How to Get Around Blocked Sites in Southeast Asia

Accessing Reddit and Youtube may be Difficult, but Not Impossible

Internet shop in Siem Reap, Cambodia
courtesy of Pascal Deloche/Getty Images

Southeast Asian governments work in mysterious ways - consider their intermittent attempts to ban popular sites like Facebook, Youtube and Reddit.

Vietnam's unofficial ban on Facebook is sometimes on, sometimes off; lately its President admitted that cutting Vietnam off from Facebook was impossible to implement. "We cannot ban it," he conceded.

Some sites are permanently banned in certain countries; for instance, this writer was displeased to find his regular Reddit habit interrupted while traveling through Indonesia. The rationale - preventing the spread of pornography and corrosive ideas - seems sketchy, given that the notorious 4chan site remains unblocked. 

Vietnam and Indonesia are not the only countries in the region with a twitchy banhammer. As a general rule, Internet freedoms in Southeast Asia are more restricted than in the West.

Freedom House, a non-governmental organization based in the U.S., released its 2015 Freedom on the Net survey and found most of the region wanting: only the Philippines rates as "completely free" in the region. Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam rank as "not free", while all other Southeast Asian countries rank as "partly free".

Restrictions by Southeast Asia Countries

Internet restrictions in Vietnam "primarily targets topics with the potential to threaten the Vietnam Communist Party’s (VCP) political power, including political dissent, human rights and democracy," the report says. Myanmar and Cambodia restrict Internet content along the same lines, intimidating Internet users from sharing anything other than the party line on religious, cultural and political issues.

Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore restrict Internet content by implementing filters that ban pornographic sites and pages discussing sensitive political issues. Thailand has occasionally banned Youtube due to content deemed offensive to the Thai King. (Read about lese majeste in Thailand.)

In general, people in Southeast Asia are free to use popular social media sites; the Burmese, for instance, are avid users of Facebook. (A hornets-nest of angry Burmese Facebook users got a Canadian traveler in legal trouble for his Buddha leg tattoo.)

How to Get Around Internet Censorship in Southeast Asia

Luckily, you can get around such roadblocks fairly easily. Before heading to your destination in Southeast Asia, download and install one of these workarounds on your computer or smartphone. Do it before leaving; some countries block and ban the sites that offer those workarounds as well!

VPNs. A Virtual Private Network, or VPN, links to a host server using an encrypted "tunnel" - instead of traffic being monitored (and blocked) by compromised country servers, you can surf unhindered through the tunnel created by the VPN, protected by an ironclad layer of 128-bit encryption!

"A VPN cloaks and encrypts your signal, making your online activity completely illegible to any eavesdroppers," explains Paul Gil. "[It] manipulates your IP address, making you appear to come from a different machine/location/country." There's one clear downside to using a VPN: "Your VPN will slow down your connection speed by 25% - 50%," says Paul.

While traveling in Indonesia, this writer used a VPN called Betternet for their Android phone; I was able to view Reddit as if I had never left home.

Anonymous proxy servers. Anonymous proxy server can hide specific details about your computer or smartphone, permitting access to restricted content in certain circumstances. Proxy servers tend to be faster than VPNs, though they might not permit any Internet use beyond web surfing. 

PirateBrowser. The Pirate Bay released PirateBrowser as a bundle featuring Firefox with a FoxyProxy add-on and the Vidalia Tor client. Once installed on your PC, you can browse certain banned websites on PirateBrowser without fear.