Koh Yao Noi

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‘The cats are very friendly here…’ we remarked as a snowy ginger cat padded its way through The Waterhouse. We were staying in Koh Yao Noi, a remote, undeveloped island in the south of Thailand, sitting in between Krabi and Phuket in Phang Nga Bay. Cats are everywhere on the island and we were joined by three or four friendly felines as we made our orientation around our accommodation and the surrounding beach. The setting was beautiful, overlooking a working fishing beach dotted with longtail boats and hundreds of crabs. The lighting was best in the early evening, I would sit on our balcony and watch the silhouettes of fisherman docking their boats in the sand after a day’s work.

Koh Yao Noi is one of the most undeveloped islands in Thailand affording a really authentic insight into the lifestyle. In addition to this, we travelled in shoulder season and during Ramadan, so other travellers were few and far between. The island is 95% Muslim and the sense of community is very apparent. We soon learnt that the land surrounding The Waterhouse was owned by the family of our host Karem; to the right his sister and to the left his cousin.

The island is compact with small roads and hardly any (if any), cars. The locals get around on mopeds and motorbikes, so we did the same. To get one, we just had to take a short walk to a moped hire place on our road and exchange 150 Baht (£3.50) and it’s all yours for 24 hours. ‘Koh Yao Noi is the only place in Thailand you can leave your key in your moped and know it will be safe’ Karem told us, and we believed him; If Thailand is the ‘land of smiles’ then Koh Yao Noi is the land of friends. Literally everywhere you go, you are welcomed with warm smiles from local people, even as you briefly pass them by on a motorbike. It doesn’t take long to feel part of the island and start to imagine yourself living here. ‘We are seeing an increasing number of foreigners set up home here’ we were told, ‘the local people have no problem with this, as long as they respect the way we live’. For a Muslim island, the way of life was refreshingly laid back, although it is advised that travellers dress modestly, there is no requirement to, and you are accepted everywhere you go.

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Sadly I did actually come off my motorbike, it seems I have a travelling curse; something always happens to make it a struggle – On my last trip to India I lost my voice entirely for the first four days. I think Karem could sense I was feeling a bit down because of my fall, and he invited us for what he called ‘fishing and a BBQ at sunset’. Intrigued me and my partner Laura agreed and met him at the pier that evening. We set off on a longtail and were sailing for about 15 minutes before they put the anchor down, we sat confused wondering why we were stopping as we appeared to be in the middle of the sea, but we followed our hosts off the boat and as we stepped into the clear, warm water we realised it was really shallow. The low tide had revealed a white sandy pathway to a secluded beach, we walked along it admiring the view and then Karem laid out a picnic blanket and candles and told us more about the unique island. We learnt that the group of bright green lights we could see in the distance, were not coming from a nearby island as we expected, but they were, in fact, enormous fishing boats catching squid. The squid come out at night as they are attracted to the moon so the large lights imitate the moon to enable them to catch them.

As it was Ramadan we sat and talked while the sun set around us until the faint sounds of prayer in the distance filled the air and we knew was time to eat. We sat there until the last of the light vanished and bolts of lightning flashed around us, revealing the silent longtail floating a few metres away.

We all climbed back into the longtail and made our way back to the pier and Karem invited us late night fishing. We were both really excited to see more of the island lifestyle and sea life, but sadly the lightening brought with it a storm so we were unable to go back out.

A few days later we had left Koh Yao Noi and moved onto Phi Phi Islands; a cluster of islands of otherworldly beauty (but unfortunately a lot more touristy). As we sat having a drink one night on the beach we saw nine or ten bright green lights in the distance; a lot brighter from Phi Phi than from Koh Yao Noi, and remembered the tranquillity and simplicity of that beautiful island and way of life.

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Rediscovering Ethiopia

Whenever I travel I realise how little I know about the world and that is exactly what inspires me to travel as much and as often as I can.

One of my first adventures on my own was a trip to Ethiopia. This was a three-month voluntary programme where I lived with a host family who didn’t speak much English and I earnt an Ethiopian wage. I was 19 at the time, and went with a group of English volunteers all under 25.

This trip was incredible and I would recommend something like this to everyone, of any age. However I do feel that due to the nature of the trip and my lack of a comparative, I drew a skewed vision of the country. As a volunteer, I spent my days working in an orphanage teaching art, drama and English to young girls. I also helped to coordinate events on things like street children, female genital mutilation, disability and HIV. Although these are all incredibly worthwhile initiatives and I truly enjoyed my time on the project, at the time it created a negative perspective of the country.

We were a group of young people, many of which had never had a full-time job or travelled abroad, and the project gave us a sense of righteousness, as though we knew better and were going to help those in need. Although we doubtlessly did help with the projects we worked on, I wish there had been more of a chance to learn of the great things of Ethiopia, the beauty, strength and spirituality of the people and the history, landscapes and wildlife, rather than such a focus on what needed to be improved.

Since I went on this trip I have travelled to Europe, America, the Caribbean and India and revisited East Africa on a trip to Kenya. I also started working in the travel industry which has taught me so much and every day I feel like I discover something fascinating about a place. It has given me such a thirst to revisit Ethiopia and see it from the perspective of a traveller rather than a volunteer. I want to talk to the people just to learn, rather than challenge their values. I feel like the country continues to teach me so much, years after I returned.

Ethiopia is a place with problems, severe poverty is very evident and there are many cultural beliefs and traditions which can be hard to digest as an outsider, but that is true of many places and it doesn’t take away the great things just because there are bad.

One of the most valuable life lessons I learned while volunteering is that every single person you meet can teach you something. This lesson came to me from a child called Lantu.

Lantu was born with a variety of physical challenges, and was taken into the orphanage age five visually impaired, severely malnourished, very small for her age and unable to walk. During the short time I spent with her I realised the incredible strength and ability she possessed. I taught her (basic) braille lessons each morning and would take her for a walk around the block with my counterpart, Sena. Lantu spoke three languages; her mother regional language, Amharic (the professional language in Ethiopia) and English, and I was teaching her to read braille in Amharic and English. She was only eight or nine years old and was able to speak fluently in three languages and learn braille in one which wasn’t her mother tongue. Everyone who came into contact with Lantu felt lifted, she brought with her a sense of hope and is one of the most inspirational people I have ever met.

Sadly a year or so after I volunteered I found out that Lantu had passed away which broke my heart. But during her short life with so many obstacles she inspired and touched so many people. She reminds me every day that when I feel there is so much in my way, that I can overcome it, and not to underestimate the abilities of anyone.

Unfortunately there is currently FCO advice against all-but-essential travel to Ethiopia, but as soon as I am able to, I hope to go back and learn more about this unique place.

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Walls

As I have mentioned in a previous post, people confide in me in random situations, people who barely know me and total strangers. I think of myself as a very approachable person and I am genuinely interested in learning about new people, so I enjoy these kinds of interactions. As I have got older though, I have realised that this is really unusual behaviour; most adults are not interested in getting to know new people.

Working in the tailor-made travel industry means I spend a lot of time writing about the really authentic experiences travellers can have around the world, and time and again the most popular ones are those that enable them to interact with local people and learn a new culture. So why doesn’t this apply when we are at home in the U.K.? Why, as adults when we are in our own country, do we immerse ourselves in a book or our smartphones, when abroad we would be open to new people?

I am not sure it is a cultural thing, my theory is that as adults we all put enormous walls around ourselves because we don’t want to be the one sharing about ourselves. When we are in a new country we can ask lots of questions, have a conversation with someone and feel like we are learning something, but back home it would be a two-way dialogue, we might be asked about our lives, what we like, where we work etc. and that is something most adults aren’t open to.

Being someone that does have random conversations with people, I often get remarks like ‘I wouldn’t have given that person the time of day.’ Or ‘I just pretend I don’t speak English or I am really busy’, like I am crazy for opening myself up to new people for a brief conversation. It is also easy to mistake these interactions for flirtation, but that has very rarely been the case. I don’t however, have time to talk to time wasters, there is a big difference between a meaningful conversation with someone and a creep!

Some of the most fascinating people I have met have been in the most obscure situations, if you only allow yourself to interact with people you kind of ‘know’ at work or a group you have joined, you are shutting yourself off from most of the world, from people who are entirely different from you.  If you constantly think everyone has an agenda or you put your walls up and don’t get past the small talk phase you will miss so many opportunities. I am someone with social anxiety with certain types of people, I literally can’t have conversations about how much I spend on my car/my rent/how much I earn, these conversations end pretty quickly, I like to talk about books, politics, passions and laugh, what I have found is that people who you can have real conversations with don’t come along very often, so when they do, let them in, if only for a brief conversation.

Read my blog about a girl I met on a plane in India here.

Rouge x

Replace social media with something producitve

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As a social media executive, I spend a LOT of time on social media. Seeing the world through tiny messages and images people put out on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. Twitter is where I first hear about most news stories, either through what is trending or what comes into my newsfeed. I tend not to post to Facebook much these days and I think since doing so the algorithm has kicked me out of most people’s newsfeed. I still use Facebook Messenger (and Whatsapp) to stay in touch with my friends. Snapchat is a slightly pointless but very addictive platform (which I don’t use for work so I can definitely cut out). Instagram is my favourite, due to its anonymity and less intrusive nature, I also prefer the style of content that comes into my newsfeed; it is inspirational, artistic and beautiful, and not endless pictures of my long-lost school friends on nights out or feeding their children.

Last week I read an article written by a woman who decided to replace the urge to scroll on social media with yoga. Of course, these urges come throughout the day and so she found herself having to do seated yoga poses in very awkward situations. She did find though, that she felt better from not looking at social media relentlessly, and it made me think about how much I use it.

With my job it is inevitable that I will spend nine hours a day either on social media, scheduling content for social media or carrying out tasks directly linked to social media. That is ok, because in a work capacity it is interesting and I am learning new things through inspirational content, engaging with clients and planning exciting projects.

From a personal perspective I am not really sure how often I use it but I do feel like I would like to use it less. I lead a really busy lifestyle and always feel like I don’t have enough time to do things, but I wonder whether replacing scrolling mindlessly on social media with something productive would change that. Our iPhones are designed to make us want to use it, they are seamless and incredibly addictive, but when you think about what we get out of all the time we spend on them it isn’t much. I always feel revitalised after a trip away, and not just from visiting a new place or getting some sun, usually it is the feeling of exhilaration from not being chained to my phone.

Obviously doing the job I do means that I am a big advocate of social media, I don’t think it is destroying our social lives like some people claim, if anything it helps me to stay in touch with people I otherwise would have lost contact with. However, there is a difference to staying in touch with friends and just filling your mind with rubbish, and it’s the latter I want to cut out. Much like the woman from the article I read, I want to stop myself from scrolling away an evening by looking at 25 high-speed makeup tutorials on Instagram or reading updates from someone I haven’t spoken to in three years.

I am going to challenge myself to replace social media scrolling with writing or reading something that I am interested in. Depending on the circumstance that could be a quote or a full article, a book or a website. I think removing the obsessive element of social media will help me remove a lot of ‘noise’ from my mind and focus on something more productive.

 

Twitter robots are not worth the risk

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I don’t like to tell people not to do anything on social media, as it is a great tool for experimenting and different methods suit different industries. However, I have had a bad experience with a tool which could have had a terrible impact, so I thought I would stop others making the same mistake.

What is a Twitter robot?

A Twitter robot can work in a number of different ways to increase your engagement levels or following on your channel, it does this by engaging with accounts based on keywords you type in. So for example if you are a travel company you might put in ‘Safari’, ‘Kenya safari’, ‘Cruise’, you can also put in hashtags of popular Twitter chats that your page would engage with naturally, such as #TravChats. The robot will then ‘like’ tweets which contain these keywords and follow accounts which use them or list them in their bio.

A good thing about this is the robot then unfollows these accounts after a few days, so you don’t end up following thousands of people. You can also ‘mute’ these accounts so that you don’t suddenly get loads of random content in your newsfeed.

The benefits

The benefit of using a Twitter robot is that supposedly engages with content your page would engage with anyway, taking out the manual need to go and do this yourself. When done well, this results in an increase in follower numbers, and an increase of engagement to your channel.

The risks

  1. Unfortunately, there are a LOT of spam, pornographic and politically charged accounts on Twitter, and by allowing a robot to have access to your channel you risk engaging with these accounts.
  2. There is a lot of extreme adult content on Twitter, more than I expected, and lots of the accounts use general terms on their posts so that they reach more people, they often use popular hashtags and sometimes general words like ‘travel’.
  3. During the Trump and Hilary debacle, there was a lot of political content on Twitter, even people who aren’t usually so controversial were sharing their opinions, that means someone who tweets about their plans for a luxury safari in Botswana, might also be tweeting some questionable content about Donald Trump, and your brand page is now following and engaging with them.
  4. Terms like ‘African Safari’ might seem safe, but there are many accounts endorsing hunting safaris, and poaching or preaching about animal welfare in an extreme way, which you could accidently engage with, sadly that goes for so many generic terms not just relevant to travel.
  5. The robot doesn’t pick up what is shown in images, there might be a harmless tweet saying something like ‘So many travel plans for 2017, safari, beach and my honeymoon’. But the image could be an adult model on holiday, or the profile photo and banner could be something very controversial.

Sadly, although it seems a good concept, there are far too many risks associated, and allowing a robot to have free-reign of your brand page is not a good idea. It would only take someone to look at your brands ‘liked tweets’ to see a stream of ‘Make America Great Again’ could ruin your reputation.

My experience

Sorry to name and shame, but I did give this company many opportunities to assist me and help sort out the issues we had, and they either ignored me or said ‘don’t use broad keywords’.

I used Narrow.io which is very cheap ($19 USD per month for one account). I set this up with the advice from their team with lots of keywords, and didn’t see many issues to start with, if the account did engage with anything inappropriate I would just ‘unlike’ or ‘unfollow’.

I went on annual leave for a couple of weeks and came back to some questions from my manager about why our account had engaged with some pornographic accounts, and we could see why this had happened with some of the words they were using in their posts. I immediately disconnected Narrow and asked for assistance. The customer service people were very unhelpful and just said to less vague search terms or target specific websites, which we tried – to no avail.

In the end, I cancelled it and connected it to my personal account for a test– as it doesn’t matter as much – I did find that I grew followers – around 150 in two weeks. Although I have seen some embarrassing profiles come up within that time.

Conclusion
Use on a personal profile which you can use to share the brand content, therefore you can still extend the reach of the brand content and introduce it to a bigger audience without the risk.

Don’t use it on a brand page if your business reputation could be damaged by pornographic, political or other questionable content.