery.me.com/fnegrin#100179.

Best of the Maldives: Caves – Helengeli

Trixies Caves

The Maldives are renowned for simple, easy, shallow dives. But for the advanced diving plenty of more technical dives abound. For example, there are over a dozen caves structures you can dive

And if you are interested in cave dives, I recommend Tim Godfrey’s book ‘Dive Maldives’ reviews 12 of the top cave dive sites in the Maldives. You might have put an alert for on Amazon since the book appears to be out of print and is increasingly hard to locate. All of his dive sites are graded on a 3-star scale and 4 of those 12 earn top marks – Lankan Caves, Maagiri Caves, Fulidhoo Cave and Velassaru Caves.

But the Mecca for cave diving in the Maldives has to be Helengeli as it has two of the top caves nearby- Trixies Caves and Fairytale Reef Blue Caves. Both receive 5-stars in Harwood & Bryning’s ‘Complete Guide to Diving and Snorkeling The Maldives’.

Best of the Maldives: Chinese Therapy – Adaaran Club Rannalhi

Club Rannalhi chinese therapy

 

Looking for am apropos hangover cure from your Chinese New Year celebrations? Well, you might want to stop by the ‘Traditional Chinese Therapy Centre’ at Club Rannalhi.

Liu Yaping offers a range of treatments which are mostly variations of acupressure massage such as “Tui Na” and “Chinese cupping”. Most treatments run about $60 for an hour session

Disclaimer – I am not a fan the many disastrous environmental effects of many traditional Chinese therapies that call for ingredients of rare species like tigers, rhinos and most relevant in the Maldives is manta gills. Most holistic therapies are harmless placebos which provide comfort. But when a billion people with increasing amounts of money start wanting these obscure ingredients, the side effects for the planet can be tragic. Fortunately, Club Rannalhi’s therapy centre does not offer any of these ingredients based on endangered species in its treatment offerings.

While other resorts have spas offering Chinese treatments (eg. Shangri-La Villingili, Olhuveli, Soneva Fushi, Meedhupparu), the Rannali centre is the only one who specialises in just this area.

New Year of Chinese

Chinese maldives

 

Happy New Year!

‘Chinese New Year’ that is. The Year of the Rabbit. Perhaps an excuse to go to one of the islands where wild rabbits can be found like Soneva Fushi, Hudhuranfusi and Komandoo.

While this might be the Year of the Rabbit, 2010 was definitely the ‘Year of the Chinese’ in the Maldives.

The 114,158 Chinese visitors was an increase of 96.1% which was the biggest contributor to the Maldives’ big 20.7% increase overall for what was still an economically challenged year.

“Tourist arrivals in October 2010 increased by 21.8 percent compared to that of last year. A ministry statement said 74,707 tourists visited the Maldives in October 2010 while 62,432 visited in October 2009. Europe still dominates the Maldives tourism market with 407,519 visiting the country from January-October, which accounts for 63.3 percent of the total arrival – a 9.2 percent increase to the European tourist arrivals within the period of last year. Asia-Pacific follows Europe on the second with 207,736 tourists visiting the Maldives within the 10 months – a 57.5 percent increase to 2009’s amount. China contributes the highest to the tourist arrivals by October 2010 with 104,148 tourists, which is a 109.7 percent increase to the period of last year. From January-October 2010, 95,586 British tourists visited the Maldives.”

And there are no signs of the trend letting up. These numbers put China #3 in the list of most visitors behind the UK and the USA. But, in January the Maldives had their first day ever where the number of Chinese surpassed UK visitors. Furthermore, Minivan recently announced that Mega Global Maldives is launching its first direct service from Hong Kong.

But the biggest driver to this influx is the growing pile of Chinese money. Long gone are the days when my parents told me to think of all the ‘starving children in China’ to get me to finish all my food. Now China is an economic powerhouse with a blossoming financial elite. For a striking perspective on the dizzying momentum of economic China’s growth, check out ‘Shanghi 1990 versus 2010’.

The Sunday Times wrote a piece, “Great Mall of China” on the explosion of luxury consumption among Chinese. Also, the Daily Mail ran a piece titled ‘Duck and Caviar’ in their print edition. They make the interesting observation that years of Communist ideology meant that “the idea of having lots of money and splurging it around is considered distasteful.” They refer to the ‘Peking Pound’ as ‘stealth wealth’ where Chinese prefer more understated activities like bird watching and calligraphy, to splashing around in yachts and sports cars. One can see how the simple charms of Maldivian paradise could fit their bill very nicely.

The trend has significant implications for the tourism business on the islands. Obviously, the language issue will need translations of materials as well as the hiring of Chinese speaking staff. A number of resorts already cater strongly to groups of non-English speaking guests: Germans at Reethi Beach, French at Rihiveli, Italians at many such as Alimatha and Dhiggiri. I’d be curious to see if an entrepreneur opens a resort focusing on the Chinese in a similar way.

Another less obvious implication is impact on water management. Corresponding to the rise of Chinese visitors has been the rise of Chinese fatalities. Specifically, deaths by drowning while swimming or snorkelling. This is not a statistical aberration because no other groups have suffered hardly any fatalities. As a result, it does appear to be a cultural issue…the Chinese are not good swimmers. A number of dive instructors supported this observation to me on my last visit. If more and more Chinese are going to visit with less and less swimming skills, then the Maldives will need to re-evaluate how to monitor and protect swimming guests (eg. restrictions, competency tests, lifeguards).

Best of the Maldives: Aquatic Topiary – Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru

Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru coral garden Yin-Yang

While the ‘house reef’ is the ‘main event’ in snorkelling, lagoon snorkelling can be its own treat. During our first, uninitiated trip to the Maldives, we spent nearly the whole week there delightedly snorkelling among the modest coral and rock croppings in the shallow, sandy lagoon. We didn’t even know that there was such a thing as a ‘drop off’. We still enjoy the charms of lagoon snorkelling with some real highlights in our history – a playful octopus, a digging sting ray, a passing manta, and a whole host of turtles and fish.

If you can’t get the snorkelers to the reef, bring the reef to the snorkelers. Often the main problem with house reefs are their accessibility. Eventually, you can get to a drop off point, but you have swim over long expanses of relatively boring white sand. So as a part of its award winning reef regeneration efforts, Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru has taken a creative twist on reefs with what can best be described as ‘reef topiary’.

Its showcase piece is the Yin-Yang Coral Garden pictured above. From an aerial view, the coral forms a yin-and-yang symbol. The resort is now planning an encore with a ‘Crescent Moon’ in the works.