New Travelfish layouts

As you may have noticed, we’ve altered the page-layout for the “country introduction” pages on Travelfish. The new pages can be seen here:

You’ll see we’ve altered the navigation, so now the left column has links to all the destinations in the particular country, followed by (depending on the country) a number of advertisements. What used to be the right navigation bar has been removed, with some of the links being incorporated into the third column, and a series of adverts takes its place.

Then, at the base of the page you’ll see two bands of links — the upper band contains mostly advertiser links, and the second band is a summary of some kind things people have said about us.

We’ve made these changes for a number of reasons.

a) We often receive emails from Travelfish readers lamenting the confusing nature of the site. Unfortunately, in covering five countries and 3,500 guesthouses and hotels, things tend to get a bit confusing, so we’re hoping the links to the left will help you reach your destination faster. Also by incorporating the right nav bar into other sections of the page, we’re hoping you’ll find it easier to find what you’re looking for.

b) You’ll see we’ve added a new section on the page, highlighting commentary from Travelfish readers in the accommodation profiles section of the site. We’re hoping this will better serve to highlight the great … and the not-so-great … places to stay in the region.

c) Ads – yes, there’s more ads than what there were before. We’ve expanded our working partnership with WHL from just hotels and guesthouses to tours provided by them and we’re hoping that you’ll see added relevance in the offerings. If you decide to use any of their services we’ll be paid a commission — that will make us happy, and we hope the tour will make you happy — it is doesn’t, please let us know!

As regular readers will know, the vast majority of content available on Travelfish is available 100% free of charge, but as our researchers don’t work for free the advertising revenue goes some way towards keeping the whole shebang in business.

Anyways, that’s about the story — just wanted to keep you all abreast of what’s happening!

Ban Huay Kon / Muang Ngoen border open

We’ve heard, second hand, of a confirmed independent crossing at the Thailand/Laos border crossing at Ban Huay Kon / Muang Ngoen.

The border had been open for ages to Thais doing 4WD “adventure tours” up to Luang Prabang but we’d been told by the TAT that “there were no plans whatsoever for the crossing to be opened to foreigners at any time in the forseeable future“.

So we assume somebody changed their mind!

What this means is that after spending time exploring Nan, you can cross at Ban Huay Kon, head northeast to the village of Hong Sa and jump aboard a slow boat heading either south to Luang Prabang or north to Pak Beng and Huay Xai — what a terrific new way to enter Laos!

As I mentioned, we got this news second hand (a couple of European backpackers related their trip to a friend of ours while on the slow boat in early May, 2008), so it comes with no guarantees whatsoever and our agent on the boat forgot to ask then if visa-on-arrival was available… just can’t get good help these days!

No sexy girls nor psychic healers please

You’ve probably noticed that most pages on Travelfish have a block of adverts, with a bunch of text links, or, in some cases an image ad, with a small logo reading “Ads by Google”

These ads are one of the ways Travelfish earns its keep — each time a Travelfish reader clicks on one of these adverts, we earn a little bit of money. It’s a very common way for many websites to supplement their income.

Up until very recently, as the publisher, Google allowed us very little control over what advertisements appeared on the site. Of course if we saw some totally dodgy advert we could block it, but as many advertisers target their adverts to appear in just certain countries or locations, manually checking each page wasn’t a practical solution for checking what adverts we were displaying.

This changed recently when Google released a new “Ad Review Centre” which made it slightly easier to check what was showing on the site. Here’s some of the adverts we found (I’ve removed the actual URLs):

Thai Girl Photo
Cute and Sexy Thai Girl Photo
Over 5,000 images of cute girls
www.XYZ.com

How To Get A Girlfriend
Get Your Free Guide On
How To Meet Date And Attract Women Now.
www.XYZ.com

tettter test
tett with one t is not unacceptable
www.XYZ.com

Psychic Healer from India
Solve Your Problems Over Telephone
Call Rajaji at +91 1234 456 789
ww.XYZ.com

We try to keep on top of what adverts appear on Travelfish, and examples like the above we do remove. If you happen accross and advert you think isn’t in line with the views on Travelfish, please do send us an email with the text of the advert, what page you saw it on, and what country you’re in. In particular, being a site with a significant focus on Thailand, we see quite a few adverts advertising Thai women — we don’t approve of these adverts, and are removing them as we find them — if you come across one, I’d really appreciate it if you could bring it to our attention.

Thanks in advance

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure

I got up this sunny Saturday morning to the following question on the Travelfish forum for Vietnam:

Phu Quoc – what is it REALLY like?
We are planning to go to Phu Quoc for 6 days at the end of a 17 day holiday this Christmas. I’ve read in several places how beautiful and unspoiled etc it is but have just read a report on Trip Advisor saying it’s dirty and polluted and not all it’s cracked up to be. Has anyone actually been there who could give me another opinion? Thanks

It’s a common style of question — but one there is never a definitive answer to.

When I went to Phu Quoc a couple of years back, I wrote it up as being one of the most impressive islands I’ve been to in the region — and I’ve been to most! Simultaneously others were writing up opinions on Ko Phi Phi as being of the universal wonders of Southeast Asia — an opinion I’d strongly disagree with.

Sure things change — good places go bad, bad paces improve — but the only way you’ll ever know for sure is to go there yourself.

Travel is about more than swanning from one glorious destination to another, and if you arrive expecting your trip to be just that, you’re in for a surprise.

Without seeing the Tripadvisor thread the poster mentioned it’s difficult to make a comment — but Phu Quoc is a big island with dozens of kilometres of totally undeveloped beach on it — if you’re looking for deserted beaches, you’ll struggle to do better — just don’t expect them to be swept clean daily.

Wow it’s been that long

Despite there being a link to the blog on the bottom of every page of Travelfish, sometimes I just forget to post — but I didn’t realise it had been so long! January! My most humble apologies.

So here we are May 1, I won’t bore you with a three month update, but in summary, we’ve been pretty busy with moving house, painting house and churning out more Travelfish content — including the very popular Travelfish Guides (Hanoi was finally onto the shelves last night, but we’ve also managed to get out Ko Samet and updated Phi Phi and Siem Reap guides).

Simultaneously we’ve taken on a few new researchers — C (in Laos), A (in Thailand) and T (in Singapore) and they’re doing a mighty fine job of delivering the goods — keeping dearly beloved and me busy getting their material onto then web.

So what’s more to come? Well the blog is going to take a bit more of a personal turn as I try to write a bit more about the site and what’s involved in putting it all together. It seems I’ve put a couple of noses out of joint of late, so it may be a good idea to let people know we’re not some mega-enterprise, but rather a handful of people with a desk and two laptops… so come on, how about a bit of slack people!

Anyways, we’ve got a very bust May planned, so there should be lots more good travel intelligence coming your way.