Vietnam continues on the slow lane in making the Internet accessible from within the country, but those visiting the southeast Asian country need not be cut off from the world of electronic communications, according to Rob Anson, a professor at the Boise State University, Idaho, USA, who recently returned from a semester teaching in an MBA program in Hanoi.

While it’s not possible to surf the Web there yet, it is possible to send and receive international Email and, if you can afford it, you can always dial out of the country to make an unrestricted connection. Here’s Dr Anson’s Road Report:

How soon before Vietnam allows unrestricted access to the Internet?

For all practical purposes, global access to the Internet is still not allowed. Perhaps it will be in one to three years. The country is watching how China deals with content filtering, and generally there is continued loosening of attitudes toward more open communication with the West.

However, there are already over a dozen different Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in Hanoi alone. I’d guess there are between 20-30 in the country as a whole. At last count, perhaps half offered international Email service. Usually they charge a base rate then a per page rate. It’s very low for domestic use, and higher but not outrageous for international. The base rate usually starts around US$10 a month.

Also, about a third of the ISPs have Intranets operating within the country. They’re carrying a lot of information. Within the year the different ISP intranets should be connected.

How did you handle your Email?

I dialed out to Hong Kong and connected with CompuServe. A long distance call cost me about $5 for 3 minutes. Fortunately, CompuServe has an automated upload/download/disconnect function that makes it efficient to call, take care of business and get off the line. Consequently, my usual connect time was plus or minus a minute. Dialing internationally is no problem whatsoever. This approach to going online is not officially permitted, but is widely used.

How reliable was the CompuServe connection?

I rarely had problems connecting at 28.8 Kbps. Occasionally the CompuServe computer in Hong Kong was tied up.

Did you do more than just Email?

It was too expensive to do anything except up and download Email. Any surfing costs an absolute fortune. As it was, my long distance phone bill to get to my CompuServe connection — for just Email — ran about $400 a month.

What advice for others traveling there?

If you are going to be there for more than a couple weeks, it is more cost effective to arrange service from an ISP within Vietnam so you can take advantage of the local numbers. If you can, put an autoforward on your home Email account so your messages will be forwarded to your in-country address.

If you are working in Vietnam, you should note that the Intranets are getting to be good sources of news and information about who’s who within Vietnam. This contact information can be difficult to dig up otherwise, and English language print magazines cost a fortune. Most of the Intranets have English versions.

How did your computer make out?

Travelers should be aware of the effect of heat and humidity on computers. Laptops heat up. You’ll want to take a small fan along with you to keep air flowing over it, or jack the laptop up to get some airflow.

Also, the keyboards often stick and mouses gum up. It may be a good idea to bring along some canned air. Everyone I traveled with to Vietnam who brought a laptop had a problem at some point except me. My Micron Transport, however, did well.

Rob Anson teaches at Boise State University in Boise, Idaho, USA. He recently completed a four-month assignment in Hanoi, teaching in the Centre for Management, National Economics University and assisting in the establishment of an MBA program.

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