5 Facts About the Maldives (or, Why Can’t I Just Relax and Enjoy Nice Things?)

Oh, hello there. I realize I left you all on a bit of a cliffhanger. Not about the Mad Pooper. I mean, we’re all waiting for bated breath on that one, but alas, I’m not sure we’ll ever really find out who she is or why she does what she did. And the Colorado police want us all to just flush it and forget it.

No, I left you hanging over our visit to the St. Regis Maldives. Which, honestly, is not a bad place to just hang. And, because really, that’s kind of all there is to do there is…..hang.

Let me tell you a little something about the Maldives, which is sometimes pronounced “Maldiiives” with a long “i” (if you are American) and sometimes pronounced “Maldeeeves” with a long and pronounced “e” (if you are British). Somehow along the way, XFE and I had taken to pronouncing it the British way. That’s fine, too. Nobody at the very fine and expensive St. Regis Maldeeeeves ever corrected us while they were taking our credit card information. No harm. No foul. Or “foal,” however you want to pronounce it.

St. Regis Maldives welcome note for Ms Peo
Perhaps this little mispronunciation of my last name is why they didn’t correct our mispronunciation of Maldives.

Anyway, about the Maldives.

Here are 5 things to know about the Maldives.

They are incredibly remote. – The Maldives – all 1,000 coral islands that make up the tiny 26 ring-shaped atolls of this adorable little tropical paradise – are just floating along in the middle of the Indian Ocean, far, far from just about anywhere. This island nation is just under 9,000 miles (or 19 hours by plane) from our home base of Washington, D.C.

Sri Lanka is probably the closest gateway country to the Maldives at just 642 miles away (it’s a one-and-a-half hour flight from Colombo to the Maldives largest city, Male).

So it’s got that whole Robinson-family-shipwrecked-far-from-civilization vibe to it, which, I’ve got to say, freaked me out a tiny bit.

Atolls in the Maldives
Future St. Regis atolls beginning to take shape.

They are unbelievably beautiful. — Lonely Planet calls it “nature’s sunken garden” and XFE commented that being there was “like living above an aquarium.” The water is an impossible clear, light aqua blue that literally makes your eyes hurt and the sand on the beaches was so soft and white it reminded us of the sand you find in those fancy stamped ashtrays in Las Vegas.

The reefs we explored – both around the St. Regis property itself and during a day of exploring other reefs by private boat – were exceptional. Crystal clear waters teaming with all kinds of sea life and underwater cliffs covered in coral that just went on forever. The reefs were so exceptional, in fact, that we didn’t even go scuba diving. We felt we could see everything we wanted to see just snorkeling, including sharks, octopus, rays, turtles, and all the colorful small fish you can possible imagine.

They are amazingly expensive. – I already spoke a little bit about the room prices at the St. Regis, which we were lucky enough to not have to pay. But those multiple dollar signs pop up in all the other stuff, too.

Hey, you know what grows in coral? Nothing. Not a damn thing. The lack of arable land makes agriculture a no-go, which is why just about every food item (besides fish, and in particular, tuna) has to be brought in. And it’s also why everything in the Maldives (at least in my resort-laden experience) was incredibly expensive (think: $45 burgers, $36 margherita pizza).

Menu at the St. Regis Maldives' Cargo restaurant
Please note the $23 falafel starter. There was also a $45 kebab.

 

(Disclaimer: Apparently, there are a few things that can be grown in the Maldives – hello, coconuts — but even this website notes it’s mostly grown in homestead gardens, not enough to consider marketable. And if these Maldives farmers did sell them, I’m sure they’d be really, really expensive.)

They seriously rely on tourism. — The overall population of all 26 atolls is just over 425,000 and pretty much everybody is involved in the tourism industry. More than 1.2 million tourists visited the Maldives in in 2016, shacking up in one of the 126 resorts located on the atolls. Local laws require a certain percentage of the staff to be Maldives citizens (I think it was something like 51%) so it’s safe to say that the vast majority of Maldivians are somehow involved in travel and tourism.

our St. Regis Maldives Butler
Our amazing St. Regis Maldives butler who put up with us for days on end.

So these guys are total pros—very service oriented, always smiling, very professional. The staff at the St. Regis was top notch all the way. Even when there were glitches (and yes, there were a couple), they bent over backwards to fix things, no questions asked. In fact, if anything, managers and servers wanted to dwell on those glitches: we were asked about and apologized to for service snafus by multiple people throughout the staff multiple times, which sometimes bordered on uncomfortable.

They are all about relaxation. – I don’t want to say there’s nothing to do in the Maldives, because there probably are lots of things to do, if you are not a pasty-delicate-white flower who burns when she even sees a picture of a sun.

And certainly the St. Regis had all kinds of different buildings with a ton of different activities (a gorgeous round library stocked with books, magazines and even Kindles for guest use, another building fully stocked with games—everything from video game areas to ping-pong and foosball tables, a yoga studio with those hanging ribbons ala Pink, a cooking kitchen designed for kids, a ridiculously cool, futuristic-looking spa). They have a movie night on the beach (I think it was on Thursdays) and a very cool DJ spinning at the Whale Bar every night.

Gravity free yoga at St. Regis Maldives

But most of the times we went in those buildings, they were entirely empty. We strolled by the movie night and it was playing to empty bean bags. When we went to the Whale Bar for after dinner drinks, it was usually just us, the staff and the very cool DJ.

Maybe it was the time of year. Who knows? We’d been to resorts on an island before, but this was entirely different. This was an island resort – not a resort on an island. It often felt (other than at breakfast time) that we were the only people in the entire place, which again, made me a wee bit angsty.

St. Regis Maldives beach
Where is everybody?

The one thing that felt slightly odd to me is that every day felt identical. They were all beautiful picture-perfect days. The sun was always shining, the sky was always blue, it was always warm and humid — there seemed no variation to the days at all. I think that could make someone go crazy. You don’t even have the weather to talk about!

In my next post, I’ll talk a bit more about the St. Regis specifically and our overwater bungalow.

That Time We Got Booted From Bali and Ended Up in the Maldives

 

St. Regis Maldives

As mentioned previously, my main man for life, XFE and I went to Sri Lanka for my birthday trip earlier this year, which was culturally enriching yet also challenging (for all the reasons I’ve gone over in previous posts). Which, since this wasn’t exactly our first Southeast Asian rodeo, we kind of figured it might be. And even though we had set aside a few days for some beach time in Sri Lanka, we knew we might want to go seriously luxe out somewhere else.

Plus, when Marriott merged with Starwood, we suddenly realized that our future loyalty perks such as free resort nights and suite upgrades might be in jeopardy, so we best use ‘em or risk losing them.

So, we put our little heads together and thought: “What was the most luxurious, most customer-centric island-retreat-type Starwood property we’ve ever stayed at?” It was actually a no-brainer – The St. Regis Bali. Not only were they very generous with the suite upgrade (an amazing little house with private pool) but the staff were just phenomenal. We could not have been treated better. We booked our room for a weeklong stay, fully confident that we’d have a similar experience again and went on planning the rest of our trip.

Fire dancers
St. Regis Bali fire dancers.

About a month before our trip, we got an email from the St. Regis Bali. XFE opened it, thinking that maybe it was the concierge wanting to see if we needed anything special or (even better) informing us of a suite upgrade. But no. The hotel was informing us that the Government of Bali had rented the whole place out so we could not stay there (nor could anybody else), but the St. Regis would be happy to put us up at any other hotel in Bali (including the W in Seminyak, which we’ve stayed at and really enjoyed).

I gotta admit: My spoilt butt was a little bit crushed. Sure, I liked Bali and maybe would even want to return there at some point in the future because, heck, it’s Bali! But the main reason we were going at this particular time was for that amazing St. Regis experience. I wasn’t even thinking about how we were going to Bali again….I was thinking about how we were going to the St. Regis Bali again.

St. Regis Bali bedroom
I can almost smell the frangipani.

Plus, how rude! Do they not remember that we stayed at the St. Regis back in 2014, literally a month after a very high-profile murder had been committed there? But did we cancel our reservation or bail? No. No we did not. We just looked around for clues and made sure all the heavy vases and fruit bowls were gathered up and stored in the butler’s pantry.

Time out room for rowdy girlfriends.
Butler’s room in our villa at the St. Regis Bali. Good place to hide potential murder weapons.

(Side note: My favorite headline for a TripAdvisor review ever “Everything is perfect, until the murder happened.”)

But then I realized just how awful it must be for the hotel to have to move and re-accommodate all those people, including wedding parties and people on their honeymoon. All because the late-to-the-party Balinese government couldn’t book a conference in advance.

While I shrugged and tried let go of my dreams of kite-flying on the beach, champagne sabering and releasing baby sea turtles back into the sea, XFE got creative and offered up an alternative suggestion that neither one of us thought the fine people at Starwood/the St. Regis would EVER take us up on.

Room 805 at the St. Regis Bali
Room 805, our little piece of Balinese paradise.

That trip-planning-genius-of-a-man kindly suggested to the fine people at the St. Regis that they book us a room using our Starwood loyalty points (ie: with us only paying taxes, basically) at the newly-opened, super luxurious St. Regis in the Maldives. Oh, and he wanted an overwater, sunset bungalow, pleaseandthankyou.

ST-REGIS-MALDIVES-VILLAS Points Guy.png
NOT my photo. The Points Guy gets the credit on this one.

Now, just for comparison, rooms at the St. Regis Bali (looking at March dates, since that was the time of year we were looking at) run about $469 to $2,092 per night – definitely a chunk of change and nothing to sneeze at. The lagoon villa (with private pool) we stayed in in 2014 currently retails for around $1,200 a night.

Meanwhile, rooms at the St. Regis Maldives in March START at $2,580 and go up to $4,500 for a family villa. The sunset water villa (with private pool) that we ended up slumming it in for the week retails for $3,500 a night.

swinging
At that price, I think you get to keep the slippers.

We thought they would laugh in his face. We thought they’d say, “Ummmm, yeah, nice try. Now, may I direct your attention back to the list of luxury Balinese properties we’ve offered up to you, including a Bulgari and a Four Seasons? Surely one of those would do, no?”

But no. The exceptionally fine people at the St. Regis Bali just said, “Sure. We can make that happen. We’ll talk to the property and make sure they can accommodate your request.” And then THEY DID. Which is just another reason to add to the list of why the St. Regis Bali is amazing and wonderful and all of the great things. All of them.

St. Regis Welcome.JPG
Popping bottles, St. Regis Maldives style.

We had to change our flights from Sri Lanka, obviously. And book and pay for the prop plane to take us to from the Velana International Airport in Maldives to Vommuli, which was $645 roundtrip per person for a 45-minute flight to and from the resort, and yikes, that’s a lot of money but still.

prop plane.jpg
You don’t even get snacks on this expensive flight.

And that’s how we accidentally, unintentionally, and maybe undeservedly got to go to Maldives. THE MALDIVES. Without even planning to. All because of those conference-planning slackers, aka the Government of Bali.

self portrait
Me in the Maldives, where I do not at all belong. Literally, everybody there was rich. Like, really REALLY rich. It was crazy.

Hotel Crashing: The St. Regis in Nusa Dua, Bali

When I was a young, sprightly Poe running wild and breaking hearts (ie: dating), I went out for a bit with a bartender/soccer player named Ian. He was pretty hot with dark curly hair and piercing blue eyes. And very fit, obviously. Ian was sleek, sexy, laid back, and a ton of fun. He was also far too cool for my nerdy self. We dated for a summer and that was it.

A little while later, I dated Alistair (yep, I was in the throws of my British dating phase). Alistair was also gorgeous, but in a far more patrician way. He was calmer, more established and successful, very classy act. Well, classy except for the fact that I found out soon after we started dating that he had a live-in girlfriend. That was the end of that.

What I’m getting at is this: If the slick and cool W Hotel in Seminyak, Bali was Ian, then the St. Regis in Nusa Dua was all Alistair. Minus the live-in girlfriend.

Fire dancers
The view from the lobby down through the length of the property. Yep, those are fire dancers.

Continue reading Hotel Crashing: The St. Regis in Nusa Dua, Bali

Balinese Eats that Will (Probably) Not Result in a Spider Body Possession

Babi guling

When I came across this article about Bali, I had to click on it, even though I knew I didn’t really have the “stomach” to do so. (PUN INTENDED) Also: (Heads up: the article I’m referring to involves an Australian tourist and stomach-burrowing tropical spiders. Soooo….yeah. Nothing fun there.)

You see, we went to Bali a few months ago. Actually, we went to Bali exactly two weeks after this event and stayed in the exact same hotel. (Heads up: the article I’m now referring to involves a daughter and her boyfriend murdering her socialite mother and stuffing her in a suitcase. You’ve been warned.)

Anyway, the coincidence of that event and our trip timing was incredibly creepy and weird. Creepy because, well, there had just recently been a murder in what I would positively call the least murder-y type place ever. I mean, seriously, the St. Regis in Bali is amazing. Wonderful. Tranquil. Everything and everyone is peaceful and cheerful and willing to help you with absolutely anything. If you even mentioned, for example, that you liked a particular fruit, that fruit would then appear every damn day nestled in a beautiful wooden bowl, just especially for you.

St. Regis beach
See? Totally peaceful and gorgeous. Not at all murder-y.

Weird because we spent a good part of everyday wondering if any of the staff we were encountering had known or waited on the victim and her murderers. When we saw a sign in the lobby about the area being monitored by cameras, we wondered if those signs were new or if they had been there the whole time. We suspiciously eyed every single heavy decorative object in our bungalow as a potential bludgeoning device. It was all very at odds with a vacation mentality.

Anyway, I’ll talk about the St. Regis in Bali a bit more in another post. Well, probably a lot more, since staying there was one of the best vacation experiences we’ve ever had (We flew a kite! We released a sea turtle! These are not euphemisms! These are legitimate activities we participated in!).

But for today, let’s just explore some of Bali’s best eats in pictures and be glad that no one got invaded by tropical spiders. Also, no giardia, so nothing but unicorns and rainbows as far as I’m concerned.

drinks and sambal

Sambal – This is the first thing we ate in Bali. It was served in a small dish next to these amazing peanut crackers. Sambal is sauce typically made from a variety of chili peppers and secondary ingredients such as shrimp paste, fish sauce, garlic, ginger, shallot, scallion, sugar, lime juice, and rice vinegar or other vinegars.

Nasi Goreng at St. Regis
(Photo not mine. I was too busy eating to take pictures http://www.foodnut.com/i/St-Regis-Boneka-Sunday-Brunch-Bali/St-Regis-Boneka-Sunday-Brunch-Buffet-Bali-nasi-goreng.jpg)

Nasi Goreng – I had this for brunch one morning at the St. Regis in Nusa Dua. It’s a fried rice dish, with shrimp crackers and sliced up omelet, and a side condiment of spicy red paste.

bubur ayem
Photo not mine. I was…well, you know. Click on photo for link/credit.

Bubur ayam – This was another St. Regis brunch special. It was like congee – a non-sweet porridge, with shredded chicken, green onions, sambal and eggs, I think. It was ok, not my favorite.

Satay – The Balinese love their satay. It’s exactly what you think it is: skewers of grilled meat slathered in a peanut sauce. We even ate these on the dive boat lunch (along with a variation of nasi goring).

Babi guling

Babi guling – The Balinese national dish: roasted whole pig. I really wanted to try this, but never got to. We hired a driver to take us around the island one day and he had his own agenda. When I asked about getting babi guling, he said the place he goes to was too far out of the way. Meanwhile, we must have passed about 50 roadside places specializing in babi guling over the course of the next eight hours. I really should have been more insistent. Especially in light of our own Porktober event.

pomelo salad

Rujak jeruk bali – Pomelo salad. Actually, I’m not sure this is a Balinese dish per se. I think it’s Thai. But we fell for it hard. We had it at breakfast and it came in these little glass jars at the W Hotel in Seminyak. A pomelo is like a grapefruit on steroids, and it’s cut up and combined with cilantro, peanuts, green beans, carrots. So refreshing and not unlike green papaya salad, only more citrus-y.

snakeskin fruit

Salak – Snakeskin fruit. It is indigenous to Bali and is related to the palm tree, somehow. It had an easy to peel, flaky outerskin. The inside fruit was segmented, and had a firm flesh similar to an apple, and a small dark pit in each segment. In fact, it tasted a lot like a cross between an apple and a pear, but much neater (less juicy). We loved them and ate a ton of them. Our butler at the St. Regis made sure we were well stocked.

Rambutan - the hairy, scary Balinese fruit
Again, not my photo. Click on image for link.

Rambutan – This hairy, scary-looking fruit was in our fruit bowl, but we didn’t even attempt to eat it.

Bitang - Balinese beer
This one, totally is my picture. Amazingly.

Bitang – Balinese beer. Nuff said.

There was one other dish that I ate twice and loudly declared them to be the best I’d ever had: nachos at the St. Regis. Usually at lunch, by our pool, after drinking many Bitangs and/or glasses of wine. At first, we ordered them out of morbid curiosity, certain that there was no way they’d be any good. But they were. They were delicious. Then I had to order them a second time, just to make sure. They had shredded chicken and a cheese sauce made out of béchamel and they were actually really, really good. I guess sometimes a girl just wants a taste of home.

St. Regis nachos. The. Best.
Amazingly, I stopped shoving these into my mouth long enough to take a picture. Note glass of rose in the background.

Hotel Crashing: St. Regis Bangkok

I’m having caviar withdrawals. And my butler hasn’t brought me my morning cappuccino or left marzipan by my bed during turndown service in over a week. And I love my marzipan. This is wholly unacceptable.

Marzipan at the St. Regis, Bangkok
I especially like them when they’re shaped like little miniature fruit.

Such is life after a first-class vacation.

Yes, we used airline miles and flew first class the entire way to and from Australia, stopping in Munich and Bangkok along the way. The DC-Munich flights were on Lufthansa. The Munich-Bangkok-Sydney portion (and reverse flight) was on Thai Airways. I’ll go into more details about the first class section on those two airlines a bit later in the week. Let’s suffice it to say, we ate a Petunia-sized amount of caviar.

Petunia loaf
“I’m not sure what you’re thinking about, but please put the mini toasts down.”

But let me first talk about the St. Regis in Bangkok. While yesterday I said I wasn’t that fond of Bangkok, they do have a lot of very luxurious hotels. In fact, the St. Regis was right next to the Four Seasons. And, while I was very, very depressed by the poverty in Bangkok, my white man’s guilt was washed away in the marble soaking tub before I was lulled to sleep every night on 300 count Egyptian cotton sheets and plush pillows that practically cradled my head. No insomnia in Bangkok.

The St. Regis Bangkok opened a year ago, and from the moment you get there, its’ pure class. Huge ornate front doors open onto a cool white marble lobby. (Fun fact: it was like Bangkok Fashion Week or something while we were there and the Karen Millen show was held in the St. Regis lobby. No celebrity sightings though.)

Lobby at the St. Regis, Bangkok

You’re not allowed to lift a finger, not even to punch the elevator button to take you up to the fourth floor reception desk. Seriously, there are two hotel employees standing by the elevator to push the up button.

IMG_5306

We stayed two nights in one of the 15  Caroline Astor suites (not the one on the website, however, but still very nice, but we had normal windows, not those amazing panoramic ones on the website).

Caroline Astor Suite, St. Regis, Bangkok

A long entry hallway had an entry table and a powder room before you entered the living room.

Caroline Astor Suite, St. Regis, Bangkok

The room was of course gorgeously decorated with beautiful Thai artwork and furniture mixed in with more modern, traditional furnishings. Everything was so plush and padded, especially the carpets and area rugs.

Caroline Astor Suite, St. Regis, Bangkok

Caroline Astor Suite, St. Regis, Bangkok

Oh, and of course there were fresh flowers throughout.

Flowers in the Caroline Astor Suite, St. Regis, Bangkok

Flowers in the Caroline Astor Suite, St. Regis, Bangkok

The bedroom was similarly stunning, with a large king bed and luxurious linens and tasteful accents, including the glass base lamps and the adorable silver end tables .

Bedroom of the Caroline Astor Suite, St. Regis, Bangkok

Bedroom of the Caroline Astor Suite, St. Regis, Bangkok

The bathroom was ridiculous – from the engraved mirrors above the double sinks to the rainshower/steamer. I am a bathroom girl and I think I could have happily lived in this one. There really was no reason to leave it, except to grab some more marzipan. The tub had a pillow for crying out loud.

Bathroom of the Caroline Astor Suite, St. Regis, Bangkok

Bedroom of the Caroline Astor Suite, St. Regis, Bangkok

Even more ridiculous was the swimming pool, which was a gorgeous black infinity pool surrounded by tropical plants and sweeping views of The Royal Bangkok Sports Club and the Bangkok skyline. Near the pool was their Elemis Spa, which smelled divine.

Pool at St. Regis, Bangkok

Bangkok Sports Club

We also took full advantage of the free wine hour, which was held in a small dark library-type bar called the Decanter.  It was quite cozy, the pours were pretty generous and there were yummy meats and cheeses.

The suites come with the St. Regis’ world class butler service, who are renowned for their packing skills. However, since we had no luggage and basically three outfits apiece, our butler Jo could only help us with reservations and directions. Jo was impeccably dressed in a three piece suit and tie each time we saw him, which is insane when you consider how unbearably hot Bangkok was. All I could think about the whole time was “how does he get to work? Does he bring his clothes separately and then change?”

And Jo staged the suite each evening, turning down the lights, putting on soft music, putting slippers by the bed, laying out robes, replacing all the towels, and putting out the above-mentioned marzipan.

Turndown at the St. Regis, Bangkok

It was all pretty surreal at first, but its’ amazing how fast you can get used to having people push the elevator button for you.  Ever since we’ve gotten back, I often find myself just standing in the elevator at work, perplexed that no one has stepped forward to take on this heavy task for me.

Now if I could just train Petunia to put my slippers by the bed for me……