Request for link removal

A Saturday morning exchange with a Phuket villa operation that has been slammed by Google for dodgy link building aka spamming. Start from the bottom.

Hi,

So what you’re trying to say is something along the lines of:

“We’re sorry for spamming Travelfish in a boneheaded attempt to try and game Google. To be honest, we’re not actually sorry at all, but, as Google caught us at it and busted our chops we’re feigning sorrow. You can tell we’re not actually sorry at all as we imply in the email that Travelfish added the link themselves rather than fessing up that it was our moronic link building actions that saw it there in the first place.”

When what you really should be saying is:

“We spammed Travelfish in order to try and game Google. Google caught us. Please remove our filthy spam and we’re truly sorry for any inconvenience this caused and it most certainly will not happen again.”

Let me know

Stuart

On 3/22/14 5:43 AM, XXX wrote:
> Dear Webmaster,
>
> I am contacting you on behalf of XXX. We noticed that you
> have links to our website XXX on the following
> pages:
>
> LINK ON TRAVELFISH
>
> While we appreciate the links, we are currently attempting to recover
> from penalization by Google Penguin. I am respectfully requesting that
> you remove these links to our website, as they are no longer in line
> with our Internet marketing goals.
>
> Please do not hesitate to contact me should you have any questions about
> removing these links.
>
> Thank You,
>
> XXX on behalf of XXX
>


Stuart McDonald

Travelfish — the website other travel writers use

http://www.travelfish.org

email: stuartmcdonald@travelfish.org

Twitter: http://twitter.com/travelfish
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/travelfish
Flickr: http://flickr.com/groups/travelfish/

We want travellers to love Southeast Asia as much as we do.

Cheap hotel in Istanbul

Very quick rant here as have to dash for P&T night, but spurned by a piece on ianditravelmedia regarding Google softening Panda stuff, I went and googled “Cheap Istanbul hotel” (note the singular).

Here’s the result:

I'm an artist at heart.

I’m an artist at heart.

The top few are, as we have come to expect, blended in ads., as is the stuff at the bottom, you know, just before the organic listings.

But in between, look at the other listings. These used to go to Google Places, which I assume Google has along with everything else rolled into +. Over half of them go to travel agents.

I Googled “hotel” not “hotels”. With a plural, yes an OTA may be a reasonable result as I’m looking for a selection, but with the singular, absolutely not.

And really, when people have come to expect “places” to be in “places” listing travel agents in a location map for a query on hotels seems well off the bat.

Think some Istanbul travel agencies are taking the piss here. Try your home town – do you get a result for a single property?

Preah Vihear: What’s the story

So you’d need to be living in a news-free-zone to have not heard about the fighting on the Thai / Cambodian border — while what you’re seeing today is primarily being driven by domestic political dramas in Thailand, the background issues go way back — wayyyy back.

So, to try and make sense of it all, we had a piece written to attempt to explain what it all really is about. So if you’re wondering is Preah Vihear is safe for tourists, read on. There’s some great pics too!

Interview: Watching out for the future of Cambodia’s past

Through 2011, every Monday we’ll feature an interview with a person working in the travel, tourism and hospitality industries across Southeast Asia. From masseuses to restaurateurs, princesses to paupers, we aim to bring a diverse range of voices here to Travelfish.org to shed some insight into travel in the region or the region itself.

Our first interview of 2011 is with Dougald O’Reilly, an archaeologist and the founder and director of Heritage Watch, a non-profit organisation dedicated to the preservation of Southeast Asia’s cultural heritage. We chatted with Dougald by e-mail in a conversation that traversed looting, antiquities trafficking, Cambodia’s struggle to preserve its history and, well, he did mention Tomb Raider once.

Antique smuggling, travel writing and a jaunt around Luang Nam Tha

Fruit for sale in Luang Nam Tha

When your day starts with a bowl of offal you just know it is going to get better and better — as mine did when I found the above fruit vendor as I choked down the last of the intestines…

I’d caught up the previous evening with a researcher for another travel publisher and had swapped notes on Laos and gossip on where the industry is headed. Against the odds, the most common complaint isn’t so much about the money as much as the time restraints — publishers are often expecting ridiculous coverage in short periods of time.

This gelled neatly with another researcher I had met the previous week in Bangkok who does a lot of work for a very well-known US travel guide publisher. Their “letter of appointment” included a line explaining that just 20% of the properties needed to be revisited — I bet they don’t brag about that on the half cover!

But jokes aside, if you’re effectively allowing someone three weeks to cover all of central Thailand (from Sangkhlaburi in the west to Ko Kut in the east — including Bangkok) then that is probably going to show in the finished product.

Back to the fun side of travel.

I lapsed and opted for the tourist minibus service over the local bus from Huay Xai north to Luang Prabang, but with only three passengers it seemed like 400B very well spent (even if it did leave an hour late). The trip, striking more or less straight north for the duration passes some scenic secondary forest and quite attractive mountain vistas — all the easier to enjoy as I wasn’t crammed into a local bus. The trip was over and done with after just three hours — a fraction of the 12 hours it took me last time.

Last time, none of the road was sealed, rather it was packed red dirt — or dust. In dry season it was one of the dustiest trips in Southeast Asia, in wet season one of the muddiest. But I was in luck. Hanging out in a cafe in Luang Nam Tha I met a Swiss aid worker who offered me a ride in his six wheeler “personnel carrier”. I jumped at the chance, all I needed to do was buy the guy a beer and I didn’t even need to pay. Afterall, he was carrying what he described as “special cargo” and I was intrigued.

The special cargo wasn’t a pound of smack but rather something ever more valuable (in my eyes anyway). An ancient frog drum and it’s Thai dealers. They’d purchased it off a minority village north of Luang Nam Tha and were sneaking it out of the country — a highly illegal activity. They’d paid the village a mere US$500 for the drum, while the middle man they’d pass it over to in Chiang Khong was paying them $1,500 for it. Final destination was perhaps Rivercity in Bangkok or a savvy private collector who’d snap it up — it was in mint condition, and you’d expect a significantly higher final value at end of sale.

Sad days indeed — a priceless artifact leaves Laos forever for essentially just $500.

Luang Nam Tha scenery

The trip took us 12 hours — I hate to think how long it was taking regular transport — but a friend who did the trip a year earlier (without six wheels) saw it take two full days — with an overnight stop in Vieng Phuka.

Why has this road improved so much? There’s a large coal mine near Vieng Phuka and as in most Lao cases the roads are built to assist the extractive industries — be it Route 3 for coal, or the eastern routes for lumber to Vietnam. Yes the road from Vientiane to Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang has improved over time, but this was always an arterial route and probably (guessing here) the first sealed long distance route in the country.

Enough of roads.

Luang Nam Tha is often put on stage as the poster child for eco tourism in Laos. This was largely kicked off by considerable efforts coming out of the Boat Landing Guesthouse and today there is a wealth of trekking activities operating out of the provincial capital.

Around Luang Nam Tha

One of the easiest things to do is hire a bicycle and ride around the outskirts of town — something I’ve just done. I have no idea how long the ride was — it felt like about 600km, but it was probably more like 20-30km and the first third of it was lovely. Lots of, dare I say, bucolic paddie scenery with the hills rising behind them, and absolutely no shortage of chatty Lao students who’ll ride along with you for an impromptu English lesson. It’s a relaxing and peaceful ride.

Tomorrow I’m going back to my backpacker roots, doing a two day trek — should be interesting. It’s a two day walk that starts only 15 minutes out of town and is run by well regarded Green Discovery Tours. Green Discovery get a bad rap from a lot of budget travellers because of their higher prices, but it seems we’ve got close to a full contingent of eight punters, so it isn’t toooo expensive.

More to come after the jungle adventure!

The Travelfish iPhone app: Angkor

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As we moved our first app into beta testing last week, we thought now would be a good time to let you know about some of the features of the app and show you a few more screenshots — just so you are completely tantalised!

First, a special thanks to those who volunteered to help with the testing. We had more than 100 people volunteer — thank you to you all. Unfortunately it wasn’t practical to get everyone involved in the testing, so we whittled the list down to a dozen or so to put the app through its paces.

I can’t really discuss anything in more detail without letting the cat out of the bag: Our first app covers Cambodia’s Siem Reap and Angkor Wat.

The app is called “Angkor”.

Keeping it simple
One of the tempations with the iPhone/iPod Touch is that few limitations stop you cramming whatever you can into the device, so our immediate approach was to put everything bar the kitchen sink in. The problem with this is that you quickly develop a massive dump of information that is both intimidating and unwieldy for the poor guy on the street that just wants to find a cheap noodle joint.

There’s nothing worse than opening an app packed to the lintels with information, only to get a list that goes and goes and goes and goes some more. So we tossed the list out the window and went with eight simple top level categories:

Background | Sleep | Eat & meet | See & do
Transport | Walking tours | Photos | Maps

Each section contains sub-categories and sections, but at a glance, you should know exactly which section of the app you want to head to. Here is a screenshot:

Screenshot of the navigation

Makes sense?

Delve a little deeper
Each section then has sub-sections. In the Background section, for example, you’ll find information under the headings of History, About Cambodia, and Planning. Each of these may contain smaller sections themselves. History for instance is broken up into more than a dozen chapters, each talking of a specific period and where appropriate matched with a picture. About Cambodia has chapters on Food, Language and Safety (among others), with these often broken into sub-sections — food has Eating Khmer Food, Snacks, Insects and so on. So it’s four levels of fun.

Before you recoil from what sounds like a hellish conflagration of lists, listen to this: No lists are involved. Well, there is a list if you want to use it, but the important thing is you don’t need to. Instead we make use of the great iPhone swiping feature to allow the reader to flick through the sections looking for one that catches their eye — sort of like how you’d leaf through a book. Here is a partial screenshot showing a couple of history snaps.

Screenshot of the history snapshots

What this means is that you can dig deeper and deeper into various subjects, learn a bit (we hope!) and be helped along with the photos.

If you’re scratching your head and thinking “Hey I didn’t read any of this on the Travelfish website!” you’d be right. The app contains around 40,000 words of extra content that we have written purposefully for the app.

Save time and money
As you probably know, many guesthouses and hotels can be booked online. Within the accommodation section, all the contact details are clearly displayed, but if a place works through property resellers (like Agoda or HostelWorld) then we also give the reader the option to click through to that site to make a reservation.

The problem is, resellers often have different rates, meaning that if you’re looking for the cheapest option you have to go check each provider and compare rates. We save you the trouble and show you the cheapest rate in our records that is available at each reseller. See the screenshot below for an example.

Screenshot of the accommodation

Decide where to go before you get there
Most of the sights, especially the Angkor ruins, have been matched with a photo. There’s nothing worse than reading about a site that sounds at least half interesting, only to get there and find four laterite blocks and a sleeping pooch. By matching the sights with pics, and with our straightshooting write-ups, you’ll be able to decide quickly what you do and don’t want to spend your time doing.

Screenshot of the sights section

This is further buttressed by a handful of walking tours that give you a range of different options and routes — helpfully marked on the maps — to help you get the most out of the app.

Stay on the straight and narrow
It’s just not an app without a map right? We’ve packed up some neat bundled maps with the app. You’ll get down to the ground detail for Siem Reap and Angkor Wat along with a bird’s eye view of the rest of Cambodia — including the capital and border crossings. This means you’ll have all you need to plan without needing to get online once, so no need to fret about totally insane roaming bills.

Screenshot of the maps

The maps are annotated with markers that lead you straight to listings (so click on Angkor What? bar and you’ll be taken to their review in the Eat section). It also works in reverse, so if you’re reading about Two Dragons Guesthouse, you can click on the map icon and have the map pop up to show you just where you need to go to pick Gordon’s brain.

And there’s more
The app also contains a photo gallery with hundreds of photos along with the standard stuff like bookmarking, help, glossary and FAQs. Results also can also be reordered and sorted to make it even easier to find what you’re after.

On the subject of search
There isn’t one.

We don’t mean to brag, but we reckon the information is so well organised and so easy to find that there is no need for a search facility in this app.

We thought it was better to eschew one totally rather than go for what would have been nothing more than a glorified filter — a solution that has been much derided in other travel apps. If you can’t find something in this app, we’re willing to bet that is because it isn’t there.

That said, if you’re reading this and just happen to be able to write a natural language search algorithm for the iPhone, please do get in touch ;-)

So when is it going to be available
We’re planning the final beta-build tomorrow (Tuesday) and as long as no last-minute problems flare the app should go to Apple shortly afterwards. Once they have it, we need to bide our time while it runs through the approval process.

Once it is available, we’ll be celebrating and will be giving away coupons for the app at the iTunes store. If you’re a blogger interested in receiving the app for review purposes, contact me at stuartmcdonald@travelfish.org.

Want to stay in the loop? Sign up for our iPhone mailing list here.

Sustainable tourism in Cambodia

I’ve just added a new story onto Travelfish — an email interview with Daniela Ruby Papi of PEPY Tours.

PEPY runs “educational adventure tours” to rural Cambodia with a focus on supporting development in Cambodia’s educational system.

The interview may be of interest to anyone with an eye on the development scene there and with opinions on what forms good sustainable tourism.

You can read the full story here:
Sustainable tourism in Cambodia with PEPY Tours

Cheers

New year, new Travelfish

We hope you all had a happy silly season and managed to fit in a stack of travel. Just wanted to let you know that here at Travelfish.org HQ (our front veranda) we’ve redesigned and relaunched our site anew as of January 20… And we have been busy fixing things ever since! We’d like to spell out all the new features of the freshened up site and invite you to comment or suggest even more improvements you’d like to see in the future.

**First things first: Navigation**
No longer will Travelfish readers have to have degrees in Southeast Asian geography in order to find places they’re looking for on the site. On the old site, everything was arranged in a country->region->province->location hierarchy. That seemed sensible to us at the time, but not to just about anybody else because it meant, for instance, that to be able to find Nha Trang in Vietnam you had to know it was in Vietnam, on the south central coast and in Khanh Hoa province (it was the last jump that always threw people). Now all you need to know is it’s in Vietnam, and by mousing over the menus on the left, you’ll see everywhere on the site in Vietnam is no more than a click away.

The navbars on the left may be a little slow to load in Internet Explorer: You have to wait for the whole page to load before they’ll work. So be patient, or better still, change your browser to Firefox!

*Navigation part two*
We’ve added a new level of navigation at the top that gives you quick hops to our destination planning section and to the Shop for our swanky Travelfish Guides. The destination planning section will be expanding quite a bit shortly.

*New layout*
You noticed huh? Yes, it’s much bigger text. Maybe I’m getting old, but I reckon this is a lot easier on the eyes. It’s in two columns, so for lengthy sections there will be some scrolling, but for the shorter pages, none at all. The new site has been designed with newer laptops and computers in mind, so people with older screens — especially 800*600 and below — will have problems with the new site. This remains one of the issues we’re working on.

*New content*
We’ve added a “beginners section” that can be accessed via the country page for each country. It includes basic stuff like visa and border crossing information and other very basic trip planning issues.

*New content part two*
Not new content so much as new sections. We’ve added “Orientation” on a destination basis. Here you’ll find vital information such as bank hours, internet cafe addresses and what not. It isn’t there for all places, rather just ones that need it. For small places, it may remain in the old introduction as before.

*New content part three*
We’ll be adding two main sections for most destinations in coming weeks: “Onwards destinations” to suggest where you should go next and “Our recommendations”, some shots from the hip on particular places.

*New content part four*
Yes, it just keeps coming. We’ll be bringing the work of some very talented bloggers into the site. They’re just tasters really as their work will still primarily be on their own sites, but we’re hoping to point you in the right direction of some real writing talent. That said, if you reckon you fall into that category (the talented blogger one) contact Samantha at sambrown @ travelfish.org.

*New content part five*
OK, no more after this, but we’ve redone the islands page so it now covers islands in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. It’s a veritable one-stop-shop for island and beach lovers!

*New ratings*
Our overall ratings now better take into account user ratings for accommodation. This should lead to better shifting opinions as places go up- and downhill.

*New photos*
Travelfish is a travel website so let’s paint a pretty picture! You’ll see more and more pix coming onto the site in the coming weeks as we upload our collection to Flickr. And if you want your photos to appear on Travelfish, it’s far easier than travelling overland from Luang Prabang to Hanoi. All you need do is upload them into our Flickr pool. You can join the Travelfish group here: http://www.flickr.com/groups/travelfish/

*New eFish*
First the bad news. All your old eFish are gone. The good news is you can generate them again. We’re very sorry about that, but we needed to nuke the old ones as a part of the upgrade.

*New Member Centre*
The Member Centre has a bunch of new features including:
You can edit your accommodation reviews
You can track all your reservation enquiries made through Travelfish
You can rate how quickly a place got back in touch with you
You can track your forum posts
You can manage your eFish
You can access your Travelfish Guides
You can manage your scrapbook (which you are going to be able to print soon)

*Revamped forum*
You’ll see the forum should be a bit easier to use, and for regular posters, we’re now using BB code which means you can post links, bold, italics etc. This becomes available only after you’ve passed a certain posting threshold (in order to keep spammers a bit under control).

*Guesthouse reviews*
We’ve revamped the reviewing process, which should make it a little easier to post reviews. The reviews are also displayed in a different manner — still a bit of a work in progress here.

*Travelfish search*
Big news here. You’ll notice here and there across the site a “Search for accommodation” feature which will allow you to search for accommodation in a particular destination (on a country basis). What is very cool about this though is that now you’re not only searching the places listed on Travelfish, but also those listed with some of our reservation partners — at the moment HostelWorld, Agoda, WHL and Sawasdee. What this means is that you’re searching a pool of over 5,000 properties — and as many of the places listed on Travelfish are listed nowhere else online, you’re getting a pretty comprehensive little searching tool. You can sort by name, Travelfish rating or cost — by default it only searches places that can be booked online, but you can change that setting to search the whole kit and caboodle.

*Travelfish gets social*
We’re also getting more active on the social side of the internet. If you’re into the social web, you can find us both on Facebook and Twitter.
Travelfish group on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2390743505
Travelfish on Twitter: http://twitter.com/travelfish

Sihanoukville Travelfish Guide released

We’ve just released out latest Travelfish Guide — this one to Sihanoukville, on Cambodia’s south coast. This 14-page ebook is the perfect addition for somebody contemplating a trip to the Cambodian coast and is far more up-to-date than traditional guidebooks. It’s available for sale now in the Travelfish store for a mere US$3.95 — how’s that for value!

We’ve also bundled up a Cambodia Pack — all our Cambodia-related Travelfish Guides into a single download and on sale for US$11.85 — a 25% discount off their regular price. You can buy the Cambodia Pack here.