We packed what we thought were essential for an escape to paradise - a sarong, sunblock and gin. Never mind the toothbrush. For we intended to lead a life of shameful indulgence in the Maldives, where seashells outnumber humans in the Indian Ocean.
"Sorry, no liquor, madam," said the no-nonsense Maldivian customs woman.
With a whisk, she took away my thirst fixer in exchange for a receipt. Romantic visions of chilling out on the beach with gin and tonic, listening to the soft sounds of waters lapping while reading Rudyard Kipling, suddenly vanished.
How could a world-famous tourist destination deprive its guests of the drink?
Flying low above the waters in a 16-seater seaplane to our resort, I realised why.
At the Maldives, where Islam is embraced by most of the people, you do not need booze to get a high. Gin clear waters glistened below, revealing a stunning aerial view of jade-like bracelets on blue waters, lulling the senses.
Undersea dining at Hilton's Ithaa
The Maldives, south-west of Sri Lanka, sits atop an undersea mountain range where coral reefs grow from around the peaks to form islands. Known in Divehi as atolu, or 'atoll', it is probably the only Maldivian word used internationally.
These 26 atolls create a spectacle with its teardrop reef formation of 1,190 islands, of which only 200 are inhabited and 90 are exclusive resorts. Between the various atolls are deep channels, unprotected by reefs and swept by dangerous currents, sometimes 60km across.
Here prowl the creatures of the deep.
I felt transported back to time where legends once ruled. Once upon a time, a Sri Lankan prince courted a beautiful woman on Raa Island, showering her with gifts. She must have shunned the jade bracelets; they appear to have drifted out into the sea to form atolls, transforming a plain oceanic canvass into a living tapestry of surreal beauty.
Out of the blue
Honeymooners particularly would revel under the sheets of luxury at the Hilton Maldives Resort and Spa. Here on Rangali Island, private villas stand atop the shallow waters. Occasionally, a baby reef shark intrudes our water space, or a spindly crab taps the stilts.
Looking out, turquoise meets deep blue, an idyllic setting for an exchange of new vows. Romantic dining takes on a higher meaning in Hilton's Ithaa - the world's only all-glass undersea restaurant. Moray eels, stingrays and fusiliers entertained us as we savoured the novel fusion of western-Maldivian cuisine with accompanying wine.
While I joined the Tratak meditation by candlelight on the beach, my friend burnt calories with island boot camp workout. We ended the day with an invigorating spa, but not before sighting cruising dolphins afar in the South Ari atoll.
Island-hopping on a seaplane
Celebration of life
Keen to explore more of the Maldives and thirsty for exotic cocktails, we air-taxied to Club Med on Kani Island on North Male atoll. Gracious Organisers (GOs) welcomed us brightly - we were now residents of a special village. It was my first Club Med experience, and I found my prejudices about the resort concept slipping away with every sip of pina colada served by the attractive GOs. They even made good conversation!
I thought we would be harassed with cult like communal activities. Instead, we were at liberty to join yoga, aqua gym, art and craft, snorkelling, scuba-diving and windsurfing at will. Or be left alone in our Eden-like suites.
I chose to dive deep and was enthralled with manta rays. You can dive and snorkel all year round at these famed dive spots. The best time to see big fish, like the whale shark and hammerhead, is between January and April.
The all-day complimentary snacking and drinking - a Club Med hallmark - worked well for us, ever-devouring Asians. Pampered in the day, we ended the sultry evenings with the traditional Crazy Science dance during the GO-led evening shows.
My cute GO (everybody has a favourite) teased me onto the dance floor. Hypnotised by the rhythmic beats, I shed my resistance.
Even when the south-west monsoon rain came down that November, beating hard on us, I did not stop dancing when others did.
Was it the gin in the head or the spellbinding Maldivian air? I could not quite tell. It did not matter, really - not when you are in paradise.