Starting my New Colombo Plan Program in Seoul!

I am currently in my fifth year of a Bachelor of Laws (Honours) and Business  (Accounting) degree and one of 120 university students to receive the 2018 New Colombo Plan Scholarship. The New Colombo Plan scholarship has allowed me to undertake a Korean language intensive program for three weeks at Yonsei University, followed by a semester exchange at Korea University and then two internships.

Yonsei University Intensive Language Program:
I completed my Korean language intensive program at Yonsei University in February 2018. The New Colombo Plan scholarship encourages and funds scholars to complete full-time language programs in order to not only connect with the local culture, but also to assist scholars on a practical level by giving them the skills needed to undertake basic tasks such as navigating the city.  This is especially important when there is not a lot of English available and it helps scholars settle into their new environment.

I arrived at my new home in Seoul on 1 February 2018 on a crisp winter night. During my program at Yonsei University I stayed with several other students at off campus accommodation arranged by the university. Whilst the accommodation was great, after all we were living in a serviced apartment, this did make it difficult to get to know the other students in the program. Lucky, as soon as classes begun, some four days after my arrival, I was able to get to know a range of amazing people from all across the world. Fortuitously, I also met a student from El Salvador that would be going to Korea University with me.

(Outside the front of Yonsei University during my last week of the intensive language program)

The Yonsei University program is certainly intense, but very rewarding. Already, I can see the benefits of this language training coming to fruition through the little things, like reading bus timetables and menus that are written only in Korean. Unlike some international summer or winter schools, the focus of Yonsei’s program was to learn Korean rather than foster relationships between students. Although this means that your language skills progress rapidly, it also reiterated a notion I found to often be true, you have to be the driver of your own participation. As there are little to no social activities set up for students, you have to be responsible for how involved you will be in the culture and how much you want to get out of the experience.

With the support of the NCP scholarship, I was able to make the most of my winter in Seoul by undertaking activities that I would otherwise be unable to participate in. Particularly, this applied to learning how to ski – a goal I have had for a while. I found my Korean ski instructor to be so helpful that I became somewhat overconfident and ended up on a slightly too advanced run for my skills set. Fortunately, I walked away only damaging my pride. Overall, I had a wonderful experience at the Yonsei University language program.

(Learning to ski at Jisan Resort)

You can follow my experience as a New Colombo Plan scholar on Instagram at travel_life_sarah.

Salam sejahtera! Snippets from my Surabaya experience.

Scott C, Bachelor of Property Economics
Universitas Surabaya, Indonesia
Semester 1, 2018

First of all, Surabaya has a very culturally rich history and the locals are very proud of this, its best that you at least try to familiarise yourself with some of the historical events and culture customs, as this will help you understand Surabaya’s Identity. You will find most people in Surabaya upon meeting foreign people will be very curious and will ask for pictures and may want to ask you a lot questions, don’t worry or suspect anything, generally this is to do with the fact that they usually don’t get a lot of tourists (especially in the more rural areas), so naturally they are very curious. Sometimes, you can get the reverse because they are shy, this is easy to overcome, a good ice breaker is simply introducing yourself in Indonesian, “Nama Saya *insert your name*”, roughly translates to, “name my”, they most likely will laugh at your terrible attempt and then become more talkative. Try to learn some basic Indonesian, as this will become helpful in negotiations with taxi drivers, store vendors and so on, otherwise you may be given the “tourist prices”, but if you speak a little Indonesian they will likely become a more negotiable.

Photo taken: Borobudur Yogyakarta

Getting started

Getting your phone connected in Indonesia is relatively straight forward, if your accommodation is close to UBAYA (assuming you are on exchange), there is a mall called “Marina Plaza”, this mall mainly sells phones and data sims. Data sims are very widely used in Indonesia, and they are probably the easiest to obtain and recharge. Basically most of the people use Whatsapp to call and text, which the data sim is able to be used for. Regular plans can offer actual calling and texting options, but are very expensive in comparison. $50k Rupiah, should get 5GB of data, which will likely last you over a month. It will allow access to Facebook, YouTube and so on. You are able to recharge the data sims at either alfa-marts or indo-marts, they will require your phone number and clearly state that you are topping up your data, otherwise they might give you a call and text recharge, which is not what you want, most of the time they will understand, but the odd occasion they don’t, just use Google translate, 9 times out of 10 that will solve most miscommunication issues.

On that note, there are also another two apps worth downloading: GoJek and Grab. Grab is a taxi service that is similar to Uber, usually there is a fixed price and this service can be either linked to your debit/credit card or they have a cash option. GoJek is probably one of the most important apps (it will take some time to set this app up properly), as it not only allows you to order taxis (similar process to Grab), but also you can order food. The food options are limitless and cater for most tastes, please note though that there is a delivery charge and also in comparison to local food cost, it is quite expensive.

Photo taken: Heroes Monument

Things to see and do

If you feel like doing some touristy stuff, there is the Heroes Monument and Museum, which celebrates Indonesian independence from colonial rule and the integral part Surabaya played in this war. Ciputra Waterpark and Mount Bromo which isn’t too far from Surabaya are also great attractions. These are the main ones, but there is also a lot more to do and the more locals you meet the more options you will have. There are a lot of old temples and mosques, which date back hundreds of years, that are only minutes outside of the city. It’s suggested that you try to take part in as many events that you get invited to as possible, as it will allow you to mingle with local people and students, which results in invitations to other events.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photos taken: Borobudar Yogyakarta and Bromo Volcano

Accommodation

In regards to accommodation, here are some points to look out for:

  • Be wary of additional taxes, as these apply to services such as electricity, water and rent, so be polite and ask them to write down or explain the taxes in English and always ask for receipt.
  • You will be required to provide 3-months rent up-front plus bond.
  • Most student accommodation will have a provider for internet, generally it is easier to just go with that option, as the packages are fairly cheap.
  • They do not complete a proper entry report, so make sure and check that everything works.
  • Do not be afraid to ask them to repair pre-existing damages.
  • Not all apartments come with heated water.
  • Not all apartments will have a stove top.
  • Do not expect apartments to have cutlery.
  • There is Wi-Fi in all lobbies.
  • Most staff will speak little English, so Google translate is initially your new best friend until you speak some basics.
  • Water dispensers are a must, not all apartments have them, shouldn’t cost more than $12-$20.
  • Be religiously sensitive, most of the staff and locals in the area are Muslim, so be careful what you say and do, so try to inform yourself about the local customs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo taken: Hand of the Yogyakarta

Sawadee pee mai Thai (Happy Thai New Year)

I was lucky enough to be in Thailand to celebrate Songkran, the celebration of traditional Thai New Year. Celebrated every year from 13 – 15 April (although dates can vary depending on where in Thailand you are) and uses water, as a symbol of washing away last year’s mis-fortune.

Many of my new Thai friends have gone home to spend time with family, and those who are Buddhist, go and make merit at temples. However, the holiday is known for what I would consider the biggest water fight I have ever seen! These water fights are not everywhere in the country however all the biggest destinations hold them.

There is a mass exodus of the locals from Bangkok as most go back to their hometown but I stayed in the capital to celebrate Songkran. A couple of key streets become full of both international and domestic tourists and a few locals all keen to be involved in the celebration.

The morning of New Year’s Day, I headed to one of the spots for a big street water fight. It was insane! Even though I was not there during the busiest time I still came out drenched head to toe from a barrage of water guns, hoses and buckets. People who lined the streets wearing masks and gripping super soakers were my nemeses’. I left around lunchtime and while it was busy, there was still room to move and run to try dodging people’s shots at you. I did see videos of the same street later in the day and the wide street was packed shoulder to shoulder.

After being soaked we went back to clean ourselves up before heading to a bar which was holding a Songkran event in a more suburban area. Once we got there we could see how locals who did not leave the city celebrated – and boy were they wild! There were people young and old lining suburban streets throwing water at motorbikes, cars and buses that passed by. There was also white powder that they put on their face that apparently softens the skin. By this time of night many of the people were quite intoxicated and would run onto the road with the white powder and get the motor bikes to slow down while the coat the riders face with the powder.

Songkran celebrations is one of the most fun festivals I have ever participated in and I think that Songkran alone is enough reason for me to come back to visit Thailand. I would recommend to anyone considering coming to Thailand, to try and time it with Songkran, to see and enjoy the festivities for themselves.

Day in the Life of a Japanese University Student (Rikkyo)

It has been just a little under 6 weeks since I embarked on my year long journey to Tokyo, where I am currently studying at the incredibly beautiful Rikkyo University. In the short time I have been here (which seems to have passed in the blink of an eye), I have leaped from my comfort zone in almost every aspect of my daily life; I eat a range of new foods, I have made a lot of new friends, explored incredibly beautiful places, and everyday I attempt to speak in a language I am still highly unsure of. Nevertheless, I approach every day with an attitude of eagerness, and hope to continue to do so throughout my exchange.

Just some of my explorations so far: Tokyo Tower, Hakone, Kawagoe.

 

I’m sure I will continue to share my experiences about general life in Japan, however, today I will give you a brief overview of what my daily life as a student looks like, so far.

 

Morning:

Typically, (unless karaoke from the night before is involved), I wake up early and lounge around my dorm. My dorm (RIR Shiinamachi, for those of you interested) is incredible, and I couldn’t have wished for a better location; I live just a brisk 15-minute walk from campus. I have breakfast in the cafeteria, where everyday, so far, there has been at least one item of food that I haven’t yet tried. I eat, chat with anyone who is there, and try to decipher the Japanese morning news, which, by the way, has an amazingly-brilliant number of wacky sound effects. Afterwards, I leave the dorm for the day at about 8AM, and get to University soon after. I usually spend the the time before class starts doing revision, practicing my Japanese, or doing some readings.

The view of the main building on campus. Every day I take so many photos of it! 

From 9:00AM = Classes:

Between 9AM – 5PM I attend class, each of which are 1 and a half hours long, and are distinguishable from my experience at QUT in a number of ways. Firstly, I don’t really have any lectures; all of my classes are analogous to “workshops”, and all have quite high participation marks built into the course structure (I’m talking 30/40%). The teacher (先生 – Sensei) goes through the topic in reference to the weekly readings, and then opens the floor for discussion or asks specific people questions. With the credit system here, I have to study 7 subjects, and some meet more than once a week, so I have 11 actual classes. However, the difficulty of the work is, in my opinion, significantly less intense than my subjects back home. The assignments and exams are not overly difficult, however the general study is A LOT more (I come 5 days a week, I have homework for every class, every week – often more than once a week, and this is on top of regular study).

A typical classroom. Very old school, and yes, they still use the blackboards. 

There are 6 periods in a day (you may not have class in every one, though) and conveniently a designated time for lunch! Between 12:15PM – 1:00PM, students burst from their classrooms and fill the campus’ multiple cafeterias (食堂 -Shokudō), and the convenience store nearby. The food is so cheap, generally under $5AUD, and is always good quality –  in true Japanese fashion.

If I ever have spare periods, you will probably find me in the library, which is wonderful and has an astonishing amount of resources to use/browse. You will always find a seat, and it is always super quiet; the Japanese cultural values of politeness and conscientiousness really flow through to every aspect of life.

 

6:00PM – Bedtime:

The neighbourhood bell (that’s right, a bell), chimes out at 6PM signalling that it’s DINNER TIME (side note: this isn’t actually the sole purpose of the bell, but for Shiinamachi dorm, it usually is). My friends and I walk down and grab our trays and tables, waiting to see what the new exciting dish will be. There are often Japanese game shows on, which we play/watch along with – sometimes to the point where everyone is screaming and laughing at the TV. I spend an hour or so down there, just chatting to everyone about the day. I will definitely miss chatting to everyone I have met here so far, as they are all only here for 1 semester. In the time after dinner and before I sleep, I usually just do what I did back home; I watch TV, talk with family, or study.

Some of the amazing dishes so far! I stole these photos from my friends, because I am always too hungry to take pictures first! 

So, although some things remain the same from my life back in Australia, many, many things have changed. And so far, I am really enjoying it. I love the people I am meeting, the new schedule I follow, the time I have to dedicate to my studies, and the areas around me I get to explore some more of everyday. If you have any questions about studying in Japan, or something you want to know about general life in Tokyo, please let me know!

Until next time! またね~

Compare the Pair (Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand)

One of the things I love best about Southeast Asia is the closeness of other countries. I have already been able to visit two new countries; Singapore and Malaysia.

When I first stepped off the plane in the middle of the night in Singapore I knew it was going to be something entirely different from Thailand. The airport looked like a luxury hotel and the process was very efficient. We got a taxi from the airport to our hostel and were even told to do up our seat belts!

Myself and two fellow exchange students woke up the next day ready to explore. We only had one day in Singapore and we wanted to make the most of it. We began our day taking the train to the botanic gardens, the perfectly groomed greenery was a nice contrast from the surrounding city it reminded me of Central Park in New York City.

Waterfall in the Botanic Gardens

 

We then travelled to Little India. Here we saw beautiful yet quirky street art. Even in Little India, a place known to be more chaotic, the streets were so clean and orderly. I was beginning to see how ahead of the times Singapore was in regards with efficiency and modern development. It reminded me of District 1 in The Hunger Games.

Street art in little India

By now it was lunch time and we were hungry for the cheapest Michelin star restaurant in the world. We headed to a hawker market in China Town to check it out. The food was tasty however I have tasted food of a similar quality and price in Thailand.

Following our quick sit down for lunch we headed to the Marina Bay area. This is by far the most glitzy and photographed area of Singapore. We had some time to kill before we the light show started, so we went to a rooftop bar, LeVel 33. Here I got their IPA that was brewed in house, it was pricier than anything else I’d spent that day but worth it. During our time here, the sun began to set so we headed out to the Supertree Groves. Their glow was stunning! The view from a distant lookout and below them were both gorgeous. Time was ticking on our 24 hours in Singapore but luckily, we only had one more thing to tick off, the light show on the Bay. I had read reviews about how it was nothing special, so I didn’t have my expectations set high, but boy I couldn’t disagree more. The special effect lights and sound were so perfectly timed to tell the story of a beautiful bird spreading its wings. For a free show that is on every night I felt that I got way more than my money was worth. My time in Singapore helped me understand that even if countries are in the same region, historic and current events can shape the economy and culture of those countries very differently.

Roof top view of Marina Bay

Super tree Groves

Light show

 

We arrived in Kuala Lumpur early the next day. I would consider the development of the city somewhere between Bangkok and Singapore. We first ventured to the old part of the city to visit some museums that gave us greater perspective of Malaysia’s past and its current culture. We were prevented from entering the museum until an hour after we arrived due to Friday prayers. The echoing of the prayers over the old city was fascinating. We next visited the police museum. This enlightened me on how many colonies have tried to rule Malaysia. Later that night we went out with other people from the hostel to a backpacker bar area. It was lots of fun and I ended up learning salsa dancing from a Costa Rican!

The next day we visited the Batu caves. It is out of the city slightly. Once there, you climb 272 stairs to get to the top where there is a temple. We were lucky to be there at the start of a Hindu festival, Thaipusam, so there were many traditional ceremonies happening. One of the most notable things were people all dressed in yellow carrying offering in metal vases on their heads. Later that day we went to the new part of Kuala Lumpur to check out the famous Petronas Twin Towers.

Top of cave

The following day we headed to Cameroon Highlands, a popular Malaysian destination known for it’s greenery and tea plantations. We arrived in the afternoon and went on a small hike (there are many popular trails in the area). The trail led to a waterfall. As we walked along the waterfall to the bottom of it, I sadly saw mountains of rubbish that had piled up after going along the stream. It was a very visual representation of the ugliness and destruction our waste is doing to the world. The next day we walked one of the longest trails in the area, that also had the best view of the region. Along the way there were many beautiful trees and shrubs but again plastic was almost as plentiful as the trees in the rainforest. The walk was very pleasant and made even more so buy a dog that decided to come with us, I called her Milly. Our final day in the Cameroon Highlands the three of us went on a tour that included a small guided hike and a trip to the tea plantations, bee farm and strawberry fields. The guided hike was interesting, I learnt there were over 500 types of moss in the forest and that there were flowers that caught and fed off bugs. The tea taste testing was also delicious.

View from the top of the hike trail

Our final destination for my two-week trip was George Town, on Penang Island. This town had a very heavy English influence, complete with splashes of classic English infrastructure around, such as the red telephone booths. One of my favourite parts of the area was the high value it placed on art. I have never been anywhere that had so much street art. All the art added so much character to the town. There were also many art galleries that displayed local visual artists. On the final day we visited the beach. It was nothing special as again, it was full of rubbish along the shore. However, getting in the ocean still felt like a perfect way to end my time in Malaysia.

George Town street art

It’s eye opening to see how different countries that border each other are. Singapore’s big difference is it’s valuable trading port, giving the nation great wealth to build modern infrastructure. Whereas, Malaysia is a melting pot of culture, it has a lot of Malay, Chinese, and Indian people and traditions that make up the country.

Preparing for a year abroad

Hi! My name is Tara, I’m currently in my second year of a bachelor in business, majoring in International Business & minoring in Japanese. Tomorrow I will land in Tokyo, Japan & will soon begin my exchange at Rikkyo University. As someone who has dreamt of going on exchange to Japan since the 6th grade (I wanted high school exchange at the time but same thing), I can’t believe that tomorrow my studying abroad will begin.

As my first blog post for this journey, I really don’t know where to begin.

I guess I’ll start with the packing aspect of this pre-departure. Preparing myself for a year overseas has proven to be much more of a greater task than I originally anticipated…in terms of a year’s worth of luggage, I’m constantly remembering things I have to buy. Being the paranoid person I am I have been searching “things to take on exchange” to get an idea of what to pack. Video after video, my list gets longer & the slight panic that I may be forgetting something increases. Currently I have two couches and a coffee table piled with ‘necessities’ (necessities plus the many things my mum believes I can’t live without). I’ve got things ranging from vitamins, my favourite snacks & foods (Iranian tea is essential), a mini sowing kid (mum’s doing), clothes, shoes, posters (I don’t think I’ll be allowed to put them up in my dorm but you never know) and printed out photos of my family & friends.

In terms of mentally preparing for this exchange, preparing myself for not seeing my close friends and family for such a long period has been quite alarming. Meeting up with friends has been a high priority the last month or so. The sorrowful tears that were shed as my two best friends and I said our final goodbyes was something I didn’t think would happen, we have gone months without seeing each other but I guess the fact that we won’t be able to meet up whenever we want is an odd feeling.

Despite this, I am so excited for what is to come. I can’t wait to get settled in my dorm, make friends, finish all my orientation sessions and finally start classes. I look forward to walking on campus and embracing it all. By following my host university on social media I have seen some sneak peaks of what my life will be like for the next year. Watching posts from Rikkyo University of their campus has really hyped me up for what is to come.

The thought of living in a completely different country for the span of a year is  somewhat frightening. Although a month ago I confidently said I’m not worried at all, slowly I’m coming to realise that this is a much bigger deal than I originally thought. But truth be told, my sheer excitement by far beats any worries I hold.

Studying a language is one thing but immersing oneself in the culture is an entire experience of its own. I am incredibly excited to see what experiences I will have, what kind of friends I make, how my Japanese (hopefully) improves and the thing I’m most curious about is, what kind of person I will become by the end of this journey.

Hopefully, in my next blog I will be settled down in my dorm & have gotten into a routine with my classes, so until next time..

5 Must-Have Apps When Studying Abroad in South Korea

Marisa K, Bachelor of Journalism / Bachelor of Laws (Honours)

Korea University (Semester 1, 2018)

Travelling to a foreign country for the first time is daunting for anyone. Seoul is a fantastic city that has a lot of delicious food to eat, interesting things to do and beautiful places to visit. However, navigating the city and making plans can be tough, especially if you don’t speak Korean. Luckily, there are several smartphone apps that will make studying and making friends in Korea so much easier.

Here are 5 apps you can download for free that will make your life in Korea infinitely easier!

1. KakaoTalk


This is the number one messaging app in South Korea and it should be one of the first things you download as a newcomer to the country. Everyone and anyone has this app in Korea and trust me, it will become the main way you communicate with your new friends whilst studying abroad.

The app allows you to communicate with other KakaoTalk users through text and call and lets you send photos and videos all free of charge as long as you have an internet connection.

2. Naver Map


Google Maps is virtually inexistent in South Korea – the local version Naver Map is the more reliable and detailed map service to use. This interactive map application also allows you to download the maps beforehand for offline use. It also has a handy feature that lets you save and download locations in Korean which is useful for when you’re lost and want to show the address to a friendly local to get help with directions. The only downside is that you’ll need to be able to read and type in Hangul as the app is only available in Korean.

3. Subway Korea


Korea has one of the most organised and easiest to navigate subway systems in the world. However, the Subway Korea app makes it even easier. This app is available in English and Korean. Download it on your phone to navigate the quickest route to your destination with minimum transfers, receive information on when the next train will arrive, when the first and last trains are for the day, and which carriage you should be on for the quickest transfer. Subway stations in Seoul can be quite crowded and you don’t want to waste time trying to figure out the subway map posters so a few simple clicks are all it takes with the Subway Korea app to get you to where you want to go.

4. KakaoTaxi


Although Korea’s public transportation system is world-class, there will definitely be situations where you won’t be able to use the subway or buses (for example, in the early hours of the morning). KakaoTaxi has you covered for those situations. No matter where you are in Korea, this ride-hailing app is cheap, fast and convenient and will have a taxi dispatched to your location within minutes. The app works similarly to Uber and is a safe alternative option to public transport.

5. Yogiyo


Let’s face it, as an exchange student in Korea there’ll be many times when you find yourself hungry but too lazy to leave your room. Yogiyo lets you easily order anything and have it delivered straight to you – Chinese, pizza, Burger King, and even ice cream and desserts. You can also read recommendations and reviews for restaurants and the app has real food pictures so you can see what you’re ordering.

From towering city streets to ski fields and mountains, cultural and historical experiences, plenty of delicious food to eat there’ll be many amazing memories you’ll make whilst on exchange in South Korea! Just be sure to download these helpful apps to help you make the most of your exchange experience!

Honkers Part 2

So we are now a little over two months in… and I am realising more and more that I love being a little fish in this big, big, crazy sea. I thoroughly enjoy spending time on my own and Hong Kong gives you endless opportunities to take yourself out on dates where you never really feel alone amongst the chaos.
In the most densely populated suburb in the world – Mongkok – you can found countless little Chinese or Taiwanese restaurants on the tenth floor of a 20 storey building crammed in between 2 other equally busy restaurants that will serve you up the most delicious broth at an amazing price… Honestly I could do six blogs just about the food and I am really giving myself a pat on the back as I’m becoming a true wiz at Chopsticks.  There is something exciting about picking your meal from the menu pictures and never really knowing what you’re going to get – just praying its not intestines or something like that!
Among other things, what I love about the young Hong Kongers is that they love to treat themselves. They love having the best – I thought I would follow the trend and wait 2 hours for ‘Hong Kong’s Best Bubble Tea’. Coming from uncrowded Brisbane this was crazy to me – I mean don’t get me wrong it was delicious but these people do this on a daily basis. Don’t let me put you off though – despite the huge crowds Hong Kong is a hub of efficiency. Everything in Hong Kong is how do we get as many people in the restaurant as possible and how do we get them straight back out again. So although you might see a huge line up for a little restaurant rest assured you will be served within 20 minutes! Although you better be ready to put your change away quickly and get out of the way!
What really has changed my life though has been the hot lemon tea. I am ADDICTED! This is basically a staple with every meal and if you have ever been to Hong Kong you know that you must preface every drink with ‘hot’ or ‘cold’ as everything is offered in both.
Another plus of living here, aside from the hot lemon tea, is Hong Kong’s central location.  It is close to most of Asia and there are so many airlines flying through Hong Kong that every week you will find flights that are cheap as chips to anywhere in Asia you wish to go. So far I have been to Cambodia and Taiwan and next stop – TOKYO.
Of course its not all jetting around here. I am starting to truly understand what living on a student budget looks like. But Hong Kong is perfect for youif you have plenty of money or no money at all, because you can pick the type of lifestyle you wish to lead! Extravagant, top of the range down to $15 AUD a day – note this is still eating delicious food if you know where to go!
Hopefully my next blog is less centred around food but it is unlikely. Until next time…

My first Thai scam

It has been a month since my last post, and in that time I have been able to travel to six new cities. This year Thammasat University held an inter university sport event that lasted two weeks. This meant that after only two weeks of study we had two full weeks off. Naturally, myself and some other exchange students used this to our advantage and booked a trip away. We started up in the North of Thailand at Chiang Mai, from here we ventured down to Singapore and then up through Malaysia. In this post I am just going to speak about my Chiang Mai experience.

I travelled to Chiang Mai with three Thai students and two other exchange students, both from America. I expected the city to have a similar bustle to Bangkok however I was very wrong. Even though it was still a big city I thought it felt more like a small town. The first night we stayed close to lots of unique cafes and Chiang Mai speciality restaurants. Al were delicious. At night we visited an extremely long night market that showed off some of the textiles that come from the region.

The following day the Thai girls arranged for a taxi driver to take us to our next night’s accommodation, glamping about an hour out of the city. On the way the driver was supposed to take us to Doi Suthep, some strawberry fields, and some places the taxi driver recommended. Before coming to Thailand, I had heard about lots of taxi driver scams, so I was cautious but since my Thai native friends arranged it I thought I should trust them.

We woke up early, so we could see Doi Suthep, a temple on top of a mountain at sun rise. The glow of the yellow sun rising over the town in front and the intricately designed temple, made for a stunning view.

Sunrise from Doi Suthep

Once we had soaked up the beauty of the temple we started heading out of the city. Our first stop, an elephant park. This is where red flags began to fly because we specifically told the driver we did not want to see elephants as we had already arranged to go to an elephant sanctuary on our final day. The whole time we were there the driver was trying to sell us different packages, but we politely declined and moved back to the car.

We got on the road again and shortly stopped at what I thought was a nice cafe on a creek. However, after getting coffee our driver approached us about paying an entrance fee, of about $20, to see a hill tribe above the river. The price seemed a bit extravagant to see a village, so we declined but he then came back with a counter offer of $8. As one of the Thai girls was very interested in going we decided to go up. The ‘hill tribe’ was only about two-minute walk up a slight hill and there were about 16 huts. This didn’t seem enough to host the eight different kinds of village tribes it was said to have. I overheard a tour guide explaining that all the men were out working on farms so they weren’t in the village. It didn’t take much observation to see men playing on their phones around the back of their huts. The hill tribe women are known for wearing long neck pieces but many of the women simply put them on like necklaces. The obvious tourist trap felt objectifying towards the people and especially the children that were there.

Once I happily left the ‘hill tribe’ I thought we must finally be going to the strawberry fields, but some people were getting hungry, so we had stopped at another beautiful café on the water. Here the two American girls and myself began asking the Thai girls what was going on. Before this moment we were just going with the flow as every discussion was had in Thai, but we were starting to get frustrated about never knowing what was happening and why we hadn’t gone to the strawberry field yet. They told us he wasn’t going to take us anymore because it is too far away. So, we decided we were going to speak to him as we didn’t feel it was fair that we still pay him as much if he was not providing the service we agreed on. Once we mentioned the strawberry fields to the driver he began acting like a three-year-old having a tantrum. He threw off his jacket and started walking fast back and forth saying how he never said he’d go there and it’s too far. This made me concerned that he might get in the car and drive off with our stuff, so I stood in front of the driver’s door. He came over and tried to push me out of the way, so he could get in, but I didn’t want him to go so I stayed in front of it. One of our Thai friends kept talking to him in Thai and it was clear they were arguing. Eventually after the arguing we all got back in the car, with us three English speakers still unclear about where we were going. We ended up at the campsite, so that answered that question. We got out of the car and more arguing about the price followed. We all paid about $2.50 less than originally planned so a very small discount. The whole experience was frustrating and exhausting. It also left us at our campsite 4 hours early.

We were lucky that the owner of the site, an ex-teacher, was so lovely. She made us lunch for free and showed us an area we could hang out. being in the beautiful atmosphere of the mountains was exactly what was needed after that experience. That night we had a BBQ and watched the stairs before settling for an early night.

The view from my tent

The next day we headed off back to Chiang Mai by bus this time to avoid anymore dodgy taxi drivers. Once in town we went to the infamous fried bread place that shapes bread into elephants, frogs, dragons amongst other things. We also visited an interactive art museum that proved to be a lot of fun for the afternoon.

The last day we spent in Chiang Mai was my favourite of my time in Thailand so far, we went to see the elephants! We were picked up from our hotel and taken in an open-air truck to the elephant sanctuary. Here we were able to feed, play, and wash them in a river. It was a lot of fun and the elephants seemed happy and playful. There is so much information on ethical elephant sanctuaries, but at the same time still so much you don’t know about what happens behind the scenes. The relationships between the trainers and elephants seemed so genuine and helped me believe that they really do care about the treatment of the elephants. We were even told to leave some elephants alone for a while because they did not feel like being crowded.

The baby elephant recieveing a tickle from a trainer

Chiang Mai is such a unique place with such a range of things to do there and is definitely worth a visit.

Bangkok, far exceeding my expectations

Bradley Webb, Chulalongkorn University, Thailand.  


Well i have to say that after being here 2 months there is zero regret for my decision to go on exchange. This place is amazing, Bangkok you are far exceeding my expectations. This place seems to have a pool everywhere, most places you stay or visit seem to have a pool somewhere in the complex. Here is two that i recently visited.

I went exploring the city this week and went on a long boat through the city. It was amazing and surprising cheap at 3 dollars for about 2 hours up the river. Was fun playing with the pigeons at the dock, I definitely enjoyed being a little kid that day.

Finally after 6 days of humidity and feeling sticky it finally rained. Was amazing sitting on the balcony of the place i was staying and watch a monsoonal storm roll over the city. The weather here in Bangkok is surprising like Brisbane stinking heat and storms that just erupt with exceptional speed.

This student’s exchange to Thailand is generously supported by the Australian Government’s New Colombo Plan