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The Great Chinese Firewall:
We have been living and travelling in China since February 2014 and without the use of a VPN, we would have been disadvantaged in a couple of ways..
- No access to blocked sites (YouTube, Facebook, Blogspot, etc..)
- Limited / restricted access to many Europe / US based websites & servers (Google.com / .com.hk example)
- Painfully slow loading for most websites based outside China
When you have been here for a while, you end up finding ways around the Chinese Firewall without the use of a VPN, with the exception of blocked sites. For example, google.com sometimes doesn't work at all and most of the time is slow to return queries, whereas google.co.uk is quick and works well. This is because of the firewall process that different foreign websites come under, even simple domain differences. You have to hand it to the Chinese with the depths they will go to cut & limit access to the WWW, with their technologically advanced firewall.
Slowly though, you can see things changing. As over the past 6 months, VPN's are being blocked less and with the Chinese online community speaking openly about their dissatisfaction with the current regime on social media sites like Weibo. A recent example is the mass hatred and message storms hit Fang Binxing's (Father of the Chinese Firewall) micro blog after his current health problems were reported in China Daily.
How do I access blocked websites when travelling in China?
Good question! Well a VPN is pretty much the only option if you want ease of use / access and value. The last thing you want is to come to China without one already and find the VPN websites are blocked and so you can't buy access to one!
There are dozens of companies out there, all with reliable VPN services. But as soon as you try to log-on in China you will come face to face with the reality most are simple blocked and don't function. I purchased a couple of VPN services in anticipation for this and found that only 1 worked reliably enough to warrant a review.
Which VPN protocol works best in Mainland China?
It isn't just VPN service providers that you need to consider, it's also what VPN protocol's they use as there are several.
I won't go into detail with what the difference is, as we are speaking here about a travellers use of VPN's and really day-to-day you will find no difference between any of them for web browsing.
VPN Protocols to consider:
- L2TP / IPSEC
I would recommend a provider that offers all these types of protocols. As when you are in China, you may find that if you chose a PPTP provider with just a couple of servers, they may all be blocked under that protocol. Go for the option where more is the best chance of access!
Which VPN provider is best in China?
VyprVPN by Golden Frog is the best out there in terms of it working well in China. They have dozens of servers across the world with all 3 major protocols available. The other thing you need to consider is you will likely want access to social media on your phone, so make sure to choose a provider with perhaps a mobile application to support your phone OS.
VyprVPN is also my favourite option because..
- All their servers are available and not blocked in China (confirmed January 2014)
- They have applications for Mac, PC, iOS & Android
- The login for their Control Panel works in China without need for VPN (so you can login whilst there!!!)
- They keep adding new servers every few weeks so far in 2013 & 2014
- Costs just $10 per month for their premier version (OpenVPN, L2TP/IPSEC & PPTP) or $6.67 per month for basic (PPTP)
- You can login on your phone and computer at the same time (up to 3 connections at any one time on premier)
As I said, I tried many other VPN service providers, but all failed in China. The only other one which worked was Proxy SH but that was hit and miss and although they offer an application for PC, they don't for Mac or phone OS's. Your only option then is to load up the VPN servers manually yourself on your device. Also they don't offer OpenVPN servers.
VPN's are essential whilst travelling / living in China for an extended period of time. There are many other caveats of using the internet in China which unfortunately can't be helped by anything. These include the slow and unreliable WiFi in hotels, as well as bandwidth caps they place on uploads (some hotels won't provide upload capabilities at all).
If you buy a VPN before you travel to China, you stand the best chance of having access to everything you need on your travels. Below are some useful links.
Useful source links:
- Buy VyprVPN here – http://escapingthedesk.com/vyprvpn-specialoffer2015
- Check which websites are blocked in China here – www.blockedinchina.net