To many the Maldives not only symbolises "paradise", but is paradise. It's the dream destination: turquoise waters, white sands, palm trees, cocktails. Eyeing the drizzle through his office window one lunchtime, Tom Chesshyre impulsively bought a plane ticket. He had no hotel bookings, a long break from work, and a sense of "what the hell". What better place to escape to than paradise? Rather than the glitzy, five-star hideaways favoured by Wills and Kate or the Beckhams, he wanted to see the real Maldives, skirting around the archipelago's edges staying at simple guesthouses, and using cargo ships and ferries. Until recently outsiders were banned from islands not officially endorsed as "tourist resorts". But now 1,000 sandy shores had opened up in the Indian Ocean. Tom travels in a giant circle 600 miles around the many islands and atolls of the remote nation - the flattest on Earth - taking him to communities that haven't seen an outsider for decades, gorgeous beaches, colourful characters aplenty, cat-and-mouse politics (including an encounter with a former dictator), dodgy backstreets, the odd posh hotel (blagging a room) and many a rocky sea.