It will also be difficult for me to write. If you read until the end you'll see why. But I won't let that get in the way of me documenting my travels.
Last year I got into what I'd call my first serious relationship in as long as I can possibly remember. I was happier than I ever had been in my life. Life was awesome. Except for one problem. My girlfriend had to leave Bangkok for 4 and a half months to do an internship at a hotel resort island in The Maldives.
I knew it was going to be be difficult because we had spent every single day together up until then. I promised that I would fly over to visit her halfway through, to make the temporary distance-relationship easier to handle.
A trip to The Maldives for most people would be for some kind of special occasion such as a honeymoon and would involve staying in an overwater bungalow on one of the resort island. Those places are really nice, but hugely expensive. Anything from $450 - $12,000 per night. That's the price of paradise.
It wasn't all paradise for me though. For my trip to The Maldives I had to stay in Male which is the big dirty capital city island, or it's sister island Hulhumale. Not just because I didn't want to spew thousands of dollars on somewhere to sleep at night. It was so that my girlfriend would be able to commute from her resort at Centara Ras Fushi to visit me after working her shift. Fortunately she did manage to get 4 full days holiday over the 8 days that I visited.
As for hotels in Male, I did days of research to try to find somewhere suitable. The cheapest rooms in Male and Hulhumale were $80 - $150 per night and all were rated 3 or less on TripAdvisor. Overpriced crap basically.
Somehow one of those places was only £26.75 GBP ($40 USD) per night on the American Express UK Travel site, even though it was more than double that on all the main booking sites like Agoda that are usually always the cheapest. So I made an easy value call there.
Not only that but I was able to take advantage of an American Express / TripAdvisor "£50 off £150 spend" promotion if you linked your Amex Card to TripAdvisor (for what reason I don't know, or care). Therefore, 8 nights in the hotel total worked out at £164 GBP ($245 USD).
I was also really lucky when it came to buying the flights. As you may have heard, Malaysia Airlines were having a bit of bother last year and nobody wanted to fly with them. That meant ridiculously low promotional fares.
I booked Bangkok to Male via Kuala Lumpur for £167 GBP ($250 USD). I was also able to use the "£50 off £150 spend" Amex / Trip Advisor promotion a second time as I happened to have two different Amex cards at that time (I only get them to clear the signup bonuses for air miles and then cancel them). That brought the total cost for the return flights to Maldives down to only £117 GBP ($175 USD).
I also got entire rows to myself on all 4 legs of the return journey and my gold status with Malaysia Airline's Oneworld partner Cathay Pacific meant that I got full use of the business lounges with my economy ticket. What a result.
Combined, flights and hotels only cost me £281 GBP ($419 USD) for an 8 night stay in Maldvies. I challenge anyone to do it cheaper than that!
Of course I was in a basic room in a basic hotel on a local island that had nothing fun or exciting to do, but that was OK. I didn't visit Maldives for it's incredible beaches. I have access to plenty of incredible beaches in Thailand. What I didn't have access to in Thailand was the most important person in my life. That's the one and only reason I visited Maldives so really nothing else mattered.
But I did find a few cool things to do there.
On one of the days when my girlfriend was busy working I decided that rather than stay in my room, lonely and bored, I'd go out and lose my scuba diving virginity. It's something that I'd always planned to do and have travelled to so many amazing places that, looking back, were huge missed opportunities to go diving. I certainly wasn't going to leave Maldives without going below sea level.
For a PADI Discover Diving course with two boat dives it cost just $105 USD (£71 GBP) with a local dive operator. All the equipment was new and in great condition. Everything felt safe.
I can say without a doubt that diving is one of the coolest things I've ever done. It completely exceeded my expectations.
After explaining to me how all the equipment worked, my instructor wasted no time getting me into the sea. He took me slowly down to the sea floor, reminding me to equalise my ears every few meters. There was beautiful coral everywhere and so many kinds of tropical fish swimming amongst us. There was so much life and activity. It felt like I had discovered a new world.
With my instructor basically dragging me around, we came across a massive sea turtle that was eating some sea plants. The instructor pulled me right up close to the turtle, grabbed a handful of the plant it was eating and handed it to me to feed the turtle. Wow. What a magical experience. I never imagined that my first dive would be anywhere near that awesome.
After a rest on the boat we went for a second dive. I saw that one of the crew had an underwater camera so I asked if we could use it. There was normally an extra cost for that but my instructor took the camera with us in the water, took all sorts of cool pics, sent me the files and didn't charge me a cent. Thanks mate!
This time we went into deeper water and I was able to swim around completely unaided with my instructor just swimming beside me. We found a really cool looking eel and I got up close to play with it while my instructor took photos. It was another incredible experience, but in the back of my mind I was thinking "I wish he had the camera when I was feeding the sea turtle instead."
Just before we were about to return to the surface we spotted some manta rays. The instructor got up close to take photos. I followed him, but not all the way. I wasn't sure if they were safe to be around. I was thinking "Didn't one of these things kill Steve Irwin?". It turns out they are quite safe and that it was a stingray that killed The Crocodile Hunter.
Consider me hooked on diving after just one day. I plan to continue my diving adventures back home in Thailand.
Male / Hulhumale
The Male and Hulhumale islands where most of the country's local population live are big dirty concrete jungles with nothing fun or interesting to do.
Alcohol outside the resorts is illegal as The Maldives is a Muslim country. People just tend to hang around in cafes and coffee shops. It just seems to be all men. I don't know where all the women hang out. At home probably.
There were very, very few tourists in Male. Nobody has any reason at all to stay there unless they maybe got in on a late flight and need to stay overnight to get a ferry or seaplane to where they actually want to go the next day.
Everywhere we went in Male every single person that we walked past would stare at us. Well, they were mostly staring at my beautiful blonde-haired girlfriend than they were at me. I think a lot of guys would be uncomfortable with having their girlfriend stared at like that but I just felt like I was the man and they were all jealous of me. They would stare at her, I would stare back at them and smile, and she would stare straight forward. That happened absolutely everywhere we went.
One time we were standing outside her colleague's house talking to her for 30 minutes and I noticed a young guy a few meters away standing against a railing and looking at us the whole time. When we walked off I looked back and saw that he was following us, still a few meters away. So when we turned the corner we just stopped against the wall. The lad got the shock of his life when he turned the corner, did a sharp u-turn and ran away. Weirdo. I don't know if he was just bored or up to something sinister.
The main reason that Male and Hulhumale are so dirty is that people litter like it's a completely normal thing to do. I'd see people chug a can of juice and just drop it right where they stood. What the hell is wrong with these people? Have some love for the place you live.
Even on the bus, as soon as people were handed their ticket they would drop it right on the ground. Every single person did that. The whole floor of the bus was always covered in tickets.
If I saw anyone casually tossing litter on the street in my country I'd pick it up and stuff it down their shirt. Assuming they looked weaker than me, of course.
I guess in Maldives littering is just their culture. It's socially acceptable. And it is their country after all. If they want to live surrounded by garbage then it's up to them.
After four days in The Maldives I was getting really sick of Male and Hulhumale. So, when my girlfriend got a whole day off from work we went on a boat trip together to a nice island called Kuda Bandos. It's a 'picnic island', meaning that nobody actually lives there, it's just used for day trips.
We got there very early and had a whole section of beach and crystal clear water to ourselves. It was great to finally get a taste of the Maldives you see in magazines and on TV, rather than Male which is the polar opposite of that.
At lunch time one of the boat crew barbecued some fish for us on the beach. I was on an island paradise, eating delicious food with the girl I love. Life really doesn't get much better than that.
After lunch we went back to relax on our sun loungers. My girlfriend fell asleep immediately. It reminded me of watching movies together in bed,
After a few minutes I was bored just lying there doing nothing so I went barefoot jogging around the island.
I tried to relax again. Too hyper. I went snorkelling in the shallow waters.
I tried to relax again. Was looking at the sand. Decided that building a sandcastle would be fun.
Confirmed big kid.
We managed to get a free sunset dolphin cruise. The crew that was taking us back from Kuda Bandos told us that the other couple who joined us had paid for the full boat for a dolphin cruise, so we'd be welcome to come along for free. Nice one.
We were in the boat trying to find dolphins for almost an hour. It wasn't long until Sunset. I thought it was never going to happen. But eventually we found these amazing creatures.
They swam alongside us, jumping out of the water and doing flips. Dolphins are extremely smart and I'm pretty sure that they were well aware of our presence and were trying to entertain us. And they surely did just that.
On the last of my eight days in Maldives I had a late evening flight and had to check out of my hotel at midday. My girlfriend was working until 6pm so I stored my luggage at the airport and tried to keep myself occupied for 6 hours on my own in Male. That's a difficult thing to do. Especially on a Friday when shops don't open until 2pm.
I walked the full length of the island down the middle and then the full radius of it. It's pretty small at only 5.8 square kilometres
The most interesting thing I found was the harbour market.
And then I found the local's Friday market. It was huge, and I got stuck in the middle of it. There were so many people there that there was no space to walk.
All the stalls were selling absolute garbage and yet it seemed like the whole population of the island had turned up to buy it.
What a nightmare. By then I was completely sick and fed up of Male. I had conflicted feelings at that point. I was looking forward to leaving Maldives and returning to the city I love, Bangkok. But the girl I love was staying in Maldives. So sad.
I met my girlfriend at the pier after she finished working and enjoyed her company for the last couple of hours of my trip. We went to a nice local restaurant at the fake beach and had some delicious local food. We both sulked as we ate it though, knowing that it would be another 2 and a half months before we'd see each other again.
Off we went to the airport. We sat together outside until it it was time for me to catch my flight. And had a final kiss goodbye.
And that really was a final kiss goodbye. Not just for the trip. Forever.
I won't go into details but, rather brutally, we're no longer a couple.
It's one of the most difficult things I've ever had to deal with.
And that's why this was a difficult blog post to write.