Between the end of the first semester and the beginning of the second one, I had almost two and a half months of vacation. During this time, aside from resting after the stress of the final exams, I had the opportunity to travel around Asia. The three destinations of my trip were Hong Kong, Vietnam and Thailand, three places I had always wanted to visit but I had never had the chance to go to while in Europe.
My friends and I left on the 18th of January to Hong Kong and as we arrived I immediately new that I would have loved it. As we were in the cab from the airport to the hostel, Hong Kong’s skyline unfolded in front of us in a flicker of lights.
The following five days we went around the city, walking in the different roads and alleys and to different landmarks such as the Garden of Stars. The Garden displays some of Hong Kong’s most famous actors and directors’ handprints and autographs and it’s a nice walk, mostly at night, with its suggestive lighting and statues. Moreover, from a viewpoint not far from there, it is possible to enjoy a play of lights projected in the sky from different skyscrapers in the city. Many tourists know about it, so if you are ever in Hong Kong and want to see it, I would highly recommend to get there in advance.
Aside from famous landmarks such the Garden of Stars and the Big Buddha, impressive and beautiful as they are, the thing I have enjoyed the most about Hong Kong is just walking around the city. In fact, it is an incredibly peculiar city, so modern, with its shiny finance buildings and at the same time so decadent, with flats turned black and consumed by the pollution and never restored. I think Hong Kong, more than any other city I have been to, feels like a contradiction. It is one of the most densely populated cities in the world and as you explore its whereabouts you can almost sense that there is a binary way of life there.Unfortunately, I did not spend enough time there to fully understand what are actually the dynamics of the city, and what I got from it is more an overall feeling that a certain and fixed idea. I guess this is just a reason more to go back.
After Hong Kong we went to Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital and from there to Ha Long Bay, one of the most suggestive natural beauties I have ever had the pleasure to experience. The bay is scattered with islets; these tiny islands present a luxuriant vegetation, and we had the chance to go ashore to some of them and walk around and even to hike to the peak of one of them. From that spot the view is breath taking, and it allows you to understand how big the bay is. Aside from its natural beauties, Vietnam is an incredibly interesting country. Spending some time there, I realized how much it has suffered to get its independence; firstly from the French, who colonized Vietnam in 1800, and then from the Americans. There are different museums that, although not particularly well structured, inform of Vietnam’s history. Vietnam is one of the last few communists countries in the world, however, the ideology of communism, which first president Ho Chi Min and many others had so desperately fought for seems to be completely lost. Aside from opening the market to other countries, many citizens seem to be highly concerned about elevating their (apparent) social status in the most consumeristic ways (one of our guides for instance was explaining how going to the hairdresser and get a hair set is a sign of wealthiness). This was surprising for me, at least in a first moment, because I thought that the communist ideals would have still been strong considering that Vietnam’s war ended less than fifty years ago. However, the malcontent of the people can be almost immediately sensed. The government does not offer any public services (or at least well functioning ones), and the gap between rich and poor is visibly immense. So, after spending some time there I realized how disillusioned the people are, and how much they struggle to live a good life.
After ten days we left Vietnam to Thailand. Once we got to Bangkok we spent the first few days sightseeing. We went to different art galleries and museums which were way more European-like than the ones we visited in Vietnam, and we tried our best to experience the city on foot. However, aside from the impossibility of it due to the dimension of the city, the heat made it difficult not to want to stop every ten minutes in a cafe to enjoy, more than a coffee, the air conditioning. Since the climate was so warm, we decided to go to an island, and our final choice was Ko Samet. As we got off the ferry-boat we went to find our hostel, but as we had some time left before the check in we decided to have a fish and sea-food based lunch that was as tasty as it was cheap.
Once we checked in, we immediately went to the beach and spent the rest of the day there, sunbathing on the beach and swimming in the ocean. We spent the following day in the same way and had a great time, until we all got food poisoning. Since we were all incapable to travel we had to stay on the island for one day more than we planned. Once we got back to Bangkok, although we were feeling slightly better we were so strength deprived that we didn’t manage to do much more. This was so unfortunate, because there would have been so much more to do and to see. However, food poisoning aside, I had a great time and experiencing so many different cultures and places just made me want to travel and explore more.