FIHALHOHI- No Sugar Coating the Maldivian Culture

Fihalhohi is a place for people who want to appreciate Maldivian culture.

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What is a vacation in the Maldives if you are not able to experience the culture, the food and the hospitality of Maldivians? Although, this island nation brags luxury in the majority of resorts, the epitome to truly experience its culture lies not in high-end resort brands but in local islands and middle class rated resorts such as Fihalhohi Island Resort.

Situated along the lagoon line of Emboodoo, Fihalhohi Island Resort is among the oldest resorts in South Male Atoll. It is more than 30 years in existence and with that said, it speaks a lot about its contribution to how the Maldivian economy’s rise to extreme heights.

It is also a haven of sea creatures and a sure place to go if you want to swim with manta rays, small friendly sharks and reef fishes. South Male Atoll is well known for that especially during the mid-year to the end of the year season.

With that said, what do you expect?

If you want to truly experience the culture of Maldives without sugar-coating it with Western or European Influence, Fihalhohi Island Resort is the go-to place. You can expect hospitality practiced the Maldivian way. Besides, what is the point of traveling here if you will not indulge in the culture and food of Maldivians? You can find luxury all over the world but you cannot find the authenticity of a certain culture just anywhere.

Upon setting foot on the island, I was greeted by one of the owner’s relatives with a fresh towel of floral scent and a glass of tropical refreshing drink. We sat for a few minutes to talk about the history of Fihalhohi before they guided me and my family to our home for the night. I was informed that even the owners would visit the place every week.

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The lobby and almost all places in the resort are equipped with summer-themed furniture made of wood, bamboo, woven pieces.

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Our room is equipped with a woven bed, there is hot water on the shower and a bathtub. It is a couple of steps away from the beach which we do not mind. The whole place gives you a feeling that you are still in a local island- surrounded by big trees (coconut and other varieties) that have been standing there for we never know how long, swings to sit and play and hammocks to relax and sleep.

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Around the place

Across from the jetty area, nearby the bar and the lobby is a place to hang out facing the blue-green clear waters. For the whole day, you can sit and be serenaded by the peaceful gushing of wind and waves or watch the dancing of colorful reef fishes of different sizes when you peek on the waters.

I was enticed by the whole scene of dancing sea creatures that went about the whole day and night as if they know that they are being watched. Every now and then, a couple of manta rays would pass by and a sea turtle would stroll around before disappearing in farther waters. At night, a couple of sharks came by in circles too. It is as if there is no need to go snorkeling because the shores offer the sight of the sea creatures.

Of course, if you prefer to do some water sports, sandbank, trip to nearby resorts, go fishing, go to a sunset sail, you can just ask the friendly front desk officers who will be very much willing to assist you.

Hungry?

As I have mentioned earlier, Fihalhohi is a place to indulge yourself with the Maldivian culture. The dinner and breakfast buffets greeted us with a variety of pastries and bread but the main dish is a selection of meat (fish, chicken, beef) in Indian and Maldivian curries. As you know, Maldivian food prides itself with coconut, curries, and spices. Grilled seafood is available and a few options for western and European cuisines. But expect more of Maldivian and South Asian dishes on the serving platters.

I love it that a specific attendant is assigned to us throughout the duration of our stay. I actually give him a 10/10 rating for his courtesy and hospitality. He ensures we are comfortable in our place, makes sure our water is refilled often and provides our hot drinks without making us wait for long. He does converse with us but he never interrupts us when we are already enjoying our hearty meal.

I have read reviews in TripAdvisor about some guests who do not appreciate the selection of food but personally, I can say that if you expect to eat luxury food originating from western culture, France, Italy, Europe then I suggest you book a luxury resort and also be prepared to shed some of your hard-earned money on it.

Fihalhohi is a place for people who want to appreciate Maldivian culture.

There are a variety of pastries and cakes for deserts.

The Entertainment Area and the Bar

After dinner, my family and I strolled around the place and played “Carrom” in the entertainment hall. Carrom is a Maldivian Board game. If you do not know how to play it, you can check out youtube videos. There is a mini library for bookworms like me and table tennis for sporty kids.

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In the bar is a billiard hall where guests can play while watching a live band play their music. Some day, guests are entertained by Maldivian cultural dancers and some days a DJ plays for those who love to dance. For us, it was a live band that played that night.

The bar has a homely atmosphere with yellow lights, woven furniture with pillows and cushions. During the day, it can be a place to coffee as you read a book while other guests just sit and talk.

So, if you are a family, a newly wed couple wanting to experience Maldives while thinking of mortgages and saving accounts, a backpacker who just wants adventure, say hello to Fihalhohi!

The View: Male Seas and Aglio Olio

When you are in Male, one of the best places to get away from the congestion and just enjoy an amazing view of the Indian Ocean while allowing the wind to caress you is in Salt Cafe.

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The cafe sits in the 6th and 7th Floors of Shinetree Building, Mohamed Ismail Didi Goalhi. It is in the heart of Male which is in the Market Place. It is just across from the local market and a couple of blocks away from the fish market.

In Male, where men are dominant, most of the cafes and the restaurants are crowded by “coffeeing” men and just a few women. “Coffeeing” which is basically a meeting held in cafes, is a favorite hobby in this place. Cafe’s are always full – mostly by men, up to the wee hours of the morning. As a working expatriate woman, this place is convenient for me since it is just a few walks away from my office. Aside from that, this is one of the places that I consider “homey” to women and expatriates.

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The 7th floor, which is the rooftop of the building, is my sweet spot. I just love the view of this place. It is overlooking the Indian Ocean and some nearby islands that are just a few minutes away from Male by boat. The place is equipped with Abaca furniture in an open space that gives you that tropical feeling you will surely often miss when you are on the roads of Male. Smokers usually “coffee” in this area but smoke does not congest the whole place because it is open, it is very high and the wind just plays around constantly. The 6th floor is an air-conditioned area that offers a feeling of luxury with a cozy ambiance and is also overlooking the whole Market place while presenting the same view on the 7th floor.

I have been to this cafe for more than thrice but I always order Spaghetti Aglio Olio. I just love garlic in my pasta. Previously, I had it in plane garlic but in my last visit I had prawns in it. I can say it is very satisfying and one of the best pastas I have ever had in Male. I just love garlic. The flavors are really rich and the olive oil is not that overwhelming. Salt Cafe’s menu is a fusion of Asian, American and European dishes. They have a wide selection of drinks from fruit smoothies, coffee (espressos, lattes) and teas (chamomile, black and green). I ended my meal with a cup of black tea. The service is just fine.

Fun Island- Maldives served for Backpackers

Fun Island

Who says you have to be filthy rich to enjoy the Maldives? Known as a paradise for luxury resorts and a safe haven for millionaires, billionaires, and filthy rich people, Maldives is a place backpackers will think twice about. But not anymore!
Fun Island Resort is the place for people who are rich in collecting travel memories but are industriously looking for ways to make sure that they are within the budget.

If you want to experience Maldives resort life while making sure you still have enough pennies to splurge on your next travel destination, look no further than Fun Island Resort because not only do they have one heck of an affordable deal but you also get the most of the experience you can also have when you go to a luxury resort. You can get it for as low as $120 per night to as high as $400 with full board package (breakfast lunch and dinner included) depending on the season and depending on your accommodation preference.

I am sitting by the resort’s laid-back lobby as I write this post. The lobby is equipped with two mini fountains. I actually feel sleepy hearing the gush of water flowing in what seem like antique jars as I write. 

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Like all the resorts in the Maldives, Fun Island Resort offers the pristine blue-green waters of the Indian Ocean. It is truly indeed a sunny side of life. I booked just a night ago after deciding I need to get away for a night and a day from the buzz of Male traffic (Male is the capital city of Maldives). After 2 months of continuous sales hammering, I am just so grateful to be in this resort so I can breathe ocean fresh air, enjoy the sun kissing my skin and just feel isolated from a career woman’s daily life routine.

I felt the ambiance of “laid-backness” and relaxation as soon as I step foot on the resort. The boat dhoni area is more than a hundred steps away from the shore and it gives you an overview of how it feels like to be surrounded by the Maldivian beach. As you walk to the shore and to the resort area, you can see fishes swimming around as if trying to welcome you. Corals are imminent under the clear greenish water. You can snorkel anywhere since the marine community seems friendly and bragging of their existence even in the shallow parts of the water.

Although the boat captain and boat staff didn’t give water and put on our life vests which I thought was an SOP when riding a boat to a resort, I can thank him for driving swiftly but smoothly.

The staff welcomed me with their widest smiles. Some have assisted us and accompanied us from the moment we got the boat up to the time I got into the room. Upon arrival, you will be greeted by friendly staff who will hand you a cold towel that smells so tropical. Compared to previous resorts I have been to where you will be seated in an open space as you fill out their registration form, Fun Island Resort welcomed you to a “‘home” of comfortable sofa chairs, a mini library, and a television. It feels like you just entered your own cozy home. They offer their refreshment and the staff is really friendly and detailed in giving instructions. 

The Beach

The beach for me is a place to commune with nature as fishes will literally swim with you even in the most shallow part of the beach. A beach towel is provided in your room which is separate from your regular bath towel. Couches and swings where you can even take the nap are all over the place.

There is no swimming pool in this resort so you really should take advantage of the water activities offered at the reception (snorkeling, reef exploring, cruises, local island tour, and diving

The Room

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I am staying in a room by the beach and overlooking the ocean. Since this room is one of the most affordable ones and since I am just here to get away for a night, I think the place is good enough. Walls are painted in white. Aside from a small area that needs to be painted, and the door key that gives me a hard time because it is “literally” hard sticking on the doorknob, I am happy with my room. Clean, neat and homey are the words I can use to describe it. It feels like I am in my parent’s master bedroom. I come from the Philippines and this resort’s furniture choice reminds me of home. Bamboo, Abaca, woven wood are the main highlights of the bed and all other things I see around Fun Island Resort.

The food

The best part for me is the food. Though they do not have the abundance of food choices compared to a luxury hotel, I can say that the food is satisfying. There are a number of meat choices (chicken, baked fish, beef), assorted rice options, different fresh fruit picks and my favorite—- the salad counter is just so awesome! You get to make your own and choose your own dressing. All types of vinegar are there (apple cider, white, rice) get what you want! Olive oil is there for you to enjoy if you are a fan of balsamic sauces. The portions are really big and the food is really tasty. In the culinary sense, I think it is more of the Indian Ocean side – Indian, Sri Lankan and Maldivian way of cooking. Fun Island 23
The dessert table is heaven for me. I have sweet tooth but I love it that pastries, cakes, and puddings are sweet but not “oh too diabetic sweet”. And Fun Island Resort just won my heart with their STRAWBERRY, CHOCOLATE and VANILLA sorbet! I have visited a few hotels, restaurants, buffets around Male, Maldives and other resorts but Fun Island Resort is the only one I have been to so far with the love of my tummy–ICE CREAM! I do know that other luxury resorts have it too but I just can’t get over how big the scoop and the sorbet glass is!

This resort offers, diving classes, fishing and barbecue, sunset cruise and other water sports that most resorts in the Maldives regularly offers.

I recommend this place to frequent travelers who are not much into luxury, a family or a group of friends wanting a break from their day to day activities.

Fun Island Resort will really give you the experience you want in the Maldives without breaking your savings account.

Women Liberty and Empowerment @I45

It was a hot afternoon and a busy day in the office but I was out for grabs because my stomach says so.

So every day, on my way to the office, I would always spot this cafe on a rooftop, i45.   I don’t usually enter local cafes simply because, in this man dominated Muslim country, cafes are usually crowded by Men and the sight of a woman walking in is like a grand entrance in a dungeon of lions. Today, I decided I will give it a try. Since its a cafe in a rooftop and there is no lift, it was a challenge for my gurgling tummy.

But when I reached the top………. I just grasp my breath and uttered a wow.  The place just looks like another world.

Overlooking the city, the cafe brags an interior design that feels like a covered park. Artificial green grass-like carpet is spread on the floor. Though the weather is hot, the cool wind breezes in and out of the space along with ceiling fans. It is on the rooftop and it is understandable why ventilation is just awesome. A few men were seated and smoking but the place doesn’t suffocate you of cigars.i45ss
I sat at a corner overlooking the busy life below me. The ceiling is like a tent of black material that not only blocks the sun but really gives you a feel of a picnic by a park.

One corner fascinated me and that is a nude painting of a woman. Below it is plates of empowering words and quotations for women… or… all people from different walks of life.

This cafe embraced woman empowerment, liberty and freedom of choice. In a society where a woman’s body is covered from top to toe in public places, I could say this is the only place vocal and artistically expressive of their view on the essence of a woman’s body.


The painting, for me, is a silent but firm call to see women in this society in a different perspective.

The Menu

The menu consists of beverages, hot and cold that is usually common to all cafes in Male- espresso, different twists of coffee (latte, cappuccino), tea and fresh fruit juices. The prices are affordable and you can get a meal less than your 100MVR.

The food is a combination of South Asia cuisines and Maldivian. Today I decided to go for a local dish “Rihaakuru”. It is a local dish served with a strong and pungent fish paste made from thoroughly boiling fish and its soup until the water evaporates and a paste forms with all the soup flavors on it. It comes with fish, dried marunggi leaves, sliced onions. white rice and lime.

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At first, I don’t know how to eat it so I sent a message to my Maldivian friends and as I waited for their response, I took a pinch from each bowl in front of me and tasted. I would honestly say the paste is too strong for me- too fishy, too pungent and an undescribable salty taste.

Eventually, my friends replied and instructed me to take small portions from each ingredient and eat it in one bite altogether. I did just as instructed putting more rice on my spoon and low and behold! The flavors exploded inside my mouth with a better taste. I was able to finish my food.

I left the cafe feeling satisfied, happy and excited to go back. I recommend this place to expat women who are looking for a place to experience the real way to coffee like a Maldivian while not compromising elegance.

If you are visiting the Maldives and want to experience i45, you can take a cab from the airport and tell the taxi to take you to i45 Cafe in Male, Fareedhee Magu.

Just Jazz

Inspired by the African-American music genre that took its roots from New Orleans in the US, Jazz cafe is simply it- “Jazzed”. You will absolutely feel the air of South Eastern America as soon as you step foot in this cafe which is “all-dark-wood” crafted from floor to ceiling with Bossanova and Jazz music dancing in your ears. 

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Photo credits to Jazz Cafe fb: http://www.facebook.com/JazzCafeMV

 

The main attraction for me sits just right at the door upon entrance, my favorite comfort food- ice cream. Colorful flavors in different tumblers placed seductively in a wooden display. The Cafe brags of popsicles and other frozen goodies. You will be welcomed to an air conditioned room that seems like the dining areas of typical New Orleans home. The tables and chairs are of dark wood matching the floors. Meanwhile, the coziness is imitating the dining area of a vintage home during the 1920s when hard and dark wood started to become a trend. A wooden stair invites you to the upper floor which is an open space and allows a view of the streets of Boduthakurufaanu- the road encircling the city. This is definitely not a place to view the distant islands or to enjoy the kiss of sea breeze. However it is a place to chill with your coffee while listening to a live band or simply the playing of soft music.

I haven’t really had a meal at Jazz Cafe except for a breakfast with one of my clients where I ordered an american breakfast of pancakes, omelette and chicken sausage. I ended my meal with warm black tea and a courteous “Thank you for your time” greeting to my client. The meal was so far okay, nothing much to say since its an ordinary western breakfast and the tea is the regular black tea I also have at home. I give praise to their berry ice cream though which I have had the first time I visited that place with a mentor. The menu presents western dishes such as steaks, burgers and fries.

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Photo credits to Jazz Cafe fb: http://www.facebook.com/JazzCafeMV

 

The Cafe prides itself for open-mic nights where diners can join their local artists who conduct live band performances. Jazz cafe is also known for gelatos made richer by adding a twist of its natural flavor such fruits and syrups for fruit flavored gel6atos.

If you want to be “Jazzed” in this crowded city and is longing to get the feel of New Orleans and Southeastern America, Jazz Cafe is the place to go.

 

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A Cafe Under a Tree- “Seagull”

When I was a child, I have always been fascinated by tree houses. I haven’t seen one or haven’t been in one until I moved to this city. Could you imagine that amidst the busy buzz of the city and somewhere within the chaotic infrastructures that bar the sunlight stands a strong, old, tall tree that shades one of the coziest cafe’s in Male? Seagull Cafe House is literally a “Tree-cafe house”.

This place is my favorite hang out. I always go to this place more than twice in a week that I even won myself a personal waiter who knows already what I want and where I will sit the minute that he sees me enter the vicinity. Unlike the cafes situated near the shore and overlooking the Indian Ocean, Seagull warmly settles in the midst of the city. It is tucked in a corner of a block in Fareedhee Magu and near a holy ground- a beautiful Mosque. This two-storey cafe features a classic garden feel. In the first floor lies the counter, pastry displays and my most favorite comfort food- ice cream. You are invited to a wooden set of tables and chairs that would make you feel like you are not in a city but in a garden somewhere in Europe. At night, the yellow lamps make the ambiance feel vintage.

My favorite spot is a corner on the 2nd floor. Its over looking the busy street on one side and the architectural facade of the Mosque flaunts on the other side. The best part of it is the big tree trunk that is rooted in the first floor and stands shading the 2nd floor. The place for me seems to be a hideout in a busy day when I need a quick break but at the same time wants to be reminded that I have a workload to finish and have to get going.

Seagull is the ultimate go to for snacks as they feature different pastries, cakes and of course, the best part for me is ice cream. I really love their yoghurt ice cream that is because there is no Frozen Yoghurt shop in this place. The Ice Cream yoghurt is the closest to the fro-yo hype going on in other cities. I haven’t tasted all of the main courses in their Menu but Deviled chicken and Chicken Biryani tops my favorite. Of course, I will always love strawberries and hails strawberries in my ice cream. Budget wise, I can say that it is an affordable place to dine with you only having to spend between 85mvr to 200mvr for one meal.

 

Salt Cafe

When you are in Male, one of the best places to get away from the congestion and just enjoy an amazing view of the Indian Ocean while allowing the wind to caress you is in Salt Cafe.

The cafe sits in the 6th and 7th Floors of Shinetree Building, Mohamed Ismail Didi Goalhi. It is in the heart of Male which is in the Market Place. It is just across from the local market and a couple of blocks away from the fish market.

In Male, where men is dominant, most of the cafe’s and the restaurants are crowded by “coffeeing” men and just a few women. “Coffeeing” which is basically a meeting held in cafes, is a favorite hobby in this place. Cafe’s are always full – mostly by men, up to the wee hours of the morning. As a working expatriate woman, this place is convenient for me since it is just a few walks away from my office. Aside from that, this is one of the places that I consider “homey” to women and expatriates.

The 7th floor, which is the rooftop of the building, is my sweet spot. I just love the view in this place. It is overlooking the Indian Ocean and some nearby islands that are just a few minutes away from Male by boat. The place is equipped by Abaca furniture in an open space that gives you that tropical feeling you will surely often miss when you are on the roads of Male. Smokers usually “coffee” in this area but smoke does not congest the whole place because it is open, it is very high and the wind just plays around constantly. The 6th floor is an air conditioned area that offers a feeling of luxury with a cozy ambiance and is also overlooking the whole Market place while presenting the same view on the 7th floor.

I have been to this cafe for more than thrice but I always order Spaghetti Aglio Olio. I just love garlic in my pasta. Previously, I had it in plane garlic but in my last visit I had prawns in it. I can say it is very satisfying and one of the best pastas I have ever had in Male. I just love garlic. The flavors are really rich and the olive oil is not that overwhelming. Salt Cafe’s menu is a fusion of Asian, American and European dishes. They have a wide selection of  drinks from fruit smoothies, coffee (espressos, lattes) and teas (chamomile, black and green). I ended my meal with a cup of black tea. Service is just fine.

So the next time you want to get away from the busy hustles of one of the most congested city- Male, remember Salt Cafe. It is truly a getaway when the sun is up anytime one feels the need to be free from the suffocating environment of downtown Male. At night, the ambiance is perfect for couples who want to enjoy a sumptious dinner with the perfect view.

 

Male- the core of Maldives

They say, there is no such thing as perfection.  So as the world watches the beauty of Maldives featured in television and in the digital world flaunting the best vacation and honeymoon resorts worth including in your bucket list, the island nation gracefully conceal its imperfection in its business capital – the city of Male.

Contrary to the peaceful white sandy beaches, multi-million dollar worth luxury resorts and picture perfect coral-reefs, Male, the business center of Maldives stands glorious with colorful high-rising buildings, densely packed and narrow streets that are mostly overcrowded in the evening and numerous roving motorcycles. The city, being the mercantile capital of the island nation in the Indian Ocean, is the 11th most densely populated cities in the world as mentioned by worldpopulationreview.com. With over 400,000 people to house in a small city, the construction industry has boomed within the past few years to make way for the establishment of residential buildings. Such buildings are homes to families renting overly priced apartments. An apartment unit which has two bedrooms with toilet and bath, a shared kitchen and living area would be rented out between $1000 to $2500 per month.

The capital city is the main point for imported goods – food, clothing, agricultural produce to name a few, which consist majority of what is in a grocery store. For me, the streets in Male defines what the word “narrow” is. Traffic hauls over the city as almost everyone working and living in here would walk on bricked sidewalks or own a motorcycle as a means of transportation from one point to another.

To live in this place means to forget what buses, trains and sedans look like and instead get used to bicycles, motorcycles, mini cars and of course, speed boats, ferries and dhoni. There is no shopping mall in this city but it is a place where shops, restaurants and cafe’s are in place wherever your eyes rover.

Clean is not a word you would want to describe the shores of Male. As a fishy air clamps into your noise when you walk the jetty area which is where most ferry, yachts, speedboats and boats are anchored, you just have to come into terms with yourself that the waters is a busy place for trade and not for leisure.

Despite thousands of building that almost suffocates you when you first step foot in Male, the busy streets where people of all walks of life crowd into, the reckless driving of motorcycle operators, the constant prayer heard every now and then and the smell of a busy sea everywhere – Male remains the queen of Maldives for within it all kinds of transactions take place before it reaches the crowning beauty of the most highlighted resorts.

Male, rises in its imperfections and everything within it makes it a beautiful and extraordinary city worth walking on.