Sunday, May 30, 2021

Traveling to Malaysia during COVID-19 + Hotel Quarantine


I've recently returned to the US after spending 2 months in Malaysia. It had been 1.5 years since I last traveled internationally so I was looking forward to embark on this trip.

If you had asked me last year if I'd be willing to spend 2 extra weeks of my vacation and pay out of pocket to quarantine for 2 weeks in a hotel just to travel back to Malaysia, my answer was 'no'. That was with the expectation that things would be back to normal one year into the pandemic. However, 2021 is showing that Covid-19 will still be with us for awhile and most countries will not be lifting travel restrictions anytime soon.

I could wait till Malaysia no longer requires quarantine to travel back but given how things are going around the world and how people are behaving, I wasn't optimistic that anything will change in the near future, which is why I decided to proceed with this trip.

This pandemic travel experience was certainly very different from all my previous trips, with masks, PCR tests and quarantine being the new norm. As such, I'd like to share how it was like traveling to Malaysia during Covid-19 and my hotel quarantine experience upon arrival in Malaysia.


Preparing for the trip

Flight Booking


There were no direct flights between Maldives and Malaysia, and the connecting flights weren't operating daily either. I wanted to use my airline miles to redeem for the flights so I had the options between Qatar (42,500 AA miles) or Silkair (17,500 Krisflyer miles). I opted for the longer and more 'expensive' route on Qatar (via Doha) as I wanted to avoid the 11-hour transit at Changi airport.




This is an extremely helpful resource for all individuals who plan to travel to Malaysia during COVID-19. The admins constantly update this page with all the latest information and answer questions on a voluntary basis. Many travelers also share their travel and quarantine experiences on this page. I was able to find all the information I needed to prepare for my trip by checking the Announcements and using the Search function.


Entry Documents


These are no longer required effective May 1st but at the time of my travel, all individuals traveling to Malaysia were still required to sign a Letter of Undertaking and Indemnity (LoU) and obtain a Letter of Approval (Entry Permit) from an accredited Malaysian Mission (i.e. Embassy or High Commission). I sent 2 emails to the Malaysian Embassy in Washington DC requesting for the Entry Permit but did not receive any reply. I figured out later that it was probably due to the fact that my flight to Malaysia was originating from the Maldives (instead of the US), so I sent another email with all the relevant documents to the Malaysian High Commission in Colombo (nearest embassy to Maldives) and received the reply and signed Entry Permit on the same day.  


COVID Test and MySejahtera App


At the time of my travel, a pre-departure PCR test was optional. Travelers with an approved PCR test are required to quarantine for only 7 days, while travelers without a PCR test are required to quarantine for 10 days. These rules have since changed and a negative PCR test is now required to enter Malaysia. Since the cost of doing a PCR test in Maldives ($150) was almost similar to the cost of 3 extra days of quarantine (RM150 x 3) and a PCR test in KLIA (RM150), I decided to opt for the PCR test upon arrival and quarantine for 10 days.

All travelers entering Malaysia are required to install the MySejahtera App (contact tracing app in Malaysia). I installed the app, activated and registered my information on the app before I left the US to make sure I had everything set up before departure.


Standard Package vs. Premium Package


We had the option to choose between a standard package or a premium package for the quarantine hotel. The main difference between the standard and premium package is the ability to choose the quarantine hotel before arrival. For standard package, the hotels are randomly allocated and we would only find out where we would be staying upon arrival. I didn't really care about the premium package but I did consider the premium package at Hilton PJ to earn some Hilton points for the quarantine costs. However, after calculating the amount of points I would receive (25,000) as compared to the incremental cost I'd have to pay ($250), I decided it wasn't worth paying extra just to earn those points.


Packing List


Traveling during the pandemic means packing a bit more 'COVID-essentials' and items that may be useful during quarantine. Some of the things I packed and found useful were disinfecting wipes, KF94/Uniqlo masks, hand sanitizers, gloves, travel kettle, HDMI cable, snacks, detergent, and dish wash liquid. 


At the Airport

Document Check


During check-in at Male airport, the airport staff requested for my LoU and Travel Notice. The check-in process took some time because even though everyone was flying to Doha, the final destinations and entry requirements were different for all passengers. The check-in agents seemed familiar with the different documents required for each country. As you can see above, there weren't any social distancing at Male airport.


Lounge


I had a 3-hour transit at Doha airport before my flight to KL (and hubby's flight to Dallas). We headed to the Qatar Business Class lounge to take a shower and had some refreshment before our flights. 


Boarding


Doha airport was busy but not crowded with plenty of space for social distancing. All alternate seats were also blocked. I saw a few Chinese travelers who were suited up in PPE but they weren't on my flight. Boarding in Doha airport was a lot more organized and the staff reminded us to maintain physical distancing while standing in line. Since Malaysia is still not really open to foreigners, I was surprised to see a good number of non-Malaysian passengers boarding our flight. As usual, I waited to board last and had a quick chat with another Malaysian aunty from UK who was also traveling alone.


In-Flight


Seating
For the Doha to KL flight, I was seated at the front section of economy right behind the business class section, which had less passengers and was quieter. The flight was probably only 30% full and everyone had a full row for ourselves. Once again, I made myself comfortable with my economy lay-flat seat and slept through majority of the 7.5 hour flight. As much as I'd like to try out the Qsuites business class, I'm sure glad I didn't waste those extra miles this trip as I got an empty row for myself in each long-haul flight. 

We were provided with a hygiene pack that contains a mask, gloves and sanitizer. I also wiped down my seats and surrounding area with the disinfecting wipes I brought, and was comfortably double masked with KF94 and Uniqlo masks. I was already used to wearing a mask in-flight at this point and had no issues falling asleep with masks on.


Service
This trip was my first time traveling on Qatar Airways but I'd say Qatar did not cut down on their in-flight services at all and everything felt like a normal pre-pandemic flight, with the exception of face mask being required throughout the flight. The cabin crew were dressed in protective gears and had to request some passengers to wear their face mask properly because some people just can't follow instructions. 


Meals
As our flight departed at 2.10am and I had already been awake for 22 hours at this point, I dozed off before the flight took off. I was half awake when they served the egg sandwich snack and didn't end up eating it. An hour before landing, breakfast/lunch was served and I had the vegetables noodles with youtiao. Knowing that it would take some time to get to the quarantine hotel and before I get to eat again, I made sure to eat up and fuel up before landing. Overall, I've been happy with the meals served on all Qatar flights.


Arrival at KLIA Airport

Step-by-step guidance upon arrival at KLIA (for Premium Package)

Disembarkation
Our flight landed at 2.25pm and I was off the plane by 2.35pm. The disembarkation process wasn't any different than usual and it was quicker since the flight wasn't full. The airport was clearly very empty as I walked from our gate to the Aero Train area. I found out later that there were a total of 20 international flights that were scheduled to arrive KLIA on that day. A quick tip here is to connect to the free wifi in KLIA as you are walking to the Aero Train area as you'd need internet to use the MySejahtera app.


Scan QR code with MySejahtera app


The were a few people huddled around the Aero Train area where we were supposed to scan the QR code using the MySejahtera app. There was also a staff stationed at this area helping confused passengers on how to fill out the information on the app. The app prompted me to fill in my flight details, seat locations, IC, passport, and hotel address. Since I wasn't sure which hotel I was staying at yet, the staff helped me out by entering KLIA's address. 


I screenshot the screen showing my red status, showed it to the police, and was allowed through the Aero Train area to proceed downstairs to board the bus to the main terminal. The Aero Train was not operating due to Covid so everyone had to get on the bus to get to the main terminal. I was the first to board the bus and had to wait for about 10 minutes for the bus to fill up. Social distancing weren't required on the bus but I'm glad most people kept a distance away from each other.


Multiple Stations at the Main Terminal


I arrived at the main terminal at 3pm and was 'welcomed' by multiple stations that were set up before the immigration counter. The very first section splits passengers between those who have a negative PCR test result and those who didn't. I didn't do a PCR test before arrival so I followed the signs for no PCR. I provided my passport, boarding pass, and travel history, then proceeded to the COVID-19 test station where they did a nose and throat swab. The swab tests were done quick and I didn't feel any discomfort. I then provided my signed LoU and made the RM150 payment for the PCR test by credit card at the next station before proceeding to the immigration counter. I was done with all the stations and cleared immigration by 3.25pm, pretty quick coz I didn't have to wait at all.

After clearing immigration, we were asked to wait before collecting our baggage. This is where they gather passengers who are taking the standard package in groups as we will be boarding the same bus to the quarantine hotel. I've heard others saying that they didn't know which hotel they were going until the bus arrived at the hotel, but I overheard the staff telling another traveler that we would be going to KIP Hotel Kepong. 


Collect Baggage and Board Bus to Hotel


After waiting for about 20 minutes, we were ushered to the baggage claim area to collect our luggage and proceed to the designated airport exit to wait to board the bus. The staff provided all the information and instructions only in Malay, and one of them happily asked me to help explain what she said to another Japanese guy.

A frontliner sanitized all our bags prior to loading them onto the bus and our bus left the airport at 4.30pm. All in all, it took about 2 hours after arrival to go through all the arrival procedures and leave the airport. Not bad at all, and big thanks to all the frontliners.

Our quarantine hotel was located about an hour away from the airport, but the journey took slightly longer as we hit rush hour traffic. Inter-district travel is restricted in KL so our bus passed a roadblock shortly after leaving KLIA. 


Hotel Quarantine at KIP Hotel Kepong



Check-in


Our bus pulled up at the 'glamorous' hotel loading bay at 5.45pm and all the hotel staff were decked out in PPE waiting to check us in. A staff came onboard asking all of us to stay seated in the bus until our names are called. As you can see from the photos, there wasn't a lot of space at the loading bay so they didn't want all of us crowding the area while we wait to check-in. While we were waiting in the bus, the staff unloaded all our bags and lined them up on the side. They started the check-in process with the senior citizens, pregnant ladies and family with kids. I was seated at the first row on the bus and was next in line to check in. 

I provided my passport and IC, and was informed that the cost of my 10 days (9 nights) stay would be RM1,400 ($340). I was expecting to pay RM150/day so I was happy that it was RM100 cheaper. After making the payment with my credit card, I was provided with my room key and few pieces of paper with QR codes, which includes the QR code to join the Whatsapp group for our quarantine batch and also to fill out a health questionnaire on Google Sheet.

I then collected my luggage and took the service elevator up to 11th floor. Up to this point, I wasn't impressed by the hotel's exterior, and the hallways made it feel like I was in an apartment instead of a hotel. A chair was placed beside every door which was used for all our meal deliveries. I had a quick look of the hotel surrounding before stepping into room 1123, my 'home' for the next 10 days.


Hotel Room


I made it to my room at 6.15pm, feeling relieved that I can finally take off my mask and get some rest after traveling for 33 hours. My first impression of the room was actually pretty good, much better than the exterior. It was pretty spacious, had a floor to ceiling window which can be opened slightly, ample table space for me to work on, and the bathroom had a walk in shower and a large sink. I was slightly disappointed about not getting a king bed initially but was actually glad to get 2 single beds because I could easily swap beds halfway through my stay without having to change the bedlinens myself. The room was considered clean, but I spent the first half an hour in the room wiping down and disinfecting every corner of the room before settling down. 


Set-up for Comfort


Since I was going to be confined in this room for the next 10 days, I made a few minor tweaks to set the room up for a comfortable stay. As I was going to be working throughout quarantine, I brought a HDMI cable to connect my computer to the TV for a 3rd screen. It took awhile to locate and reach the HDMI port behind the TV but I managed to set it up after some persistence. I moved the desk back slightly as it was too close to the TV. The chair was stained and grossed so I placed my packing cube over it. I made the right corner of the desk the 'kitchen' area as it was right next to the fridge. I also brought dish wash soap and sponge to clean my utensils. As I was going to be traveling for an extended period, I brought laundry detergent to hand wash some clothes in the hotel. The hotel slippers I brought from Conrad Maldives came in handy with the wood floors.


Amenities
My room was stocked with a carton of bottled water, 3 extra rolls of toilet paper, a full bag of toiletries (i.e. shampoo, bath gel, soaps), and a bag of coffee, tea, creamer, and sugar. There was a fridge and a kettle in the room. In general, the amenities provided were sufficient and we were able to request for more via the Whatsapp group chat. There was also a phone in the room where we could call the front desk if we needed. Few items I wished the hotel had provided were lotion, conditioner, hairdryer, and iron. 

The hotel had free wifi but it was very spotty. I complained about it on the first day and the hotel did try to fix it but it still wasn't good, especially during the day. Thankfully most of my work calls were in the middle of the night when the traffic is lower so I survived 10 days with the slow internet.


Meals
Our quarantine cost includes 3 meals per day, a total of 26 meals starting with dinner on Day 1 and ending with breakfast on Day 10. All meals were placed on the chair outside my room based on the following schedules:

Breakfast: 7am - 8am

Lunch: 12pm - 1pm

Dinner: 6pm - 7pm

The staff would sometimes knock the door after delivering the meals but they weren't consistent. However, the hotel staff would send a message in the Whatsapp group after all meals had been delivered.

Overall, the meals were decent and the portions were more than enough for me. I usually skipped breakfast because I'd rather sleep. All lunches and dinners came with lots of rice, 2-3 dishes, and almost always include some sort of curry, which I'm not complaining because I haven't had any curry in the States. 

The hotel allowed online food order from GrabFood or FoodPanda between 4pm-6pm as long as they are halal food (no alcohol or pork) but I didn't see the need to order anything. The food provided by the hotel was good enough for me.


Trash


We were provided with a yellow 'biohazard' trash bag everyday for our garbage. I didn't want to be wasteful so I'd keep my leftovers in the fridge for 1-2 days before consolidating them into a trash bag and left them outside my room for the staff to collect.


Hotel Staff Service and Communication


As mentioned above, we were given a QR code at check in to join the Whatsapp group for our quarantine batch, which the hotel staff used for all communication. I was in the 39th batch with 10 days quarantine group. I can't remember exactly how many people were in our group but I think it was at least 50. Our group included a group of employees who returned from an offshore windfarm in Taiwan so they were a lot more active in the group since they knew each other. As you can see above, the hotel staff were very responsive to all sort of questions and requests, including random request to 'talk along the corridor' and complaints about the smell of the veggies.


A lot of information about the quarantine do's and don'ts were also provided in a laminated leaflet in our hotel room. 


Daily Health Update and COVID Test


On day 3, the Health Ministry people came by and gave me my quarantine wristband, a thermometer, and hand sanitizer. We are supposed to check our own temperature daily and complete our daily health update on MySejahtera app. 


I also received the results of the PCR test I did in KLIA on Day 3 via the MySejahtera app. All is good with a negative.


In addition to the COVID-19 tests I had done upon arriving in KLIA, I was required to do another test on Day 7. All of us who were quarantining for 10 days were ushered to another room where we took turns to get our test. For this 2nd test, they did only the nose swab. A negative PCR test result from this 2nd test is required before I'm allowed to exit my quarantine. I was relieved to received the negative test results on Day 9. =) 


10 Days of Isolation
Most people will think that 10 days in quarantine would be boring but I beg to differ. In fact, I really enjoyed my quarantine and could easily do more if I had to. The biggest part was having work to keep me busy. I was working US time zone and since I had nothing else to do, I worked through the night and slept in the afternoon. Besides, 10 days of solitude was priceless. Here are a some things I did during my quarantine:

Work

And more work

Slept at random times of the day

Enjoyed the view of Batu Caves from my room

Worked out

Drank an average of 3 liters of water per day and built my own quarantine trophy

Made a video for the Fun Contest organized by the hotel and won 


Check-out


I had packed my bags the night before and got ready early for the check-out announcement. At 10am, we were informed that check-out would begin and were asked to stay in our room until the hotel staff knocks on our door and bring us to the lobby. The hotel staff knocked on my door at 10.40am, did a quick inspection of the room, and one of the hotel staff helped to bring my bags to the elevator. We were finally allowed to use the main elevator instead of the service elevator. I also finally saw how the hotel lobby looks like. 


There were a few desks set up at the lobby to assist us with the check-out process. I first returned the room key and the hotel staff confirmed that no additional payment was needed. Next, the Ministry of Health staff provided my Annex 17 Discharge Letter, I paid RM150 for the 2nd PCR Test, had my blue wristband removed, and obtained the interstate travel approval from the police. The hotel staff also presented my prize, a 2D1N stay voucher for the Fun Contest at check-out. With that, I was free to go out and about!

Bro came to pick me up from the hotel and we celebrated the completion of my quarantine with a local meal at a nearby restaurant.


Leaving Malaysia

Flight Booking


My return flight from Malaysia to US was booked last June. Even though our travel plans had changed multiple times since then, I held on to this booking and was glad that there weren't any major changes or cancellations for these flights. I used 35,000 Delta miles to redeem for the flights from KL - Incheon - Atlanta - Huntsville, with the long-haul flights on Korean Airlines.

As for my domestic flight from Penang to KL, I booked a separate ticket on MAS only 1.5 weeks before departure as I wanted to make sure that the flight will not be cancelled.
 

Interstate Travel Approval


As I had to travel domestically from Penang to KL to board my flight, I had to obtain an Interstate Travel Approval from the local police station. The process was fairly easy and the police only asked a few questions about my job, not really for the approval but more so because they were nosy. I brought along copies of my US Green Card and my flight itinerary just in case. I was asked to provide this letter upon check-in at Penang airport.


Negative COVID Test


The US requires all air passengers flying to the US to have a negative COVID-19 test result no more than 3 days before departure. The US accepts either an Antigen test or a PCR test. I paid RM216 and made an appointment to do a PCR test at BP Healthcare 2 days before my flight, and received the results the next day around 1pm. I only needed to provide my negative PCR test result once upon check-in at KLIA. The US immigration officer did not ask for my PCR test result when I arrived in Atlanta. 


Exiting Malaysia


Malaysia is still restricting Malaysians from exiting the country and require approval through MyTravelPass or relevant supporting documents to exit the country. As I am a Permanent Resident of the US, I did not need to apply for any additional approval to exit Malaysia. All I had to do was to present my US Green Card to the immigration officer.


Overall Experience

I must say my overall experience had been a positive one and Malaysia has done a great job coordinating and managing the entry into Malaysia and all the quarantine arrangements. Big thank you to all the frontliners for making it possible for Malaysians to travel home safely.

Traveling during a pandemic was certainly a very different experience than all my pre-pandemic travels. The constantly changing travel requirements made it difficult to plan ahead and required a lot more flexibility. Now that I've completed my journey safely, I'm glad to report that everything went as smooth as it possibly could for me. I am incredibly thankful for the ability to travel internationally during these trying times and spend quality time with my family.

We don't know how much longer this pandemic will be with us, but I'm hopeful that we will all be able to travel freely again and spend more time with our loved ones.


Epilogue

I was fully aware of the risks I'd be taking to travel during a pandemic so this decision was made based on the following thoughts and considerations, with the main objective of spending time with my family:

  • My parents and grandparents are not getting any younger. My dad's condition (physically and mentally) has been deteriorating slowly after his 2nd stroke and my grandma is getting more forgetful, so I wanted to spend more time and make memories with them while I can and before it's too late.
  • I've read too many real-life examples in the Malaysia Quarantine Support Group (crowd-source Facebook group that provides useful info for people who are traveling to Malaysia during COVID-19) of people who had to travel home last minute because of an ailing family member or for a funeral, like this guy. This day may come one day but I don't want to wait till that happens to travel home.
  • There is no restrictions for Malaysians to travel back to Malaysia at any time as long as I adhere to the entry and quarantine requirements. In fact, with the interstate travel ban in Malaysia, it's more possible to travel home from overseas than from another state.
  • I earned a 4-week sabbatical with my promotion last year and figured this would be a good time to use it while tagging on some vacation hours that I needed to burn.
  • The COVID-19 situation was better in Malaysia than the US earlier this year (cases have increased since I left).
  • The quarantine cost in Malaysia is considered reasonable as compared to many other countries, and there is no mandatory quarantine coming back to the US.
  • I wasn't able to get vaccinated yet prior to my departure but I made sure to follow all SOPs and CDC travel recommendations to protect myself and others. 

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Pandemic Trip 2021 ✈ Maldives

For the past year, we've cancelled multiple trips but kept our hopes up that the pandemic will soon be over and the world will return to some sort of normalcy in 2021. However, this year is showing that this pandemic will still be with us for awhile and many countries are still keeping their borders closed. 


Maldives is a bucket list destination that we originally planned to save for later when we are older (and have less energy), but this pandemic brought the following changes that made us decide to pull the trigger and make this trip happen earlier. 
  • Hilton extended the expiration dates for all Free Weekend Night Rewards through 2021 and provided the flexibility to use it for any night of the week. That means, I could use both 2019 and 2020 Free Weekend Night Rewards that came with my Hilton Aspire credit card for 2 free nights in one trip.
  • Maldives is one of the few places that is welcoming tourists of any nationalities and does not require quarantine.
  • The seclusion and exclusivity of the 'one island, one resort' set up make Maldives a relatively safe and appealing travel destination at a time like this.

Honestly, with the constant changing travel requirements and flight schedule changes, we weren't optimistic that this trip was going to happen. I lost count of how many times we've changed our flight and hotel bookings since we booked this trip back in June 2020, to the extent that we were still changing our flight up to 2 days before departure. Fortunately all our bookings were made with points and miles, which made it much easier and stress-free to make changes.

Now that we've safely returned from our trip, here's our first-hand experience on how it's like traveling to the Maldives during a pandemic.



Pre-departure Preparations

We've been taking this pandemic very seriously since the very beginning. Apart from hubby having to go to work daily as an essential worker (his lab runs Covid tests), we've avoided all social interactions and stayed home for the past year. Besides, hubby had also been fully vaccinated earlier this year. 

We did our research to understand the Covid situation in Maldives, including the measures and prevention efforts that the Maldives government and the hotel have put in place to ensure the safety and well-being of the tourists.

The Maldives require all travelers to have a negative COVID-19 PCR test result taken within 96 hours prior to departure, and complete a Traveler Health Declaration form within 24 hours prior to arrival the Maldives. To be safe, we tested ourselves for 3 consecutive days prior to departure and received negative results for all 3 tests.

We were absolutely aware of the risks we were taking to travel during a pandemic and the price we may have to bear in case we need to quarantine in the resort. As such, we bought insurance that would cover any additional medical and quarantine costs. 

Unlike our previous travels, traveling during a pandemic means packing a lot more 'Covid' related items such as masks, disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizers, gloves, etc. I brought an extra fanny pack with my carry on to keep all these stuffs. Call me crazy but I even disinfected all the cash we withdrew.

We could have packed very lightly for this 5D4N trip, but we fully utilized the check-in baggage allowance of 50 lbs each as I was traveling back to Malaysia directly after this trip so 80% of our luggage space was filled with stuffs to be brought back to Malaysia.


36-Hours Journey from US to Maldives

Mar 17-19 (Wed-Fri): Huntsville - Dallas - Doha - Male - Conrad Maldives 
Of all the airlines that we could redeem with our miles, we decided to use AA's miles to redeem Qatar Airways flights mainly because Qatar had been the most consistent airline throughout this pandemic. That means less risk of last minute flight cancellations (many airlines have cancelled most of their flights). Our original flight booking was for QSuites (one of the best business class seats) but there weren't any QSuites available when we shifted our travel dates so we opted for economy. Oh well, I guess we shall hold off on inflating our travel lifestyle for now. =P

Our flight from Huntsville to Dallas was scheduled for 1.24pm. However, the weather was expected to turn bad in the afternoon so we requested FIL to drop us off at the airport earlier at 11am so he could drive home before the weather gets back. 

As expected, the airport was pretty empty and it took us less than 10 minutes to check in, get through security and get to our boarding gate. It is important to keep things organized at times like this. As such, I made a folder of all the documents we needed for this trip, including all the additional Covid-related travel documents such as our negative PCR test results, hotel booking confirmation in Maldives, return flight from Maldives, Letter of Undertaking to enter Malaysia, etc. Btw, even though masks are required at airports, you can still see people who just can't follow instructions. =.=

We boarded our flight on time, but as soon as we sat down, the pilot announced that our flight will be delayed by approximately 2 hours due to weather in Dallas. Fortunately, the flight finally departed in time, leaving us with only 1 hour (instead of 3 hours) to transit in Dallas. We made a quick stop at The Club, a Priority Pass lounge to grab some quick bites.

The amount of people at the boarding gate for the Dallas - Doha flight was certainly more than what we expected. As we were connecting from another domestic flight, the airline staff at the boarding gate paged for us to review all our travel documents needed for Maldives, including the negative PCR test result and hotel confirmation. They also asked for our Maldives Health Declaration QR code but since it was still more than 24 hours prior to our arrival in Maldives (we had a 7 hour transit in Doha), the staff reminded us to ensure we complete the form prior to boarding at Doha.

We flew on an Airbus A350 and the flight was probably half full. Face mask is required throughout the flight (face shields are no longer provided/required). All cabin crew were also dressed in protective gears. The airline also provided a hygiene pack that contains a mask, gloves and sanitizer for each passenger. To be cautious, we wiped down our seats and surrounding area with the disinfecting wipes we brought, and double masked with our own N95 or KF94 masks.

We initially had a row of 3 for the both of us but were able to switch to a full row each after take off, and made myself an economy 'lay-flat' seat. It was so comfortable that I slept for more than half of the 14-hr flight. Who needs QSuites when we can get something similar for less miles. =P
 
We were served 3 meals during the 14-hr flight and we both thought they were good.

Landed in Doha at 6.15pm and an airport staff screened the temperatures of all passengers as soon as we got off the plane. We headed straight to the Al Maha Transit Lounge, a Priority Pass lounge, but was directed to the Oryx Lounge next door, and was given a voucher to the Qatar Airways Business Class lounge instead as it was full.

I don't really know the differences between each lounge but I'm glad we got directed to this lounge as it was less crowded and the 4 hours limit weren't enforced here.

The lounge did a pretty good job with the food and beverages by packing everything individually. There weren't too many choices but it was good enough for us.

My favorite thing to do after every long flight is to take a good shower. There were only 2 shower rooms in the female washroom but I didn't have to wait at all. The shower was very clean and it felt great to be able to clean up and refresh after traveling for 24 hours.

After chilling for 5 hours, we left the lounge at 11.30pm and walked to our gate for our 12.40am flight, with a quick photo stop with the famous lamp/bear. 

We were surprised to see our boarding gate was packed with people, mostly Russians. Most of them weren't bothered about social distancing but what annoyed me more was people who refused to wear their masks properly. =.= Our flight was probably 80% full but at least we were able to get a row of 3 for ourselves.

We were impressed that a meal was served for the 4-hour flight from Doha to Male. 

Approaching Male airport. We landed at 7am, 30 minutes ahead of schedule.

However, it took 20 min to taxi and we had to get on a bus to get to the airport terminal. There was no social distancing on the bus, and it got even worse at the immigration area. There were a few flights that landed around the same time with no 'traffic control' at the immigration. The social distancing stickers on the floor were obviously for-display-only. We stood in line for approximately an hour before getting through immigration. We had all our documents ready but they only needed our passports. The online Health Declaration we submitted were linked to our passports and we've uploaded the negative PCR test results so they had all the necessary information in their system already.

A Conrad airport representative with a 'Conrad' sign board was already waiting for us at the arrival hall. We were escorted to the Conrad counter (counter #19) where another Conrad staff helped to take our bags and escorted us to the Trans Maldivian (seaplane) check in counter. The baggage allowance for the seaplane was 27kg + 3kg hand luggage for each person, and each extra kg will be charged $5. I was afraid that ours were gonna go overweight, but luckily they looked at the total weight (60kg for 2 pax) and we came in under at 56.1kg (23.1kg + 23.1kg + 5.4kg + 4.5kg). The Conrad staff took over the whole seaplane check-in process and it was all done within 10 minutes. The seaplane charges were included in our final hotel bill.

We were then escorted to the Conrad van which took us to the Conrad lounge, where we could relax and enjoy complimentary refreshments before our seaplane flight. We could also take a shower if we wanted and Diamond members could get a free 15-min massage here. However, as our seaplane was departing soon, we only had 15 min at the lounge so we only had time to quickly refresh and change into our shorts. I didn't even have time to enjoy my cappuccino...what a bummer. I'm blaming the slow immigration for this.

A group of us then hopped on a small bus and were taken to the seaplane terminal. There's a waiting area at the seaplane terminal but we didn't need to wait at all. We were ushered directly to our seaplane, with barely enough time for me to take any photos. It felt like we were on a race the moment we got out of the arrival hall...here's the timeline:
8.35am: Met Conrad rep at arrival hall
8.37am: Check-in for seaplane
8.45am: Got on Conrad van
8.54am: Arrived Conrad lounge
9.12am: Boarded mini bus to seaplane terminal
9.16am: Arrived seaplane terminal
9.21am: Boarded seaplane

One of the reasons we chose Conrad over Waldorf Astoria is because of the seaplane transfer. Conrad uses a seaplane whereas the latter uses a yacht. Both of us had never been on a seaplane so we wanted this experience. The seaplane transfer takes 30 minutes and costs $590 (incl. tax) round trip per person. Yes, it's very expensive and not a very comfortable one. Reality is, the seats are pretty cramp, there's no AC (only 2 small fans), and it's loud. =P Anyway, it was still a cool experience being able to takeoff and land on water, and see the 'barefoot' pilots and the cockpit from our seats. I was busy taking videos and photos throughout the flight so it was obvious that it was my first time getting on a seaplane, a total opposite of that guy sitting in front of me...lol!

Our seaplane made a stop for 2 passengers at another resort before dropping the rest of us at Rangali Island at 11.15am. It started raining as we landed so the hosts waited for us with umbrellas on the seaplane platform. We were reminded that the island is an hour ahead of Male's time, and our phones shows Male time by default so we'd need to follow the time for Dhaka, Bangladesh. It can be confusing but important to keep track of time because most meals have specific time slots.

While the staff helped to unload our luggages from the seaplane, we were invited to wait in the seaplane waiting lounge. Our host, Jamie, introduced herself and brought us coconut drinks while we waited. This was when we finally felt like this trip was real, and we can finally relax now that we've made it to paradise...Conrad Maldives Rangali Island!


Mar 19-23 (Fri-Tues): 5 Days & 4 Nights in Conrad Maldives Rangali Island

After enjoying our welcome drink, we rode in a buggy to the hotel lobby area for check in. Jamie helped us with the check-in process and acknowledged our requests for a sunset view water villa that I had previously included in my email to the hotel prior to our arrival. 

I did some research on Flyertalk and had shortlisted a few rooms with better view/location but was informed that they were all occupied. Oh well, at least we still got a sunset view water villa. I found out later that they've started renovating all the sunrise view water villas so we wouldn't have gotten any of the sunrise view villas anyway. 


Over-water Villa (Room 317)


We booked the water villa for the first 3 nights and were given room 317 (2nd from the left in the photo above). As the lobby is on the main island (Rangalifinolu) but the water villa is on Rangali island, we hopped back onto the buggy and Jamie took us to the other island. She told us that we could take our mask off and won't need to wear mask on the island for the rest of our stay. =) All staffs were required to wear masks at all times though.

Exterior of our over-water villa from the front and the back (ocean).

Interior of our sunset water villa

I've read recent reviews about how aged and worn out the water villas were and the hotel was going to refurbish and renovate all the water villas starting mid-April so we kept my expectations fairly low. However, when we saw our room, we both felt that it's very comfortable, well maintained and clean. The glass-paneled floor underneath the desk was pretty cool too. 

Our water villa comes with a private sundeck and an infinity tub/jacuzzi. The tub is small but the size was perfect for the both of us to sunbathe and relax in it while enjoying the ocean view. It's not like we were going to swim in it anyway. We spent most of our time sunbathing on this deck when we're not roaming around the island. 

 
There is a staircase on the left of our deck that provides direct ocean access. The water is crystal clear and it was shallow enough to walk. We didn't snorkel around the villa but the water was so clear that we spotted some fishes, including reef sharks from our deck. 

We received a bottle of sparkling wine and a box of chocolate as part of my Diamond member benefit.


Beach Villa (Room 215)

We booked the Beach Villa for the last night of our stay to experience a different room. The Beach Villa is on the main island so the hotel staff came to our water villa in a buggy at 11am to help move us to our new room.

The beach villas are set in tropical gardens with direct beach access. I specifically requested for the beach villas on the sunrise side facing the house reef. The interesting feature in the beach villas are the outdoor showers. The walls are high enough for privacy so it was fine for us. The only issue was the ground getting really hot during the day.

Thanks to Jamie for making this arrangement for us.

In response to Covid, the hotel added extra measures to clean and sanitize the rooms.


Dining in Paradise

It's a known fact that dining in the Maldives is not cheap. However, thanks to the Hilton Diamond benefit that comes with my Hilton Aspire credit card, we received complimentary daily buffet breakfast (7am-10.30am) and daily happy hour (4pm-5pm). By turning our breakfast into brunch, we were able to save quite a good bit on our meals without starving ourselves.

Due to Covid and the lower occupancy, not all restaurants are open every day. As such, we were provided with this schedule upon check-in. We were also advised to make reservations ahead of time as the restaurants have limited capacity for social distancing. Our original plan was to make reservations for Mandhoo, Sunset Grill, and Ithaa, but both Mandhoo and Sunset Grill were fully booked for the time slots we wanted. Fortunately, we were able to reserve a cocktail hour spot for Ithaa, which you will see more below.


Vilu
Vilu is on the water villa island and it's only a short 5 min walk from our water villa. It's an open-air restaurant located on the edge of the lagoon. This was our favorite restaurant and also the one we frequented the most during our stay (for breakfast and happy hour)

The amazing view is the reason why Vilu is my favorite restaurant on the island.

 Buffet options for breakfast. We were also able to order additional items off a menu.

We certainly felt safe with all the measures the hotel put in place. There were several hand sanitizers at the buffet area, all tables were disinfected, there's a QR code we could scan to see the menu on our phones, plenty of social distancing, and the outdoor seatings meant we were not in confined/enclosed areas. 

Even though there are 2 restaurants serving breakfast, we had breakfast in Vilu on the first 3 days, and only went to Ufaa on the last day when we moved to the beach villa. 

Daily happy hour at 4-5pm with unlimited alcoholic beverages and one canapé for Hilton Gold and Diamond members.

We slowly retreated from outdoor to indoor as the days went by and we got more 'burnt'.


Ufaa
Ufaa is the other restaurant available for breakfast and is located on the main island. We had breakfast on our last day here. This restaurant seemed to be more crowded than Vilu and we saw more kids here.

Breakfast on the beach.

Slightly more options for the buffet but there's no made-to-order items here.


Rangali Bar
Rangali Bar is located on the main island and did not require reservation so we had lunch on the first day and dinner on the last day here. We liked the food here and the prices are also very reasonable. 

We liked what we had on the first day and ordered the exact same thing during our 2nd visit. Hubby had the Wagyu beef burger ($38) and I ordered the poke bowl ($26). Our bill for each meal was about $90 after tax and tips.


Ithaa Underwater Restaurant
Ithaa is located on the main island and it's the world's first and only all-glass undersea restaurant. We are not foodies so the only reason we are willing to pay for a 'meal' here is for the experience and photo op. The cheapest option is to visit during the cocktail hour from 11am-12pm. For $110 per person including tax, we got 1 champagne, 1 canapé, and 1 hour to take as many photos/videos as we wanted. =P

We arrived about 20 minutes before 11am to take some photos outside. We could see the restaurant from above. 

We were expecting other guests to arrive for this time slot but we were the only ones there at 11am so the staff gave us a quick intro of the restaurant, brought us our champagne, and brought us downstairs into the restaurant. I must say, it felt magical going down the dark spiral stairs and entering the empty underwater restaurant. 

We still couldn't quite believe that we were the only ones there but we wasted no time and started taking photos before other guests arrive. There was one staff in the restaurant and she gladly helped to take our photos. 

We had the restaurant all to ourselves for a good 15 minutes before the next group of guests arrived. You can imagine how many photos/videos we took within that 15 min. Hahaha! It was bright in the restaurant, which explains the sunglasses.

Jamie told us that the Maldives authorities banned all resorts from feeding the fishes just a few days before we arrived. We were worried that we wouldn't be able to see as many fishes but we were glad the fishes were still swimming around the restaurant.


Sunset Grill
We were planning to have over-water dinner here on our last night but it was fully booked. However, we had a chance to 'visit' the restaurant on our way to Ithaa.

We had to walk through Sunset Grill to get to Ithaa. Since we got there earlier, the staff asked us to take a seat and wait at Sunset Grill before walking over to Ithaa.

Sunset Grill wasn't open for lunch so we were the only ones there. Once again, we took the opportunity to take photos and videos of the empty restaurant. =)

The water was so clean and clear we saw so many different types of fishes from above.


Mandhoo
We planned to have lunch here on our first day. However, it was fully booked and we found out that the fish feeding had been cancelled due to the government ban.

Mandhoo overwater restaurant


Infinity Pools
There are 2 pools. The Quiet Zone pool on Rangali Island is for adults only, and the one on the main island is for families. We spent most of our time in our water villa's pool so we didn't really use any of the common pools, apart from taking photos.

Adults-only infinity pool

So relaxing overlooking the lagoon and the glittering horizon

We went at 8am before the pool was open and the staff was still cleaning the deck so we were able to take photos of the empty pool.

Love the layout and view from this pool

The main pool is located next to Rangali Bar and offers views across the Indian Ocean. 


Beaches
The island is surrounded by white sandy beaches so there is a beach everywhere you walk on both islands. Let's start with the beaches on Rangali Island...

This small beach is located next to the Over Water Spa. The wooden swing and the leaning coconut tree with water villas in the background make this a good photo spot.

This beach is one that we have to walk through everyday to get to Vilu. There is also a dock on this beach, where we can catch the dhoni (boat) to go back and forth between both islands.

This beach is next to the Quiet Zone adults-only pool.

This beach is located next to the Sunset Villas and is the closest one to our water villa. We could see both sunset and sunrise from this beach.

This beach is located on the other end of Rangali Island, where all the beach dining events such as the Fisherman's Barbeque, Champagne and Lobster Night, etc. are held.

This beach is on the main island where the Rangali Bar is located. The leaning coconut tree is a popular photo spot.

This long stretch of beach is the one that we have direct access to from our beach villa and is located on the sunrise side facing the house reef. 

We can also see The Muraka, the world's first undersea residence, from this beach. 


Tropical Vibes
When we first arrived and was riding on the buggy to our water villa, I was surprised to see lots of trees around the island. 

Thank goodness all the walking/buggy paths were shaded by these trees.

Coconut trees everywhere 

Sunrise & Sunset

I woke up early every morning to see sunrise. A good spot to watch sunrise that was close to our water villa is the deck towards the Sunset Villas. 

Beautiful sunset from the water villas area on the main island.


Night views

Not sure if it was jet lag or the alcohol from the happy hour, we were in bed by 8pm for the first few nights. We only explored the main island at night on our last night.


Activities
So what other things did we do apart from walking all around taking photos?

Rented a paddleboard. Paddleboards, kayaks, and pedal boats can be rented free of charge from the water sports desk.

Snorkeled at the house reef.

We rented the snorkelling equipments (mask, snorkel, fins, bag) free of charge from the Dive Centre. Life vests were available free of charge at the watersports center, but had to be returned each evening before 6pm.

Workout - Hubby ran and I did yoga on the deck.


Took jumpshot photos all around the island.

Took photos of this super chill bird that's everywhere on the island...including the roof.


Covid Testing
The resort also provide on-site PCR testing for guests who needs it. It costs $150 per person and will be charged to the final hotel bill. US requires all passengers to have a negative PCR test prior to departure so we arranged for hubby to get his done in the resort. As Malaysia doesn't require a negative PCR test, I opted to get tested upon arrival instead.

Jamie helped to make the arrangement for hubby to get his swab test at 1pm the day before our departure and we received the results via email before we checked out at 3.30pm the next day. The hotel also printed 2 extra copies for us.


Departing Paradise
After 5 relaxing days, it was finally time to bid goodbye to paradise and head back home. I was continuing my journey to Malaysia while hubby will fly back to the US. Instead of taking the shorter route with SIA via Singapore to fly back to Malaysia, I opted for the longer route with Qatar via Doha to avoid the long transit in Changi airport, and also for hubby to help with some of my luggages before we split ways in Doha.

As our flight departing Male airport was at 7.55pm, the hotel arranged for us to take the 5pm seaplane. Male is an hour behind Conrad so we'd have sufficient time for our flight. 

Upon landing at seaplane terminal, the Conrad staff picked us up in a van and took us to the airport departure terminal. We were impressed that the Conrad staff helped us with our luggages all the way through security until the check-in counter. As you can see, the airport was packed so it took awhile before we completed the check-in process.

Similar to our flight coming to Male, the flight departing Male was also quite full but at least we had a row of 3 for ourselves. Dinner was served on this 5-hour flight.

Back in Doha airport for a 2.5 hour transit. Once again, we were directed to the Qatar Airways Business Lounge, where we took a shower and had some refreshment before going to our respective gates to board for our flights to Dallas and KL. 


Phewww...that was a long post for our 5D4N stay at the Conrad Maldives. Planning and preparing for this trip was certainly more stressful than all our pre-pandemic trips, but all our worries melted away the moment we stepped foot on the island. We certainly appreciated this opportunity to rest, relax, and rejuvenate while getting tanned. This trip is also a reminder not to take the freedom to travel for granted, and the importance of following all the safety measures to protect ourselves and people around us. Thanks to the resort for doing all the right things to make us feel safe during our stay. While it may still take quite some time for the travel industry to fully recover, I'm hopeful that everyone in the world will have the opportunity to travel freely once again.