Maldives tourist paradise flourishes at 35

KURUMATHI ISLANDS, Maldives(AFP) – Sabrina Chang decided this year to treat herself to a fancy vacation, opting to stay in a thatched bungalow over a lagoon in the Maldives where a swim with exotic fish is as common as taking a stroll. The Maldives is celebrating the 35th anniversary since its first two resorts opened and visitors like Chang are among a growing breed of tourists who splash out for a slice of paradise on the remote islands.

Chang, 38, a Hong Kong-based programmer, said she wanted to be pampered for a week and learn about marine life at a biology centre on Kurumathi Island, 35 miles (56 kilometres) west of the Maldivian capital island Male.

“It’s a luxury holiday combined with an educational experience,” said Chang, who spent 320 dollars a night for her luxury room at Kurumathi Blue Lagoon.

Holidaymakers like Chang have made Maldives the richest nation in South Asia with a per capita income of 2,674 dollars.

The 600,000 visitors who jet here each year rarely see the congested capital Male. Once they clear the airport island, they are whisked off by speedboat or seaplane to resorts.

“They need not leave the resort unless to dive, snorkle or view dolphins,” Tourism Minister Mahamoud