Some of my friends and I went together to Taiwan, Vietnam, and Singapore at the end of the semester. The trip helped to make the adjustment home easier. I definitely teared up a little when I left Hong Kong, and I can’t imagine it all being over in an instant. However, the two weeks extra I got to spend with some of the friends I made eased the transition.

First stop was Taiwan:

Taichung. We got to the city late in the afternoon. We went to the night market and tried at least 10 different dishes. Night markets are a mix of shopping and street food. Since our suitcases were really full already, we focused on the eating :) It’s great to go to with a bunch of friends so that you can taste a bit of everything.

Sun Moon Lake. A picturesque lake with clear water surrounded by mountains, it is the location of many wedding photos. However, we just toured around via boat (and by bike the following morning). The scenery just makes you want to take a lot of photos! Also, we happened to bump into a fellow exchange student! (Hence, the ‘see you later’ :) )

Cingjing. We hired a private driver to get us from Sun Moon Lake to Hua Lien. This point actually caused a lot of stir within the group. As students, a major concern was cost, and some people were easier to break under stressful conditions when plans didn’t go according to plan. Anyhow, we got to where we needed to go and saw all kinds of small attractions along the way - the paper dome, a paper factory (if you haven’t guessed, paper is the local industry), and as always, delicious food.

Hualien. Well, we didn’t get to Hualien until the evening, but the journey is the exciting part. We passed through the farms and fed the sheep, saw the highest point in Taiwan cutting through the mountains, saw a really old tree (~5000 years) for good luck, and the Taroko gorge. That last one is a scenic waterfall area. I guess it was really exciting day for some of my friends, but it just made me value America even more. Just consider the wide range of different landscapes you can find. It is not even comparable. Oh yeah, then another night market.

Day 5. We finished the morning in Hualien, and went to Taipei by train. We made it early enough in the afternoon to see Taipei 101 - the second tallest building in the world. Then, we visited yet another night market. And since that wasn’t filling enough, we had some delicious hot pot.

We did some touristy things around the city - the fisherman’s wharf area and Jiufen, by which the movie Spirited Away was inspired. There is a strong cultural bond between Japan and Taiwan, not only apparent through this town, but throughout Taiwan. I also got to meet up with my friend from home, who happened to be visiting her family over there. Small world!

We checked out the CKS memorial and some nearby stuff and off again we go to the airport. To Vietnam! However, our group split as two of them would meet us again in Singapore. They still wanted to see the southern part of Taiwan.

Next stop, Vietnam:

Ha Long Bay. There is no rest. After a night in Hanoi, we jump on a tour to Ha Long Bay. It was definitely more touristy than I imagined. Many boats filled the waters, particularly in this holiday period. Speaking of which, we expected to find fireworks or something in Hanoi when we returned that evening (New Year’s Eve), but found nothing. Our countdown, albeit nice sitting around a lake with lots of other Vietnamese, was anti-climatic. As soon as it was midnight, everyone rushed home. The big day for them is the lunar New Year or Tet. It was interesting to see how they were increasingly influenced by the ‘West’ and had lots of tourists, but did nothing to celebrate the day. Our hostel did throw us a little party, but that was just… awkward.

Hanoi. We went to the Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum complex. There is an extremely long line to see his body. You also get exposed to all sorts of poisons in the air - mercury, carbon monoxide, etc. - used to preserve the body. We also went to the Temple of Literature - which had the same (less impressive the second time around) steeles that we saw in Xi’an.

Hoi An. This city is quaint. It is a small, historical capital of Vietnam and a popular destination for backpackers. You can buy a coupon type ticket that gives you entry to various spots around town such as historical houses and assembly halls. For a museum, you can’t expect too much, it is more a personal collection. The houses usually try to sell you things as they show you around. We also made it to My Son Temple that day. Its ruins are comparable to Angkor Wat, but perhaps on a smaller scale.

Ho Chi Minh City. We visited the Vietnam War Musuem and National Reunification Palace. We originally hoped to get outside and visit the trenches or a floating market, but there just wasn’t enough time. (I guess that calls for a visit again sometime in the future.) The information portrayed is really interesting. I never was particularly interested in history and perhaps didn’t pay enough attention in high school, but I definitely learned more than I ever knew about the war. However, it was also perhaps a bit biased. They showed perhaps a hundred Vietnamese and only one American affected by agent orange. Like I said, I’m not a history buff though.

Onwards to Singapore:

Singapore has delicious food too. Everything goes by a local name. Coffee is called kopi. Tea is called teh. While the official language is English, the people are predominately Chinese, Malay, and Indian. Through mixing, they have developed the local tongue: Singlish.

Since two of our travel buddies were Singaporean, we had tour guides leading the way. The architecture is amazingly futuristic. They have a garden with “Supertrees” that are environmentally friendly. (I don’t know how to properly describe it. Consider googling.) We also went to the night safari. Who would have thought to open a night-time zoo!?

Last stop: Home

All this traveling was exhausting, and I was ready to go home.

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