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The Maldives may be known for its beautiful water and luxury resorts, but there are still pockets of important Maldivian culture to be found if you know where to look. We found one of these on Thulhaadhoo Island, a small part of the Baa Atoll in the northwest Maldives.
Trade with mainland Asia, and China specifically, brought wood lacquer to the Maldives. Traditionally, the only island that has made the lacquered wood is Thulhaadhoo Island in the Baa Atoll; an atoll more famously known as a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve.
We came to Thulhaadhoo Island looking for the handicraft, expecting to find a tourist shop with shelves of vases and boxes. Wandering the streets, we attempted to follow directions on Google Maps to a location called MVLacquer. We turned a corner to find a gentleman waving us down. Follow me, he indicated with his hand. Wordlessly, he led us through two doorways and into his workshop. We passed through the workshop quickly. He led us through his house, into a bedroom where he had a small shelf of handicrafts set up: vases and small boxes, even a pen!
After our shopping, the man led us back to his workshop. He demonstrated the technique by switching on the electric motor to turn the wood, and applying some lacquer to his current project, a pen. He showed us the knives to shape the wood, hardwood sticks that he uses to spread the lacquer, and dried coconut fronds to polish the finish.
We were all thrilled that not only did we got to see the handicraft and purchase some, but we watched the process of lacquering the wood!
For more details about how the lacquered wood is made, check out the Google Arts & Culture article.
We stopped for a great lunch at Cafe Express. Two orders of chicken and rice, two orders of chicken and noodles, and four glasses of lemon juice, and we were happy campers!
Booking has twelve properties available in Baa Atoll. For budget accommodations ($50-100), Maclura Residence is cheap and extremely well-rated, as is Dhonfulhafi Inn. Moderate options ($100-300 a night) are Reethi Beach Resort and Royal Island Resort. If budget is no option, the Four Seasons looks absolutely amazing, starting at $2,500 a night.
If you are staying at one of the resorts in the Baa Atoll, your resort will organize transportation to Thulhaadhoo. Otherwise, there’s a ferry that runs twice a week from Male.