When it comes to the ultimate tropical paradise, I think most of the people will have either Bora Bora or the Maldives in their dream. After visited Bora Bora in 2015, the equally as beautiful lagoon of Aitutaki in 2016, and then a trip back to French Polynesia to explore her other islands last year, believe it or not, I wasn’t planning another island paradise in 2018 but the Maldives made it into our plan! Long story short, there was an “error fare” from Boston to Singapore via Tokyo with Japan Airlines for only $426 roundtrip in January 2018. It was an incredible deal, especially with a full-service well-known airline so we booked the flight first and then plan out the itinerary. We have never visited the Southeast Asia so it was a perfect reason to go! After some research to narrow down the countries, we decided Cambodia primarily to see Angkor Wat and Thailand as they are pretty close to Singapore. My travel addict friend, Sokunna, also took advantage of this error fare and booked as well; it was a good opportunity for her to visit her family near Phnom Penh and then meet us in Siem Reap. We have a few days to visit another place before meeting up with Sokunna in Siem Reap so my first thought was Bali, Indonesia. However, after further research, January is the rainy season in Bali and that dismissed my plan. I went back to the drawing board and searched nonstop flights out of Singapore and Maldives was one of them! Jason has some Hilton points that will be expiring if no account activity so that helped us to decide on the Maldives!
To maximize the time we have in the Maldives, we need to get there by 4:00 pm as the seaplanes only operate during daylights; if arrived between 4:00-10:00 pm will require a domestic flight and speedboat and if after 10:00 pm will require an overnight in Male. I bet airlines use this to set the price; flights arriving late at night are much cheaper than flights arriving during daylight! Likewise, flights leaving Maldives late night are more expensive than the mornings or early afternoons as people would like to stay in paradise as long as they could! That was exactly what we did to maximize our time, 10:05 AM Singapore to the Maldives arrival at 11:40 AM and on departure day 11:25 PM flight departing Male to Singapore. Like I said those flights are more expensive, however, for mile redemption, it’s the same number of miles regardless of the cash price!!! I transferred Chase Ultimate Reward points to Singapore Krisflyer miles for the award redemption, it was only 18,500 miles one way and $17 Singapore Dollars for taxes and fees per person. Better yet, was our outbound route was from Male to Singapore and Singapore to Siem Reap, both flights for the same number of miles – 18,500 and $34 Singapore Dollars in taxes and fees per person! Just the Singapore and Male roundtrip ticket cost over $800 USD since it was the peak holiday season!
That left us the only out of pocket expense to get to the Maldives was the expensive less than 1-hour seaplane ride – $560 which included the steep 23.2% service charge and government tax on goods and services per person roundtrip!
Now the story of how we got there…….
Heard of the saying “It’s not about the destination; it’s about the journey.”? That totally describe our trip to the Maldives! Our Boston to Tokyo Narita flight was scheduled to depart at 12:30 PM so we planned to head to the airport at 9:30 AM. At 7:30 AM, I received an email in poor English that our flight has been delayed and when I looked up the details on Japan Airlines’ website, the delay is 5 hours due to maintenance!!! That means, we’ll miss our connecting flight to Singapore and the ripple effect of not making our 10:05 AM flight from Singapore to Male, Maldives!!! I called Expedia (whom I booked the ticket through) right away and they had to call Japan Airlines which their USA office was not open until another half an hour! OMG! The Expedia agent said she’ll call me back once she got a hold of Japan Airlines so I waited for the call back. In the meantime, I searched Google Flights for alternatives. Unfortunately, there’s no other flight to Singapore by the time we arrive at 9:30 PM out of Narita! There is a midnight flight out of Haneda (another airport in Tokyo) to Singapore but the distance between the two airports is at least 1 hour driving. At that time of the day, there is no more transfer bus so the only option is by taxi is estimated to cost over $300 USD oh boy! I need to find another option so I looked up same day flight from Boston to Male one way, expensive but I can use my miles – 40,000 United miles leaving at night. After over an hour without a word from Expedia, I called again and another agent recommended that we go to the airport now that the delay “wasn’t confirmed”. There seemed to be some confusion within Expedia. That agent was trying to get a hold of Japan Airlines on the phone but he is also on hold. I decided to head to the airport to see if I can find any Japan Airlines representatives. On the way to the airport, the first agent finally called back and said Japan Airlines has no other alternatives to get us to Singapore by the morning to catch our flight at 10 AM and asked if I would like a refund? WHAT??? I asked her if it’s possible for us to buy a separate ticket through another airline to get to our destination but keeping the return flight with Japan Airlines back to Boston? She talked to the Japan Airlines rep and said not possible, if we don’t take the flight out of Boston, the whole trip will be canceled. GRRR, they can’t adjust the roundtrip to just the one way back? At that point, I figured I will not get a solution from the phone so I said I am heading to the airport to figure things out and hang up!
Once arrived at the airport, there was a long line at the Japan Airlines counters, we should’ve come earlier, one lesson learned! We waited in line for over 2 hours and finally our turn. I asked the same question if it’s possible to keep our return flight if we book another airline out to our destination, her answer was no, she has no way to modify our reservation!!! I couldn’t believe they can’t just drop the outbound flights and keep the return flights!!! I was ready to buy another roundtrip ticket to get us to the Maldives and back from Singapore for $1500+ per person and the rep said there’s another possible way…there’s a flight out of Haneda in midnight and will arrive Singapore in the morning. I asked her how to get from one airport to another, will Japan Airlines pay our transportation expense? She said Japan Airlines will either give us a bus or taxi voucher! How about transfer time, will we make it? We have 3 hours to go through immigration, claim our luggage, take a 1 hour bus or taxi to Haneda, check in again, sounded risky!!! She said we should have enough time to make the connection. We were not totally convinced and debated for a while and she said many people will be taking that route too, that was how she know about this alternative. I talked to Jason again and we decided to take the risk! Worst will be we’ll miss our connection and have to stay in Singapore instead of going to the Maldives; we’ll make another and longer stay in the Maldives in the future!
At 4:45 PM, we started to board so at least no further delays and at that point, we just pray for the best. The plane was the comfortable Dreamliner, my favorite plane in the sky!
Japan Airlines is famous for its legroom and food in economy class. I really like the extra seat pockets to store the phone and other small items.
However, their entertainment system was not great in selection, very limited new releases so for the 13 hours flight, we almost ran out of things to watch! I even watched Doraemon in Japanese!
Now the food, this was the biggest food tray I ever had in economy class! The curry beef was flavorful although it would be better if the beef was sliced beef instead. The “appetizers” included ham and egg, some corn salad, and cold noodle. Those small dishes were okay. I didn’t try the cup of salad but it looked fresh. The best was the miso soup, I never have miso soup so rich and flavorful but no tofu or seaweeds. For drink selection, I asked for cold green tea and it was refreshing! For dessert, a cup of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream 🙂
After the great dinner, I was disappointed on their breakfast, I expected an Asian breakfast!
I slept quite a bit on the flight so I will be fully charged to take on the challenge of getting to Haneda in under 3 hours! Luckily, our flight arrived 15 minutes ahead of schedule, we walked out and through the hallway to get out of the gate. A group of Japan Airlines representatives has set up tables and divided up lines according to the final destinations. We saw the Singapore sign and our names were listed there, I pointed our names to the rep and she handed us the electronic ticket and asked us to wait at that spot. I was actually impressed by their preparation and organization to help affected passengers, unlike American Airlines that left us on our own in Sydney! We waited and another Japan Airlines staff came by and said wait for 10 more minutes for other passengers. She escorted our group of 7 people to passport control and asked us to look for her at the other side of passport control. The line through immigration wasn’t bad and they processed pretty quickly. Then, she walked us down to claim our luggage, all the bags were already out and the staff placed in one area already. We picked up our bags and followed her out of the airport to the bus stops. She seemed to be confused at first at exactly where our bus is so she asked her colleagues. At last, she located the bus which seemed like arranged by Japan Airlines instead of the public transfer bus and we boarded the bus. It was 9:50 PM but the bus waited and waited, no idea how many people more to wait, and finally at 10:10 PM the bus closed its doors. We arrived Haneda around 11:15 PM, ran to the check-in counters, checked our bags, got our boarding passes, and went through security. We still have a few minutes to spare before boarding so I bought some snacks (Tokyo Banana cake and Royce mocha chocolate) from the duty-free store.
When we boarded our flight to Singapore, I can finally relief that we will make it to the Maldives, phew!!! The food on that flight was only a bun filled with some veggy and then a breakfast which was better than our Boston to Narita breakfast. I was starving on the 7 hours flight that I started to dig in the Japanese snacks that I got at the airport!
Once we reached Singapore, we have to yet go through immigration, claim our luggage, and transfer from Terminal 1 to Terminal 2. We entered and departed two countries in 24 hours! Once we get to Terminal 2, we immediately head up the lounge which we have free access via Jason’s Priority Pass from the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card. There are 3 lounges in Singapore Changi Terminal 2 and I picked TGM which it’s more like a restaurant than an airport lounge. They serve Japanese and Korean food and for breakfast, they have a special “corporate” breakfast menu for Priority Pass holders.
Jason picked the udon noodle soup and I picked the Korean spicy noodle soup. Jason regretted after the fact that the udon dish only has few thin slices of fish cake, vegetable, and udon noodle. My Korean spicy noodle soup has so much more ingredients! It was so good to have a hot meal after those hectic flights!
There’s also a food court on the same floor as the lounges which have a lot more choices! You won’t go hungry in Singapore Changi Airport!
Changi is also voted as one of the best airports in the world with plenty of gardens and shops!
With another hour to kill, we headed to SATS Premier Lounge for better seatings and internet access.
The lounge also offers food including hot dishes like make your own laksa! I didn’t try that one as I was full from the Korean spicy noodle.
We did tried the congee but there was no “century egg” in there.
The “belly cracker” (in the middle) that I had when I was a kid, couldn’t believe that they have it in the lounge!
Our Silk Air flight to Male was barely full that no one sits next to us in the 3-3 configuration 🙂 There were a few empty rows! The 4.5 hours flight was comfortable although no entertainment system but plenty of legroom!
The food was pretty good too, I had the curry chicken with fried rice noodle.
Jason’s fried fish fillet with noodle was okay, he could make better fried fish fillet 😛
Dessert was ice cream again!
Arriving at Male, we could see the island country upon landing! One of the resorts near Male that we flew passed, you can see the overwater bungalows! We are almost there!!!
More islands and sandbars…
A glimpse of Male, one of the densest capital in the world and it looks like they are building a bridge to connect the capital city to the airport.
We walked into the airport building to go through immigration for the 3rd time and we were shocked by how crowded it was! I just can’t picture the scene with the Maldives – a country of islands isolated in the Indian ocean! The atmosphere was so much different than arriving in Tahiti, French Polynesia where we were greeted by Polynesian dancers and the “you are on vacation” laid back islander style atmosphere. Once we got through the lines of immigration, the arrival hall was another mob scene of people with signs, it reminded me of Cancun! No “Conrad” sign to be seen so we went straight to counter #19!
The guy quickly came over and greeted us. He put Conrad tags on our bags and walked us over to check in at the Trans Maldivians Airways counters where they weighted our bags and Jason’s backpack. I was aware of the weight restrictions so we didn’t over pack, it was not hard to do as it was the first stop on our vacation! I took out the camera from Jason’s backpack beforehand to take photos so that didn’t get factored into the weight 😉 They didn’t weight my purse though and it has my work laptop in there haha!
After that, he walked us out to wait for the Conrad van to shuttle us to the seaplane terminal where Conrad has its own lounge. Across from the airport is the ferry terminal:
It was a 5-10 minutes ride from the airport to the seaplane terminal. We were greeted by the staff who showed us the way up to the Conrad lounge where we checked in our room and waited for our seaplane. There was another couple in the lounge only, it was spacious!
The chairs were comfortable but the views were just the construction site, there were a lot of constructions going on there.
You can walk out to the patio to see the seaplanes, better views out there!
There was no scheduled flight time, it depends on the capacity so the staff couldn’t tell exactly when will be our flight but within 2 hours. Food in the lounge, it is a good opportunity to take some beverages with you otherwise you’ll regret it when you see the drink prices in the hotel, except for the water where they provided two bottles per day in the room 😉
While waiting for the plane, I enjoyed my can of Fanta similar to the ones in Europe not too sweet 😀
The couple who arrived earlier than us left for their seaplane and then another two groups of guests arrived. Perhaps with the arrival of those two groups of guests, we didn’t have to wait for 2 hours and it was our time to board together! We went downstairs and walked to the “departure gate” and then escorted to our seaplane!
We didn’t get to sit in the first row so we took the 2nd row. The seaplane’s seat configuration is 1-2. The view from the 2nd row was largely blocked by the propeller!
It was hot in there as there’s no AC except a small fan on the front. The safety demonstration was very brief…fasten your seatbelt! And then for the take-off…it was really cool to see!
An island off the coast from the capital where they are building lots of apartment complex!
This looked like another residental island?
The 1-hour seaplane ride was an experience itself but I was hoping to see more resort islands with rows of overwater bungalows.
Finally, the private resorts with overwater bungalows, I think this one can be reached by boat from the airport.
We made a brief stop at the Lux Resort to drop off some guests before heading to the Conrad so we experienced take-off twice 🙂
Once some passengers left, I went to the backrow and Jason went to the 1st row on the “1-seater” side to check out the views. Inside the seaplane:
Inflight magazine of the Trans Maldivians Airways routes:
The Lux Resort:
The views on the back row still partially obstructed by the wings so there’s really no great rows to sit. I would avoid the 4th row though as that’s where that beam is located.
Finally, after 3 flights, 2 buses, and 1 seaplane rides and over 36+ hours of travel, we arrived at the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island!!!
The seaplane landed near the middle of the bridge platform that connected the two islands and our host greeted us. Our host was Tina, she’s Chinese and I was a little bit surprised to see so many Chinese workers in the Conrad, probably because of the number of guests from mainland China! The bridge that connects the two islands, facing the main island where the beach villas and more “family” oriented villas and facilities are located.
Tina gave us a cup of slushy while waiting for the wooden boat (Dhoni) to transfer us to the smaller island where our superior water villa located, it was refreshing but I preferred a coconut – more islander style.
The Dhoni came and we boarded the boat to the small island! From the pier, it was a short walk to our superior water villa, almost there!
We requested superior water villa 334 or 338 as they located on the ends of the group of villas for more privacy and unobstructed views; 331-333’s views are obstructed by the overwater spa. I was able to negotiate the upgrade price down to $200 per night excluding taxes since Hilton changed the points redemption recently that for the same 95,000 points per night, the water villa can be redeemed instead of just the beach villa! I negotiated via email in advance!
Our superior water villa, I guess we were spoiled by the 1,200 sq feet overwater bungalow in Bora Bora that we thought our superior water villa was on the small side.
The bathroom looked out of portion compared to the bedroom, they could’ve make the bathroom smaller to give more room to the bedroom!
Our welcome champagne, chocolates, and fruit plate:
The most impressive of our room was the jacuzzi out on the deck…will show that later. Tina gave an overview of the resort, a booklet of information and map, and asked us if we have any plan. I told her that I made reservations for Ithaa cocktail (the world’s first undersea restaurant) tomorrow and she seemed surprised that she wasn’t aware of it. She said she’ll call to confirm. For dinner, we wanted to try the hotpot at Ufaa and she said shouldn’t be an issue for tonight. We also let her know that we don’t drink alcohol and she said she’ll see if there’s another non-alcohol beverage she can substitute for our champagne. Lastly, I let her know that I have requested Shanghai Tang amenities via the Hilton app but I don’t see them in the restroom. We didn’t get to settle down into our room until almost 4 PM so no daylight to waste, we changed, took our tripod out of our luggage and headed out for photos!
The beach on the side of the Quiet Zone pool is more pretty for photos as you’ll have the overwater villas from the main island as the backdrop and during the afternoon, this side has the most turquoise colors as compared to the ocean side where the sunlight is being reflected by the water. The sand is finer although it’s not powdery soft.
Next, we took the Dhoni ferry to the main island to check it out.
The leaning coconut tree that I have seen photos of people sitting on it but now has sign of no climbing 🙁
The sand here is very coarse that my feet hurt walking through them, ouch!!! We walked along the edge to the Retreat Water Villa side and found the infamous George the Heron on top of the hut!
George flew away once I got closer so we continued on to search for photo spots. The row of overwater spas and the Mandhoo Spa Restaurant on the right are good backdrops for photos; I just don’t like the “block” of wood and the panels that sort of ruined the “overwater” floating feel.
I walked in Mandhoo and asked a staff if I can walk out to the deck for some photos, he said no problem 🙂
Hopefully, we didn’t look too tiresome from our 36+ hours of travel!
After the restaurant and Spa Retreat, the row of Retreat Water Villas:
It was almost sunset so we headed back to Ufaa for our hot pot dinner and surprised to find the colorful sunset! I wasn’t expecting a colorful sunset as there were clouds covering the horizon!
I walked out to the beach to take sunset photos! The silhouettes are on the left – the way to get under to Ithaa and the Sunset Restaurant in the middle.
We love to hot pot at home especially during winters, hot pot on the beach was definitely a first time and the most expensive experience. Where else in the world can you hot pot on the beach?
Two menus for hot pot: seafood or seafood and beef. For $10 extra, we chose the seafood and beef of course! When I looked at pictures of the cage of ingredients, I thought I wouldn’t be full afterward but I was wrong; it was plenty of food with the freshly made noodle! That Voss water cost $14 excluding the 23.2% tax!!! And that’s the cheapest beverage option for 2 people, yikes!
I have to say the ingredients were fresh and the broth was tasty. We had our first Maldivian lobster, the texture was more crunchy than our Boston lobster but we preferred Boston lobster as it has a better “seafood” taste. I had prepared Jason for the bill-shock prior to the trip, it’ll be more expensive than Switzerland or French Polynesia and here it is:
After dinner, we walked through the Atoll Restaurant and the Rangali Bar to get to the Dhoni jetty.
Live night entertainment at the bar:
When we got back to our room, I was glad to see Shanghai Tang toiletries delivered! I really got hooked on the light refreshing tea smell but the bad news was that it was their last set available in the resort, what!!!!
Also, our champagne has been substituted by the Sparkling Pomegranate Drink 🙂 Jason’s opening ceremony:
The jacuzzi on our deck that you can turn on the LED lights and heat up the water.
I walked out to photograph the overwater villas at night:
Once I got back, Jason already rinsed and jumped in the jacuzzi!!!
It was a long journey for us and I couldn’t wait to jump in the bed for a good night sleep at that point. Conrad’s mattress was a big disappointment, I was expecting a similar comfortable mattress as the St. Regis or Intercontinental!