The Men. The Rules. The Sea. Whoah. – The Maldives

Hulhumale Beach

I first heard of the Maldives from my friends, the pictures they showed me just simply forced me to take a deep breath and stop to admire the incredible beauty being showcased. That’s what I’d always thought a paradise would look like. From the white sand beaches to turquoise water filled with colourful fish and magnificent coral reefs, I was expecting a relaxed holiday where my days would be spent chilling on a hammock sipping cocktails under the palm trees. Simply amazing, so in Feb 2014 I decided to stop there on my way home from backpacking in Thailand and nearby countries despite the not-so-student-friendly price level on the islands.

Well it didn’t go quite as planned.

I arrived pretty late in the evening, ended up on the wrong island to start with, and finally got to the hotel at 1am only to find out there had been a double booking. They gave me a room at another hotel, which was allgood, at least I got some sleep. In the morning there were no cars available, the solution? Let’s take this tiny foreigner with her 23kg backpack and other stuff to the right hotel by a scooter. Scooter. That was interesting.

The view from the hotel room wasn't too bad :)

The view from the hotel room wasn’t too bad 🙂

First day, my dream-come-true relaxing holiday was about to begin. The hotel was awesome, the sun was shining, perfect. “This is my first beach holiday, four days in these beautiful surroundings ought to be what is needed to clear my head and release all the stress from the drama that had happened previously”, I thought.

I could write a 2000 word story on what I did, what I saw. It was all very beautiful, but there are three main points that are vividly in my memory, the three things that weren’t quite what I had expected of my holiday in the Maldives.

The Men. The Rules. The Sea.

Firstly, The Men. Oh dear, I had gotten used to a lot of unwanted male attention in Malaysia and Sri Lanka but this was insane. You could not walk alone for too long without getting someone to follow you and politely, or sometimes not-so-politely, to come up and take a photo or ask for your number. The younger guys were nice and polite; it was fun chatting with them every now and then but the older the men got the creepier the conversation. Why ask your name when you can just go straight to 1) do you have a boyfriend 2) where are you from 3) how old are you. I wonder if I ever meet Michael the doctor or Steve the lawyer that I told so many stories about during those few days 😉 Btw never say you are dating a plummer etc, they WILL try explain why they are a better choice.

But seriously by the third day I was ready to throw a coconut at the next man who would try bother me when I was reading a book on the beach.

And no I was not wearing a bikini then, which brings me to the second point: The Rules.

It is important to follow the local rules and customs when you travel, to show respect. It was silly of me to not do enough background research. To let you know, unfortunately the sipping of the cocktails is not possible in the Maldives unless you go to the “honeymoon islands”, the resorts. It’s an Islamic country after all. Oh well, probably good not to drink anything for the gin & green tea drinks in Colombo had been pretty tasty earlier on.

I had not realized that the clothes I had bought with me weren’t suitable for the Hulhumale island, there was only one skirt and a couple of t-shirts to choose from. Despite the +29 lovely weather, you still needed to dress appropriately – fair enough. No bikinis allowed, shoulders and knees had to be fully covered at all times – even when swimming. And the rules were strictly enforced so if you even consider sunbathing in your swimsuits like the elderly British couple did for a few minutes, well they got yelled at and quickly returned to the hotel for more clothes.

Thirdly, The Sea. Snorkeling was The most incredible – and scary – thing I have ever done.  Here’s a copy of my Facebook update;

I got a little sunburnt - and have never had this many freckles before!

I got a little sunburnt – and have never had this many freckles before!

I love making people smile simply by walking past haha ohhh I’ve never been this sunburnt…! 😀 

Snorkeling was incredible, the turquoise water turned deep blue as I drifted past the edge of the coral reef, there were hundreds of fish everywhere – from tiny multicoloured aquarium fish to comical looking square head ones with eyes almost the size of my fist.Sweet lullaby of the lapping waves and the dance of the rays of sunlight on the corals just made it all surreally beautiful as the strong current pushed me within reach of two turtles. What a wonderful world we live in! [22.2.2014] 

Snorkeling trip, pretty nice aye

But at the same time, snorkeling there was also the scariest thing I’ve ever done, skydiving was nothing compared to that.

There were only three people there, me and the hotel owner were snorkeling and one guy was in charge of the boat. I jumped off the boat and by the time I was ready the currents had already taken me almost ten meters ahead. The water started turning turquoise as we reached the coral reef, there were hundreds of fish everywhere, two turtles, the colours and everything just breathtakingly beautiful. But it was quickly lost.

The turquoise faded. The coral reef fell sharply downwards, almost unexpectedly, as we reached the edge. The tropical fish were suddenly replaced with creatures much larger, much deeper below. The rays of sun could no longer reach the bottom, the navy blue turned into overpowering blackness. I tried to swim back to the colours, I gave it all I got. The current embraced be so tightly there was nothing I could do, there was a lump in my throat, I couldn’t fight it.

Do you know what it’s like feeling completely helpless? Not a pleasant feeling.

Luckily the boat picked us up maybe 40m later, off to another reef. And to check out the sand dunes, the two hour trip becoming something like 6 in the end. It was amazing seeing all the beauty under the surface, an adrenaline rush every time I jumped and let the currents guide me. It took me a long time to learn how to relax, float and breath calmly.

All in all, it was a wonderful and relaxing experience. I met some lovely people, and did enjoy my time there. If you wonder about travelling to the Maldives – do it. It is a paradise – and the food is yummy! But if I’m going back one day I’m taking a real husband to a resort island with me 😉

Advertisements
Image

What does a grasshopper or a scorpion taste like?

Food, the love of my life. I’m not that keen on cooking it, but eating a variety of exotic foods and drinks oh my. Anthony Bourdain has such a cool job! The most important thing to remember when visiting a new place is that if you want good food -> follow the locals. 90% of the time the food has been amazing, and that 10% (like yam pudding with chili in Malaysia or a Som Tam salad at a what turned out to be a gay bar in Thailand), well it was an experience.

Anyway, when I was younger I was a super fussy eater but now food is such a big part of the whole travelling thing – my all time favourite place being: Singapore.

"I waited in line with the locals for 45min for this. Noodles & Soy Chicken. Delicious" Singapore, 2014

“I waited in line with the locals for 45min for this. Noodles & Soy Chicken. Delicious”
Singapore, 2014

I was in Singapore for only like three days, but in that time I fell in love with the food they had. Anything from the wonderful samosas and curries of Little India to spicy noodle soups on offer in Chinatown, the variety of food there was just out of this world. 5/5.

I was actually lucky once again to meet a local who took me around to the best food places – spicy Laksa soup and fruits at a shopping center food court, BBQ at a garden, and dinner at some tiny family-owned restaurant where no one spoke English but my guide. We were there on the last day of Chinese New Year, the best timing ever.

"I don't know what I ate, but it was amazing" Singapore, 2014

“I don’t know what I ate, but it was amazing”
Singapore, 2014

An old lady served us a traditional New Year salad, literally throwing food around (70% landed on the plate) as she opened little packets of herbs/shredded carrot/nuts/oil/spices etc and recited blessings. Perfect – and so tasty, it sucks I have no idea where the restaurant was, or what it’s called… By the time I realized a photo would be good, we had already started on the mains, seafood & noodles that tasted like pancakes. Weird in a good way.

When travelling in Asia, you will came across insects as well. Not necessarily at the tourist attractions such as in the featured image, but also in normal roadside stalls. I figured I might as well give them a try, I had eaten a couple of scorpions in New Zealand already (accompanied with a shot of vodka though) so this time I chose a grasshopper:

"The perfect snack: a grasshopper" Bangkok, 2014

“The perfect snack: a grasshopper”
Bangkok, 2014

Not too bad actually, it tasted like a fried vendance (small fish). Crunchy, salty, kinda tough to start with. A strong oily taste remained afterwards and actually I quite liked the experience. Would eat it again. 3/5

"Scorpion shots by Flame" New Plymouth, 2014

“Scorpion shots by Flame”
New Plymouth, 2014

Here’s a photo of the scorpion shots.. If you ever stop by at Flame Restaurant in New Plymouth (http://www.myflame.co.nz/), do ask if they still have these.

The texture is hmm odd, you get through the chewy cover and then bite into something soft and mushy (first thing in my mind was eating brains or something haha), finished off with the sharp stinger getting stuck between your teeth.. Flavourwise, nothing spectacular. I was quite happy to drink a shot of vodka I gotta admit. Makes a good story though, so do try it if you get a chance!

And if you ever get a chance of travelling from Bangkok to Singapore by train, you can preorder a great meal for around 7€ (expensive in local terms, but for a tasty four course meal being delivered to my table I was more than happy to pay for it). Spicy curry, a soup, rice and some sauce and fruit for dessert. Simple, tasty, made my day. 4/5.

"Thai train dinner" Thailand, 2014

“Thai train dinner”
Thailand, 2014

Good food = good trip.

PS. Just to add, the street food in Sri Lanka was amazing too. Kottu Roti, consisting of shredded bread, chicken and tons of spices. No better comfort food than that after having visited a smoky casino with a Russian man with too much money to spend, a Sri Lankan tea plant owner and a bodyguard/driver. Drugs, money and alcohol – once again, I felt quite out of place.

Can I trust a stranger? – story of the Tuk Tuk driver

Unwanted male attention is something you just have to get used to if you travel alone. From people taking photos of you without a permission to asking for your phone number, “something fun”, you name it. I’ve found myself accustomed to telling stories about my “husband” James the lawyer, Michael the doctor etc who’s waiting at the hotel, just to get rid of the not-so-pleasant new acquaintances – never say you are going out with a plummer by the way, the guys will try convince you why they’d be better.

Men probably take me as a fool, a naive young woman unable to stand up for herself. I do like talking to locals, and I tend to smile most of the time because I’m happy or being polite not because I am flirting – I wouldn’t simply trust a stranger and go off with them just like that. And I’m not looking for holiday romance anyway… I have met a few guys who really gave me the creeps and all I could think of was the movie Taken – in those situations I’ve turned into a convincing liar and found a good excuse to leave asap. But in quite a few occasions in February 2014 I found myself in a situation that is straight from what not to do when you travel alone -guide – committing an act fighting against every recommendation and a voice inside me yelling that something bad is just waiting to happen.

Bangkok, the third day.

After getting a ride home on a scooter the night before, I figured I’d play it safe this time. A Tuk Tuk – those recklessly driving just-waiting-to-crash little vehicles colonizing the streets of Bangkok – was what I though, a fairly safe and cost-effective way to get around. Walking around the protest area during the day was actually quite nice, more of a happy festival atmosphere than a “let’s get our guns out” political protest. I wanted to check out some sights and as I was standing there looking at my map, minding my own business, a lady walked up. She said she’s an English teacher and likes helping out tourists, and guided me to a friendly looking 40 something-year-old Tuk Tuk driver. She gave him a note, explained that he’d take me around and it’d all cost me only 50% of the normal fare.

Sounds suspicious. But it was hot and I was tired so I thought why not, it’s just the main sights and that’s it. First of all, the guy took me to see some temple, a lovely place actually. Then he bought me a beer from the nearby cafe and wanted to make a deal with me. If I was happy to visit six tourist information stalls / tour guide shops, he’d take me around Bangkok for free. Apparently he gets a food voucher for every tourist he takes to those places, and as he was sitting there and telling me about his life I kind of felt sorry for him and said yeah why not, I’m not in a rush.

Three hours and a coconut drink & two beers later we had visited a giant statue of Buddha, two temples and the six tourist infos. I had said no to countless offers on tours, tattoos, musicals etc and I was getting tired and wanted to go back to the hostel and get food. The driver, let’s call him Mike because I can’t remember his name, insisted that I would join him for dinner. He had been really nice and not at all weird towards me the whole day, and with the abundance of stories he’d told and pictures of other female travellers he’d hang out with, I figured he would be harmless.

Bangkok, 2014

Bangkok, 2014

Well I though we had agreed on dinner in Khao San Road, the main tourist area right in the heart of Bangkok. Apparently he had other plans, and wanted to take me visit his sister in the suburbs instead. All alarm bells going off in my head, Laura now get the hell out of here, don’t be stupid. Get out. What did I say?

“Well, umm, I guess it’s ok”

Damn. So there I was, the night was falling and the heat radiated from the roads making the air muggy, there was dust everywhere and the speed of the Tuk Tuk was reaching the likes of 70kmh – which I didn’t even think was possible. The city lights were being left behind as we drove through dilapidated suburbs, dark alleys, past the locals enjoying their dinner in the roadside cafes. The amount of heads we turned, oh I was feeling so out of place, what did I get myself into.

The guy stopped outside a food court and I was left alone in the Tuk Tuk. I was sure he’d never come back again, I had no idea where I was, how to get home. The three minutes he was away felt like an hour, I was actually scared. He saw me being quite freaked out and kept chatting casually, saying he’d take me back to the center straight away if I wanted. For some reason I suddenly felt calm, like I cannot explain it but I felt safe with him, one of those “I might as well see what happens but I know it’s all going to end up well” -moments. Crazy huh.

We arrived at his house. Three giant white apartment blocks stood side by side, with hundreds of 10-15m2 apartments in each. We bough a beer from the shop downstairs and walked into his apartment on the third floor. His sister wasn’t at home yet. I sat in the “living room”, a 5m2 area filled with stuff, barely enough space to sit on the floor. Mike started cooking dinner, chicken curry. He was chatting away, sitting on the floor with his tiny portable gas stove, looking happy. I was given a book about tattoos, he seemed really excited about it and kept telling me how he had his back tattooed in the traditional way using a bamboo stick.

I did a quick tour of the apartment. 15m2 for two people, three tiny rooms. The wallpaper was just about to fall off, there were some sort of religious pictures everywhere, countless books stacked against the wall. The mattresses were rolled up to save some space, a controlled chaos he said. I admired the way my host talked about his life, the way he was perfectly happy with what he had but still optimistically looked into the future, waiting for something better. The way religion mixed into his speech, thoughts seamlessly floating from one concept to another, the perfect peace and harmony he was at with himself. Inspiring.

We ate dinner together and talked, he called a taxi and paid for my trip back to the hostel. He wouldn’t accept any money for the food, just wanted me to get to experience the Thai hospitality, to encourage other travellers to visit his beloved city. Even to this day I am amazed at the way he treated me. One of those people you meet for a day, but remember for years to come.

By the way, you should’ve seen the face of the taxi driver when he picked me up from the residential area, with his broken English trying to lecture me how that area is not safe for a young female like me. I smiled and nodded. The only time anything more than a friendship was mentioned or hinted was when I was freaking out in the alley way and he sat down, “no sex, don’t worry, just friends” with the soothing voice of his – a comment so straightforward and out of the blue that had it been anyone else, I would’ve freaked out even more..

So if you are still with me, reading all the way here, please try to be safe when you travel. Maybe going off with a stranger isn’t the best idea, anything may happen, but for me this particular evening started a chain of events that made my backpacking trip in Asia one to remember. I guess first impressions have a tremendous effect on our behaviour, and sometimes you just go against the rules for something inside you is saying everything is going to be ok – it’ll be an adventure.

The famous gut feeling – trust it, but within reason.