A semester travelling in South East Asia – Monica McMahen
I took off the Fall semester last year to travel to China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand… after 15 years of schooling I was sick of school! I’ve always loved travelling, and I decided that it was now or never – I had very few strings attached; no dependents, no employer, and all it took was a brief visit to the undergrad office to tell them that I wouldn’t be back until January. I decided to travel during the semester rather than the summer so that I could work all summer and save money. It actually ended up being cheaper to travel to China and South East Asia than to pay for a semester of school!
Fun Facts about me: I love spending time with people, being creative, and I love surprises. I’m an avid theatre goer, and love playing sports (especially soccer, but any intramural will do!). In my spare time (which I don’t have much of these days with classes, my Marketing major, volunteering UBC REC, and with working), I like to spend time outdoors. I completed my first half-marathon in May, and LOVE hiking and camping, especially when the camping involves s’mores.
I travelled by myself, but I was never alone. I met tons of people, some of whom I travelled with for two weeks and others I shared a meal or hike. The people I met while travelling were incredibly diverse, from a range of different backgrounds and with different reasons for travelling.
I loved the local experiences, like eating street food and not being 100% sure what I ordered from someone who doesn’t speak English. In every country, I took a cooking class; it’s a great way to find out about the different local foods that are sold in the market. From then on, during my trip, I found myself always ordering food that I had learned to cook.
Local experiences included a Thai boxing lesson. After the lesson, they rubbed us down with oil and then the man said “now we run” and jumped on his motorbike, zooming off down the road. As we ran behind him, it seemed like something out of a movie.
In Phnom Phen, Cambodia, I learned about the Khmer Rouge genocide. We visited the school turned prison where people were kept in tiny cells for 2 months until they died or were taken to the killing fields to be murdered with farm tools. It was incredibly interesting, but very sad.
In Vietnam, I found myself being fitted for tailored clothes that in no way fit into my backpack, snorkelling in the beautiful coral reefs of Vietnam’s number one diving spot, zooming around corners on the back of a motorbike in the hill town of Dalat, and risking my life crossing the streets of Saigon- the city of 4 million motorbikes.
The sights I saw were amazing, but the local buses that got me to them, the food I ate and the everyday interactions were the highlights. I had the time of my life, and learned things about myself, the world, and other people that I never would have come close to otherwise.
Monica McMahen – UBC Student