Friday, 17 April 2015

Why should I vote?

This is a bit of a departure from the norm today, but with the General Election less than three weeks away (and having an avid interest in politics,), I wanted to broach the subject of voting, specifically amongst young people.

I've always been interested in politics; my dad was involved in the Labour Party for most of my childhood, and was elected as a local councillor when I was in primary school. I remember thinking as a very small child how cool it would be if he became Prime Minister, and one of my most vivid childhood memories is having to go and collect him when he was bitten by a dog whilst letterbox campaigning.

This followed by a natural interest in modern history at school, especially modern political history, and this continued to my A Levels when I chose to study the Liberal Party as my individual assessment. I then went on to study history at University, and the theme continued, ending with my study of the American perspective on the Guatemalan coup during the latter half of the twentieth century as my dissertation.

It's fair to say then, that I've had more of an interest in politics than most, and so I've always found it incredibly important to vote, even in the local elections. Whilst I have voted Labour in all the elections I've been eligible for, I'm much more interested in whether or not you vote, rather than who you vote for. I've been lucky, all through school and university, to be friends with at least a couple of people who have a similar interest in politics and the state of the world, and so I never really understood when people said that young people didn't vote.

In September 2013, I moved from Manchester to Brighton, and started a new job working in the travel industry. Most of the people I work with (and am friends with) are aged between 20-27 (with the exception of the managers), and I was very surprised to discover that most had little or no knowledge about politics, and no interest or desire to know anything. They felt distanced and disenchanted by the political system; it's not taught in schools unless you're already interested in it, and once they'd passed a certain point, didn't feel they could understand enough to make it worth it. Several have expressed to me that they don't want to vote if they don't understand what they're voting for, and they don't have the desire to sit down and decipher the difference between the parties.

I have to say, I completely understand. Even having been interested in politics for the majority of my life, I still struggle to understand the difference between the main three (I think they do sometimes!), and the politics-speak which envelops all the policy wording and election broadcasts looks like gobbledegook. Friends have also argued that, even if you vote for someone because they've promised something, there's no guarantee that they'll actually follow through with this if elected, as proved by Nick Clegg in 2010. It's hard to have trust in the politicians, and to understand who they're really trying to support.

My generation has been struck more than most in the past few years. I left Sixth Form just as the economy crashed in 2007/2008, went to University and then entered the job market just as everyone else was starting to panic. Whilst I'd been studying, businesses had entered liquidation, people had been made redundant, and quite frankly there were very few jobs available. As you can see from previous posts, I worked for free for a year, and then on minimum wage in retail and catering for another couple of years before I had to take a huge risk (and take on another £2000 debt) in order to move 300 miles away from home for a job that led to a career. I certainly wasn't the only one out of my group of friends (and some are still in the same situation), and unpaid internships and zero-hour contracts were the norm.

Even now, whilst I'm on the way to where I want to be, I'm stuck with thousands of pounds of debt from the past 4 years, which I don't expect to pay off until I'm in my late twenties/early thirties. I have rented since I was 18, and have no idea how on earth I'll ever get on the property ladder. My rent at the moment is £450/month, which is extortionate. I pay a small amount into a pension (even though we'll all be working late into our old-age), but have no other savings, and nothing to fall back on should something go wrong. Again, I'm certainly not on my own with this.

With the younger generation paying the debts of our parents' generation, in my mind we should be even more active in ensuring we elect those who will improve our future and not repeat past mistakes. Instead, people are apathetic and angry, but not enough to do anything about it. They've lost their faith in the government, and it shows. In the Scottish referendum in 2013, around 80% of the electorate voted, which was incredible! In 2010, only 65% of the population of the UK voted for the new government, resulting in a hung parliament, and a Tory/Lib Dem coalition. History seems set to repeat itself in 2015, with no party having a clear majority, and the two choices seeming to be a coalition with either Labour or the Conservatives at the helm, no matter how much Cameron and Miliband try and deny it.

In 2010, 15 million people didn't vote, mainly because their vote "wouldn't make a difference." The maximum amount of votes any party got was around 10 million. Your vote DOES make a difference, and people have died for your right to have your say.

Image Credit here
Here's my plea to everyone who hasn't yet registered to vote, especially those aged 18-25. Please register. If you don't register to vote, the government isn't incentivised to create policies aimed to make your lives better. They'll aim their policies at improving the lives of your parents, your grandparents, or your younger siblings. They'll ignore the fact that you're on a zero hour contract (because you don't show up in unemployment figures), unless YOU force them to do something about it. They won't put a cap on rent charged by private landlords, because it doesn't affect them, unless YOU ask them to. They won't protect the NHS from private, profit-making companies, leaving you struggling for healthcare, unless YOU make a point of it.

I understand it's hard to get your head around the different parties, but there are lots of online quizzes you can take to help you make your mind up. Ask your parents, ask your friends, ask me if you like! Even if you register, and spoil the ballot, it will make the parties sit up and take notice. We know people are capable of making a fuss when it affects them directly - don't sit down and let other people decide the next 5 years for you. You decide! It takes two minutes, do so here.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Sangkhlaburi - Rural Thailand at its best!

On my whistlestop tour of Thailand, Sangkhlaburi was the place that I knew the least about. It's a big part of our Thailand Experience; travellers spend around a week here volunteering in the local community and trekking in the jungle, but it's not big on the tourist map so I went with a completely open mind. I was looking forward to it, but didn't expect it to be amazing.

Boy was I wrong! It was absolutely the highlight of my trip! It's around a 6 hour drive from Bangkok (definitely stop off in Kanchanaburi for lunch on the way!), and after Kanchanaburi it's an absolutely stunning drive into misty mountains that look like they've come straight out of a film set. For the last hour, you're winding up the mountains, with a different, more amazing view the higher you get, surrounded by rubber plantations and mist - it's absolutely stunning. 


Sangkhlaburi is a small town, right on the Burmese border. It's set along the edges of a huge reservoir (40 miles long), and is split into two sides - Thai and Mon. The Mon side is very quiet, with temples and houses and not much more. The Thai side is a little more modern, with a 7-11 and a couple of bars and hotels, but still very basic and pretty. The two sides are joined by a long, wooden bridge across the reservoir, or you can drive around the side. 


Buddha, Sangkhlaburi

Temple, Sangkhlaburi

Temple, Sangkhlaburi

I was lucky enough to stay in P's Guest House, right on the edge of the lake. I wish I'd taken a picture of the room, but I wasn't really in there apart from to sleep; I can honestly say it's the nicest place I stayed on the whole trip. It's made up of several villas, or huts, right along the edge of the lake. The rooms are gigantic, with huge beds and amazing, western-style bathrooms. I had the best shower (and even had a couple of little lizards to keep me company). You can see right across the lake, with the mountains to the left, the Mon side of town (with the pagoda glinting in the distance) directly opposite, and the bridge joining the two to your right - both the sunset and sunrise are equally amazing, and definitely worth the early morning.

Lake Sangkhlaburi

I got up around 6am, and sat on the steps in front of the lake to watch the sunrise. With the clouds lifting over the mountains, and the pale pinky, purple morning glow, and the temple in the distance, it's one of the most tranquil mornings I have ever had (at least until a Thai tourist came up behind me, complete with iPhone, and asked me to take a selfie of her, then started rabbiting on her phone completely ruining the moment!) 

Lake Sangkhlaburi

Lake Sangkhlaburi

You can rent kayaks and swim from the jetty at the guesthouse, and also pay for a moped or an elephant trek. I didn't have time for either of these, but I heard good things from people who did. 

There's a bar and restaurant (which I think closes relatively early) on-site, or it's an easy fifteen minute walk into town, where there are a couple of really lovely local restaurants. We went to a restaurant called Toys, where we had a massaman curry, rice and other bits and pieces, which I think came up to around £1-2 per head including drinks! We also visited a bar across the road called The Blue Rock. This is owned by an English guy called Lee - he's really lovely and easy going, and had a good, cheap selection of drinks. I think most tourists in town (fewer than 500 western tourists per year!) end up here or at the Western Bar, and it's a great place to relax after a long day. 

The main reason for my visit was to see the work that our volunteers do when they stay here. Sangkhlaburi has a lot of small communities, who live in the jungle and barely ever leave. They work for the owners of the rubber plantation (for a pittance) and while the men may go into town very occasionally, the women and children never leave. There's no electricity or running water, and no access to education, and so no way for children to break the mould. I was very lucky to go and visit a couple of these communities (Sam Pan Rai and Mai Tew), and whilst the lives are picturesque from an outsiders' perspective, it must be a very hard existence.

Sam Pan Rai





We visited in the dry season (and it had been dry for a couple of months); we tried to get to Sam Pan Rai on my first day, and had to turn around half way there because the car wasn't four wheel drive, and so couldn't make it up the slippy, gravelly slope. We'd persevered (and had a couple of Top Gear-esque hairy moments), but it just wasn't going to happen so we had to come back the next day in a different vehicle. The community is completely inaccessible in the rainy season (it's around an hour by car, never mind by foot!) and so they're completely cut off from the outside world for much of the time. 

Our volunteers spend as much time there as possible, helping the children get a basic education. It's not much, but even if they can speak a little English it may be enough for a child to find work in the tourist industry in the future. We're also helping to build a childcare centre for refuge children in the town. It was incredibly rewarding to see the work our volunteers had done; without them, the centre simply wouldn't exist! 

One of the highlights of my visit to Sangkhlaburi, was our drive to the Three Pagodas Pass. This is around twenty minutes from the main town, and allows you to drive right to the Burmese/Myanmar border! You're not allowed to cross it of course, but there's a sign for the standard selfie, and you can look across knowing you can see Burma! The Three Pagodas themselves are also worth a look, and it's definitely worth taking the time out to go here.

Burma Border

Three Pagoda Pass

Map Sangkhlaburi

My favourite moment, apart from the sunrise over the lake, was driving up through the mountains for the first time, approaching the top and seeing the jungle, river and mountains spread out in front of me. Knowing that, into the distance I was looking at Burma, and closer into one of the most rural areas of Thailand, with some absolutely stunning scenery - well you can't get much better than that!