Travels in South-East-Asia
My first stop after Hong Kong was Singapore! My favorite movie is “Crazy Rich Asians” so it was a bonus to visit. A couple of the Americans and I spend around a week there exploring everything Singapore has to offer. A couple of places that were our favorites were Gardens by the Bay (highly recommend the night light show), Botanical gardens, Haw Par Villa, Chinatown, and the Artscience museum.
For nightlife we enjoyed eating Italian food on the top floor of the Marina Bay Sands hotel at Lavo and drinks after at Cé La Vi rooftop bar. The food in Singapore was the highlight of our trip. Singapore is known for its food hawker centers that serve inexpensive local foods. My favorite was the chili crab from Newton Food Center and I loved Arab Street and Haji Lane. Haji Lane is a street packed with good food and bars. A must-see for anyone visiting Singapore! If you’re visiting Singapore be prepared for delicious food, fun sights, and intense heat. It was an adjustment to transition from Hong Kong’s weather to Singapore’s heat and humidity. -Jess
After Singapore, my next stop was Vietnam, where I spent 3 weeks in. 7 of us from the UNC batch went to Hanoi. In Hanoi, we enjoyed the city and went on a couple of trips. While we were in Hanoi we enjoyed Bahn Mi’s at An’s Cafe almost every day. We took a day trip to Ninh Binh where we went to one of the largest Pagodas in Vietnam and rafted through a river and breathtaking caves after. Our next trip out of Hanoi was to Ha Long Bay. One of the highlights of our trip was renting out motorbikes to drive around the city. We were nervous to drive in Hanoi because the traffic was heavy but Ha Long Bay had a lot fewer motorbikes, especially at night. We took a day cruise around Ha Long Bay where we biked through a local town, got a fish pedicure, and kayaked through the bay. It was a great experience and a must when visiting Vietnam! To conclude our trip to Hanoi we went to a rooftop bar, Top of Hanoi, for drinks with a great view overlooking the city.
Next stop was Da Nang. We flew there, which took around 2 hours. Firstly, we went to Hoi An to get suits tailored, enjoy the beach, and explore the village there. During this time, UNC was gradually making it through the NCAA March Madness Tournament. Once we advanced to the Final Four Semi-Finals to play against Duke, 5 of the others went home to cheer on the Heels. To finish off our time in Da Nang we went to Sun World at Ba Na Hills and explored the Golden Hands Bridge. On my last day in Da Nang, I went to the Marble Mountains and then the bustling Son Tra Night Market. The night market was full of street food vendors, carnival-like games, and beautiful souvenirs.
My last stop in Vietnam was Ho Chi Minh City. This was my favorite city out of the three because the food was phenomenal. Here is where I had the best Pho I’ve ever had at a restaurant called Pho Le. It was so good I had to go twice in the 3 days I was there. We went to the Cu Chi Tunnels, Mekong Delta, and War Remnants Museum. It was an eye opening experience learning about Vietnam’s history. The last thing we did, and my favorite in Vietnam was a night food tour. Locals drove us around on motorbikes and took us to the best street food finds. We ate Chuoi Nep Nuong (grilled banana sticky rice), and seafood Banh Xeo (Vietnamese pancakes). My favorite was Bun bo Hue which is similar to pho but it has pork broth and it tasted so good with chili pepper. Last stop was tofu dessert and flan which was the perfect way to end an amazing night and trip to Vietnam! I definitely want to come back again one day. -Jess
The Danes decided to spend their last month of studies in Thailand. Firstly, we flew to Bangkok, where we spent 5 days visiting temples, markets, eating street food and at expensive 5-star restaurants and met up with a few Americans at the eighth-highest bar in the world.
Afterward, we made our way to Phuket, where we rented 3 villas close to each other to fit all of us. Because of the location of our houses, on a steep hill, far away from a beach, a few boys rented scooters for the three weeks, which is both cheap and very convenient to get around in Thailand.
At the house, we enjoyed our own pools and ocean view, while studying for our exams and meeting project deadlines. Nevertheless, we also made space for diving trips, with some people getting the beginner or advanced scuba diving certificates. Thailand’s nature is literally breathtaking, and we got to see a lot of marine life, including a turtle, a shark wale, and coral reefs.
A must go trip is also to the Phi Phi islands. Some of us went diving again, others did the classical tour to Maya Bay with wooden long-tail boats which has the most beautiful white sand beaches and clearest water. Similarly, beautiful trips are to Krabi railway beach or visiting the James Bond islands. In Phuket itself, I personally liked freedom beach the best.
We also had another meet up with the American group and other exchange students, where we rented a private boat for the group of us and made our trip to Naka Yai and the Khai Islands. We definitely had fun on the wakeboard, towable sofa and paddleboards, and jet skis. It was truly a blast and a very nice way to say goodbye before sending the Americans off to go back to the US.
While some of us headed up to Koh Phangan to explore the islands up there and attend the monthly full moon party, the rest of us stayed in Phuket and visited an Elephant Sanctuary, where we fed and bathed rescued circus or working elephants. The staff explained how to see if the elephants were ridden, which damaged their backs, that they have six sets of teeth in a lifetime and have to be fed more, and also get extra medicine, once they lose the last one. We also weighted and scaled the elephants by using math tricks like measuring the foot and applying a formula to reach the weight and height. The Thai Elephant (Chang), is the official national animal of Thailand and is a subspecies of the Asian Elephant, making them a bit smaller and have smaller ears than African elephants. -Saskia
After Thailand, I flew to South Korea together with Jess, who was an excellent guide and translator despite only being back in Korea for the first time in 20 years. After meeting her family friend, we flew to the famous vacation island Jeju, where we saw a volcano mountain, famous water fall and lava cliffs, and a lava tube, as well as green tea fields and the Innisfree skincare house. My personal highlight of the trip was the phenomenal black pork BBQ and street food.
Another trip we did was to Busan, a city in the south of Korea. There, we visited the iconic Gamcheon Cultural Village, Haedong Yonggungsa Temple, and the wet market. It was there where I first tried worms from a food stand and squid arms that were still moving. Definitely an unforgettable experience.
To round of our trip, we met three other exchange students from the US in Seoul eating kalguksu noodles and shopping for skincare in Myeongdong. Of course, we also had to go to the bougie Gangnam district, which the song Gangnam style is based on, ate Naengmyeon, and went to the Coex mall to see the Starfield library. We finished this day by exploring Seoul’s nightlife in Itaewon with a karaoke room. On day three we put on traditional hanboks and visited the Gyeonbokgung Palace and Bukchon Hanok Village, and went up the Seoul Tower at sunset before dropping dead into our beds. Day four was all about exploring the city like a local, so we walked down the Cheonggyecheon Stream, went to Hongdae district to blend into the college crowd by shopping and taking photo booth pictures, as well as witnessed a really cool street dance battle. On Day 5 we had booked a DMZ& tour, and got up to 120 meters away from the North Korean border, and even saw soldiers walking up and down the border line. It was super cool to learn more about the North-South Korean history and being able to see the tunnels and real day-to-day border military. Back in Seoul we tried a kimchi pizza in Itaewon, which was surprisingly really good, and saw the famous gaming cafés. On our final day, we did another day trip, this time to Nami Island, which is just an hour out of Seoul in the middle of a river, and the filming location for a famous Korean drama Winter Sontana. Of course, we ate phenomenal food again, including Korean pancakes as a well-deserved dessert, and finished the day by seeing the Han River light show, before packing and flying back home after a long, but amazing semester abroad. -Saskia