Southeast Asia has long been a popular tourist destination, thanks to relatively low costs of room and board, wonderful food, and ease of transition from country to country. Let’s not forget about the glorious tropical weather.
If that’s where you’re headed, we envy you. And if you plan on working while you’re there, or just need Internet access to stay in touch with friends and family, we advise you plan ahead. Internet accessibility varies by country in Southeast Asia and it’s not always as simple as finding a Starbucks and logging in.
Population Doesn’t Equal Access
Surprisingly, two of the biggest destinations in Southeast Asia have some of the greatest problems when it comes to Internet access. Indonesia and Thailand only have Internet reaching 16 and 29 percent of their populations, respectively. Myanmar and Cambodia have the lowest percentages of access in this region. Meanwhile Singapore, Brunei, and Malaysia all have Internet access for over 65 percent of their populations.
Despite low rates now, an eMarketer report indicates Indonesia will hurdle toward being one of the top five countries in the world in terms of Internet penetration by 2017. A majority of the improvement will come from access to smartphones with Internet capabilities, so you might consider purchasing a mobile phone once you arrive to stay online if you go before this advancement takes place.
However, you don’t have to give up hopes of getting online entirely when visiting any of these countries.
Where to Access Internet
Most households in countries like Thailand access the Internet through dial-up connections, but broadband is available in larger cities. Luckily, as the region adapted to the large influx of tourists, many of the restaurants and hotels began providing Wi-Fi connections. Like many regions with a healthy tourist population, Internet cafés are also becoming prevalent amongst Southeast Asia.
Keep in mind that, while there is access in these places, many of them experience slow speeds. Indonesia ranked at 122 on a global scale with average speeds around 1.9 megabits per second at the end of 2014. Vietnam and Malaysia did slightly better with 2.7 and 4.1Mbps each. Thailand still leads the pack with 7.1Mbps. To put that in perspective, the average Internet speed in the U.S. was 10 megabits per second for the same period.
Connectivity is steadily becoming a major priority throughout Southeast Asia, particularly in the Philippines where transactions are increasingly moving toward digitization. Nearly half of the population now has Internet access through smartphones or in the home.
Have a Game Plan
With slower Internet speeds still a concern, it’s important to plan ahead for your trip if getting online while you’re there is a priority for you. Map out the local access points, whether they’re hotels, restaurants, or Internet cafés. Remember, when visiting rural parts of most of these countries, access is going to be severely limited, if available at all.
Adjust your work schedule to accommodate days without Internet availability if necessary. If you plan on spending your days hanging out at restaurants or cafes, be sure to buy food and drink to show your appreciation for the free access.
Southeast Asia is a beautiful region that’s creating a presence on the world stage with Internet speeds growing each year. For now, enjoy everything else the region has to offer and don’t worry too much about getting online while you’re there if you don’t have to.
Photo Credit: Brian H.Y./Flikr