Updated: Jan 12
If there was one thing that the pandemic completely shook up in our routines, it was the lack of travelling - what used to be a once-every-two-months thing that we took for granted eventually stretched into a two-year-long hiatus in our favourite form of therapy. Being in Hong Kong - with the worsening political climate coupled with the sheer monotony of the routine, not to mention the stress of variant after variant wreaking havoc on the markets with no end in sight - started to get to us in ways I'm sure so many people can relate to at this point.
HKG - DOHA - MALE - MURAVANDHOO ISLAND
First off, the trip was totally worth the stress of flying there and flying back. But you should know that the stress of travelling from Hong Kong is a lot, with tons of uncertainty and surprise attacks ahead of you (thanks HK gov), and you should prepare yourself. The worst part of this entire trip was actually the process of flying back into Hong Kong, but more on that later.
Our first of a bajillion complications started with booking our quarantine hotel ahead of the flight, which we did after calling almost every single hotel on the list around 2 months prior to departure. We first secured Kerry for 14 days, because at the time, Maldives was still under Group B. Just a few weeks before our trip, Maldives was bumped up to Group A due to Omicron (along with basically every other country in the world) but Kerry could no longer accommodate the extension because they were fully booked. So we ended up getting a suite last-minute at Dorsett Wan Chai (a whopping 90K HKD for 21 days), which we were lucky to even get. Don't even get me started on how dumb this 21-day quarantine rule exclusive to Hong Kong is. If I somehow test positive 18 days into quarantine after multiple negative tests up to that point, I've almost definitely gotten it from the hotel.
Once we left Hong Kong, it was smooth-sailing. Flying via Qatar Airways, we had one layover in the lounge in Doha, which felt super clean and spacious, with all staff wearing masks. We even dipped into some of the local food, which was served buffet style with each dish individually sealed. We boarded our next Qatar Airways flight, which had the best business class seats that I've experienced yet (yes even above Singapore Airlines!), with private enclosed cabin seats that felt like individual suites.
When we got into Male airport, the immigration process took around 30 minutes tops, and we were met immediately at the arrivals hall by Joali staff. Everyone in the airport was wearing masks by law. The gracious Joali staff took all of our bags, took on the responsibility of the check-in process for the seaplane, and then we were driven over to the beautiful private Joali lounge away from the hustle and bustle of the airport. We were allowed to take off our masks here and were served tea, coffee, and snacks while we waited for the rest of the Joali guests to arrive to fill the seaplane (around 8 total).
Boarding the seaplane
Interior of the seaplane
We boarded the tiny seaplane, and after around 45 minutes, arrived to the haven of Joali's own island resort. We were introduced to our own Jadugar (butler) who would be our key point of contact throughout our whole stay, and shown our water villa room. It was beautiful, to say the least. I was relieved to know that guests were all COVID tested on arrival in their rooms, and after we passed the rapid test, were allowed to take off our masks and enjoy the resort. The policy is, if you do test positive, then you're confined to your room for 14 days and not allowed out.
From that day on for the duration of our stay, we were mask-less! It's crazy how the simple absence of a film across your nose and mouth when you go out becomes the most liberating feeling. Our main objective of this trip was to relax and to see/interact with marine life. Jon and I have our differences, but we're united in our love for animals (see our Skukuza safari trip).
A FEW TIPS BEFORE ARRIVING TO MALDIVES
Bring snacks. Seriously. Mini bar items (especially in the Maldives) are as expensive as they come, and there typically aren't available stores on the island to buy anything from.
If you're short on sunscreen or toner or anything, make sure to pop by the pharmacy at Male international airport arrivals area.
Bring long sleeve / leg-covering swimwear. Not for conservatism, but for the planktons and jellyfish that literally decimated our skin with itchy little stings and bites during dives and snorkels.
Get a waterproof phone cover. I had to buy mine at the dive centre for an extortionate price, and the quality wasn't great, so get it while Taobao/Amazon is still accessible to you.
Bring good mosquito repellent.
Take out US dollars so you have enough cash for tips.