Tuesday, July 24, 2018

#613 : Being a Blogger

Ages ago, blogging used to be something precisely what the cartoon describes.  It was the boom of the internet and IT. People began blogging left and right, sharing things which found audience literally in the opposite part of the world. Orkut was a rage back then, but it didn't have the right means to publicize a person or a webpage as much as Facebook or Twitter does today. I personally loved following many blogs back then, most of which are inactive or simply gone today.It made me realize something - Long gone are days when people blogged purely for passion. 

With the advent of SEO - Search Engine Optimization and Digital marketing, the true essence of blogging has been diluted. There used to be a time when a simple write up about my day garnered me 3000 hits, now it has come down to a measly 100 hits in spite of writing about far more interesting topics. I had just posted about my experience in Thailand which would possibly have gotten more a 100 views a couple of years ago as it is quite rich in content has a couple of pictures, but today, that article has just gotten over 39 views in a time span of 12 hours. I've shared it on all social media platforms where I have an average of 300 followers. The numbers simply don't add up. Just as I was pondering about all this, Shrinidhi, a fellow blogger, blogged about 9 disturbing trends a blogger needs to be worried about. Do read it here. 

In his blog post, a couple of points caught my eye. Here is my take on this issue

1. It's not all about metrics - A community I am a part of on Facebook has all "serious" bloggers. Many members of that community offer guest posts majorly only to people who have a decent DA score. What is DA score? I had no idea until I dug around and did some research. Then there is the Moz Score, the Alexa rank and what not. Google Analytics has a beautiful suite of tools which can help you drill down data right from which browsers your audience is using, to the OS that they are on and of course, the most basic metric of which location they blog to.

Does it matter? It ideally should not. However, at the end of the day, it comes back to the big question - Why blog? It is okay to blog for monetary reasons, but that does not give the free rein to mock and create problems for other bloggers who do it purely for passion. Peppering an article with 'top trending' keywords and forcing Google to pick up the article might work, but it doesn't make sense at all. As Shrinidhi mentioned, this eventually leads to poor quality of articles which harms the community of genuine bloggers.

The only way to escape from crutches of metrics is to act as a  community. Commenting and sharing genuine blog posts, inviting people to guest blog without actually looking at their blog's metrics would certainly help. 

2. It's not all about vlogs, pictures, questions and quips - For an average reader, it takes about 7 minutes to read a 1000 word article while it takes around 3 hours to write it. It's the era of Videos and pictures. Then there is this big issue of peppering the article with keywords. The combined effect of these two has literally resulted in lost readership. People don't seem to have the patience to read a 1000 word article. A blog post without a picture is literally of no use today. I agree that videos and picture enrich the experience, but the lack of it should not be the reason for a text blog to be thought of any lesser. 

Twitter, Facebook and Quora together are the prime reason for people getting accustomed to pictures, videos and short answers. Most answers on Quora are like instant soup. They fill the stomach but aren't nutritious in long run. The real art of research is lost. People look for instant gratification and instant answers.  Of course, Quora also has a community of people who work hard to ensure that the answers are sensible, correct and are not just a bunch of links pointing to various websites. 

Moreover, as Shrinidhi pointed out, Google, the biggest search engine seems to be adapted itself to handle the large inflow of blogs which are stuffed with keywords. It has reduced the importance of text blogs in general to make way to media rich and key word rich blogs. 

3. It's not all about positive reviews and marketing always - One piece of advice that I have been given over the years is to find a niche in the blogging-sphere. Why should I? I love to read books, so I write about them. I love to eat, so I write about cooking. Why should I not write about what interests me. Why should I be mocked for doing what I love to do - that is, to write. 

An excellent book group recently shut it's promotional activities. They were into promoting books by the means of blog hops, book blitzes and reviews. Why have they shut? The person who ran the group reasoned out that the bloggers felt pressurized and were no more ready to review books. There are writers who demand stellar 5 star reviews to drive sales. They insist that the blogger write only good things about their book. Is it a fair expectation? It's not just the book-blogger world which faces this issue, food bloggers and product bloggers have a similar set of problems. It is okay to promote to a brand based on it's merit, but it's not okay to be demanded to be promoted over the sake of it. It is a question of ethics over quick money. 

Here is what I'm planning to do immaterial of my readership, hits, likes, shares (Oh whatever!)

I'm going to write my head out - about whatever I like, but as always, I will take care not to hurt the sentiments of  other human being. Free speech is over-rated and subjective. 

I'm going to be as active as  possible in commenting and sharing genuine content by passionate bloggers. 

Somethings are not always about a bunch of metrics and money. For me blogging is one such thing, support if you can, or please show yourself out of my cyber space. 


Monday, July 23, 2018

#612 : S̄wy : The Beaches of Krabi!

For some background on this - do read the first post in the series here.

The word 'S̄wy' translates to beautiful in Thai. It is the perfect word to describe Krabi. Dreaming of experiencing lush greenery, rocky terrain and dreamy beaches without wanting to go bankrupt? Krabi might just fit the bill perfectly. We picked this place over Phuket as it wasn't as much as crowded as Phuket. 

The month of June marks the beginning of monsoon in Thailand. Thankfully for us, there were just mild showers and the sea wasn't really rough but it was slightly choppy though. So if you are planning a trip from June to September, it would be wise to check the weather. Torrential rains are not a rarity in Thailand and hence it would not really be a pleasant experience.

We picked the 1:10 AM Thai airways flight from Chennai which landed in Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport at 6.10AM in the morning. Thailand has visa on arrival options for Indians. Do check the visa requirements beforehand as they do involve carrying certain amount of local currency (Thai Bhat). Our travel agents - PickYourTrail recommended that we obtain our visas before hand. They guided us quite well with the documents that were needed to get the visa. One pro tip here - it is recommended to maintain a stable balance of minimum INR 40,000 at least for a month or so before you apply. We were warned that visa do get rejected if the transfers in and out of the account were erratic.

Our flight to Krabi was operated by Thai Smile airways and departed from Bangkok by 1:25PM and landed in Krabi by 2:45 PM. We decide not to do any activity in the evening and just explore the near by area. We choose to stay at a modern and artistic place - a resort near the famous Ao Nang beach in Krabi - Red Ginger Chic resort. We booked a superior room but were upgraded for free to a duplex suit which literally was so dreamy and comfortable. We spent the evening relaxing in the resort, soaking in the atmosphere and ended our day with a perfect candle light dinner. The food was way too good and there were surprisingly enough vegetarian options! 

That greenery was worth waiting 6 hours at the airport!
Next day - On our itinerary was Phi Phi island. Given it was Ramzan on that day and Krabi had a sizeable population of Muslims, our tour started a bit late. We got picked up by 10 AM and the returned back by 5 PM. From the meeting point, we boraded on a speed boat and visited various spots including Monkey Islands, Phi Phi Don Island, Phi Phi Ley island, Viking caves. 

All of them were typically dreamy beaches, blueish beautiful water with mountains nearby. We ended the day with a snorkelling activity. Lunch was included in the package. 

Some pointers in general about the trip to Phi Phi island. 

  1. The beaches are so good and might be the best place to take a dip if you don't know swimming. 
  2. There is an entrance fee of THB 400 per person. 
  3. Taking the speedboat might not be a good idea if you have backbone problems and motion sickness. 
  4. If the sea is all choppy be prepared for a rough ride on the speedboat. It was initially such fun as the boat went up and down, but after a while, you literally develop a headache with all that chopping feel of the rough sea. 
  5. Snorkelling is a bad idea if you don't know swimming, because the currents are quite strong and it would be quite a task to stay afloat. The guide might know swimming but is probably no expert in teaching your to snorkel or to stay afloat. 
  6. Towels, Sunscreen, swimwear, Waterproof bags, Bags to carry wet clothes - Absolute essentials.
Look at that water?! Isn't it too good!

We spent the evening exploring Krabi, it's night market and food scene. For a vegetarian, there were enough options available, but most of them were not local to Thailand. Fruits, Indian and Italian plus pancakes from roadside shops were the real saviours! Do make it a point to eat the Dragon fruit which is abundantly available there. They are so yum and make for a good snack. 

We woke up late the next day and explored the beach nearby before heading to the airport for our next destination - Bangkok. We decided to skip shopping in Krabi as Bangkok is a better destination to shop.

Some general pointers about the trip to Krabi

  1. There are two airports in Bangkok - Don Muang (DMK) and Suvarnabhumi. Low cost carriers such as Air Asia use the DMK airport which is really crowded. Suvarnabhumi airport was quite large when compared to DMK airport. So take care if you opt in for low cost carrier.
  2.  Thai Smile airlines - They messed up with our food from Bangkok to Krabi. It was such a bad experience - We had opted for vegetarian which wasn't updated in their system and we ended up having just a bottle of water instead. It was lunch time and we were quite hungry. 
  3. The 6 hour transit was just boring thought we just lazed around in the airport and munched on snacks. Remember to avoid such long transit times, we felt that we should have done our research better.
  4. One day in Krabi is not enough to explore the whole place. Since we really wanted to visit Bangkok, we opted just for a day, but no regrets as we felt very relaxed by the time we landed in Bangkok.
  5. Food ought to try for a Vegetarian - Dried candied Banana, Tom Yum (Ask for the vegetarian version, it has such a different flavour), Road side pancakes - These are different from traditional pancakes.  
In short, Krabi was such a relaxing place with dreamy beaches and lush greenery!

PS. Not posting my pictures for personal reasons! Lookout for more about Thailand in my next post too. 

Thursday, July 12, 2018

#611 : Sawadee Ka : Planning a Vacation to Thailand

I missed celebrating my first anniversary as I was in Spain for work. There can't possibly be a way to compensate that, but I wanted to take off, reset myself and spend some quality time with the husband without going bankrupt. North East of India and Bhutan were top on the list, sadly, it is monsoon there now. The next option was Bali, followed by Thailand. We zeroed in Thailand finally after considering budget and places to visit. We've already been to Mauritius and indulged in a bit of water sports and all, so we were clear about what we wanted to do in Thailand.

Our aim was just to relax and leisurely explore a new place without rushing in and visiting all places. This vacation was somewhere between being a traveller and a tourist - a vast improvement from our Mauritius trip where we did just the touristy stuff. 
Being a "traveller" is not easy no matter how romantic it sounds. Planning a vacation all on your own without using the services of an agent can be daunting. The downside hower is the lack of flexibility to explore and experience the destination fully. 

Leading a machine life with 10 hours of work with 2 hours of commute literally leaves us with no time and patience to plan and execute a proper vacation. Yet we didn't want to miss out on experiencing the place. Thus we decided to go ahead with a travel agent. After much deliberation and little of what research we could manage, we decided to zero in PickYourTrail - the start up travel company which fit our bill. More about the experience as such to follow! Tackling only the planning in this post. 

We contacted the PickYourTrail team via their chat feature on their website. The partner available gave us a call and listened patiently to our expectations and suggested various options before going on to create a login for us to customize the trip via their planner online.

The online planner was the jackpot for us. It let us customize the trip by letting us pick hotels, flights, places and activities. 

The planner ( Price hidden for personal reasons)

We decide to visit Krabi and Bangkok - Krabi because I wanted beach and peace, Bangkok because husband wanted to! The other options were Chiang Mai, Ko Samui, Pattaya and Phuket. Pattaya was out of question - not really the ideal place to relax and I was in no mood to party. Phuket - Too crowded and mainstream for my taste. Chiang Mai and Ko Samui didn't attract me at all. Krabi sounded peaceful and it was indeed peaceful. 

Now to the itinerary builder tool. There were various options to pick from based on the interests - as in the builder had options to pick if we wanted to party or enjoy nature or do cultural sightseeing etc. Then it gave out suggestions of places to visit and things to do. We played around and customized it before freezing and booking our trip. Here are some pros and cons of the builder tool. 

Pros : 

1. We had  complete control over the itenary. We picked what we wanted to do.
2. This meant more time to explore on our own which also proved to be cost effective. 
3. Options of hotel and flights were just too good - only that we didn't have to worry about bookings and all. 


1. The activities suggested are pretty conventional and standard - it was like a standard set which all tour operators offered. We had done enough research to know that. 
Signing off now! Watch out for my next post on Krabi. Nothing really stood out in this aspect. 
2. The timing of the activities - This is one big issue we faced. We wanted to do things in leisure. The builder had a different time on it while the final itinerary document mailed had a different timing for pickup and drop - we were set on the timings we picked and didn't really notice the itenary. We eventually had to actually rush for a couple of activities. 

More about Krabi, Bangkok, Live concierge, Monkeys and beaches in my next post! 

PS. If you are wondering why it took me almost a month to write this, blame it on post vacation blues. Go figure. 


Sunday, July 1, 2018

#610 : The Problem With Him (Opposite Attracts #3) by Rachel Higginson : Review

People who cook for a living are truly intimidating in a sense that, they excel at such a daunting task. Apart from having watched enough episodes of Hell's kitchen and Masterchef, I have no idea of how a restaurant's kitchen functions. The promise of a electrifying romance in a kitchen sounded way too fascinating to pass. 

Kaya, the central character, is a Sous chef in one of Durham's famous restaurant, Lilou. The other main character Wyatt, her boss, is the head chef. They are literally like Tom and Jerry in the kitchen, constantly at loggerheads with each other. Wyatt thinks he has earned his position as the head chef after their previous boss - Killian quit, while Kaya thinks she deserved the position more and Wyatt got it only because he was a male and that was a default choice. Eventually, Kaya tries to move out and go get her own kitchen that she deserves. 

The summary is just too good and thankfully the story lived up to the punch that the summary delivered. Finding a book with a good summary and a equally good story is rare. More often than not, writers either overdo or underplay the book-back blurb. One notable aspect is the voice and tone of the blurb. The writer has made a very clever use of first person narration in the story. It made more sense to read such a different story line in first person. The characterisation was good - Kaya's character was so funny and well thought of. One peeve point for me here - The writer focused on all characters equally, but there are a handful of characters like that of Veera's which were mildly superficial. One thing I relate much with the story as such is the issue of gender inequality in certain areas of work - the writer has infused such a serious topic quite easily into the story. Being from a male dominant field myself, reading how Kaya triumphed through all of it was such a boost to me personally.

In short, the book was an entertaining and different read! 

Buy the book here - Amazon