Internet cafes in Southeast Asia are many and affordable, preferable to expensive hotel business centers (you'll also meet lots of fellow travelers at Internet cafes). Of course, using your own laptop or PDA gives you the most flexibility, but connections in hotels are expensive and wireless hotspots are, as yet, few.
Without Your Own Computer
In most parts of Southeast Asia, you'll find Internet cafes on every street corner. Be warned that rural destinations in places such as Laos have little or no service. Backpacker ghettos are always a good bet for finding cheap and reliable service. Avoid hotel business centers unless you're willing to pay exorbitant rates.
Most major airports now have Internet kiosks scattered throughout their gates. These give you basic Web access for a per-minute fee that's usually higher than cybercafe prices.
With Your Own Computer
More and more hotels, cafes, and retailers are signing on as Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity) "hotspots." Some places provide free wireless networks. With your own wireless-capable computer, connection is a snap.
If Wi-Fi is not available, most business-class hotels offer dataports for laptop modems, some using an Ethernet network cable. You can bring your own cables, but most hotels offer them as well. In addition, major Internet service providers (ISPs) have local access numbers around the world, allowing you to go online by placing a local call. Check your ISP's website or call its toll-free number and ask how you can use your current account away from home, and how much it will cost.
Wherever you go, bring a connection kit of the right power and phone adapters, a spare phone cord, and a spare Ethernet network cable -- or find out whether your hotel supplies them to guests.
Most Southeast Asian countries run on 220-volt electrical currents. Some hotels have 110-volt service. Plugs are two-pronged, with either round or flat prongs. If you're coming from the U.S. and you must bring electrical appliances, bring your own converter and adapter (a surge protector is a good idea for a laptop, too).
If your cellphone is on a GSM system, and you have a world-capable multiband phone, you can make and receive calls across civilized areas around much of the globe. Just call your wireless operator and ask for "international roaming" to be activated on your account. Unfortunately, per-minute charges can be high.
For many, renting a phone is a good idea. We suggest renting the phone before you leave home. North Americans can rent one before leaving home from InTouch USA (tel. 800/872-7626; www.intouchglobal.com) or RoadPost (tel. 888/290-1606 or 905/272-5665; www.roadpost.com). InTouch will also, for free, advise you on whether your existing phone will work overseas; simply call tel. 703/222-7161 between 9am and 4pm EST, or go to http://intouchglobal.com/travel.htm.
For trips of more than a few weeks spent in one country, buying a phone can be economically attractive, as many nations have cheap prepaid phone systems. Once you arrive at your destination, stop by a local cellphone shop and get the cheapest package.
True wilderness adventurers, or those heading to less-developed countries, should consider renting a satellite phone ("satphone"). It's different from a cellphone in that it connects to satellites and works where there's no cellular signal or ground-based tower. Satphones are much more expensive to buy or rent than cellphones, however, and this cost, combined with the improved cellphone coverage throughout Southeast Asia, makes cellphones the much more sensible option.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.