The Park Hyatt Maldives: Three days in paradise

I did nothing. I did absolutely nothing, and it was everything that I thought it could be.” – Peter Gibbons, Office Space.

Amy and I spent three relaxing nights at the Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa this past March. The nightly rate at the hotel can exceed $1,000 – before accounting for food, drink and transportation costs. To afford what would otherwise be a prohibitively expensive vacation, we used our two free nights from the Hyatt credit card and redeemed a third night using points.

To get to the Maldives we flew non-stop from Singapore to Malé International Airport, a flight that is about 4.5 hours long. We stayed overnight at a small hotel on the same island as the airport and then took a small turbo-prop flight to Kooddoo Domestic Airport in the morning.

Our morning flight on Maldivian Airlines was booked by the hotel and stopped at another island on the way down. We were fortunate to fly during the day so we could marvel at the endless string of coral islands and turquoise blue waters outside the window.

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View from the plane
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After landing at the Kooddoo airport – really just a runway with a small building attached – we were met by representatives from the hotel. From there we took a short van ride to a waiting speed boat. The boat to the Hyatt property took another 30 minutes.

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View as we arrived at the Park Hyatt

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Entrance to the Park Hyatt Maldives
Needless to say, the Park Hyatt is not an easy place to get to, especially if you’re coming from the US. I took a photo of our location on google maps when we reached the hotel and it looked like this:

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In the middle of the middle of nowhere
The Hyatt property is gorgeous. The whole island only takes a few minutes to walk around and features just 50 guest villas.

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White sand beaches and turquoise water. This was the view outside our villa

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The water was unbelievably clear
There are 36 villas on land – each with it’s own beach access and 14 villas over the ocean. The ocean villas are far more expensive and kind of seemed like a novelty thing. I was perfectly happy – even happier – with our land villa.

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Walkway to the ocean villas
The land villas ring the island and each one has its own access to the beach. They are also incredibly private, something that the ocean villas lack.

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Path to our villa
The villa had two showers – one indoor and one outdoor, and a nice patio to read and contemplate the stars at night from.

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Hallway leading to the outdoor shower
There are several restaurants on the property along with a nice pool, gym and spa.

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View of the pool and main dining area from the bar

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Park Hyatt pool
There is also a more public beach area with lounge chairs set up.

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So what did we do in the Maldives? Well, not much. We went snorkeling outside our villa – the marine life was incredible – spent a few hours on a boat fishing one day, and mostly sat around reading, eating and talking.

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We spotted this shark in the water when we were leaving
There are lots of activities you can book but they come with a steep price tag. Even with our free hotel nights, the trip was still expensive. The inter-island flight on Maldivian Airlines costs $520 per person (payable to the hotel), and none of the meals at the hotel are included in the stay – even the water at the restaurants wasn’t free, an absurd price gouge in my opinion.

All that being said, the Maldives, and the Hyatt property in particular, are beautiful and well worth a visit. Just look at this sunset.

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Gorgeous sunset from the beach

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Us on the beach

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Amy making the most of the trip
 

 

 

Scratching the Surface: A Week in South Africa

After a few weeks apart, and for the second time in less than a year, Amy and I flew from opposite sides of the world to reunite in an unknown airport in Africa. This time, far from the chaos of Douala, Cameroon, we met in the decidedly modern and western airport in Johannesburg, South Africa. Amy had spent the better part of June and July gallivanting through the U.S., while I, alone and lonely, slaved away at work back in Singapore 🙂

We were meeting in Johannesburg to visit our friends from South Africa who currently teach alongside Amy in Singapore. They had graciously invited us to spend the week with them on a whirlwind tour through a few of the country’s highlights.

Safari

Our trip may have been short on time but it was certainly not short on things to do. After a jet lagged but enjoyable day with our friends and their family in the suburbs of Johannesburg, we flew off to Kruger National Park for two days of safari. Definitely one of the most memorable parts of the trip – or of any trip for that matter – animal spotting through the vast African wilderness was a real highlight.

Due to poor planning, I was ill equipped to capture the experience on film as I didn’t bring – nor do I own – a proper camera (there are some things an iPhone camera just wasn’t made for). So please bare with the often grainy quality of the pictures below -hopefully some pictures are better than none at all – although many of our best sightings were seen through binoculars, where no photographs were possible.

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We had no problem spotting these elephants, as they walked directly in front of our car
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Zebras munching on some grass
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Hippos soaking in water
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Giraffes

 

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A rare baby white rhino with its mom partly hidden in the brush
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Off in the distance, a full blown stampede of African buffalo
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An angry elephant in a standoff with a car
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Two white rhinos we saw on a night safari tour

In addition to the above, we spotted a whole range of other animals including lions, crocodiles, impalas and whatever this animal was. . .

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Hyena?

Food

For carnivores of the human variety, South Africa is second to none. There is no shortage of savory, well-seasoned meats for all occasions: tasty sausage and bacon for breakfast; biltong (dried cured meat, similar – but admittedly better than – American beef jerky) and droewors  (dried sausage) for snacking; not to mention chicken, beef and a whole lot more sausage for the (almost) daily braai (the all-occasions South African BBQ).

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Typical store in South Africa

Our short time in South Africa was punctuated by one delicious meal after the next – most prepared and cooked by our excellent hosts.

Cape Town

When the weather cooperates, Cape Town is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. During our three days in the city, we were privy to the full spectrum of Cape Town winter weather: from beautiful blue skies to torrential downpours, and everything in between.

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Our first view of Table Mountain
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Not a cloud in the sky
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Tourists
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View of Cape Town from the boat to Robben Island
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Robben Island

Our tour of Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years, was partly conducted by a former black political prisoner. His poignant reflections of apartheid South Africa, and his first-person account of life behind bars, were both heartfelt and unsettling.

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Entrance to the former Robben Island prison

The surrounding environs of Cape Town are (justifiably) well known for their great wines. We spent a full day wine tasting about two hours from downtown Cape Town. The following morning, the start of my last full day in South Africa, we woke to rain and thunderstorms – the perfect weather for a beachside drive down the edge of the continent!

Here are some of the pictures from that drive:

A wild penguin hiding on the beach
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At the edge of the Earth
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Not a beach day
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Winding cliffside drive
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Selfie
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Far from everything
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The bottom of the world – Cape of Good Hope

 

 

Trip Report: Singapore to Washington DC (Introduction)

A few months ago, Amy and I began to plan our trip home this summer. At the time, I was beginning to worry that future airline mile devaluations could further erode my Chase Ultimate Rewards point balance. Rather than continue to stockpile points (a depreciating and unpredictable asset), I thought it would be a good time to use some of our points to fly back home in (relative) comfort.

Through the Chase Sapphire web portal, it is possible to transfer miles to a large number of frequent flyer programs that operate from Singapore including United, Korean Air and Singapore Airlines.

In general, Singapore and Korean offer superior products. However, the United website is far easier to use and provides availability through several Star Alliance partner airlines. After searching all three websites I found a good flight on the United website with two business class seats available. Our one way itinerary was the following:

Flight 1 – Business Class:

  • Singapore to Tokyo Narita
  • Boeing 777-300ER
  • Operated by the Japanese carrier All Nippon Airways (ANA)

Flight 2 – Business Class:

  • Tokyo Narita to Toronto Canada
  • Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner
  • Operated by Air Canada

Flight 3 – Economy:

  • Toronto Canada to Washington DC (Dulles)
  • Bombardier CRJ-200
  • Operated by Air Canada Express – Air Georgian

We were able to book the above itinerary using a combination of existing United Miles and transferring Chase Ultimate Reward points to my United account. In all, the above itinerary cost 80,000 points for each ticket and approximately US$55.00.

If we had purchased the tickets instead of using miles, they would have cost anywhere from US$8,000 to US$10,000 for the pair.

Occasionally, there are some inconveniences with booking partner awards on the United website. In this case, we were able to pick our seats on the first leg of the itinerary (i.e., the flight operated by ANA) but not on the second and third legs (the Air Canada flights). Rather annoyingly, Air Canada does not allow travelers who purchase their tickets on partner airlines to pick their Air Canada seats until they check in for the flight.

I will write more about the flights in future posts, but I’ve included a few preliminary photos below. Unfortunately, I left Singapore just as I was coming down with a bit of a cold. So although the business class seats were fantastic, and far superior to the equivalent in Coach, I wasn’t able to fully enjoy the business class experience.

Our ANA 777 after landing in Tokyo

Our Air Canada 787-9 Dreamliner