Stories from the Road: The Day I Got Stared at a Lot in Male, Maldives

For most travellers, the idea of Maldives is more stretches of fine, powdery white sand, crystal clear turquoise waters, and idyllic huts over said waters and less crammed side streets, hundreds of people on one street, motorbikes and cars whizzing past, and shops lining the streets as far as the eye can see.

But that's exactly what Male, the capital city of the island nation of the Maldives, is.

Flying into stunning turquoise waters

Flying into stunning turquoise waters

The Maldives was only planned as a short trip for us, 4 days in fact, but most if not all travellers will pass through the capital when they arrive at Male's International Airport, before being whisked away to their far flung resorts for that perfect island holiday.

But that's not the "real" Maldives, is it?

This is.

A typical street in Male

A typical street in Male

At least, it is for most of the local population, of which more than 100, 000 out of the approximate number of 400, 000 live on this tiny island, making it one of the most densely populated islands in the world.

So a day of exploring Male City it was, our last day in the Maldives in fact.

After settling into our hotel where we would literally be spending one night and leaving in the morning, we headed out for the day. 

The view outside the window of our hotel

The view outside the window of our hotel

Walking out on to the tiny streets, Male made all my colourful South Asian city dreams come to life. Some buildings were a little run down, but those that maintained their bright pastel hues looked really cool, and I got as many photos as I could, wherever it wasn't thronged with foot traffic, at least.


Quickly though, you get a sense that Male wasn't really made for visitors, but that's not surprising, given that most travellers only stop by the capital if transport to their resorts aren't available, which is usually the case outside of daylight hours. 

Peak tourist season lasts from December to April as its the dry season, but we chose to go in the off season, or rather the wet season.

The truth is, out of the 4 days we had in Male, only one was rainy, but I'm putting that down to luck.

Male City has a few sights of interest, including the Friday Mosque, which we could only walk past as non-Muslims aren't allowed inside without prior invitation.

At the heart of the city lies Republic Square, a small park where many political demonstrations are held, with a big Maldivian flag flying on top of a flagpole, which was really just that, a small square.

As we made our way through the streets, I gleefully trotted a few steps ahead of my mum leading the way. 

Moments later, she observed, " you realise everyone's staring at you?"

I hadn't paid much attention to it before, but she was right. 

Everyone was staring at me.

It seemed like lots of the locals going about their daily activities— especially those who were just hanging out, would pause and stare at me as I walked past.

Not a quick glance, but a lingering observing you from the start of the street to the end of it type of stare.

Being 18 at the time, I was dressed in my favourite tropical printed shirt, which was fine when I did in Bali, Indonesia a couple months ago, which receives an average number of 4 million visitors a year, but this wasn't Bali.

This was Male, which wasn't overrun by tourists or expatriates, in fact I saw less than 10 foreign visitors during my time in the city. 

I felt woefully out of place, and my shirt (well, and hair that would make Elvis proud that I had at the time— never going back to that again, thank you very much) was attracting far too much attention.

I looked so foreign, in a way I'd never felt before.

This streets were as foreign to me as I was to them

This streets were as foreign to me as I was to them

Still, I never felt like my safety was threatened, I was just attracting many lingering stares from many people, who weren't afraid of direct eye contact.

Well there was nothing I could do at this point, so I carried on with other places I wanted to hit off my checklist, including the Maldivian National Museum / Sultan Park and National Museum.

A token entry fee got us in (US$3), and we explored the exhibition halls.

Mind, I've been to many, many museums around the world, including many renowned ones, so this museum felt more like a showroom than an actual museum.

But given the context we were in, I couldn't have been that fussy, so the explanations of the history of the island republic as well as some artefacts were interesting enough to keep me occupied, especially since many of these are unique to the country, and Male isn't exactly the most written about city in the world.


All in all though, even though Male wasn't Paris, Tokyo, or even Jaipur, I didn't expect it to be.

I'm glad I took the plunge to actually see the city, given that my goal was to actually see the everyday life of a local, and not just fly in and be confined to my idyllic island resort, and fly out immediately after. 

There's not anything to go back to that warrants a repeat visit or even a longer stay, as around 24 hours really was quite enough so you wouldn't get bored, and at the end of the day, the sticking out like a sore thumb and being stared at the whole day by hundreds, the navigating of tiny streets with long names, the aimless wandering when we ran out of designated sights to see was actually kinda worth it.

This is Male, this is the Maldives.