By Emma Phillips, Singapore Management University, Singapore.
If you are ever studying, working, or travelling in Southeast Asia, then one trip you absolutely must do is the Ha Giang Loop. It consists of four days riding through Northern Vietnam witnessing beautiful panoramic views and the opportunity to spend time with many of the locals. What more could you want?
By Gemma Dignam (University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong)
One of the highlights of going on exchange is getting to travel in your spare time, whether that be in your host country, or visiting neighbouring countries or cities. Due to Covid restrictions still being in place in Hong Kong, we are not able to travel abroad without hotel quarantining on our return- which is not an option on our student budget and schedule! Although this was disappointing to most of us exchanges who wished to travel to surrounding countries, we quickly realised the extent of travel options within Hong Kong itself- and most of them can be done in a much more sustainable way than if we had travelled elsewhere by plane. Hong Kong boasts excellent public transport facilities and here are the ways I have used them to visit the must-see sites of Hong Kong so far, there is no need for a car or even a taxi!
When I began this adventure in January, this was not at all how I envisioned it ending. Coronavirus and government recall meant that I had to leave sunny Singapore very quickly. Whilst the government recall, the pain of getting a new plane ticket and, leaving all my new friends behind was not how I envisioned it ending, I can’t say it hasn’t been memorable.
My time abroad has not only allowed me the opportunity to travel and have amazing new adventures, but stretch and challenge myself. I will never forget the amazing views of sunrises in Surabaya, rainforests in Laos, and lanterns in Taiwan. However, for me it was the people who made my experience so amazing. I never thought I would make such important friendships so quickly, and yet we’ve already planned our New Years celebration together! People often joke that you “find yourself in Southeast Asia”, and I definitely found the best group of friends. People who I would quite literally jump off a cliff after, and people who immediately agreed to finish my checklist with me on my very sudden last days in Singapore. I feel extremely lucky to have shared amazing memories with these people, and I know this is the first of many adventures for us!
I also feel that Singapore has made a lasting impact on me. I am more spontaneous and willing to take risks, to plan a trip on Thursday night and leave Friday morning. It has broadened my horizons by allowing me to take risks and grow. I know I can travel alone and live on the other side of the world and it not end in mass disaster. Living abroad has made me more independent and self-sufficient. From organising my own VISA, to navigating boarder crossings at night, it’s safe to say that I definitely learnt a variety of life skills!
Whilst my time in Southeast Asia was cut short, I wouldn’t trade my experience, or the friendships I made! (And don’t worry I’ll be back there next summer for a new adventure!)
One of the great things about living in Singapore is the travel opportunities, and getting to go away on weekends. Last term me and my friends went to watch the lantern festival in Pingxi and spent the weekend in Taiwan, here’s how we did it.
Day 1: Taipei
So the flight to Taiwan takes around 4 hours, depending on which flight you get, so after arriving we made our way to our hostel. To get to the hostel we took the MRT, in the airport you can buy both phone sims and travel cards. The Taiwan metro card is also a key chain, and they’re very cute, for example mine is a Snoopy key chain! The first thing we noticed was the change in temperature, as we visited in February the temperature was around 16 degrees Celsius, which is quite a change from the 33 degrees we had gotten used to. We spent the afternoon going around the old town in Taipei and visiting some of its beautiful temples. This was all free and the photos were beautiful! We made our way to the walking street for dinner and shopping. The main thing worth noting is looking up, most shops and restaurants are upstairs rather than at street level. There’s lots of cool and quirky bars and restaurants for example, ours was underwater themed and had swings!
Day 2: The Festival
The festival is held in Pingxi / Shifen which is not in Taipei. Instead we decided to first visit Jiufen and then go to Shifen. To get there we were able to take a bus direct from Taipei. Jiufen is an old town in the mountains, with great views of the coastline and lots of market stalls and things to buy. If you have time it’s definitely worth staying for lunch and watching the view. From here we went to The Lantern Festival. The transport to the festival is fairly organised, as you’re able to get a bus or a train. Once you get there you can buy dinner and drinks from the stalls and have a look around. It gets busy very quickly, and the transport back does end before midnight – so it’s worth checking times and giving yourself enough time to be there (for reference we spent just over two hours at the festival). You also have the option of buying a lantern with your friends, you can decorate it and set it off with the others. Whilst there we got very lucky as a local resident offered us tickets to set off a lantern inside the venue which is where the main lantern releases happen. This was just by pure chance what we were able to do this but if you get the chance I would really recommend it, as it was a very special experience.
Day 3: Taipei
On our final day we spent time going around Taipei some more. We visited the Chiang Kai – Shek memorial which was beautiful, there is also a changing of the guards ceremony which is very elaborate and cool to watch. Whilst it was the start of cherry blossom season we didn’t have time to get out of the city to find any, but the people who did really recommended it! Another recommended activity is Taipei 101, however because of the time of year we were not able to go outside to see the view. An alternative to paying for the view is to climb Elephant Mountain, which is beautiful for sunrise and sunset.
We only spent three days in Taiwan, but it’s definitely somewhere I would go back to! It’s a great mix of city life and culture.
Let’s be honest, moving to the Singapore is stressful, from trying to get your bag to match cabin weight, to saying goodbye to all your home friends. It’s overwhelming and more than a little bit manic. So, to help with this stress, here’s a small break down of information that should make the transition a little bit easier!
In Singapore card and cash are used frequently, so it is very rare to come across places that do not accept both. That being said I would really recommend bringing cash with you when you first arrive. Food for both UTown and PGP are in Hawker -Type Centres, and whilst you can pay on card some find it easier to pay in cash. Equally you’ll probably be getting a taxi from the airport, which again is made easier with cash. If you were to use card, I would really recommend Monzo. The useful thing about Monzo is that you can use it in airports, so if you have a stop over you can still buy water and snacks without worrying about having left over money. You can also pay with Grab. Grab is the Singapore version of Uber with an extra section called Grab Pay, here it works like a normal debit card but you pay through the app. Finally, there is also the EZ-Link card. This is a metro card that also works to pay for; printing, washing, transport, and other groceries. It is a widely accepted form of payment and can be bought across Singapore but specifically from convenience stores on campus or at 7/11.
The EZ -Link card works for the bus and MRT. The transport system itself is very extensive across Singapore and cheap, as you only pay for the number of stops rather than a flat rate. The closest MRT station to campus is Kent Ridge and you can get there for free by NUS bus. NUS have a free bus system to take you around campus, which is extremely useful as the campus is huge. To navigate this, I recommend you download the NUSNext Bus app which is the campus bus timetable and bus routes. The only negative to this is that the campus bus system stops running at 11pm and is reduced service on the weekend. As I mentioned Grab is the same as Uber and is very popular, particularly for the first few days Grab is a really useful way of getting around Singapore. Finally, I would recommend downloading the Citymapper app, not only does this work in the UK, but can also be used for the MRT system and buses.
My final piece of advice is to bring plug adaptors. Whilst Singapore has UK plug sockets, some items from IKEA are the European plug system! Also, if you plan to travel you will need some adaptors for the surrounding countries!
Hopefully this should provide some logistical help with moving to Singapore!
By Chloe Coradetti, Mechanical Engineering, The National University of Singapore (NUS), Singapore
After having the time of my life travelling during 6 weeks over Christmas Break, it is time to go back to Uni!
The majority of exchangers stay only for one semester. Therefore, the National University of Singapore was expecting a whole new batch of fresh new exchange students. I was excited to meet some new people and be one of the “ancient” … basically a local Lah (singlish exclamation mark).
Additionally, the deeper bonds created during Christmas while travelling with my UK exchanger friends is going to be greatly valuable as they were almost all staying in NUS for a year as well.
Singapore never felt more like home than when you start off fresh a new semester in a familiar environment with your friend-family! What an awesome feeling to be back!!
Anthony Bladen – The Chinese University of Hong Kong
I have been at CUHK for almost three weeks now and while everyone at Manchester has just finished exam season, here at CUHK we only have one more week of classes until the Chinese New Year break – meaning I have a lot to talk about!
By Alex Ure (Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong)
“Hong Kong is a city of paradoxes, where bamboo coexists with concrete, and temples are neighbours with Gucci” – Hong Kong Coconuts.
I read an article about a foreign photographer, Kyra Campbell who really captures the true essence of Hong Kong. The article has already initiated my reminiscence of Hong Kong, and I haven’t even left yet! I really will miss the diversity of this culture. Superimposing the ‘old’ and ‘new’ juxtaposed features of Hong Kong together in one photo is really representative of life here. Below is one of my favourite photographs of hers, merging skyscrapers with dried fish – a Hong Kong favourite.
With the semester rapidly drawing to a close, I am becoming increasing saddened that I have a mere few weeks left in HK. This has been such a life-changing experience and I already know that it has moulded me as a person in many ways; I feel I am far more self-motivated and sufficient. I am ensuring that I cram as much as I can into the next few weeks to complete my Hong Kong bucket list alongside working toward my final exams and deadlines.
Since I last posted I took a weekend trip to Taiwan, which was just beautiful and was a well-needed study break! A strange mix of Chinese, Japanese and Aboriginal cultures make up Taiwan based upon its rocky history. There was so much to pack in here, we definitely needed more time to see Taiwan in all its glory, but whilst there we went to hot springs, temples, mountains, night markets and tea plantations to name a few. I really want to head back to Taiwan at some point!
Last week I had the pleasure of having my mum and little brother visit me for a week, and have loved being able to show them a little snippet of what my life has been like for the past eight months. Like me, this was their first time in Asia, so they were really dazzled by what Hong Kong has to offer. Hikes, temples, islands, introducing them to my friends and Asian cuisines were some things we got up to. I’m so glad they were able to visit me, and it really has completed my Asian adventure! I now have a busy week of exams and deadlines to get through before the final exam period and before I am able to travel a little around Asia before returning back to reality in the UK. Hong Kong, it really has been a blast!
By Alexandra Ure (Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong)
I cannot believe that February is drawing to a close, now the Chinese New Year festivities are over and mid-terms are around the corner, I need to get my head down (I’m writing this post first though, as it’s much more fun!).
Spending Chinese New Year in Hong Kong has been amazing; many exchange students took the week off as an opportunity to travel. I was intending to travel to Borneo, but had so many issues with booking flights that I couldn’t go. This has been somewhat a blessing in disguise as I’ve been able to experience the CNY festivities in Hong Kong, meet a bunch of new people and had some spare time to catch up on school work and apply for internships (I’m desperate to prolong my time here!).
The festivities for Chinese New Year last well over a week. In the lead up to New Year, locals head to flower markets which are teeming with beautiful flowers; namely orchids, blossom trees, lilies and this tree with odd looking oranges on it. Other merchandise is also sold here; in amongst the busy crowd, toy sheep are shoved in your face by sellers, “Missy Missy, sheep also comes in pink!”, and there are other beautiful traditional gifts. I bought a lovely hand-made wind chime from the loveliest elderly ladies.
The main Chinese New Year celebrations take place during the first three days of the lunar New Year. On the first day there was a fabulous parade in the evening with Chinese dragons, big floats, the biggest sheep you’ve ever seen and dancers from around the world. The second day consisted of a huge spectacular fireworks show, and on the third day there was a full day of horse racing at the famous Sha Tin racecourse.
All of which were so great – the atmosphere at each of these events was just unbeatable. Chinese New Year is the biggest and most celebrated festival in Hong Kong, and there are still other New Year traditions I wish to partake in before they’re over. I particularly want to visit a ‘Wishing Tree’ in the New Territories, which is an age-old tradition here in Hong Kong. Locals write their wishes down and tie them to traditional fruits then throw them onto the lucky tree in hope that they come true. The faith and religious nature of Asia is so lovely; if wishes come true I believe they return to where they made the wish to give thanks to the gods for granting it.
It is year of the Sheep/Goat/Ram this year – the Chinese don’t seem to be quite sure which animal it is. “Gong Hey Fat Choy!” is how you wish people a Happy Lunar New Year in Cantonese, but it translates as wishing you happiness and good fortune.
By Callum Campbell (National University of Singapore, Singapore)
With all the travelling and the constant tropical climate it has been really easy to forget the real reason why I am in Singapore – to study. The upcoming exams, however, have acted as a gentle reminder of this aspect.
With only a couple of days now until I finish and travel back to England, it would be easy to lose track of revision, but it is important that I maintain my determination and motivation over this last stretch. What does not make this easier is the fact the majority of other exchange students have finished and left to travel around the region to relaxing beaches and beautiful countries while I am stuck revising.
With four exams I am doing the same workload as I would have been doing in Manchester, however, each of my modules range from different subject backgrounds to academic years. This means that the studying has been very diverse and at times more complex.
The largest and most notable difference with exams in Singapore compared to those in England is that the marking is done on a bell curve, meaning that a small proportion of the class can achieve the top grade and the largest amount will achieve middle marks, while a small number will obtain the lowest. This system comes with its positives and negatives as although some members of the class will fail, the bell curve makes it hard to do so. However, this also means that it is actually harder to achieve the highest grade and therefore has the potential to make fellow classmates slightly more competitive with one another, but thankfully this is not something I have experienced.
As an exchange student though, my grades from NUS will be taken and converted into Manchester results based on a number of factors, meaning when I am told my results in the first instance, I am likely to have little idea of what they mean in terms of English grades.
Just as unpredictable as my results for the first semester is the current dramatic and drastic change of weather, ranging between beaming sunlight and monsoon storms within a matter of hours. One of the strangest things to comprehend out here is the fact that the weather is still above 20oC, yet it’s December… Christmas is less than a month away and I’m still wearing shorts and flip-flops?
Speaking of Christmas, I recently found out the news that I will be notified by NUS regarding my grades a couple of days before Christmas, meaning there is the potential to either make or break the festive period. Thankfully, I am feeling confident of what I have achieved during my time in Singapore and feel assured it will be a time to celebrate on all fronts.
By Callum Campbell (National University of Singapore, Singapore)
It’s been four months since I arrived in Singapore, and life here has become the norm. However, a quick glance at the calendar and I realised that, not only is Christmas next month, but I will be heading home in less than five weeks. Time has literally flown by and it still feels like yesterday when I was even considering applying for this opportunity, a decision I will never regret.
Since my last blog there has been SO much going on. I’ve met countless amazing people from all over the world, travelled the beautiful region of Southeast Asia, seen some amazing events and sights in Singapore and (the real reason I’m here) knuckled down with university work. With so much going on, I thought I would attempt to highlight just a few stand-out moments of my adventure so far.
Although registration for the student visa and the enrolment of classes was a tedious process, I was soon able to settle into a routine and adapt to my new lifestyle in Singapore. The city is a very safe and clean place, which means travelling around late a night on the metro doesn’t involve constantly worrying about who’s around. The NUS campus itself is also really good ,with a number of high quality facilities and study areas, including a 24-hour Starbucks.
Being located in the centre of Southeast Asia, I have been able to travel to some of the most beautiful countries in the world ‘on the cheap’. My very first trip was to the island of Bintan in Indonesia, which is only a ferry ride away from Singapore. A group of us, made up of English, Irish, American and French students, stayed in wooden huts on stilts above the sea, which typified the relaxing experience of a place that is relatively untouched by tourism. The accommodation became even more bizarre when we realised that the owner had a fully grown shark as a pet…
A few weeks later, back in Singapore, the world renowned Formula 1 arrived and literally took over the city, with the racetrack built on the streets used by everyday traffic. I was lucky enough to get a ticket for the race, and being within metres of the track and seeing some of the world’s best racing drivers provided an exciting adrenaline rush.
Reading week soon came around, and this meant it was time for another trip. A collection of us travelled to Bali and the Gili Islands in Indonesia. Bali, a popular tourist destination, was beautiful especially with its dominating volcanos; however, the sight of hotels and the impact of globalisation was obvious as I travelled around the island. In comparison, the Gili Islands was a place that was literally paradise. Out of the three islands I visited Gili Trawangan, which has a population of around 500 people, and horse and carts are used as transport because no cars are allowed. The golden beaches and crystal clear water also presented us with a perfect opportunity snorkel and dive.
After a refreshing week away, it was soon time to get back into study mode and attempt to forget about the lush beaches. Thankfully, the warm climate of Singapore made this transition much easier. While remaining on top of my studies at NUS, I was also able to explore more of the city that I now call home, with visits to the Botanical gardens, Little India and Marina Bay Sands, to name a few. A group of us also visited the Night Safari at the Singapore Zoo, where we were able to see a number of unique animals in a completely different setting.
However, once a few deadlines were met, it was time for my next adventure. This time I travelled through Malaysia with a Danish and an American student. We first flew to Penang, an old British colonial town, where we rode Asia’s steepest train, captured some of the most breathtaking views and got lost in the jungle. In the latter part of the trip we travelled by bus through the Malaysian countryside before arriving in the capital, Kuala Lumpur. It was nice to experience a city that was raw and vibrant compared to the well planned, orderly Singapore.
And it was not long after arriving back from Malaysia that I was already off on my final trip (for now) to Bangkok, Thailand. Having previously visited the city last year, it was nice to go back and experience it with a different group of friends and explore the city in greater depth. The welcoming Thai people and the amazingly rich culture really makes Bangkok such a fantastic place.
It may be hard to believe, but amongst all the travelling I have in fact been studying too. Having started lectures in August while friends were still enjoying the lengthy summer holiday, I have taken the opportunity to test my academic ability in a completely different country and culture. Just a few highlights of studying at NUS so far have included working in groups with Singaporean and international students while also learning about Singapore and Asia in greater depth. As the last few deadlines come to an end and with the exams fast approaching, the feeling that the semester abroad is coming to an end is beginning to kick in.
Of course it is going to be so nice to get back to the UK and see friends and family, but there are so many aspects of this adventure that I don’t want to end. It’s also going to be interesting arriving back in England in the peak of winter having adapted to the tropical climate of Singapore.
I look forward to updating you again soon, which will be my final blog entry while in Singapore.