Earlier this year, Sam Choyce and her husband Glenn flew into the ‘paradise bubble’ known as the Shangri-La’s Villingili Resort & Spa, in the Maldives. Sam said if there’d been a way to teleport their two kids to the island, they’d have never come home! Let’s catch up with Sam on that trip of a lifetime…
Over 18 months, 50 people from Australia, Thailand, Singapore, the UK and the US planned a life-changing holiday in the Maldives, all in the name of celebrating our great friend Matthew’s big 4.0. Thank God for Whatsapp! The week leading up to the party of the century saw some hilarious photos and videos flooding the group chat as the excitement had us all as giddy as a toddler in a ball pond.
Our journey started with a night in Sri Lanka, which was surprisingly tranquil, and the people were just divine. (Plans are already in the works to head back and explore this wonderland!) Like the Aussiest Aussies we are, we found a Bali spa in our hotel and snuck in a cheeky massage before heading back to the airport for our flight to the Island.
Of course, our entire group was booked on the same flight from Sri Lanka to Gan [the southernmost island of Addu Atoll, as well as the southernmost island of the Maldives] and we took the opportunity to meet anyone we didn’t know, pop the champagne and cheers to the birthday boy who was waiting for our arrival. The few honeymooners on the flight had a look of terror in their eyes as they realised this cheering group of all sorts were heading to the same paradise island.
A five-minute speedboat ride from Gan airport took us to heaven. The arrival jetty of the Shangri La Villingili had “If you like Piña Coladas…” [“Escape”, the Rupert Holmes Piña Colada song] playing as we stepped off the boat. There was a fresh-coconut welcome drink, and a bouquet of local flowers wrapped in a banana leaf for the ladies. We met our villa manager and were whisked away by buggy to our water villa. The buggy ride through the jungle was a mix of lush, green, wild foliage and a perfectly-manicured road of pressed white sand – this track would become the world’s most perfect bike ride for the next week! The jungle opened to reveal EXACTLY what you see in all the brochures… a jetty over the ocean leading to luxurious wooden bungalows. Pinch me!
Our villa was almost as big as my house in Australia. The attention to detail in every part of the room, bathroom, enormous, walk-in wardrobe and dreamy bathroom were like nothing we have ever seen. And right alongside the luxury was the thoughtful, eco-conscious. Of course, nothing quite takes your breath away like opening the doors to your private deck and looking out at the turquoise water, looking down to see tiny colourful fish darting around the steps from your deck into the ocean and hearing your villa manager tell you to keep an eye out for the baby turtles who sleep under the villa at night!!! Here, I was already thinking of ways to shred my passport and be “stuck” here forever!
We spent the rest of the week eating, snorkelling, eating, swimming, eating, bike riding, eating, dancing at the pool bar, eating, lazing in the villa, eating, partying all night at the birthday boy’s presidential villa, eating again and ordering another piña colada every hour, on the hour, from the minute we woke up until we went to bed!
The bikes parked outside the villas are the best idea anyone ever had on that island! We explored the tracks, worked off some of that cocktail coconut cream and, just when we reached the furthest point on the island at the back of the golf course, we thought, ‘Oh damn! We should have remembered to bring water!’ And, like magic, we turned around to see a little wooden structure with the words ‘Complimentary Drinking Water’ on the door – opened it to find a huge tub of ice and bottles of fresh water… could this place be anymore perfect??
A huge highlight of the trip was an evening sail to watch the dolphins play off the coast of the island on a beautiful tall ship. We saw hundreds of dolphins, even tiny babies jumping with their mums! I don’t think you can ever be too old to squeal ‘Look, look, look!’ when dolphin-spotting! It was magical.
Birthday night celebrations were very, very special. Jessica, the events coordinator on the island, deserved a medal (and yes we actually gave her one!) for planning the most wonderful day. Nothing was too much trouble, we even managed to organise a last-minute skydive for Matt to really enter his party with a bang! We drank cocktails on a private beach with a picture-postcard sunset backdrop, followed by an incredible three-course meal. Chef Philippe was the most accommodating gentleman, even recreating Matt’s mum’s banoffee pie recipe into a birthday cake for 50! We danced the night away. Our dedicated villa managers stayed on until we had all gone to bed that night and told us they’d booked time off for after we left as they knew they wouldn’t be getting much sleep while we were on the Island!
Our time at the Shangri La Villingili will stay with us forever. Each day and night brought a new experience, whether it was a new food indulgence, a new underwater creature to snorkel with, or just spending quality time with our dearest friends on sandy white beaches. We still look back and cannot find one single minute to criticise. If you ever have the chance to go, GO! It really is paradise.
Sam’s five top tips for holidaying in the Maldives:
- Don’t miss out on a hilarious water aerobics session!
- The spa takes your already-relaxed mind, body and soul to another level! Book your daily massage for after breakfast.
- Pack your most floaty kaftans, favourite sandals and all your bikinis. You honestly don’t need anything else!
- Take small notes in USD for tipping your gorgeous staff.
- The more the merrier! If this trip has taught me anything – travelling with friends is the best fun!