Reinventing the Maldives
“The world is blue at its edges and in its depths. This blue is the light that got lost.” These are the opening words from one of my favourite chapters, from one of my favourite authors, Rebecca Solnit. Blue is the colour of distance, a colour that recedes from our steps the moment we get closer. So, it is the colour we are destined to chase, we wanderlusters. Travel to the high mountains and we cannot grasp it. Most waters become translucent and devoid of that coveted blue once we dive in. Even when space travel becomes a thing, blue will remain as elusive as ever as the skies become ever vaster, ever darker.
In the Maldives, blue seems to be at rest, to stop running away. It is a destination whose magic I can only describe in chromatic terms. It is also a destination that I believe to be profoundly misunderstood, poorly characterised as a pretty, expensive beach. So I turn to Sue Kang, my Maldives maestra, to set the record straight.
AT HOME IN PARADISE
What is the biggest misconception people have about the Maldives?
That the Maldives is a destination that's just for honeymooners. I really want to let people know that it is an all around great destination. But people have the perception that the Maldives is super expensive and it's an exclusive place. And granted, you have that but there's just so much more to it as well.
I've had the privilege to visit the Maldives professionally, but I also visited the Maldives several times with my girlfriends, and just had an amazing time. I can tell you right now I've never actually been there with a guy! I think the reason why I became so in love with the Maldives is because it is much more than a romantic destination, but also a destination that's great for friends and families.
Having been to many islands around the world, I simply feel the Maldives are magical and something that you can't get anywhere else in the world.
To be more specific, what is so special about the Maldives?
First, each resort is on its own island, which is not that common. In terms of exclusivity, these resorts hit the mark, and those that are in the Blueflower portfolio have been very carefully selected. I curate these resorts based on experience, service and design. Design plays a big role and I want my travellers to go “I can't believe this actually exists!”
Brands such as Gili Lankanfushi, Soneva and also Six Senses take barefoot luxury, you know: “no shoes no news”, to the next level, you just unplug and unwind.
Then, there’s the natural habitat of the Maldives itself and the blue hues which you’ll never get anywhere.
Don’t even get me started on blue! What is it about the experiences that these resorts offer?
Where do I even begin! Take culinary for example. These resorts have really focused on providing natural and fresh ingredients and some have their own organic farms growing herbs, spices and even mushrooms. As an island nation, the Maldives have to import everything in terms of beef and produce. Speaking with the chefs, they told me that they actually get their meats chilled and never frozen. It really is outstanding, they really go that extra to get culinary at its finest.
The resorts in my portfolio have made an important investment in the experiential side of travel. For example, Soneva Jani acquired a state-of-the-art telescope to see the Milky Way and they do this together with a special dinner at So Starstuck. The resort also built a standing cinema screen in the middle of the lagoon where you can lounge on the overwater hammocks and eat popcorn while you enjoy a good movie.
Personally, I have to mention snorkelling. So I’ve dived before in places like the Great Barrier Reef and also in Belize around the Blue Hole. But snorkelling in the Maldives was even more amazing. The corals are really healthy and you feel like you're swimming in a in a tank of fishes, turtles and sharks passing you by — don't worry, they won't eat you!
But what about travellers that are looking for an extra edge?
Of course you have surfing and water sports, but what I would actually recommend for adventure travellers is the Baa Atoll UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. A lot of resorts provide lessons to certify for a PADI licence, so if you stay for 4 to 5 nights, that'll give you time to get certified and scuba in the reserve. Just make sure you don't fly for 24 hours after diving!
And what about families with children?
That’s an easy one! The bonding that you get with families is great. You know, the trick is to find the right resort. Some resorts do an amazing job of putting together family activities and the Butlers add that extra touch to make it an incredible experience for families. For example, they can organise a castaway picnic on the beach or an outdoor cinema experience under the stars — activities that kids will remember.
ARE YOU IN A CASTAWAY MOOD? GO TO AN AMAZING BEACH
These resorts do a good job giving everybody their own space, so parents can say maybe we want our own time too! There are fun programs for all ages throughout the day to keep kids busy and nanny service through late in the evening. One & Only Reethi Rah does a phenomenal job at this.
As a family it's so great because you have kids making friendships on their own, and parents having their own romantic time, as well as time together as a family. The Maldives really let you have it all.
And I’m sure parents will be happy if they simply manage to wrest the cellphones away from their children!
That’s right! And, you know, the experiences families have in the Maldives make them want to return. Maybe this time on a romantic trip, or as a group of friends that they met there.
Speaking of disconnect, I imagine the Maldives could be a great destination for CEOs looking for a real holiday.
Yes, it’s funny that you say that! We've received requests from CEOs that wanted to just unplug and get away from it all and there's a perfect resource for that which is COMO Cocoa Island. We’ve had solo travellers there to truly unplug and rest. I always recommend an island depending on the type of traveller you are.
What is something about the Maldives that often gets overlooked?
People come to the Maldives for the overwater experience. I personally like the beach villas and think that these are often overlooked. They are more secluded and private, its like your own private island! Joali Resort is one of them. They have stunning beach villas that I love! One advice I would give is that not all beaches in the Maldives have soft-textured sand so you need to be careful because some beaches can be quite corally!
Tell me Sue, what is the most special thing about the Maldives, from your clients’ perspective?
It's the service. I've had my girlfriends go for their honeymoon and they cried coming back because they really had a connection with Mr Friday, that's the Butler. The service is just so good it puts the stamp on why the Maldives are so special. You have the snorkelling, the diving, the activities and out-of-this-world experiences but to be honest, what makes the difference is having a connection with the staff, they make you feel so special and at home.
Most people don’t have butlers back at home so when they come back they say “I felt like I was living like a king!” Now that leaves a lasting impression.
So, Andrea, did I do the Maldives justice?
Maldives has a depth of its own. It is magical and mysterious. Much of it has to do with emotion, with remoteness, with being free and light in the world. To do the Maldives justice I would follow Sue’s advice, and create a journey that is truly my own.
“Blue is the color of longing for the distances you never arrive in, for the blue world.” I find this to be true for all places except the Maldives.
Sue Kang, Maldives Maestra
A New Yorker, born and raised in the States, Sue Kang worked for nearly a decade making waves, first in her hometown, and later in the Asia-Pacific market. A true island expert, in 2018 she decided to dive deeper and started her own business, Vue Lifestyle. Sue focuses in the Maldives and has turned her passion into a career.