Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Tips for travelling with an iPhone through South Vietnam

A pond for prawns next to the house we lived in.

You may have noticed that iMerlion has been a little quiet since Christmas. That's because I've been away on a short family holiday to Vietnam. My daughters and I got back on New Year's Day, just after midnight and after resting for a few days, I'm ready and raring to go.

As the first real post for the year, I thought it would be useful to share what I've learned about travelling with the iPhone (and sans Macbook) through urban and rural South Vietnam. (I was in Ho Chi Minh City and Vinh Binh Nam commune in Vinh Thuan district, Kien Giang province.)

1. Get a prepaid card, either from Vinaphone or Vittel. Both of these will give you pre-paid data. Don't get Mobiphone if you want data. 3G is available in most places I went to in Ho Chi Minh City.

2. 3G is not available everywhere though. Vietnam is a big country. Vinh Binh Nam commune, where I spent three days, is a 10 hour bus ride from Ho Chi Minh City. (You can take a taxi that will only take 6.5 hours, but will cost you US$140). At the market at Vinh Binh Nam, there was only GPRS. At the place where I was staying, some 10 minutes by fast boat from the market, there wasn't even that.

3. FaceTime is awesome. Many places have Wifi, especially in the tourist areas and at the airport. Being able to FaceTime with my wife from the hotel room, from the street outside Saigon Notre Dame Basilica (thanks to Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf nearby) and from Tan Son Nhat International Airport was pretty cool!

4. iMovie for the iPhone is impressive. Being able to shoot and edit video on the iPhone is amazing. I'm no Peter Jackson, but I managed to make decent videos fairly quickly. I made this video of duck being prepared for lunch in the home I was living in. You can view the video in SD. (Warning: not for vegetarians or the squeamish.) Update: Here's an HD version of that same video. And for the squeamish, here's a video of a trip to the market at Vinh Binh Nam commune. Vegetarians should still avoid though....)

5. Get an external battery. The iPhone 4 has excellent battery life, but obviously it won't last very long if you're shooting and editing video on it all the time.

6. There are no good downloadable maps for Ho Chi Minh City. I had maps from Lonely Planet and NavFone Ho Chi Minh downloaded on my phone. However, the Lonely Planet map wasn't terribly detailed while the NavFone map had a bad interface. And neither map allows you to reorient the map according to the direction you are looking at, which is particularly important when you're in a strange city. (I didn't use the Maps app on the phone because I didn't want to use up the data allowance).

Overall, I've been really happy with my iPhone as my main travel companion. The only time I missed my Macbook was when I wanted to extract the photos from my iPhone so that I could get it printed at the local photo development place. Of course, that would involve having to carry a Macbook around and who wants to do that on holiday? A Macbook Air though....

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