First published 2nd November, 2006
One of our favourite blogs is Popagandhi, a Singaporean blog authored by a really keen traveller. With a great eye for what makes a destination unique and a real flair with the pen (or keyboard), Popagandhi offers some revealing glimpses of travel and also an insiders view to living in Singapore. We sat down for a couple of virtual glasses of wine and chatted about what makes her blog.
How did you get into blogging?
I started blogging in 1999, when I was all of 15 years old. I was bored to tears at school, started to 'live' on the Internet, decided to learn HTML and FTP and all those stuff which seemed cryptic at the time. Nobody knew what a 'blog' was then. I remember encountering it about 2 years after keeping what we know today as a blog --- it seemed like a funny word. I had a little site I designed myself, and every time I wanted to update it, I had to manually code the index.html, then upload it via FTP. Wasn't as easy as it is now!
How long have you been blogging?
Six years, and counting.
Why do you blog
I started the website as I began to think of myself as a serious writer. Or rather, I knew I wanted to write, at some point in the future, and I was going to start keeping a portfolio, putting my writing online for feedback and criticism. Later on when I somehow stumbled into being almost daily blogging, as a means of daily expression, it still seemed to me a good avenue for feedback.
I occasionally posted bits of 'serious writing', drafts of projects I was working on, into the blog, to elicit comment and response. I suppose I keep blogging because of this, and also because of the sense of community that blogs create --- unlike regular writing, which sometimes feels like you're talking to yourself, putting it online --- whether they're simple posts or grandiose literary narratives, is a two-way street.
Why did you choose to use Wordpress?
It's the easiest platform to set up, incredibly extensible and powerful too. It's free and one of the best open source tools available for online publishers --- with an amazing number of plugins which make it even more wonderful.
How do you blog?
Usually from my laptop. When I'm on the road it's either with my laptop in the hotel or wifi hotspot, internet cafe, or just the PCs at the cyber cafes.
Popagandhi is an interesting mosaic of your personal life, Singapore, technology, travel and food and it reads like you're a blogger who travels a lot rather than a traveller who blogs a lot. Would you say that's an accurate description -- blogger first, traveller second?
You've got that right... I think because I got into the blogging scene so early, before it 'matured' and took on a mass market appeal, I completely 'lost the ball' when it came to specialised blogs, the sorts which are so popular these days. I just can't do a specialised travel blog, or food blog, or tech blog. Maybe I have a short attention span... or interests which are too many, and too diverse. So the 'mosaic' of everything, which is my blog, is sort of an approximation of my life, my head, my incredibly short bursts of attention and desire to do everything once. I began to travel independently only after I turned 18 --- by then my blog had already gained a substantial number of readers. So yes, I do see myself as blogger first, and traveller second. Or rather, a traveller who uses her blog as a platform for her plans for the total domination of travel literature.. in the near future. :)
The reason I ask that is, some travel blogs read like travelguides -- why do you concentrate on the travel experience rather than the mechanics?
That sort of explanatory content is what I would appreciate myself: I like to know what bus number it was, where it went, how long it took, and how much it cost. But I'd go to a guidebook for that. I'm not a travel guide, though I very well could be -- and there's no point in boring the 90% of my readers (who are not quite the bus or train geek that I am), with such content. Rather, as a writer I am first and foremost interested in textures.
The smell of the place, the people I met. It could very well be about bus 42 leaving at 18:24, but if there's a way to make bus 42 leaving at 18:24 matter, and be important, to someone else other than myself -- that's me trying to capture the essence of my travel experience. Making it matter to someone else, someone else who hasn't been there, possibly won't ever be, but might be moved, in some way, by my narrative to contemplate making a trip like that of his/her own at some point in the future, because he was moved by it.
Thinking of the bus brings me to images -- You're obviously very handy with a camera -- how important would you say images are to a good blog?
They're not everything, but can be handy as visual tools. Obviously imagery through photography and imagery through writing cater to very different audiences --- a blog with great visuals but mediocre content, might appear to one group of people but not another; a blog with great writing but no visuals to another. I'm just greedy, I want to conquer all the markets, so I try to be good at both. It's really up to the blogger. Some bloggers work just fine with great writing and no pictures/bad pictures.
While rich in images, you seem to boycott maps -- a common feature on many travel blogs -- why?
I don't have a habit of using maps myself. I have never gone anywhere with a map. I'm a wanderer, not a navigator. Maps do nothing for me --- it's the textures, people, smells, on the ground that do --- so if they do nothing for me, I don't know how to appropriate them into my blog! I'm just a map-idiot. They feel clunky and pointless to me. It's probably got something to do with my mother, who is the Queen of Wandering Around Foreign Places and Never Getting Lost (my family secretly believes she's got an ultra sophisticated GPRS system for a brain).
You're in India at the moment -- last time I was there there was no such thing as an internet cafe -- now you're blogging live from there on a Nokia N73 -- you really can blog from anywhere. Do you think that is good?
I'm in two minds about it. On the one hand I'm a huge technology advocate -- tech really does play a big part in my daily life, even when I travel. Blogging 'live'... it's great because I can upload pictures and videos I took on my handy little cellphone/multimedia device onto Flickr and YouTube in real time; my parents know exactly where I am, what train berth I'm in, if I've left in my train already. But sometimes I'm pleased to put the technology away -- including the phone, and the ability to blog in real time -- for a few days or weeks, just because they have the potential of stripping away what I'm there for: travel, and some modicum of meaning behind that travel. If you're unlucky you can forget your real intentions, just concentrating on updating in real time and sending emails home. You might as well just stay at home and read a travel blog.
You could argue that surfing the web and blogging are slowly replacing the traveller's cafes and guesthouse foyers as the forums for the latest gossip on what's hot and what's not and even as a way to socialise and find travel partners. How does this shift in focus strike you?
Nothing beats the experience of hanging out in travellers' cafes and guesthouse lounges, just watching DVDs, smoking a j****, trying to outdo each other on being the most adventurous, cheapest, haven't-showered-in-the-most-number-of-days traveller! Surfing the web and blogging.. these are great, they give you instant access to hotel/guesthouse reviews, hook you up to locals instantly, that sort of thing. But the real thing... is about camaraderie, being in the same place at the same time, sizing up a person and knowing instantly within 2 minutes if you'd hang out with him/her for more than a day, sometimes forming lifelong cross-continent friendships. You just don't get the same thing online. I think the defining difference of the travel cafe/guesthouse experience, when compared to the online experience, is that you're there, out there in Vang Vieng or Muang Sing or whatever, at the same place at the same time, capable of seeing the same things and going to all these new unchartered territories, trading tips and things to avoid. No matter how great the online experience is, it can't replicate this.
How important would you say blogging is to you when on the road? Would you decide not to go somewhere if you wouldn't be able to use the internet there?
If I'm not able to use the internet anywhere --- I'd go there and live there for 2 weeks!
Blogging's not essential. Updating on the road is not essential. It's just my tool for letting people and loved ones know I'm safe and well, and the customary 'these are the things I saw, this is where I ate, this is who I spoke to, and I am having diarrhea..'... BUT it is important for me when I have written something of 'some worth', some short piece of travel narrative that I'm excited to share. That's when blogging seems the most important.. but of course that only happens after I've written down the narrative on a piece of paper (I'm traditional, I still need to write on paper). So nope, blogging is not important at all.
Add your comment
Feature story quicklinks
- Giving back in Southeast Asia (15)
- All stories
- Angkor Hospital For Children
- COPE: Helping people move on
- Epic Arts
- Free the Bears Laos
- Helping Phuket's children in need
- Helping Siem Reap's rubbish dump families
- Helping Singapore's transient workers
- Helping the Karen of Burma
- Humanitarian Services for Children of Vietnam
- Lifestart Foundation, Hoi An
- MyME Yangon
- Swim Vietnam
- Thai Freedom House, Chiang Mai
- The Samui Prison Project
- The SET Foundation
- Burma (8)
- Cambodia (23)
- All stories
- A Cambodian Eco-lodge
- A honeymoon in Cambodia
- Angkorian traffic woes
- Battambang weekend
- Elephant riding in Cambodia: Should you?
- Great places to stay in Siem Reap
- Is Preah Vihear safe to visit?
- Kampot or Kep?
- Koh Rong: Trouble in paradise?
- Kompong Cham escape
- Northeast Cambodia in photos
- Oh Poipet!
- PEPY:Sustainable Cambodian tourism
- Phnom Tamao Wildlife Refuge
- Sihanoukville beaches lure expats
- Spas, shopping & seers in Siem Reap
- The best islands in Cambodia
- The best places to stay on Cambodia's islands
- The Death Highway
- Trekking in Virachey National Park
- Trekking the Cardamoms in Cambodia
- Which Cambodian island is right for you?
- Why you should go to Cambodia
- Indonesia (14)
- All stories
- A funeral in Toraja, Sulawesi
- Climbing Rinjani
- How to hire a boat in Indonesia: Without drowning
- Learn to surf in Bali
- Medewi: A great Bali getaway
- Mountain biking in Bali: A ride in the woods
- Pasola, Sumba
- The Gili islands: Which is the right one for you?
- Ubud bird watching: From waterhens to witchcraft
- Ubud shopping guide
- Village trekking in Tana Toraja
- Weekend in Nusa Penida
- Yogya's student scene
- Laos (18)
- All stories
- A breeze through Luang Prabang
- Best budget rooms in Luang Prabang 2013
- Elephant trekking in Laos
- Exploring Laos' Bolaven Plateau
- Huay Xai to Pak Tha by slowboat
- Is Lao Airlines safe to fly?
- Laos' vanishing elephants
- Luang Prabang escape
- Luang Prabang for kids
- Muang Ngoi Escape
- Photos of Luang Prabang, Laos
- Pi Mai Lao in Luang Prabang: In 1999
- Southern Laos by scooter
- Temples in Luang Prabang
- The Gibbon Experience
- The Phonsavan adventure
- Vientiane's Chinatown
- What to buy in Luang Prabang, Laos
- Malaysia (9)
- Singapore (9)
- Thailand (76)
- All stories
- 10 Bangkok galleries worth a look-see
- 10 Thai treks aside from Chiang Mai
- 24 Hours in Bangkok: Sukhumvit to Siam Square
- 31 Thai islands
- 5 Southern Thai towns to lose time in
- A Thai homestay in Ayutthaya
- A weekend in Phra Phradaeng
- A weekend on Ko Samet, Thailand
- An extra day in Krabi
- Andaman Sea island hopper
- Are Thailand’s cheap guesthouses disappearing?
- Ayutthaya temple tour
- Bangkok for art lovers
- Bangkok's Charoen Krung Road
- Bangkok's Thonburi: exploring the west side
- Brilliant Bangkok
- Chiang Dao getaway
- Chiang Mai's temples
- Corruption in Thailand
- Eating on the edge
- Elephant's World Kanchanaburi
- Exploring Lamphun
- Exploring the Lungs of Bangkok
- Far southern Thailand: Go or not?
- Five days in Khao Lak, Thailand
- Floating markets around Bangkok
- Highlights of Chanthaburi province
- How to do Khao Yai National Park
- Khao San Road safety and scams
- Ko Mun Nork: a nearby paradise
- Ko Pha Ngan 7-day detox:Colonic fast
- Ko Pha Ngan's best beaches in 2013
- Ko Phi Phi on a budget
- Ko Tao for non-divers guide
- Ko Yao: the islands you're looking for
- Learning Muay Thai in Bangkok
- Motorcycling the Chiang Rai loop
- Narathiwat: residence of good people
- Navigating Bangkok: The BTS Skytrain
- Phuket by night
- Phuket for Kids
- Phuket heritage walk: Car parts to saris
- Phuket's secret beaches
- Planning around Thailand's civil unrest
- Roll your own Kanchanaburi
- Should I book for the full moon party?
- Should I cancel my Thai holiday? No.
- Should I cancel my trip to Thailand? No.
- Soi Thong Lo, Bangkok
- Sorting out Suvarnabhumi Airport
- Staying at a Thai monastery
- Thai islands for nature lovers
- Thai islands to lose yourself on
- Thai visa FAQ
- Thailand tsunami wrap
- Thailand's Mae Khlong market
- Thailand: Where to from here?
- The best beach on Ko Samui
- The best places to stay on Ko Kut, Thailand
- The bridge over the River Kwai festival
- The road to Sangkhlaburi
- The road to Sangkhom
- Travelling through north-east Thailand
- Trekking in Thailand
- Trisara -- decadent luxury at its best
- Two days in Kamphaeng Phet
- What are the alternatives to Bangkok?
- What is the best beach on Ko Tao?
- What is the best island in Thailand?
- What's a good beach on Ko Pha Ngan?
- What's a good beach on Ko Samui?
- Where to stay at Railay Bay, Thailand
- Where to stay in Sukhothai?
- Where to stay on Ko Samet, Thailand
- Which beach on Ko Samui?
- Which island in Trang?
- Vietnam (32)
- All stories
- A short break in Nha Trang
- A Weekend in Can Tho
- Being fed Fido: Eating dog in Vietnam
- Buying a touring motorbike in Vietnam
- Con Dao escape
- Do nothing and see the best of Hanoi
- Doing the DMZ from Hue
- Exploring Kon Tum
- Exploring Vietnam's Mekong Delta
- Great Hanoi cafes to chill out in
- Ha Long Bay conclusions
- Ha Long Bay for backpackers
- Ha Long Bay for budget-busters
- Ha Long Bay for flashpackers
- Hanoi escape
- Hanoi or Saigon?
- Hoi An -- Walking over the dragon
- How to do the Dien Bien Phu loop
- How to enjoy your time in Vietnam
- How to pick a good Ha Long Bay cruise
- Is the Hoi An culture tour worth it?
- Motorbike Vietnam's Central Highlands
- One day in Hanoi
- Responsible shopping and eating in Hoi An
- Saigon's top 10 cafés
- Sapa or Bac Ha?
- Saving Vietnam's bears
- Street food safety
- The DMZ: Traveller tactical briefing
- Travel tips for Tet in Vietnam 2013
- Two Wheels & Ricefields: A review
- Which is the best street food tour in Hanoi?
- Accommodation guides (21)
- All stories
- 2005 Top guesthouses in Bangkok
- 2005 Top guesthouses in Chiang Mai
- 2006 Top guesthouses in Hanoi
- 2006 Top guesthouses in Phnom Penh
- 2006 Top guesthouses on Ko Phi Phi
- 2006 Top Luang Prabang guesthouses
- 2008 Top Bangkok airport guesthouses
- 2008 Top Luang Prabang guesthouses
- 2008 Top spots on Phu Quoc Island
- 2009 Top guesthouses in Bangkok
- 2009 Top Phnom Penh guesthouses
- 2011 Best places to stay in Kuala Lumpur
- 2011 Best places to stay on Ko Phi Phi
- Best places to stay in Hanoi 2012
- Cheap Phuket guesthouses & hotels
- Five special hotels in Cambodia
- Ko Lipe's best budget guesthouses 2012
- The best hostels in Bangkok 2014
- The best places to stay on Ko Chang, Thailand
- The changing face of Khao San Road
- Where to stay on Koh Rong Samloem
- Travel with kids (7)
- Opinion & advice (16)
- All stories
- 10 reasons to do an adventure tour
- 10 reasons to travel independently
- A year's worth of travel for 2013
- Beach hideaways in Asia
- Christmas and New Years in Southeast Asia
- Do I need reservations for my holiday?
- Evil man of Krabi
- Fifteen tips for a great holiday in Asia
- Getting a cheap airfare to Asia
- Hotels should never charge extra for WiFi
- Long distance buses in Southeast Asia
- Mass tourism in Southeast Asia
- Nine Asian upcountry hideaways
- Planning a Gap Year? Some advice.
- Ten Southeast Asian trips for 2008
- Ten thoughts on ten years with Travelfish
- How do I? (11)
- All stories
- Bangkok to Ko Samui, Pha Ngan & Tao
- Bangkok to Siem Reap
- Catching a train in Thailand
- Catching a train in Vietnam
- Cheap flights with Discovery Airpass
- Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang
- Crossing the Cambodia Laos border
- Ko Chang to Phu Quoc Island
- Siem Reap to Ko Chang
- Stops between Bangkok & Chiang Mai
- Visa run from Thailand to Burma
- Cycling Asia (13)
- All stories
- 24 hours in Bangkok
- An Angkor cycling guide
- An introduction
- Battambang, bamboo trains & guides
- Confessions of a "cheating cyclist"
- Cycles of all sorts
- Ha Long Bay independently
- Ko Samet Vs Pattaya
- Muay Thai night
- Phonsavan and Luang Prabang
- The hills of Vietnam
- The road less travelled
- Tubing in Vang Vieng
- Health and safety (6)
- Money and finance (4)
- Diving guides (6)
- Photo essay (3)
- Guest blog (2)
- General (15)
- All stories
- 10 Christmas days in Asia we're yet to have
- 10 dumb things I've done while travelling
- 34 ways to travel greener
- Asian animal experiences
- Call me Mr Massage Magic
- Chefs Without Borders
- Flying is fun!
- Mr Golden
- On being a travel writer
- Teaching ESL in Asia
- The 211 country honeymoon
- The Boxing Day Tsunami: 5 years on.
- To Teach or Not to Teach
- Travel writing scholarship 2012
- Tuk to the Road Charity ride
- Book reviews (5)
- Interviews (8)
- Explore Bangkok by BTS (18)
- All stories
- Bangkok by skytrain: Ari
- Bangkok by skytrain: Asok
- Bangkok by skytrain: Chid Lom
- Bangkok by skytrain: Chong Nonsi
- Bangkok by skytrain: Mo Chit
- Bangkok by skytrain: National Stadium
- Bangkok by skytrain: On Nut
- Bangkok by skytrain: Phaya Thai
- Bangkok by skytrain: Phloen Chit
- Bangkok by skytrain: Phrom Phong
- Bangkok by skytrain: Ratchadamri
- Bangkok by skytrain: Ratchathewi
- Bangkok by skytrain: Sala Daeng (S2)
- Bangkok by skytrain: Sanam Pao
- Bangkok by skytrain: Saphan Taksin
- Bangkok by skytrain: Siam
- Bangkok by skytrain: Surasak
- Bangkok by skytrain: Thong Lor
Sign up for Travelfish Burp!
Our weekly wrap on Southeast Asian travel.
Click here to see a recent newsletter.