Reading Week…or a Spontaneous Philippines Trip

When I applied to study abroad, I had never been outside North America.  In my mind, travel was a cool concept, but super stressful.  I had no idea where to even begin in terms of planning and logistics, or what problems to expect.  I wanted to take the chance in Hong Kong to visit other countries, yet with COVID travel restrictions, it didn’t seem possible in August.

However, a few weeks ago, Hong Kong opened the country.  There was no more quarantine hotel requirement, no more 10-day self-monitoring process after country entry; essentially, travel outside of Hong Kong was now feasible.  My friend, an exchange student from Germany, suddenly said, “I booked a flight to the Philippines for Reading Week.  Alone.”  One day later, it was chaos: everyone and their mother was going to the Philippines.  So we followed suit; within one week, we had 4 flights, a 5-hour van ride, and a hostel booked. 

At HKU, Reading Week is essentially the equivalent of fall break: it’s a week of no classes lodged right in the middle of midterm territory.  About halfway through the semester, teachers begin testing the retainment of information, assigning more cumulative coursework, and ramping up the workload.  There seemed to be two schools of thought: either test students right before break, or give them the break to study and test them immediately after.  The week before the break, we spent every hour in the learning commons.  Every assignment due before, during, and right after the break had to be completed, and likewise, every exam prepared for.  Some of my friends were finishing homework right before we left for the airport!  I was able to get everything done, but there was no time to relax; it was straight to packing, and then 24 hours of travel and no sleep. 

The Philippines was a blur of adrenaline.  We took a flight from Hong Kong to Manila, then Manila to Palawan, then a van ride from Palawan to El Nido, where our $8/night hostel was located right on the beach.  During our four days there, we went on an island-hopping boat tour, drove mopeds, hiked to waterfalls, watched the sunset from various beaches, attempted surfing, ate lots of seafood, and much more.  After El Nido, we traveled to Puerto Princesa to visit the Underground River, one of the new natural wonders of the world.  We booked a hotel room for the night for $7 each, and then spent the next day in Manila before flying back to Hong Kong at midnight.

View from our hostel

Overall, the trip really opened my eyes to the possibilities of travel.  I’m no longer as anxious about the steps I have to take in the airport, or about going to a completely unfamiliar place with little to no plan.  Hostels are no longer a foreign concept to me: sharing a room with ten strangers and living out of a backpack for a week was surprisingly not a big adjustment.  Everyone at our hostel was insanely friendly; even the staff became our pals that we chatted with over coffee every morning. Each day contained a new opportunity to do something I had never done before, and I was able to see a part of the world that I had only seen in movies or media. Moreover, spending a week in another country really cemented Hong Kong as my home.  My small room in Wan Chai, which had once felt so foreign and temporary, was relieving to return to. 

I would highly recommend traveling around Southeast Asia as much as possible if studying here; flights and hostels are cheap, adventures are limitless, and the experience of traveling is invaluable.  There are so many things you can do or see even in just a few days that aren’t possible in the US.  Even though life can be comfortable where you are, definitely don’t pass up the opportunity to experience everything you can! 

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