South AfriKhan Abroad: An afternoon in Malé, Maldives

June 12, 2013 2:41 pm

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Maldivian resorts are a curious thing — you can spend a week in a stunning private island spread, pharm soaking in the country’s remarkable natural beauty, pharm and yet never experience the local culture. Which is pretty terrible, if you think about it, so perhaps airlines had that in mind when they planned their flights out of the country’s capital, Malé. More often than not you’re destined to spend at least a few hours in the bustling island before catching either the seaplane that connects you to your hotel, or your international flight out on the way back.

And so it was that, after a decadent, relaxing week at the W Maldives, I found myself having a comparatively more chaotic afternoon in Malé while waiting for my 3 a.m. Emirates flight. The juxtaposition between seven nights of utter relaxation and seven hours of chaos is pretty sharp, but this quirky little city definitely worth it. Malé only a mile long, so it’s very easy to navigate in an afternoon, but be warned — the streets are as hectic as any South Asian town, and you’ll have to hone your motorcycle-dodging instincts to stay alive.

Our first order of business was turning down the complimentary guide offered by the hotel so we could experience it in our own style. We took the ferry from the airport to the main island with the locals and ambled down the waterfront, figuring out our next steps. We wandered into the Maldives’ first mosque, Hukuru Miskiiy, the Old Friday Mosque, a 17th-century structure built of coral, and admired the unique calligraphy on the wood beams inside.

photo(20)In stark contrast of the charming Friday Mosque stands the imposing Islamic Center, a major landmark.

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We also stumbled into a lovely little art exhibit taking place inside a library, featuring works by young artists from across India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka.

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 One of the biggest surprises? Walking past a theater playing a local Dhivehi movie and realizing that this country of 300,000 people has its own film industry.

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(Good thing we weren’t sticking around till dawn.)

The parks, markets, schools, and shops of this lively island are well worth a stroll, and might make for one of the most entertaining layovers around. If your Maldives plans have you restricted to the confines of your five-star resort, you’re missing out.

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