The never-ending adventures of a travel writer in Vietnam, Cambodia, New Zealand and throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

BBC Say Vietnam Says No on Facebook

According to the BBC, in a rather cynical report, Vietnam denies it is actively blocking facebook, despite claims of employees from a variety of ISP companies. If that were true however, then why has it been unavailable through more than one ISP, running through different servers? Anyway, read the story here.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Vietnam's Facebook Block Saga Continues

An article by The Press Association Sheds a little light on the current Facebook black-out in Vietnam:

“Government officials and managers at several of Vietnam's state-controlled internet service providers did not respond to a request for comment.

But technicians at two of Vietnam's largest internet service providers said they had been swamped with calls from customers complaining they could not access Facebook during the last week.

A technician at Vietnam Data Corp. said government officials had ordered his firm to block access to Facebook and that VDC instituted a block on the site on November 11. He declined to give his name because he was not authorised to speak to the media.”

Most of the article merely rehashed current discussion on the internet by users within Vietnam, but the above quote, if it can be believed, suggested something more sinister is going on. Granted, the only difference between journalism and hearsay is whether or not one gets paid to dispense it, but at this point in time, any little bit of information is very illuminating for users in Vietnam now who are largely now cut off.

Quite a few of my own contacts have told me that this move by Vietnam deals a serious blow to the expat community in Saigon and Hanoi, who relied on Facebook heavily for career networking and social activities.

Read the full article HERE.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Electronic Guidebooks

Below is my response to travel author/tv host Rick Steves, who recently wrote a story for World Humabout the trend toward electronic guidebooks, and asked for input:

"I'm a guidebook writer for SE Asia myself, so very interested in the topic. Those of us in the publishing industry know that it, like similar industries, is in very hard times. As you pointed out, there is a lot of excitement over electronic books, aps and readers, so I think its only natural to go in that direction. I just tested out Lonely Planet's new iPhone city guides. They were fun to use, and features like the maps with GPS, and ability to click on websites and phone numbers and make immediate calls were very helpful. However, there were some notable disadvantages. Tables of Contents, directories and lists tend to be very long and unwieldy. It's impossible to get the overall feel of the city with an eguide like this --it can only be read in bits and pieces--so it only really works if you already know where you want to go but want more information about a sight or venue or how to get there.

An iphone ap or electronic book does present the opportunity for a publisher to update the content more often (after all they don't have to pay to re-publish a paper book if a few phone numbers change--they simply issue an electronic update), however with the low budgets and stone-age business models guidebook publishers still use these days, I don't see this happening. And this is the problem... technology and platform can never replace good content... but the outcome I propose may not be what you expect. The interesting thing in all this is that the advantages of publishing with new electronic platforms, specifically things like iPhone aps, are geared more toward small publishers and individual developers--rather than the large book publishers. In this game, anyone with time, skill and expertise has the capability of producing a competing guide--with much more up-to-date content than a big publisher can manage. Inevitably everything will probably move to electronic format of some kind, but in the end, I think the big publishers will still be the big losers down the line--unless they revolutionize their processes behind the scenes.

Still for now, I know I appreciate putting my reference books all on one device if I can. As a guidebook writer that likes to work on my books while on the road, I otherwise tend to have to carry a whole heavy reference library on my back, which is not very nice!"

Monday, November 9, 2009

Phan Thiet Celebrates Status as Second Rate City

Vietnam Net Article

I had a good laugh at the title of the article linked to above. They obviously have no idea that it suggests Phan Thiet is something less than a nice city.

The article discusses the annual "Tourism Festival" in late October in Phan Thiet. The "festival" is largely a naval-gazing event that is never even advertised to the very audience it is allegedly intended to serve--foreign tourists.

Dinh Thai Thim is indeed a very interesting festival, but it has nothing to do with what the government is putting on in Phan Thiet, and it is more than an hour away.

They go on to mention that the event is a chance to honor tourism companies in the area... of course those tourist companies are only the ones that are Vietnamese-owned and in close partnership with, if not owned outright by, the powers that be...

Shipping from Vietnam

If you happen to need to ship anything from Vietnam, you may be interested in the response I just gave someone:

By normal post it's always been extremely slow to ship anything (anywhere from several weeks to several months), and things have a tendency to break. If you are sending anything that might break, I recommend using one of the Styrofoam boxes used for packing seafood. You can often find them for sale--very cheap--at shops near docks, ports and harbor areas.

Couriers are much faster--I've averaged almost two weeks no matter who I use. They are of course very expensive. DHL and EMS have been cheapest and provide good service. Many of the couriers have free pick-up service, the only problem is you have to wait around half the day, or all day, and they may not show up at all. For that reason I find it best to schedule the pickup for toward the end of the day, so your waiting is at a minimum. The post office often has a pickup service but I've encountered some corruption and unreliability with it.

Note that whatever you mail, particularly large boxes of mixed items, will be unpacked and searched before it is shipped. This can cause problems if you brought it already safely packed because all of that will be re-done and might be re-packed haphazardly. Make sure you insert yourself into the situation so you can control how it is re-packed.

Note that media like DVDs and CD's with movies and music can not be mailed back, at least unless it has the little government-certified stickers on it. Photo CDs and whatnot are fine. I've never mailed books out of the country, but that might be a problem.