The top destination these days for China’s monied elite is The Maldives, the archipelago in the Indian Ocean which is sinking about a centimeter a year. It’s a strange kind of paradise, split between an impoverished capital (Male) and a string of ridiculously expensive resorts spread over 60 habitable islands. Most resorts claim an island entirely unto themselves meaning that the beach-to-bather ratio is one of the most favorable in the world. It’s a place where Russians are reportedly building an “Island of the Blondes” centered on a resort shaped like a high-heel shoe. It’s also where Taliban elite are said to holiday (The Maldives is a Muslim country, recall).
A Maldives holiday is not cheap. The round-trip flight alone (Singapore Airlines) will run you ¥10,000. And then there are all kinds of layover issues. There are four ways to do The Maldives. Insiders recommend bungalows with private beaches. Scuba divers should opt for liveaboards. Jet set elite will want to hole up in an ultra-fancy resort. And the rest of us make do with a decent B&B in Male and day-trips to the great blue surrounding.
Fancy resorts are a dime a dozen, and the top ones top out well over US$1,000 a night during peak season (January-March). Six Senses, Four Seasons, Banyan Tree—all the biggies are there. What you really need to work out, though, is whether you really want the over-the-water experience. The photos sure look amazing—thatched bungalows laying low over the blue strung together by a wooden pier—but complaints abound about lack of privacy, sleep disruption from the constant lapping waves and low tide nuisances. For the dough, we recommend staying beach bound at a place like the Mihiri (US$800 a night). If you’re looking for the family-friendly option, Diva Maldives is the way to go. They’ve got a popular kids’ club, plus they’re fully-stocked with baby gear so you can pack light for a change.
The Maldives, home to gold medal critters like manta rays and whale sharks, has some of the best scuba diving in the world. A liveaboard is your best bet if you want to do anything other than dip your toes into the water. A night on a top-class liveaboard only runs US$200. The Theia comes highly recommended. Sign on for a seven-day cruise which hits up the best dive spots The Maldives has to offer including the incredible “Stingray City” reef. Or opt for a smaller dhoni dive boat which can get access to trickier locations.
Basing yourself in Male is the cheapest option. There you can find hotels in the under-US$100 range. Once installed, day-trip to the island of Villingili for snorkeling which rivals anything you’ll find in Thailand. Or dance in the sand all night at the Thursday night beach party at the Sheraton Full Moon Hotel. Staying in Male also means you actually get an extra day of holiday because you won’t have to spend the night at the airport waiting for your connection the next day back to the real world.