Tips on Trips

Harry Forster, National University of Singapore

A brief overview of the trips I took and if I think they’re worth the buck…

Indonesia

  • Bali 
  • Lombok (a more undeveloped Bali, yet it offers a lot of the same opportunities)

Overall highlights:

  • Amazing food – a vegans dream, cheap cheap… make sure you try the Nasi Goreng & Mei Goreng!
  • Activities, activities and more activities: white water rafting, scuba diving (manta rays, shipwrecks), sunrise hikes and of course surfing all year around – are just some of the things you could get up to!
  • If you like dancing into the night, Bali is home to Asia’s best beach parties … Oldmans & Sandbar is where to be (every night).

**Stay in Canggu, Lay Day Surf Hostel (avoid Seminyak & Kuta)!

Bitchin’ – Canggu, Bali
This view is summit – Mount Batur

Malaysia

  • Kuala Lumpur (the cliché exchangers first getaway)

Overall, it was one the most modern and clean cities I’ve been to in SE Asia outside of Singapore. The Batu Caves are worth going to, most likely for that Instagram post, be ready to be sweaty.

This will most likely be your first escape from Singapore and its prices… However, be aware that Kuala Lumpur isn’t as cheap as you’d anticipate!

  • Tioman island (a divers dream, not much attraction to the island besides its waters)
  • Langkawi (a great short trip)

Langkawi was one of my favourite islands during my time, a great weekend trip. Lots of water sports, cheap motorbikes and white beaches.

*would recommend staying at ‘bed altitude’ hostel!

Overall:

  • Easy to get to/ fast transport – can get the bus from Singapore. 
  • Can be done on the cheap – £20 return bus.
  • The worse food in SE Asia (for me).
Yes, we did crash! – Langkawi

The Philippines

  • Cebu

I only have positive things to say about this island… extremely cheap, filled with some great adventures, beaches and day trips to other nearby islands.

Cliff jumping at Kawasan falls was great – only if you’re prepared for a 15m jump off a waterfall!

Great for diving – Malapascua for the Thresher Sharks, Oslob for the Whale Sharks and Moalboal for the famous Sardine Run.

  • PalawanEl Nido & Coron 
Sunset on Coron – Palawan

Both of these islands are known for their day trips… do you think you’ve got what it takes to hack a full day of lagoon and beach hopping?

It’s a hard life!

Beachin’ – El Nido
A typical day in the Philippines – Siargao

*I’d highly recommend catching the 5 day boat trip from el Nido to Coron (if you’ve still got enough cash to keep you afloat)!

  • Siargao 

This is a little surf island located in the southeast region of the Philippines -making it super hard to get to!

But if you do, it’s home to some of the worlds’ best breaks (recently held the world surf championship).

Like the rest of the Philippines it’s plagued with palm trees and white sands, however it is one of the more expensive spots due to the wave-seekers

Also surfing brings a more bohemian crowd (one that does not only break a sweat over the waves, but also over how instagram-able their smoothie bowl is)!

A Boat Trip from El Nido – Palawan
Cconut Trees View Deck – Siargao

Thailand

  • Bangkok (the shorter stay the better)
  • Koh Tao (a personal fav but an extremely difficult place to get to)
  • Phuket (a means to an end – Phi Phi)
  • Phi Phi islands (beautiful beaches but there isn’t much to do beside party or dive)

Sorry to sound like your mother but… be careful. I’ve experienced a lot of bad things happen in this country:

  • NYE my phone as well as my friends wallet were pickpocketed.
  • Another trip, a friends phone was stolen in the airport and never found.
  • A close friend was assaulted on his way home after a night out.

**I would not recommend visiting the Phi Phi islands out of season, everything from the clubs to the restaurants were closed for renovations. 

  • Goes without saying the food is phenomenal here!

Overall, in my opinion there’s better ways to spend your time and money in this region.

Taking a tour around an exchange student’s home university – Bangkok
In Chinatown with my Korean flatmate – Bangkok

Top Tips

  • Don’t plan before arriving, circumstances change i.e. monsoons, typhoons…
  • Remember low season usually means no nightlife!
  • A trip always costs more than expected.
  • Book last minute as Southeast Asia’s the weather is extremely volatile.

Hope this helps!

An NUS Exchange Student: Checking Out

Harry Forster, National University of Singapore

Last week I received my final grades from the National University of Singapore, officially marking the end of my time as an international exchange student. For me, these grades do not only indicate the academic progress that I’ve made, but they also remind me of the personal development I’ve made over the past year. 

To demonstrate this, I’m going to reflect upon some of the objectives I set out before undertaking my exchange:

  • Experience new culture: I was fortunate enough to be linked with a local Singaporean family for the entirety of my exchange. This benefited me immensely, allowing me to gain an invaluable insight into local events such as Chinese New Year.
  • Learn new skills: previously a scuba diving novice, now I am looking to take this skill to a professional level… also, I’ve mastered the art of falling off a motorbike (that’s definitely one for the CV)!
  • Network: I forged connections and developed lifelong friendships in every continent across the globe. For example, some of my best friends are now situated in: Canada, Germany, Holland and South Korea… (they tell you in your pre-departure meetings that a year aboard is expensive, but they don’t tell you that your post-departure trips are even more expensive)!
  • Push yourself out of your comfort zone: living over six-thousand miles from home, inevitably, I have had to face a wide range of new and unfamiliar circumstances whether that be new flatmates or speaking in a foreign language.
  • Taste new cuisine: I experienced a plethora of different food; frog soup to Filipino Balut
  • Take up new interests: hours of non-stop surfing without a break, actually no, I broke my rib…

I am truly grateful for this unforgettable opportunity and it is something that will resonate with me for the rest of my life.

The Last Ones Standing – Singapore

Top Tips for New Exchange Students

  • “It won’t happen to me”… unfortunately, it most certainly will.

Not to mention the obvious global pandemic during my time… but its almost certain, you’ll to encounter some kind of emergency scenario, whether that be an earthquake, a typhoon or a trip to A&E. 

To paint a realistic picture, all of those events listed above happened to me… an Indonesian earthquake, a Filipino typhoon and multiple medical trips. For example, I tallied up a total of four countries in which I have been admitted to A&E during my time as an NUS exchange student (Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Singapore if you’re curious).

  • You will NEVER have enough money or time to do everything on your travel to do list 😦

For me, I didn’t get a chance to embark upon half of my travel plans… it’s pretty simply really, the more you travel, the more you want to see. You’ll meet people all across various hostels in Southeast Asia that’ll recommend you countless places, which is great, but one day your travel during exchange will come to an end.

A word of wisdom, its more often than not that you’ll go over any travel budget so make sure you’ve got supplementary funds – can you get an over-overdraft?

For my Next Chapter

I am now looking forward to commencing my summer internship at the Department for International Trade within the Civil Service. 

Once again, I believe this will be an invaluable opportunity, and I hope to build upon the skills I have developed over the course of the past year

Sweet dreams, Singapore xxx

Scuba Diving in Southeast Asia

Harry Forster, National University of Singapore

Firstly, my scuba novice journey started right at the beginning of first semester, where I found a fellow exchange student who was also down to take the plunge…

After a bit of scrolling, we came across a Singaporean dive shop that offers an integrated package: including the Open Water certification and a fully funded dive trip to Malaysia – only for £400 (Roughly the same price as what the certification costs alone in other places such as Europe)!

So if you’re another newbie who’s up for starting scuba, Southeast Asia is one of the cheapest & best regions to try it – I really can’t recommend this enough!

Not Your Normal Noel 

The same day as I finished my final exam of first semester, me and a dive buddy jetted off, spending the first three weeks of our xmas holidays in the Philippinescould have been worse!

First things first. We rented motorbikes and headed to Malapascua, small island situated off the coast of Cebu.

The main attraction to this archipelago is to go see the Thresher Shark. But first we had to get our Advanced Open Water certification (so we could dive down to 30 meters).

31.7m Deep – Malapascua, Philippines

The sharks tail grows to the same length as its body, and they use this tail to kill their prey...

Next, we went to Moalboal to see the famous ‘Sardine Run’ – a twisting mass of billions of sardines.

The Sardine Run – Moalboal, Philippines

Then, Oslob to see the Whale Sharks – the largest shark in the world.

Whale Shark – Oslob, Philippines

Finally, Boxing Day did not hold your usual sort of festivities…

No turkey but Thai, no charades but shipwrecks!

Instead of a 3 course dinner, it was 3 dives… The main course was diving the 85m King cruiser wreck.

The King Cruiser Wreck – Phuket, Thailand

The wreck is a passenger transporter that sank in 1997. It hit the Anemone Reef with over 100 people onboard (all survived so no skeletons were seen).

The King Cruiser Wreck – Phuket, Thailand

Just to add to this once in a lifetime opportunity, we were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the solar eclipse during our dive interval!

A Lil Stinger – Phuket, Thailand

Semester Two Dives

In Semester two, I got in three more dives; they were in the Philippines. Shock.

This time they were off the coast of Coron. There are over 10 shipwrecks off the island…

  • It is said that it takes a month to dive them all (so I will definitely be returning at some point in the future)!
Akitsushima Wreck – Coron, Philippines

Akitsushima is a 115m seaplane tender of the Imperial Japanese Navy, it was sunk during WWII in Sept 1944.

Looking Forward

I’m in no doubt that this hobby has only just started for me. It has already changed my future travel plans dramatically, rather than just looking at where the best weather is, you also start checking when and where are the best places to go diving.

I’ve set myself the goal of completing my divemaster qualification, this is the highest qualification you can achieve before being an instructor. Also, I fancy doing it soon because I want to dive before all the oceans are ruined! So I’ve set myself the ambition to complete my divemaster before I’m 30. For me, the most appealing places are:

  • Gili islands – Indonesia
  • Great Barrier Reef – Australia

I know I have taken up a very expensive lifelong habit, but at the same time, I really can’t thank this exchange experience enough for starting it.

Tioman island, Malaysia

5 months, 17 dives… Till next time!

Unavoidable Admin in Singapore

By Harry Forster, National University of Singapore

In this article, I’m going to let you in on my ‘top tips’ for speeding up the unavoidable Singaporean student admin

1. Sorting Out Your Student Pass

All exchange students require a ‘student pass’ visa that grants them their stay in Singapore – even though it’s not a permanent visa, that notion doesn’t make it any easier to apply for one…

Completing this is probably the MOST important thing you’ll do in your time in Singapore! It’s required for almost everything from purchasing a sim contract to authorising your studies in NUS…

First things first, you have a lot of things to sort out before your ICA appointment such as an array of documents including: physical copies of online payment receipts to passport-size photos.

  • Also make sure you hold on tight to your landing documentation as you’ll need this for your visa!

** note that if you’re a student who’s staying for a year you’ll also need a medical examination which involves a blood test and a chest x-ray. (All of this can be done at the University Health Centre which is only one bus stop away from Utown).

During my medical, I experienced my first instance of the infamous Singaporean brutal honesty– after repeating my blood pressure for the third time (as all the previous readings had indicated that my blood pressure was too high) rather than the doctor saying ‘I’m sure it’ll be fine’, the Singaporean doctor said “ I hope nothing bad happens to you whilst you’re in Singapore!”… then we parted ways. Not quite the reassuring words you want to hear from your doctor!

2. Singaporean Sim

When you first land, I’d advise getting a Starhub sim card (as a temporary pre-sim card). I recommend the Starhub sim because pretty much every exchanger I’ve met has had issues with the Singtel pre-paid sim…

  •  For example, there has been multiple instances where I’ve topped up my sim card with over £10 in credit and it’s been eaten up within 30mins for no legitimate reason!!

Once you’ve got your student pass, then I’d suggest getting a rolling contract with Circles – this was the best offer available that has 20GB, 100mins of calls plus 25 texts per month all for S$18 ≈£10.50 

  • Also, I added unlimited incoming calls for an extra S$2 per month so you can have those long phone calls with your mum at the cost of next to nothing (except they’ll probably have to foot the international fee)!

3. Banking With FRANK

The most hassle free way of getting a Singaporean bank account (and access to a tax haven) is by opening a FRANK bank account with OCBC – opening a local bank is useful if you want to use local services such as Singtel Dash or NETS; these payment services as require a local bank account!

  • The closest OCBC office is located across from the uni accommodation and still resides within the Utown campus (so it’s only a 2 minute walk). 
  • All you have to take is your student pass, your passport and your proof of address (which can be obtained at the Utown management office).  

Talk to FRANK and they’ll sort you out within the hour – no delivery or pick up required!

**Bring your headphones or a friend to help pass the time and you’ll be set up with a local bank account and debit card all within the same hour!

4. Post (Purchase Problems)

When ordering your procrastination purchases online, just note that you need to be at your accommodation to collect ALL your post because (for some bizarre reason) the management office rejects ALL parcels…

**Top tip: state on your order that you need to be contacted for collection, in order to save yourself the stress and hassle of paying the postage fee more times than you need to!

Till next time…

Touchdown in Singapore

By Harry Forster, National University of Singapore

I touchdown in Singapore sleep deprived and baggage-less after taking 2 connections, 3 planes and visiting 4 airports all within the space of 20 hours… not the most ideal way to be starting your year abroad!

Jewel Changi Airport – for those that don’t know it’s the world’s largest indoor waterfall which is surrounded by a tropical forest!

After a lengthy queue at immigration and a long exchange with the lost luggage services, I slowly start to question Changi airport’s reputation for being the best airport in the world…

Then, as I start making my way out of the airport I get a glimpse of what I thought might be the famous Jewel Changi… then I realised I’ve come to the right place!

All in all, I probably spent over 2 hours in this airport! (and could have spent even longer in there)

Step 2: Find Utown

The next obstacle was locating my student accommodation and I had two choices from Changi:

The first option was to grab a taxi that costs about S$30 ≈ £18, and the other alternative was to get the MRT (train) across Singapore that costs less than S$2.

Despite the MRT’s efficiency and affordability (just like in the UK… ha) a 30 minute taxi drive takes nearly 1h 30 by MRT. And because of my hectic arrival experience I decided to opt for a taxi for ease and comfort – this turned out to be a smart decision as the nearest MRT station is a 15 minute bus ride from the accommodation.

*my advice would be to get a Grab (Asian Uber) as it’s much cheaper than your standard airport taxi plus you’ll get your first proper feel of the Singaporean cityscape

Meeting Flatmates & the ‘Welcome Party’

The first people I met and the first friends I made were my flatmates Jaehan and Seung su who are both from Seoul in South Korea (later I met Dongwon who I’m also sharing with and is also from South Korea)… as you can probably guess there’s a lot of Korean students at NUS!

FYI: In Utown everyone shares a 4-bed apartment within one of the two tower blocks. I would highly recommend choosing Utown and a room with air con if you don’t like waking up soaking wet everyday (I’m speaking from personal experience).

Then pretty much straight away everyone went to the Utown residence welcome party. Rather than the typical freshers events in the UK, in Singapore I’ve come to realise that there is clearly some cultural difference over the phrase ‘welcome party’. Here we had a series of talks about the residence including a lot on health and safety – which is important don’t get me wrong, but just wasn’t what I first had in mind.

However, it was a great party in terms of meeting other exchangers and we all bonded over what ‘welcome parties’ we have back at home! From the intel I gathered the UK’s welcome events seem to involve the most alcohol which wasn’t much of a shock to anyone…

Top tip before arriving

I highly recommend getting any medical check-ups and vaccinations back in the UK as a lot of the free services back at home definitely aren’t free over here…

Singapore’s healthcare is super expensive as you’d probably expect. However, speaking from experience it takes you to the point where you actually consider keeping your money rather than your health.

Till next time…