With the semester having come to an end, I only have a few more weeks of travelling planned before I finally go back home. I therefore wanted to sum up some of the travelling I have done during my semester. I recognise travelling as an important part of a lot of exchange students’ semesters and I hope that some of you will find this interesting, if not even helpful for you own travelling. I have so far undertaken two longer trips, to Myanmar and Nepal, and a few shorter ones, the most noteworthy ones being to Malaysia and Thailand.
This post will be quite long so feel free to jump to any part (including the final paragraph consisting of reflections)!
Nepal was my most recent trip. I left shortly after my last exam, and just got back a few days ago. In total, I was away for about 12 days. The superior motive, if you’d like, behind this trip was a trek in the Himalayan Mountains.
This required quite a bit of preparation, the booking of a guide and a bit of money, but oh my, was it worth it. Walking for days through hills, rivers, mountains and villages; just an endless stream of impressive and beautiful nature, offered a much appreciated change to a very urban Singapore. The climb to the top was breath taking, both figuratively and literally. The view from our highest point (about 5000m) was well worth all the struggles.
Walking down was faster and quite a bit easier; finishing the 3 days we used up in only 2 days, barely breaking a sweat (almost true). In addition to the nature aspect, trekking the mountains offered a significant cultural one. Interacting with local guides, the guesthouse owners and other trekkers offer an insight into different and foreign cultures. As the guesthouse owners live in the guesthouses, you are provided with a genuine and authentic representation of the lives of Nepalese people living in the region (many of which are Buddhists, with close ties to Tibetan Buddhism). In addition to the trek, I spent three days in Kathmandu, which I honestly think is best described as cool. The entire city has got this weird vibe to it, and you feel like there is something new and exciting behind every corner. Beyond that, the city hasn’t got a typical city-look to it; practically no skyscrapers, a complete lack of traffic organisation with cars and scooters driving around everywhere, with a continuous stream of horns sounding. Some find the traffic stressful and difficult, but if you can look past all that, it’s an intriguing city offering a lot of culture and history. All in all, Nepal is an amazing country, which is well worth the trip, whether it’s for trekking or just regular tourism.
Simply stunning. The fields of Bagan must be one of the most incredible sights I’ve ever laid eyes on. Thousands and thousands of temples, pagodas and monasteries as far as you can see. At this time of year, there are supposed to be numerous hot air-balloons as well, adding to the scenery. Getting up in the early hours to catch the sunrise from one of the pagodas is definitely worth it.
While it’s impossible to visit all of them (unless you have A LOT of time to spare), renting a scooter (or e-bike) provides the possibility to see the biggest and most famous ones, and/or just drive around, enjoying the sun, the wind and the sense of freedom. Bagan imposes large amounts of serenity and tranquillity upon you, which, as soon as you’ve left the busy part of town, is difficult to avoid, even if you try. Most of the people I’ve spoken to say that Bagan is one of the nicest places they’ve been. While I do agree with it being an amazing place, I think a lot of people don’t appreciate Inle as much as they should (or could). Inle is basically this large lake in the mountains in the eastern part of Myanmar. The whole area has amazing views, and people live in villages on and around the lake. It is possible to rent boats to take you around the lake, stopping at the Fishermen’s village (an actual village built on the lake!) and various pagodas and villages along the shore.
Yangon and Mandalay offer a lot, but besides from some great street food, they fade when compared to Bagan and Inle. While it was interesting to see Nay Pyi Taw in real life, it was probably the only place in Myanmar I went that I felt wasn’t really worth it. The new capital was built about 10 years ago, and is basically a ghost town. Certain areas on official maps aren’t actually built and the multiple lane highways (up to 5 or 6) are legit pretty much deserted. The last thing I want to point out about Myanmar is the general authenticity. The fact that the country hasn’t really been open to tourism for very long is clear. None of the places I went seemed heavily influenced by tourism and tourists, and you felt that wherever you went, it was a real representation of how Burmese people live.
I have been to Malaysia a few times. While it is a country with a lot to offer, my two most
notable trips were probably to Melaka and Langkawi. Melaka, being a UNESCO World Heritage City has a substantial cultural side to it. Walking through the streets and along the river is a unique experience, with a lot of astonishing architecture. Melaka is also very rich on history. Since its existence as a fishing village post 1400s, Melaka has been a Sultanate, a Portuguese colony, a Dutch colony and a British colony.
It has also been under Japanese control for a short period during the Second World War. Over the following decades it was included in a series of Unions, which eventually ended up resulting in today’s Malaysia. Seeing historical monuments from all eras was really fascinating, and really emphasized how important Melaka had been as a trading port.
Langkawi was not as rich on history and culture, at least it didn’t seem to be the prominent side to Langkawi. However, great views from the sky bridge, and waterfalls taken straight out of a travelling brochure definitely makes Langkawi a place worth visiting. When I went, we hired a car for two days (which was surprisingly cheap!!). Never having driven on the left side of the road (got my driving in Norway), I was slightly nervous, but it worked out problem-free and I quickly got used to it. Driving around was a great way to see all the sights and get from one side of the island to the other, and is definitely recommended (can get scooters also) to anyone going there!
Only having spent a (long) weekend in Thailand, I can’t give too elaborate an insight into this very diverse country. I went there with a group of friends, in the occasion of one friend’s birthday.
As a result we spent a lot of time on Khao San (with immediate vicinity), which is kind of like the hostel/bar/restaurant/general tourist street of Bangkok. Luckily, I decided to go one day before most others so a small group of us was able to wander around checking out the sights and the less touristy areas before everyone else arrived. I really liked most parts of Bangkok, including the really good and still cheap street food!! (Potentially a bit risky, but who cares), the only thing I found a bit bothersome was how it feels like everyone, everywhere, constantly tries to sell you stuff. Shopkeepers (and people on the streets) being very persistent and insisting don’t really allow you to look and enjoy the shops on your own.
Being able to travel a part of the world that was hugely undiscovered for me, was one of the main reasons I wanted to do an exchange semester. In that regards, it has not let me down (even though I probably could have travelled even more). Throughout the semester I have seen a lot, including incredible architecture, nature and festivals. However, what has really made the strongest impression on me is seeing the people. A very large number of people in the world live under highly different conditions to us in Europe. These are conditions, socially and economically, that I think many of us would have found borderline unbearable at best. Without sounding too hippie/countercultural/anti-consumerist, some of my travels have made me contemplate around the role material wealth holds in our western world, and how people with virtually no excess wealth still get on with (and at times almost seem to enjoy!) their lives, have been eye-opening to me. I feel like it is difficult to express briefly to a desirable accuracy (for me anyway) and this post is already very long! One thing I can tell you with certainty is that when you travel, you’ll learn a lot of things. You’ll learn a lot about your travel companions, you’ll learn a lot about the world and most importantly; you’ll learn a lot about your self. That may have been a bit cliché, but oh well.
Sorry for the long post! Here, have some photos!!
Monkeys in Langkawi are not shy of humans, and are more than willing to swim to get into the boats so be careful! Apparently they are very fond of Fisherman’s Friend
Mandatory looking-into-the-distance pose, view of Mandalay Hill and the Petronas Towers.