Travelling the world is a dream for some people, but when you’re on exchange, it becomes a reality.
Since Singapore is at the centre of South East Asia, flights to countries like Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and even Taiwan are very cheap. Transportation and daily expenses are also super cheap, especially when you’re going in groups of friends.
When you’re on exchange you’ll probably be struck by the amount of people travelling and may even get some serious FOMO. Don’t be worried or saddened – travelling isn’t a competition. Take your time and travel at your own leisure.
I personally only travelled to 3 countries – Vietnam, Taiwan and Malaysia, during my exchange, which was pretty minimal. Compared to some other exchangers, they were literally out every 2 weeks.
I could go on for years about each place, but I’ll just generalise each place and add some photos to sum up each place because sometimes pictures are worth a thousand words!
Vietnam was a spontaneous 4-day trip for me when I decided to go with a friend from America and another from the Netherlands. Vietnam’s one of the countries that require a visa but costs a pretty cheap $30 NZD.
The living conditions some people experience, and the noise pollution can be quite surprising and shocking at first. Many Vietnamese people are quite poor, doing laborious jobs like cleaning or sell snacks in small road-side stands. You also see a lot of old people pushing garbage trolleys to take them into bins for money as well. That being said though, some of them are real welcoming of tourists and if you’re lucky, you can snap a photo with them!
Food’s a big thing in Vietnam and it’s also super cheap. There are tonnes food stands and dessert places, and Vietnam is also known to be the home of phở and bánh mì.
Initially, I went to Taipei with a bunch of Australians for 4 days, then went on a solo trip to Kaohsiung in the south for 3 days. Taiwan is another country where everything’s pretty damn cheap and is also known for its street food and the country for bubble tea. I’d literally be like ‘I feel like some bubble tea’ and then I walk 2 minutes and I find one – there are bubble tea shops everywhere!
Despite being Chinese, my Mandarin is quite poor so communicating and ordering food was a bit difficult, but it was enough for me to practice and get around the country.
Some popular places in Taipei are Shifen and Jiufen – both places take quite long to get to if you live in the city but it’s well worth the travel. Shifen’s one long popular street in the mountains, where a lot of people write wishes on lanterns and then set them off into the sky. The movie ‘Spirited Away’ setting was based off Jiufen as well, so it does feel quite surreal to be there if you’ve watched the movie before!
Instead of going up the famous Taipei101, we decided to head up Elephant Mountain for the view. It’s a pretty big mountain and it takes around half an hour to go up and at times it gets really steep. You even see some people resting on the side or even giving up sometimes but the view is super worth it!
One downside of going up the mountain for the view is that there’s quite a bit of trees that block some good views but overall, it’s still real nice place to be up.
I happened to be in Taiwan during the Mid-Autumn Spring festival where everyone goes to temples to pray and celebrate while eating delicious mooncake.
There are quite a lot of night markets around Taipei but the main ones I went to were Shilin and Raohe. Some popular foods are dumplings, ‘big intestines wrapped around small intestines’, stinky tofu, fried chicken and various seafoods.
After Taipei, I took a 5-hour bus ride from Taipei to Kaohsiung to see more of the country. Kaohsiung is quite different to Taipei as it’s more of a residential and traditional area than Taipei. I visited about 10 different temples as I backpacked around the city and since a lot of the tourist spots were quite close by, I ended up walking 35 kilometres in one day when it was 30 degrees. Travelling by yourself can be a bit lonely at times but it’s good in terms of being able to travel at your own speed and stopping wherever you want!
Lastly, I went on a 4-day trip to Malaysia with two friends from China that I met from halls. Since Malaysia is a one-hour flight from Singapore, some people like to take the weekend off and go on a quick getaway to Malaysia.
People in Malaysia speak mainly Malay but there are also Chinese speakers and a lot of them also speak English. There’s not a lot to say about Malaysia that I haven’t said about other countries – food’s nice and cheap, transports convenient, and the tourist attractions are awesome. But, some places can be a bit dangerous with a bit more robberies than others so make sure you’re looking after yourself and your belongings!
That wraps up the end of my blog for travelling. Also, feel free to hit me up if you have any questions on the paperwork/admin processes or anything about life at NUS/Singapore at firstname.lastname@example.org! I know the process is gruelling and many factors can dissuade you from going but I’m sure I can turn things around for you!!