Thoddoo island: How our stay turned into a total nightmare – are local islands in the Maldives a safe destination for solo women travellers?
In this article, we will tell you about our shocking experience we had on Thoddoo island in the Maldives while staying in Serene Sky Guest House/ Relax Residence Guest House.
The Maldives, the country of astonishing coral islands in the Indian Ocean, is blessed with fantastic white sand beaches and spectacular turquoise colour of the sea. These heavenly beautiful islands are well-known as a luxury destination, mainly for honeymooners.
Having said that, the scene has changed over the past few years and plenty of guest houses have been built on local islands so visiting the Maldives has become more affordable and has enabled travellers to experience the real Maldives.
We visited a local island Mathiveri last year; the sea was spectacular but the people who worked in the guest house and the other locals were hostile to us and the service was terrible.
We gave the local Maldivian islands second chance this year because we believed that last year Mathiveri island was just a bad choice.
We chose to visit a local island again because we wanted to get to know the Maldivians and their culture, which wouldn’t have been possible if we had stayed at a resort.
It was hard to find a local island and a guest house which wouldn’t have negative reference on booking sites. Very often we read negative reviews that had been written by women saying that the staff of the guest house who are always men were touching them on a snorkelling trip (although she was with her husband) or were trying to make them have sex with them in exchange for free nights.
After hours of reading reviews on various local islands and guest houses, we decided to travel to Thoddoo Island in Alif Alif Atoll where guest houses had very good reviews and if there was a negative review, it didn’t have anything to do with harassment.
One of the beaches of Thoddoo island
Immediately after landing at Hulhumate International Airport, everything was so interesting again. We took a local boat to Male, the capital of the Maldives, a bustling Islamic city which is the most densely populated city in the world. The population of Male is 153, 379 and the whole city covers an area of 5,8 km2.
While strolling in narrow streets of Male, we could see that a lot of various merchants had gone across the gorgeous islands in the past.
We were looking at the faces and were guessing where who was originally from.
India? Sri Lanka? The Middle East? Africa?
It was interesting to watch the Maldivians. As descendants of merchants from neighbouring countries, their faces revealed the culturally different backgrounds.
The Maldives is a Muslim country (and also the smallest Muslim country in the world) but until the 12th century Buddhism and Hinduism was practised in the islands. Islam was later brought by Moroccan traders.
Most of the local women were wearing black abaya (dress covering the head, shoulders and a body) . They sometimes had their face covered too and we could just see their eyes through black transparent cloth.
Some younger women had jeans, long sleeved tops and colourful scarves on.
Unlike our stay on Mathiveri island, since the very first moment when we jumped into the speed boat taking us from Male to Thoddoo island, local people were very friendly and greeted us with big smiles. The sea was a bit rough after the rain and when we started jumping in the boat, men sitting behind us immediately offered us their seats.
The locals on Thoddoo island were lovely and made us feel very welcome. They smiled at us and greeted us when we were on our way to the beach, a shop or were just strolling around the village. Children waved at us every time we were passing by their houses.
We received gifts from people we just met. Some locals wanted to shake our hands even if this is not their custom. They were smiling and holding our hand as if they never wanted to let us go. It was a bit funny, but unexpectedly pleasant.
The life on Thoddoo island is very relaxed and the island itself is quiet. It was nice to wander the streets of the small village and to talk to the locals. Even if some of them didn’t speak any English, they never forgot to greet us by saying Hello or just Yes and smiled.
When we visited Thoddoo island in September/October 2015, an annual Muslim festival called Eid took place on the island.
Thaara and Baandyia, traditional Maldivian music and dance, were the main part of Eid.
Women performed Baandyia; they were dancing with pots called bandias in Dhivehi, the Maldivian language and were playing on them. Men were drumming, singing and dancing; Thaara means tambourine in Dhivehi.
During the two weeks foregoing the date of the festival, the local people were practising Baandyia and Thaara every evening. We were allowed to watch the preparations and rehearsals of Thaara. It was amazing to be a part of all of this and we really felt very privileged to witness this amazing performance that dates back to the 17th century. Thaara is still being practised on very few Maldivian islands.
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Everything was going well on Thoddoo island and we were enjoying our stay. We were waiting for the main show Thaara which took place on the last day of Eid. Our plan was to leave the night after Thaara by night cargo boat and go to Male to catch the flight to India.
When we started packing up, we realised that we didn’t feel like leaving Thoddoo yet. We felt like staying and relaxing for a little longer before travelling to India. We made a quick decision to stay two more weeks, change the date of our flight to India and extend our visas for the Maldives.
How our stay on Thoddoo island turned into
a total nightmare
Just a few days after Thaara we knew that we should have left Thoddoo island
by the night boat the day after Tharra.
Our stay on Thoddoo island turned into a total nightmare.
Our opinion on the safety of foreign women on local Maldivian islands changed completely.
The following incident was just the beginning of 2 weeks full of awful and dangerous situations.
As the Maldives is a Muslim country, it’s prohibited to swim in bikini on public beaches.
On most local islands, there’s a so called guest beach or a bikini beach, which is an area of the beach where visitors are allowed to swim in bikini.
Right from the first day, we felt uncomfortable on this beach even if this beach was supposed to be a nice place for guests to enjoy the sea. Almost every day there were boats going very close to the shore and the only reason for the local men in the boats to come so close was to stare at foreign women in bikini.
Several times we saw the men in the boat taking photos of us or other women on the beach, and three times there was a drone flying above the bikini beach too! We never saw the owner of the drone, he was probably hidden somewhere in the bush taking a video of women in bikini.
What’s more, an older local man who was responsible for cleaning the bikini beach, was all the time staring at foreign women too.
So we spent most of the time by the sea on public beaches. We were told in our guest house Serene Sky Guest House – also called Relax Residence that it was OK for us to be anywhere on the island, but dressed properly – we always had a T-shirt covering our arms and light long trousers on.
Some days, when we wanted to have a swim in bikini, we stayed on the bikini beach.
One day when we were swimming in the sea 3 metres from the guest beach with other tourists, suddenly all of us saw a boat coming very fast towards us. We all stayed like frozen in the sea. The boat went very fast among all of us and parked nearby, on a public beach.
We immediately dressed and went to find the man. We asked him whether he could next time avoid the area for guests because he could have easily hit or even killed somebody! We tried to explain to him that the guest beach for tourists is only a very small piece of shore where tourists can swim in bikini, enjoy the sea and it’s supposed to be an area safe for tourists, while he can use all the rest of the island.
He immediately became very rude and started shouting at us:
We were totally in shock while he was screaming:
“Who do you think you are?”
“What are you doing on my territory?”
“Do you think we are the same? Women and men are the same?”
“I don’t care! I don’t care about tourists at all. I just don’t care!”
He was approaching us and screaming so we left and went back to the guest beach.
Later we found out that this man is an owner of Vacation Home Guest House and that everybody in the village knows that he is a rude and aggressive person.
The complete reluctance to ensure the safety of guests of Serene Sky Guest House and Relax Residence on Thoddoo island was shocking.
We were victims of sexual harassment on the public beach on Thoddoo island. The complete reluctance and lack of interest to ensure our safety, safety of other guests at Serene Sky Guest House/ Relax Residence and other female travellers on Thoddoo island was absolutely shocking!
One day, when we stayed on a local beach (dressed properly – like always in the village and on a local beach), within 15 minutes two local men came, were disturbing us and masturbated in front of us!
They came separately and we were so shocked when we saw the first one, that we were not fast enough to take a photo of him, however we could remember him very well. When he saw we were taking our camera, he ran away. 10 minutes later, another man came and did the same – twice. We took photos of this one at least. We quickly picked up our stuff and went to the guest beach which was only about 2 minutes by walk.
We immediately told Ahmed Karam, the manager of Serene Sky Guest House and Relax Residence, about what had happened. He said it was disgusting and that we had to report it to the council at once. At the beginning it all looked like he wanted to help us to identify the men so that it couldn’t happen to us or other foreign women again.
It wasn’t true what he was saying.
Later that day, Ahmed Karam told us that he was not going to tell the council and the police but that he would help us to find the men – which was a lie as it turned out during the following days.
He said that he didn’t want the police from another island to come, as then all people from other islands would know about what had happened to us on Thoddoo and it would destroy the reputation of this island and would ruin the tourism on Thoddoo island. His main argument was that once the police knew about it and this case appeared on news, tourists won’t come anymore!
We would like to point out that there was no police station on Thoddoo island.
We knew exactly how the perverts looked like and knew circumstances too. We even had 3 suspects because we knew many people from Thoddoo island already (we had been staying a couple of weeks on the island at that moment). It would have been so easy and fast to find the men on such a small island !
Ahmed Karam and Ibrahim (the other manager of Serene Sky Guest House/Relax Residence) preferred business to the safety of tourists staying on Thoddoo island and those coming in the future!
Ahmed Karam was lying to us every day and was saying that he was looking for the suspect but nothing was happening. We told him that we wanted to see the three suspects. He promised us to bring them and he never did that, and we couldn’t find them on our own.
He even tried to persuade us that he had found the first pervert. He claimed that one local man had told this story to his friend and this friend had called Ahmed Karam. He even told us the name of this man and promised us to send a photo of him. He was postponing sending us the photo of the man every day.
We didn’t wait for him anymore, found out the address of this man and went to visit him in his house. To our surprise, it was not the man from the beach! This man was much more older than our suspect and looked completely different.
Ahmed Karam made the whole story up so that we would stop searching for the perverts and this disgusting event would simply be swept under the carpet.
We insisted on finding them so that they couldn’t scare any foreign women anymore. Ahmed Karam kept repeating: “You will leave this island and go to another country, but we will stay.”
Ahmed Karam and Ibrahim really didn’t want to understand and didn’t care at all that those men will do it again and it could even be worse. We knew that there had been cases of child and teenage girls abuse on Thoddoo island in the past but the men had been caught by the police.
We realised that Ahmed Karam and Ibrahim didn’t care about the safety of tourists – foreign women – at all.
During the days that followed the incident, we were meeting managers of other guest houses on Thoddoo island and talked to them. Most of them had known about what had happened to us on the beach and said that they couldn’t do anything because we didn’t stay at their guest house and Ahmed Karam and Ibrahim said that they would sort out this issue and would find the suspect with our help. All managers were very surprised to hear that nothing was happening and that Ahmed Karam and Ibrahim were completely reluctant to find the suspect, didn’t want to inform the council and the police and were actually waiting for us to leave Thoddoo.
We were shocked to hear that managers of other guest houses hadn’t informed their female guests. Mainly we talked to Abdullah, the manager of Thoddoo Retreat, about the incident and asked him whether he would help us to find the perverts. He refused it and said he was “in the same kind of business” as Ahmed Karam and Ibrahim from Serene Sky/Relax Residence and didn’t want this incident to ruin their businesses on Thoddoo island. The other shocking thing he said was that “he couldn’t help us”, as then he would have had problems with Ahmed Karam and Ibrahim.
Tourists coming to Thoddoo island don’t stick only to the guest beach but go for a walk around the island too. We saw many women wandering on local beaches on Thoddoo.
No tourists on the island knew what had happened to us. We told this awful story to other solo female travellers about what had happened and that it was not safe to walk around the island anymore. All of them were very upset that nobody from their guest house had told them about it.
We went to the council on Thoddoo island where we reported what had happened. They didn’t help us, either. They didn’t care about this case at all. One of the staff of the council was reading messages on his phone while we were telling them the disgusting story and the other one looked quite amused. We were told that the head of the council was not on the island and that they didn’t have the right to call the police.
The 5th day after the incident on the beach, when we still kept insisting on calling the police, Ahmed Karam said he would inform the council. Later that day he said that Thoddoo council called the police and that they should come the following day, which didn’t happen. We are sure none of this was true.
In conclusion to this point, the perverts who masturbate in front of foreign women on beaches of Thoddoo island are still wandering around and nobody has done anything to find them and punish them.
Ahmed Karam’s lies and postponing the return of our passports.
Ahmed Karam, the manager of Serene Sky/Relax Residence Guest House offered us to arrange an extension of our visas because we wanted to stay longer on the island, of course before the incident on the beach happened.
We agreed because it was easier for us and we trusted him at the beginning.
We knew that the extension takes only 2 working days to proceed but we didn’t get back our passports until 2 weeks later!
He gave our passports to an agent in Male. He had not informed us beforehand he was going to hand over our passports to a third party. We thought he would arrange it himself within 2 days while staying in Male.
Neither of them paid or cared about the extension of our visas. Ahmed Karam lied to us every day saying that he had already paid for the extension and that the delay is the fault of the immigration office.
After we called to the immigration office 12 days later when we started worrying about our passports and really wanted to leave Thoddoo island after the incident happened on the beach, we found out the truth.
The fee for extending our visas hadn’t been paid yet, and that’s why the officer couldn’t proceed the application.
We immediately called Ahmed Karam and made him pay and arrange everything about the visas.
If we hadn’t called that day the Immigration office, we wouldn’t have had the visa extensions ready before the day of our departure from the Maldives.
Invasion of our privacy and dreadful service / absolutely incompetent and uninterested staff of Relax Residence Guest House
We moved from Serene Sky Guest House to Relax Residence before the awful incident on the beach happened.
Relax Residence is a guest house that belongs to Ibrahim’s family. It is the Block C of Serene Sky Guest House.
Our stay at Relax Residence wasn’t relaxed at all, but was a total nightmare, together with the incident on the beach and the issue with our passports.
Firstly, somebody went through our messages on the phone when we had left the telephone charging in the room and went for a snorkelling trip! It could have been the cleaner or anybody from Ibrahim’s (the owner’s) family who had the key.
Members of Ibrahim’s family were constantly entering the plot, sometimes were even sitting there late in the night and were disturbing us by talking loud. They often entered the plot of the guest house without saying ‘Hello’ and overall pretended like we were not there.
We had only cold water in the bathroom. There was something wrong with the boiler and even if we told Ahmed Karam, they didn’t repair it.
After 5 days of our stay, when we asked the staff to clean the outdoor space and the kitchen, they came and were shouting at 7 a.m. in front of our room, so we told them not to come anymore and we cleaned it ourselves.
The woman who was supposed to bring us food in the morning, was trying to get in our room one morning at 7 am, but we were locked. She came back at 8 am, knocked very loudly at our door without a reason and run away!! We though something urgent had happened, so we opened the door, but she was gone. We saw her running away through the window!
Some days there was no food for breakfast in the morning, so we had to call them and wait for them to come and bring us something to eat.
Once we even got old mouldy bread for breakfast!!
They were giving us rain water every day and didn’t tell us that it was rain water, so we were drinking it and got sick.
……the list is endless! We just couldn’t believe all of this, it looked like somebody wanted to make a big “fun” of us!
When we finally met Ibrahim, one of the managers of Relax Residence and Serene Sky Guest House, and complained to him, he said to us that we were lying and that we were “fucking liars”!
If we had had our passports, we would have left the island much earlier and wouldn’t have to suffer from these disasters.
Aggressive manager of Serene Sky Guest House / Relax Residence Guest House
Ahmed Karam’s aggressive behaviour and his attempt to beat us up!
When we finally – after 14 days (!) – got back our passports, we moved from Relax Residence to New Breeze Thoddoo Inn, another guest house, for the last night.
Two days before moving there, we went to New Breeze Thoddoo Inn to visit two friends from the USA who we had met on the beach. That place looked wonderful and the staff was very welcoming, although we didn’t stay at their guest house.
Ahmed Karam came to pick up GoPro camera that we had borrowed from Ibrahim’s brother and forgot to give it back in the course of the terrific events of the last days. The Go Pro camera was not his, and picking it up was just an excuse so that he could enter New Breeze Thoddo Inn and bother us.
After all of these horrendous experience, we decided to pay only for the little amount of food for breakfast we were given and electricity that we consumed in Relax Residence Guest House.
Ahmed Karam became furious when he heard that.
He was screaming at us:
“You are an old filthy woman.”
“You don’t have any single cent to pay.”
“I will not let you leave this island if you don’t pay me.”
“I have reported this case to the border immigration and they will not let you leave this country without paying.”
“If you write us a bad review, we will write you a bad review too and you will have many problems then.”
Then he became even more aggressive, he was coming closer and wanted to hit us!
Fortunately, Raushan, the manager of New Breeze Thoddoo Inn, protected us.
If Raushan wasn’t standing between Ahmed Karam and us, Ahmed Karam would have beaten us up!
The last thing we heard from Ahmed Karam before he finally left New Breeze Thoddo Inn was:
“I don’t want any money from these two lesbians.”
He called us lesbians because we didn’t jump into his bed, which he obviously hoped for, as the majority of managers of guest houses on local islands in the Maldives – the reviews of Maldivian guest houses on Tripadvisor say it all. Most managers of guest houses see foreign women travelling solo as “an easy catch”.
We left Thoddoo island three hours after this last horrendous experience by a night boat completely exhausted. The only thought we had at that moment was: We’ll never go back to the Maldives!
And what is the conclusion?
Are local islands in the Maldives a safe destination for solo women travellers?
After our experience from 2014 and from 2015, we don’t think that local islands are safe and comfortable destination for solo women travellers.
If you really desperately long for visiting the Maldives and don’t have much money or don’t want to spend money on staying at a resort, then travel as a couple, find a male travel partner, or travel in a group.
The local tourism in the Maldives is at its beginning. Locals are not used to seeing tourists, mainly women travelling solo. Actually we don’t think that time can change the attitude of most of the Maldivian men to foreign women.
On some islands, locals, both women and men, can be very unpleasant, as we heard from other travellers and as we experienced on Mathiveri island. This year, we were very lucky with the locals at least; people on Thoddoo island, who were not connected with the tourism, were really nice and friendly.
Based on our experience, we think that if you get into troubles on any local island in the Maldives you won’t get help because women don’t mean much there, the locals behave like cowards and authorities will completely ignore you.
UPDATE: In February 2016 a Maldivian person shared our article with Facebook friends. During the next 6 days, the article was read by tens of thousands of Maldivians. We received a lot of interesting comments and supportive e-mails. You can read the comments below.
On February 23, 2016 we sent a complaint to the Ministry of Tourism of the Maldives (firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com)
As there was no answer from them, we sent the Ministry of Tourism a repeated complaint on March 13, 2016 (firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com). Until now we have not received a reply.