The Hassan's

Uncle Ho and
Chairman Mao

World Tour '98


(Read Other First Person Travel Stories)

CHARLIE SURFS - the NET!

Apologies to The Clash for the correction, but it appears that the whole world is now surfing, the Net. We headed off to Asia remembering our experience in Egypt last year. Literally cut off from the rest of the World, we found it nearly impossible to insure others that we had not been caught in the middle of the horrible massacre that took place in Luxor while we were there. Three days later when we got back to Cairo we managed to find an Internet Cafe where we posted messages for family and friends. This year we wanted to try and keep in touch as closely as possible and the following relates just how we were able to do so.

We started the trip in Bangkok and had full expectation that internet access there would not be a problem. The area stretching from the Planet Hollywood to the Hard Rock Cafe (a frame of reference many of you can relate to) in Bangkok is one glorious shopping area centered on Siam Square Shopping Mall. You of course can find anything there that is available any where else in the World. The Internet Cafe there had the latest equipment and all the pastries and coffee you might possibly want. For about $6 USD an hour you can connect yourself up to the net and surf away.

Heading to Vietnam we had some idea where we might find Internet access. Given the choice between the string of 5* hotels and the scruffy guesthouse area frequented by all the young backpackers you might be expected to make the wrong choice. The 5* hotel will boast of a "Business Center" that can provide you with every possible office convenience but not the Internet. This proved to be the case throughout Vietnam and China. The backpackers are at the cutting edge of information technology and the small guesthouses and cafes they frequent is where to go to get online.

In Saigon we however went a slightly different route finding access through VNN, the Vietnamese Post Office. Given the tremendous dispersal of Vietnamese around the World in the last twenty years it is not surprising that the VNN has determined that the internet will prove to be a vital link between this dispersed population. The VNN is in the process of establishing centers throughout Vietnam to meet this vast need. We first visited a beautiful facility near downtown Saigon but found that it was not yet operational. Directed to a more distant neighborhood we found ourselves in a little storefront that offered good equipment but no pastries. It was here we found that one of the caveats of third world surfing is to "save everything" before you try and send it. The phone connections can be a little uncertain and you can dump a lot of work before you know it.

In Hue and Hanoi we sought out our Internet in the backpacker havens. In Hue the "Tourist Post Office" provided easy access to the net and a large selection of "herbal product". In Hanoi we found at the Lonely Planet Cafe we could both eat a great meal (for less than $3 USD), book a tour to the countryside and surf the net. It was interesting in Hanoi that the large number of Internet Cafes conducted an informal price war. The pricing was by the minute and would go up and down from 70 to 80 VD depending on if you had to wait or not. Waiting always got a lower quote so your customer didn't go way. With the exchange rate of 14,000 VD (Dong)  = $1 USD it was not very expensive. An added feature while surfing at these locations is that you got to see the latest in tattoos, body piercing and how little clothing it might be possible to wear in the stifling heat and humidity.

When we got to Kunming China we found an Internet access right near our hotel. We decided to wait until our last evening in town to use it and found that the sign that says the stay open until 11:00 is only valid if they don't hit a lull which allows them to escape earlier.

In Chongquig we dispaired of finding access as we had experienced great difficulty in communicating with anyone about anything. Seldom anywhere in the world had we confronted a populace that so effectively denied our ability to communicate with them. Compounding the problem was a virtual lack of signs in anything but Chinese characters.

As we wandered the main square a couple of young men circled us until they felt comfortable enough to approach us to practice their English. Upon spotting a computer program disk amongst their belongings I turned the subject to the Internet. They knew of a place "nearby"so we trekked across town, asking directions (them not us) as we went.  We found the building but because the Internet Cafe was on the second floor it took us another ten minutes to find our way to it. Many old Chinese buildings are a maze of additions and dead-ends that defy even residents.

The facility was state of the art, but was prepared to close. They however stayed on and refused to accept something extra when we were ready to leave. Seeing that it only cost $1/hr we felt more than a little guilty for keeping them. The system here was a little different however in that each person logging on had to supply their identification card number or in my case my passport number. Quite innocently we tried to access CNN and found that site unavailable. USA Today however came through right away. It appears that the Chinese Government is now quite at ease with the Internet at least in Chongquig. We returned the next day by ourselves which produced some surprise on the part of the staff.

Our final Net stop was Beijing. Here at the World Trade Center we found an Internet Cafe that sported a picture of President Bill Clinton shaking hands with the owner during his visit in June. T-shirts with this picture were for sale - no we have none for sale or trade! Here no one asked for a passport and the twenty or so terminals were jammed.

We would highly recommend that wherever you might travel, you try and communicate with the Net. If we can bring the World closer together in this way maybe we can better understand each other and work towards some common ends.

Copyright 1999 Lois and John Hassan

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