07.02. – 08.02.2019
Living in Vietnam has some advantages – for example you are not too far away to some of the exotic places you have always dreamed of visiting. For this year’s Tet (some people might know it as Chinese New year) I decided to leave HCMC to visit one of these places. I was finally going to the Maldives. However, this was not a solo trip for a change, as I travelled with my girl friend – our first long distance trip to be precise. So no pressure!!!
Due to Tet and lot of people trying to leave Vietnam for the week long holiday flights were not as cheap as they could be, and the flights with Air Asia involved a stopover in Bangkok on the way to male. An 8 hour stopover!!!
The day started well enough – the traffic to the airport was as usual – no sight of the horrendous congestions I have seen photos of. Check-in was easy and immigration queue was not too bad. Though we somehow managed to get the slowest person working there. A dead person could have worked faster. I saw the other queues disappearing in seconds – it was like hold in a slow moving time bubble. But after 45 minutes we passed immigration and the security. 45 minutes during Tet week. Not bad. I saw a photo of the queue a couple of hours later. Now that is what I call a queue. Apparently some people queued for more than 2 or 3 hours!!!
So far so good. The flight to Bangkok was uneventful and we arrived on time at Dong Muang Airport. And now it really started. I have travelled a fair bit – always organising the trips by myself. My better half travelled less and fully trusted me that I know what I was doing. Well – I felt confident enough. That disappeared very soon – too soon.
We queued for Thai immigration as for an 8 hour stopover I would prefer getting out of the airport. I have done it before in other countries. Even in China with their more strict policies it was no issue. But it seems it is now in Thailand. Showing my passport the official saw my second flight ticket – and after inspecting the flight to Male he told me that I am not allowed the airport as transit passenger. I was a bit confused. Germans do not need a visa to enter Thailand. I have proof that I leave the country. But they still do not let me into the country???
Bit gobsmacked (and not happy at all) I had a longer conversation with the less than helpful ground staff of Air Asia and at some point that brought me to the Air Asia desk. Here I was advised that as transit passenger I was not allowed to leave the airport. As this cannot be an official rule of the Thai government as I do not require a Visa, I assume this is the case with Air Asia at this airport as maybe less fees are paid by the airline. Well – after some very friendly words provided to the overall absolute useless Air Asia staff we had no choice than staying at the airport for the time being. On a positive side – I saved money for taxis and shopping. I am sure Thailand does not my little money anyway. So if you have a longer transit, I would recommend not flying via DMK but via Suvarnabhumi. For longer stopovers I will probably avoid Air Asia in future (though flight wise it is a good airline).
Thankfully DMK has improved a lot since my last visit 4 years ago, with quite a lot of shops and food places. So at least we got a nice lunch there – Massaman Curry and some rice with seafood. The food was not too expensive considering it was at the airport and more important – it was tasty…
And then we got lucky. There is a lounge you have to pay $35 and you have to go downstairs. Behind the stairs at the windows I saw some comfortable chairs and thought it belonged to the lounge. But no, it is a separate bar and you can use these chairs if you order something. So at least we had comfy chairs and decent priced drinks (it was cheap for an airport) and we could sit down and have a nap. So we somehow survived the long stopover. I thought that was all the issues we had to face for the trip. I was so wrong – it was just the beginning!!!
The flight to Male left Bangkok on time and 4.5 hours later we arrived a bit early at Male – it was now 22:30 local time (2 hours behind Vietnam time). Nearly 17 hours after leaving our apartment, 3 hours at HCMC airport and 8 hours in Bangkok. We both were a bit tired and very lucky to arrive in Male. Our suitcase arrived as well – so all was good. We exited the area and I was looking for the sign with my name on to get to our hotel.
I searched quite a few islands to find a place the two of us would enjoy. In the end I decided to stay at Huraa island and booked Ocean Vibes. I spoke to the Marketing Manager before the trip and was very happy with the choice. A week before our departure the marketing manager asked if we would like to move hotels to another island as they have whale sharks to watch. While I was interested 1 1/2 hours on a boat was not the best option. So I declined and said I would like to stay at Ocean Vibe. And it was confirmed that we still get picked up at the airport and travel there at night (only 30 minutes from the airport).
So I looked for the sign with the name in the arrival hall – and saw nothing. I walked around. Nothing. The arrival hall got emptier and emptier. Still no sign of our pick up. I got the number of the person who was supposed to pick us up. So using the free phone at the information desk I called the number and after the 6th attempt I got hold of the person. And then I was advised that the room was cancelled as I was suppose to stay at the other hotel as the owner moved hotels to the other island (it turned out that it was actually only the marketing manager that left – not the owner). Obviously I was not advised about the change – and neither was bookig.com. And then I was told that there are no rooms are available. And that they could not pick me up from the airport. So it was now 23:30, I was stranded at the airport with no booking at all and I could not get to the island. As anyone can imagine I was not too impressed. Some people looked at me as I spoke a bit louder as the conversation continued (annoyed by the lack of support and help by the person on the other side) and might have used some very popular words I picked up while living in Scotland. After the initial conversation he called a second time, now a bit more helpful and he wanted to help to find a room in Male for the night and then maybe help to find another room on the island. He promised to call back, but after not hearing anything after 15 minutes I just asked the guy at the Tourist information to find a room anywhere in Male for the night. A few minutes later we were in a taxi to Osmium Hotel that had apparently one of the last rooms available in the area. I did not care about the price – I just wanted a bed for the night. Credit to my GF, she was very patient while I had to deal with this shitty hotel in Huraa.
Just before midnight we arrived at Osmium Hotel in Hulhumale. It is a lovely hotel and the staff was super friendly. They helped us from the start, making the check in process very fast so we could head to the room for some sleep – and ensured that we finally got into our holiday mood. Here is a review of the hotel.
After a rather short night I got up as early as possible to deal with the issue of not having a hotel for the next 6 days. I headed down to the lobby to ensure that at least one person get some proper sleep. And it was a good decision. The guy at reception was very helpful, suggesting several islands which I checked out. At the same time the old marketing manager of the Ocean Vibes replied to my message and she could not believe what happened. While I was told that she cancelled the bookings she sent me confirmation that the rooms were still booked – even advising that I would pay cash. It did not help my blood pressure that this person from the hotel lied to me!!! She offered me to stay at her new hotel on the island of Mahibadhoo. It was a nice offer but after searching the other islands recommended I was sold on Diffushi Island, only 45 minute boat transfer. The receptionist of the hotel worked there before and found out that 2 hotels had free rooms. Quick call to Ohana Beach and 2 rooms and transfer to the island at 3pm were booked. Well – it only took 2 hours of the morning to get this arranged. I was relieved, but still unhappy due to the stress it caused and a lost day on the island.
After the basic breakfast at the hotel (I was no longer on my own…) we decided to explore the area around the hotel for a while. The hotel was only one street away from the beach of Humhumale. While it was a bid cloudy it was lovely to see the blue ocean and the bright beach. It actually helped a lot to calm down and relax a bit. Your feet touching the sand always has this impact on me. We walked a along the beach, enjoying the view of locals swimming, birds flying above us and of course – the fresh air. Coming from HCMC being somewhere with fresh air is always pleasant.
We stopped at a little place along the beach for a small lunch – just a wrap amd 2 fruit juices. I was finally getting into my holiday mood, sitting at the beach, enjoying the view and the sound of the ocean. All was good now.
I must admit Humhumale was rather nice. This is a nice place for a night or two before heading to another island. Quite a few hotels and restaurants are there, and a nice beach to walk along. So not bad at all.
It was then time to return to the hotel, pack our bag and head to the ferry terminal where out boat was supposed to pick us up at 15:30, The hotel kindly let us stayed at the room till 3pm, which was another lovely gesture. The staff there really was amazing.
A short taxi ride later we were at the pier where we supposed to be. No boat in sight at 15:30. It became 15:40. Considering the experience from the previous evening I was a bit more nervous than usual. I did not buy a Sim card so I could ot check my WhatsApp messages. I checked some of the boats in front of the pier. Nothing. A boat arrived, dropped of people and departed. We could certainly not be forgotten twice – surely!!! Well, around 3:50 a boat arrived and after a quick chat it tuend out to be our boat. I cannot explained how relieved I was. We were finally on the boat that would bring us to one of the beautiful little islands of the Maldives. I got a bit excited and could not wait to arrive at Diffushi…
As you can tell, the whole journey and arrival in Maldives did not go as per plan. I got some surprises based on new policies and then the experience how some business is done on the Maldives (I was advised at a later stage that this cancelation malarkey is not just a one off (but also not a regular thing)). It seems I was just unlucky. But it severely impacted the start of a trip that was supposed to be one of these holidays you dream about. It was more like a nightmare for us though….
One advice I would give is, when booking accommodation on Huraa avoid the hotels of the person who owns Ocean Vibe (or rather owned as Ocean Vibe seems to be sold out all the time and the website managed by the marketing manager no longer exist). They own the Beach Heaven Guesthouse as well. I would not trust that owner / company at all – you could have similar issues I had. Booking.com was very helpful after I contacted them – cancelled the booking immediately in case the hotel claimed I did not turn up. This experience certainly put a big bent of my feelings for the Maldives at the beginning….as it was not a good start for the first long distance trip with my better half. And that I took very personal. Though, I can say now – it got better as the trip progressed.