It’s said that the biggest fear one has it that of public peaking. For me, my biggest fear is not having cellular service, and not being able to connect while on the go.

So, how does one connect while in Thailand

Some quick tips to staying connected while on the go:
Connectivity in Thailand is generally quite good. Telephone To place an international call, you can buy a prepaid card (available for 300 baht at many convenience stores and guesthouses) to use with one of the bright yellow Lenso payphones. You should rarely have trouble finding either of these unless you’re way out in the countryside. The international access code is 001.

For mobile phone users, Thailand has three GSM mobile service providers – AIS , DTAC and Truemove ) – which may be useful if you have (or can afford!) a mobile phone that will work on either one or both of the GSM 900 or 1800 frequency bands (consult your phone’s technical specifications). If you have one, you can buy a prepaid SIM card for any of the Thai carriers in any convenience store for as little as 50-200 baht and charge it up as you go. You can buy a Thai SIM online before you come or the Bangkok airport is a good place to buy a SIM card. All 3 carriers have shops there with and will help you get set up. Moreover, at major airports like Chiang Mai and Phuket, you may be greeted by a service provider giving SIM cards away for free. Look for offers in the baggage claim area.

thailand mobiles photo

Photo by Akuppa

All phones sold in Thailand are “unlocked”. Which means you can use it with any SIM card. To use a Thai SIM, be sure your phone is unlocked. International rates from a Thai carriers are good, but all carriers now offer discount prefixes, like 009 for CAT telecom. A standard DTAC call, for example, charges 10 baht/minute to call the USA. With the 004 prefix, the cost is 3 baht/minute. By predialing 009 1(xxx)xxx-xxxx for the USA will give you 5 baht/minute rate, at the expense of slight voice quality decrease (which is often unnoticeable).

TrueMove H offers very good international call rates from 1 baht per minute to destinations including the USA, Canada, Australia, UK, France and Germany with its Inter SIM promotion . You may find the SIM cards handed out for free at some airports, branded as an AOT SIM and including 5 minutes of free calls back home. Note that you should also use prefixes (006 for better quality, 00600 for cheaper rate, however, for some countries, the rate is same for both promotions) to get those cheap rates, but this, as well as rates for selected countries, is clearly listed on SIM card packages.

Coverage is very good throughout the country, all cities and tourist destinations (including resort islands) are well covered, and even in the countryside it’s more likely you’ll get the network signal than not, especially with AIS or DTAC SIM. True Move H coverage is considered the worst, with phones occasionally losing signal even in towns. Nevertheless, if you plan to stay only in major cities/islands, and/or don’t need you phone available all the time when outside of those – True SIM is OK too. As of Oct 2013, all networks have 3G on 2100 MHz and have comparable speeds.

If you plan to visit Thailand at least once a year for short periods, consider buying the SIM with minimal validity restrictions (usually one year from the last top up, even if it was 10 baht). By doing this, you can re-use the SIM on subsequent trips, thus avoiding hassle of buying new one every time, keeping your Thai number the same, as well as saving a bit. For example, DTAC offers Simple SIM plan for that, and before 7-11s sold this one by default, but now they seem to offer cheaper (but with limited validity) Happy SIM instead. Just ask for the former one. Local calls will be a bit more pricey (international are not affected), but usually this is not of much concern for a short time visitor. AIS (1-2-Call) has similar (but more expensive) offerings too.

If you’ve already got a Thai SIM and want to switch plan, it is also possible for free or with small charge. You can switch plans with free USSD codes or IVR or by calling the call center. For short term visitors, international roaming onto Thailand’s GSM networks is possible, subject to agreements between operators. There is also some CDMA service in Bangkok and some other cities which allows expensive roaming for customers of some North American CDMA networks. Thai Prepaid Card Prepaid top ups online for all Thai networks.

CAT Telecom 009 IP Telephony service rates – see how much you’ll save on international calls if using 009 instead of + Smart Phones / Tablets / Aircards A smart phone is an incredibly useful thing to have while traveling. All three GSM operators offer nationwide GPRS/EDGE and 3G service in all major desitinations. Usually this service is already pre-activated on the prepaid SIM. Internet usage is billed by the minute, if there is no data package chosen. Any minute within which your phone accesses the Internet is billed to you. The price of this pay-as-you-use access is not too cheap, around 0.5 to 1 baht/minute; that is comparable to Internet cafes.

To avoid these fees, Internet packages can be purchased, which can save you quite a lot, especially if you use this service often. These come in three types: time-based (good for laptop users who spend online just a couple of hours a day), volume-based (appropriate for smartphones or chatting) and unlimited. You can also purchase by the day, week or month. See this useful guide to 3G data plans in Thailand . DTAC Happy Internet packages. 3G service (850 MHz, 1800 MHz, and 2100 MHz band), as of Oct 2013, is offered in all major cities including Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket, Koh Samui and Krabi area – outside of it, however, EDGE is widely available even in rural areas, and speeds (20-25 KBs/sec) allow acceptable browsing, using Skype or other VoIP services (with time lag but reasonable voice quality), or even listening lower-bitrate Internet radio stations. A DTAC Happy Tourist prepaid SIM with 7 days unlimited internet and 100 Baht calling cr is available for 299 baht online and at Bangkok Airport.

As of Dec 2013 the DTAC Happy Tourist SIM was being sold for 495 Baht at Phuket Airport (available in the convenience store on your far right as you are exiting through the small strip of shops after the imigration and customs checks – look for the DTAC logo). They also installed and checked it at time of purchase. A check online shows the price should be 300 Baht though so worth checking. Cr refills are available in 7-Eleven, online, and from any cell phone shop. One Day Unlimited 3G package is 49 Baht, and you can sign up by dialing: *104*29*5720382*9#. AIS One Two Call has a similar, but somewhat more expensive Internet packages .

One person’s experience: At the airport, I paid 500 baht for 50 hours. At a cell phone store in Phuket, I paid 300 for 100 hours, plus 300 baht call cr. Clearly, if you shop around, great deals can be found. AIS’s EDGE coverage is practically seamless. I have yet to find an area in Thailand without good EDGE speeds. Even surprisingly remote islands have coverage. If you are in Chiang Mai, AIS offers 3G WCDMA at 900MHz (called Super3G), but to use this you must have a compatible (not many, nor even iPhone, which supports 850 MHz, does!) phone or USB dongle, and buy a 3G SIM card (regular AIS SIMs will not work).

TrueMove’s packages are different in that they offer combined GPRS/EDGE/3G/Wi-Fi service. 3G service (850 MHz) is offered in various places throughout the country, including Bangkok (mostly the city centre and airport), Chiang Mai, Pai, Phuket, Hua Hin, and (reportedly) Koh Samui. Note that 3G and EDGE/GPRS usage are billed separately in some packages – in particular, beware that if you exceed your EDGE/GPRS quota, you will be billed per minute/per megabyte when using GPRS/EDGE even if you have some 3G quota remaining (3G network will disallow any data connections once 3G quota is finished, but this may change in the future). 3G service is pretty fast, but EDGE coverage/speeds are often (but not universally) inferior to those of DTAC and AIS .

To use True WiFi, look for “@truewifi” network, enter your phone ’08xxxxxxxx@truemove’ as a login and receive your password via SMS. 3G coverage is expanding rapidly and many places (e.g. most of Chiang Mai beyond the airport till recently, or Pai) do not yet appear on the official coverage maps . True’s new prepaid package Unlimited x3 [43] offers Unlimited use of their Wifi network (daily/weekly/monthly = 49/99/299 baht) up to 500MB of 3G Internet (overuse throttled to 128Kbps), and free calls and SMS to True numbers. If you happen to travel outside a big city (eg. from Hatyai to Nakhon) and find you can’t access the Internet, you will have to go to your carrier settings and change your carrier network to Manual and select True-H.

Note that to use 850 MHz 3G (DTAC and TrueMove) you’ll need a phone or USB dongle capable of 3G WCDMA at 850MHz (not the most popular 2100 MHz) band – while many phones (including all 3G-capable iPhones) do, others, especially older/cheaper ones, may not. Check your phone’s manual for supported 3G bands (not to be confused with supported GSM/EDGE bands!). AIS uses even more exotic (for 3G service) 900 MHz band, which is normally used for GSM, so the chances that your 3G device will work with their 3G are even less. Besides these, there are a couple of lesser-known options: TOT 3G and several resellers offer 3G at 2100MHz (compatible with most 3G phones and USB dongles) throughout greater Bangkok. Unlike packages from other providers, data usage is charged by the megabyte, but allowances are typically generous. For example, i-mobile 3GX [44] will give you 2GB of downloads with a 500 baht recharge (for data only).

CAT Telecom offers CDMA2000 EV-DO Rev.A service in 800 MHz band (supported in most, but not all, CDMA devices). They offer unlimited packages [45], wider 3G coverage, and (theoretically) unlimited quota – but you will have either to buy or to bring your own (unlocked) CDMA2000 EV-DO capable modem or phone. Tune Talk [46] offers 500MB/1.5GB/2.5GB for 100/300/500 baht as well as 0.99baht/min calls and 2baht/SMS. Its 3G services operate under the 2100MHz frequency. Getting hold of a SIM card outside Bangkok is a challenge though. The website is well designed in English and you can manage/top up your account online. Many smartphones will access the Internet in the background, even when you’re not actually using the phone or the Internet. This can eat up your minutes quickly (and then will start to consume you remaining bahts much faster!) if you have a time-based package.

It’s best to use either volume-based or unlimited package in this case. Alternatively, make sure your phone has a reliable way of turning off the Internet usage. For Android phones, try APNDroid, available in the Android Market. For iPhones, you may need to jailbreak your phone and install SBSettings. Some smart phones may require you to manually enter the APN (Access Point Name) for the internet to work. APNs have many configurable parameters, but typically only a few pieces of data are necessary. Check your phone’s settings; the procedure for ing APNs varies for different phones.

DTAC – APN Name: www.dtac.co.th, Username: guest, Password: guest AIS – APN Name: internet, Username: ais (may not be necessary), Password: ais (may not be necessary) TrueMove – APN Name: internet, Username: internet, Password: internet Topping up (refilling) an Internet package isn’t as straightforward as topping up voice minutes, nevertheless, nothing is impossible if you do know what to do (and even if you can’t speak Thai). While you can easily top up voice minutes at any convenience store, you will likely get a blank stare if you ask for Internet packages. Internet packages can be topped up at cell phone stores, which are easy enough to find in populated areas – however, it is not likely that they’ll be aware of all current promotions and options.

More services, obviously, will be available at numerous operator’s offices (dtac shop, TrueMove shop, etc.) generally available at the big malls/trade centers (Big C, Tesco, Carrefour etc.) as well as other public places – refer to your operator’s website for details. Alternatively, you can just call the customer support (1678 for dtac, 1331 for True, 1175 for AIS) – they can both consult you about the nearest office location, if you still need it, or turn off/on any Internet (or SMS or MMS) package you request. However, calls to these service numbers often aren’t free for prepaid SIM users, with calling rate up to (DTAC) 3 baht/minute. If you do not want to spend that every time you need to switch – there are numbers where you can do-it-yourself using a voice menu (free of charge): *1004 for DTAC happy (Thai language only, so consult someone who can understand if you do not), *9000 for True (in English, at least for Inter SIM handed out in the airports).

Internet Internet cafés are widespread and most are inexpensive. Prices as low as 15 baht/hour are commonplace, and speed of connection is generally reasonable but many cafes close at midnight. If you plan to go online for a short time you should first ask if there is a minimum charge. Higher prices prevail in major package-tourist destinations (60 baht/hour is typical, 120 baht/hour is not unusual). Islands with multiple Internet cafés include Ko Phi Phi (Don), Ko Lanta (Yai), Ko Samui, Ko Pha Ngan, Ko Tao, Ko Chang (Trat), Ko Samet (Rayong), Ko Si Chang (Chonburi), and of course Phuket. Outside the most competitive tourist areas, free Wi-Fi Internet is not as common as neighbouring countries in many budget hotels and guest houses (“mansions”) and they usually charge small fee for Internet by LAN or Wi-Fi even if you bring your own laptop.

While Wi-Fi is commonly available in certain cafes and restaurants, it’s frequently provided by carriers who charge fees for using them, and it usually requires a telecom account to finish the registration process. Keyloggers are all too often installed on the computers in cheap cafes, so be on your guard if using online banking, stock broking, or even PayPal. Using cut and paste to enter part of your password may defeat some of them. Or typing part of the user name and password inside the text input field (for password or username) then clicking outside of it some place in the browser window and typing some characters and then clicking back into the text input field and continuing to type the other part and doing this several times. Otherwise take your own laptop to the Internet cafe.

If you suddenly and unexpectedly find yourself typing in Thai (or any other alien script) you’ve probably accidentally hit whatever key-combination the computer you’re using has been configured to use for switching between languages (often Cmd+Spacebar (Mac), Alt+Shift (Chromebook), Backtick (Windows)). To change back, use the “Text Services and Input Languages” option (a quick-access menu is usually available via a “TH” icon visible on the taskbar – simply switch it to “EN”). Both pornography and criticism of the Thai Royal Family are illegal and The Thai government actively censors access websites with this content, both inside and outside Thailand. Though enforcement is not consistent.

Other tips on staying connected while in Thailand? Please add your comments and tips.