Before departing for Thailand, many people gave me advice to keep in mind during my exchange. More than once, I was told by friends and family that time would fly by…and boy were they right! Between some hefty midterms, three countries, 8 cities, and countless hours of flights and bus rides, the past few weeks have gone by blisteringly fast. That being said, I will forever remember this past month as one of the best times of my life.
In Vietnam we spent a weekend in Hanoi. What used to be a French colonial city is now a beautiful mixture between Parisian and Asian architecture. It is a cramped, crowded, but charming part of the world with a unique character different from much of Asia I have seen so far (plus the shopping is amazing). We then spent a weekend kayaking in Halong Bay, an imposing maze of towering islands rising right of the water. I kept thinking I was on the set of James Cameron’s Avatar all afternoon!
We then traveled south to Ho Chi Minh city (also known as Saigon). The city was much more developed, and the numerous neon signs and brightly lit buildings evoked the feeling of driving down the Las Vegas strip! Saigon is also situated in some historic areas important to Vietnam War. We actually spent a day at the Cu Chi Tunnels exploring the vast (and uncomfortably claustrophobic) tunnels built by local villagers during the war. It was an incredibly humbling experience and refreshing to learn about U.S. history from the other side of the world.
Squeezing into the entrance of the hidden war tunnels. Not for the claustrophobic!
One bumpy night bus later we celebrated the King’s Coronation in Cambodia’s capital city, Phnom Penh. Afterwards we hitched another bus to visit Siem Reap and see Angkor Wat. Taking a whole day to drive around in the back of a Tuk Tuk and explore a wonder of the ancient world was mind-numbingly cool. I studied Angkor Wat in my freshman year and never would I have thought I’d get to see it with my own eyes!
Me and my friends at Angkor Wat, the world’s largest religious complex]
Then just this past week, I got the chance to see Loy Krathong and Yi Peng (water and air based festivals of light). It’s hard to describe the feeling, but I count myself so lucky to have been one of the thousands of people who came from all over the world to celebrate that special night. It is truly something I will never forget. Beyond the festival, Chiang Mai is great for unleashing your inner tourist. We took a Thai cooking class and I got to fulfil my dream of spending a day with elephants at a sanctuary (I even took a day for myself to Zip line through the mountain jungle)!
Yi Peng Festival of light. It was something straight out of the movie Tangled!
Feeding and playing with elephants all day! (P.S. I got to keep the shirt)
All in all, it was been an absolute dream having the opportunity to experience everything I have gotten to do. To those of you who plan to travel in your life, I cannot stress the importance of recording your time abroad. This is a once in a lifetime experience for me, and I want to be able to remember these experiences as best I can for as long as I can. Whether it be through photos, videos, a journal, or a blog like this, your future self will thank you.
Till next time!