Were you scared? Was it claustrophobic? These were probably the two questions I was most asked when friends found out that I had been a guest at The Muraka, the world’s first glass underwater suite nestled five metres under the crystal clear waters of the Maldives.
The Muraka, which officially opened its doors on November 1, is an extension of the Conrad Maldives Rangali resort in the Alif Dhaal Atoll, over an hour by plane and boat west of the Maldivian capital of Malé. At a rack rate of US$50,000 a night, The Muraka, which means “coral” in the local Dhivehi language and can accommodate up to nine people, is one of the most expensive nights in the Maldives.
After the luxurious beach villas and overwater bungalows of Rangali, the first sight of the nondescript rectangular white building perched at the end of the long wooden walkway doesn’t send any hearts racing. As the buggy approaches the building, the words The Muraka on the pristine white wall come into focus.
My butler (also my buggy driver) Fazeel, gestures me to the front door where I am met by the resort’s hotel manager Akinori Ito. It’s all part of the personalised service that comes with a stay that includes all the usual water activities as well as a free 90-minute spa every day.
The resort also provides a private chef for meals. Guests can request chefs from other Conrad properties around the world – I’m assuming, for a price. Otherwise the main resort has a number of restaurants to choose from.
The finishing touches are still being made to The Muraka when I check in. The gym and the spa are works in progress, as is the private landing dock for the private seaplane transfers.
As I step inside, the wide expanse of the living room with two huge sofas and a bar area brings a gasp of surprise, none more so than the sight of the rippling blue waters beyond the living room, and the large deck with sun chairs and private pool.
Besides the living room and deck, the 550-square-metre upper area includes a large open en suite master bedroom with views of the horizon. A marble bathtub sits in the corner of the bathroom beyond the bedroom, with clear views of the deep blue waters.
On the other side is an en suite twin room with a nanny room. Disappointingly, this room faces the walkway and is blocked off by a latticed wall.
It was time to wander down to the suite. Stepping through understated doors to the left of the living room is a lift that takes us down the five metres and opens up to a window of blue that offers the first glimpse of the wonders ahead. A large white puffer fish looks motionlessly harmless as it gazes indolently at me as I walk past.
Stepping through the doors of the suite, I am enveloped by a feeling of peace and calm, as if I was diving – only without the gear. The feeling is one of being enveloped by a sound bubble, with only the occasional scritching sound of a fish nibbling for food.
The dome-like structure offers 180-degree views of the seabed. The suite is perched on the edge of a reef and, from the bed, you can see the seabed with the growing corals – thanks to the resort’s three resident marine biologists – and the feeding fish. Behind the bed, the seabed drops off into the dark blue depths of the open ocean.
Fazeel takes me through the safety precautions. Oxygen and temperature levels are constantly monitored for irregularities, he tells me. If there are fluctuations, the butlers and security will be with me in seconds.
He produces a hook and proceeds to show me the escape hatch in case I can’t escape through the doors in an emergency. Or, he suggests helpfully, if I feel scared in the middle of the night, I can always sleep in the master bedroom upstairs.
It reinforces the reality that I will really be sleeping in an air bubble. It’s not something that worries me unduly. This is not the resort’s first attempt at underwater living; their underwater restaurant Ithaa (which means mother-of-pearl in Dhivehi) has been operating since 2004.
The Muraka isn’t the only hotel suite that sits underwater; it is, however, the first one with an all-glass – or in this case, an acrylic – enclosure that sits on the ocean floor.
At 101.5 square metres, the suite isn’t huge but sufficiently big to comprise an en suite bathroom, with floor-to-ceiling windows offering stunning views of the corals and underwater life, and a large walk-in wardrobe. The bathroom offers the best views even though a living area with a large window is designed to give you unencumbered views of the shoals of colourful fish darting about for food.
Despite being five metres underwater, all the luxury amenities are there. The suite is fully air-conditioned, which is useful when the evening sun penetrates through the water, and there are more than enough sockets for gadgets and phones – and working Wi-fi. The room comes with blackout curtains but it seems crazy to be in an underwater room and shut out the views.
There is even a small coffee machine in case you feel the need for a caffeine shot. The only thing one might miss is a TV set and, while reception might be a problem, the aim is to provide as little disturbance to the sea life as possible.
I check in after lunch, which is not an ideal time for fish-gazing. After eagerly checking everything out, including many minutes gazing out from the toilet, I escape to enjoy the rest of the residence, the large LCD television, and a view of the setting sun.
The upstairs residence is built separately from the underwater suite, I’m told. The underwater suite was built and assembled in its entirety – furnishings and all – in Singapore and moved lock, stock and barrel to Rangali. It can be removed the same way, if necessary, for repairs, leaving the overwater residence intact and in use.
Returning after dinner, I find the coloured lights outside the underwater suite attracting many more fish than in the daylight: huge shoals can be seen hustling for a spot near the lights in the wardrobe and the main bedroom.
It is a mesmerising sight, I remember thinking to myself, as soft music streams from a Bose speaker in the corner. Before I know it, I have drifted off into the most fitful sleep in a long time. I am awakened seven hours later by light creeping into the room and the sight of a shoal of what looks like needlefish above head.
It gets better as I get up and see it is feeding time. Colourful shoals zip past the windows as if engaging in a game of tag: banner fish, angel fish, and yellow back fusiliers, are some of the ones I recognise.
In the shower, it dawns on me that even though there is no swimming around the residence, it would be an embarrassing encounter if some errant snorkeller wandered into the area. Fortunately it does not happen.
The upstairs deck is supposed to offer a stunning sunrise view. I drag myself upstairs but am thwarted by storm clouds and decide instead to go and enjoy the sea life downstairs until breakfast is served.
Soon after, it’s time to pack up and say goodbye to my night at The Muraka all too soon. For just 20 hours or so, I was made to feel like queen of the castle – or Neptune’s queen – a feeling of luxury that will linger for a long time to come.
The price may be a bit daunting but I can see it as the perfect destination for crazy rich Asians out to throw a bachelor’s party, a hen night or just a weekend of family bonding. It’s definitely an experience of a lifetime.