Internet in Thailand
The Thai government actively censors internet access. Estimates from 2010 put the number of blocked websites at 110,000 and rising. About 77 per cent are blocked for reasons of lèse-majesté, content (content that is defamatory, offensive, threatening or unflattering to the King, including national security and certain political issues), 22 per cent for pornography, which is illegal in Thailand. Some websites of BBC One, BBC Two, CNN, Yahoo! News, the Post-Intelligencer newspaper (Seattle, USA) and The Age newspaper (Melbourne, Australia) dealing with Thai political content are blocked. Wikileaks is blocked.
Internet cafés are widely available and most are inexpensive. Prices as low as 15 baht/hour are common and connection speeds are generally reasonable, but many cafés close at midnight. Prices are higher in the larger tourist towns (usually 60 baht/hour, usually 120 baht/hour). Islands with many internet cafes 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 contested tourist areas, free Wi-Fi is not as widespread in many low-cost hotels and guesthouses (“villas”) as in neighbouring countries, and they may charge a small fee for internet access via LAN or Wi-Fi, even if you bring your own laptop. Wi-Fi is generally available in cafés and restaurants that cater to Western diners. It is sometimes offered by telecom companies that charge a usage fee, and you usually need a telecom account to complete the registration process.
Keyloggers are all too often installed on computers in cheap cafés. So be on your guard if you use online banking, stock market transactions or even PayPal. Using copy and paste to enter part of your password can get around some of them. You can also type part of your username and password into the input box (for the password or username), then click somewhere outside the browser window and type a few characters, then click back into the input box and continue typing the other part, several times. Otherwise, bring your own laptop to the internet café.
If you suddenly and unexpectedly find yourself typing in Thai (or any other script), you have probably accidentally pressed the key combination that the computer you are using has configured for language switching (often Ctrl+Space). To go back, use the “Text Services and Input Languages” option (a access menu is usually available via a “TH” icon visible in the taskbar. Simply switch it to “EN”).
Phone in Thailand
Mobile phones in Thailand have 10 digits, including the leading zero. Landline phones have 9 digits, including the leading zero.
To make an international call, you can buy a prepaid card (available for 300 baht at many local shops and guesthouses) to use at one of the bright yellow Lenso phone boxes. You should rarely have trouble finding one of these phones unless you are in the countryside. The international dialling code is 001.
For mobile phone users, there are three GSM mobile operators in Thailand: AIS, DTAC and TrueMove), which can be useful if you have a mobile phone that operates on one or both of the GSM 900 or 1800 frequency bands (check your phone’s specs). If you have one, you can buy a prepaid SIM card for any of the Thai operators at any shop for as little as 50-200 baht and top it up on the move. Bangkok airport is a good place to buy a SIM card as the people working the counters there speak relatively good English.
Most phones sold by the major operators are “locked” to the operator. This means that the phone will not work with a SIM card from another network unless you unlock it. To unlock a phone, you must enter a special code into the phone. The procedure for entering this code depends on the phone. Most operators will give you the unlock code and instructions on how to do this if you have been a full subscriber (bills paid) for a certain period of time (about 3 months, but it depends on the operator). Contact your operator’s customer service and tell them that you intend to use your phone abroad. They will usually give you the unlock code. After unlocking, you can use any SIM card in the phone. Also, the assistants at the MBK shopping centre in Bangkok can unlock most phones for less than 500 baht. If you need to buy a mobile phone, you can also go to MBK as there is a large selection of cheap second-hand phones on the 4th floor.
The international rates of Thai airlines are surprisingly good. DTAC, for example, charges 10 baht/minute for calls to the United States. Moreover, you can reduce the rates even further, from 1.5x and up to 5-6x for some countries such as Russia, by dialling 009 or 008 instead of the + in front of the country’s international code. For example, dialling 009 1(xxx)xxx-xxxx for the USA will give you a rate of 5 baht/minute, but at the cost of a slight degradation in voice quality that often goes unnoticed.
TrueMove’s Inter-SIM promotion offers very good rates for international calls from 1 baht per minute to destinations such as the USA, Canada, Australia, the UK, France and Germany. Free SIM cards are distributed at some airports, branded AOT SIM, which include 5 minutes of free calls to your home country. Note that you must also use the prefixes (006 for better quality, 00600 for cheaper rates. However, for some countries the rate is the same for both promotions. How to get cheaper rates, as well as the rates for certain countries, are clearly indicated on the SIM card packages.
Network coverage is very good throughout the country, all cities and tourist destinations (including holiday islands) are well covered, and even in the countryside you are more likely to get a network signal than not, especially with an AIS SIM or DTAC card. However, if you are planning longer stays in remote, non-touristy areas, AIS (its prepaid service name is “1-2-Call”) is the better choice, albeit at the cost of more expensive local calls than DTAC. But the once very significant difference in call rates and coverage is fading with time. TrueMove’s network coverage is considered the worst, with phones sometimes losing signal even in cities. However, if you plan to stay only in the major cities/islands and/or do not need a phone that is always available outside these cities, a True SIM is also acceptable. The advantage is that they now have 3G (850 MHz only). Not all phones, especially older ones, support this band. Coverage in Bangkok (centre, airport and some other areas), Chiang Mai (the whole city), Phuket and Pattaya.
If you plan to visit Thailand at least once a year for short visits, consider buying a SIM card with a minimum validity limit (usually one year from the last recharge, even if it was 10 baht). This way you can reuse the SIM card on your next trip and don’t have to buy a new one each time, keep your Thai phone number and save some money. DTAC offers the Simple SIM package, for example, and 7-Elevens used to sell this as standard, but now they seem to offer cheaper (but limited validity) Happy SIMs instead. Just ask for the first one. Local calls will be slightly more expensive (international is not affected), but this is usually not a problem for the short-term visitor. AIS (1-2-Call) has similar (but more expensive) offers, as does True. If you already have a Thai SIM card and want to change your plan, this is possible for free or for a small extra charge. Check your operator’s website for more details.
For short-term visitors, international roaming on Thai GSM networks is possible, subject to agreements between operators. There is also a CDMA service in Bangkok and other cities that allows customers of certain North American CDMA networks to benefit from expensive roaming.
- CAT Telecom 009 IP telephony service tariffs – see how much you save on international calls when you use 009 instead of +.
- GSM World – Thailand – List of networks, coverage maps and frequency bands
- Thai Prepaid Card – Online top-up credit for Thai prepaid SIM cards.
- SIM cards from Thailand – National prepaid SIM cards from Thailand for use with your mobile phone.
Smart Phones / Tablets / Aircraft Cards
A smartphone is an incredibly useful thing to have with you on a trip. All three GSM operators offer nationwide GPRS/EDGE services and limited 3G services. Usually, this service is already pre-activated on the prepaid SIM card. Internet usage is charged by the minute. You pay for every minute your phone accesses the internet. The price for this paid access is not cheap, about 0.5 to 1 baht/minute. This is comparable to internet cafés. However, it is possible to buy internet packages that can save you a lot of money, especially if you use this service frequently. There are three types: time-based (ideal for laptop users who are only online for a few hours a day), volume-based (suitable for smartphones or chat) and unlimited. Check out this useful guide to 3G data tariffs in Thailand.
- DTAC Happy Internet Packages. The 3G service (850 MHz band) will be offered in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket, Ko Samui and Krabi from May 2012. Outside these cities, EDGE is also widely available in rural areas, and the speeds (20-25 kBytes/sec) allow acceptable surfing, using Skype or other VoIP services (with a delay but reasonable voice quality), or even listening to lower bitrate internet radio stations on the go. The DTAC Happy Tourist prepaid SIM card with 35 days of unlimited internet access is available at Bangkok Airport for about 1,000 baht. Refills are available at 7-Eleven shops.
- TrueMove’s offerings differ in that they offer a combined GPRS/EDGE/3G/Wi-Fi service. The 3G service (850 MHz) is offered in various parts of the country, including Bangkok (mainly in the city centre and airport), Chiang Mai, Pai, Phuket, Hua Hin and (apparently) Ko Samui. Note that use of 3G and EDGE/GPRS services is charged separately in some packages. Please note that if you exceed your EDGE/GPRS quota, you will be charged by the minute/per megabyte when using GPRS/EDGE, even if you still have some 3G quota left (the 3G network prohibits any data connection once the 3G quota is used up, but this may change in the future). The 3G service is quite fast, but EDGE coverage/speeds are often (but not consistently) lower than DTAC and AIS . To use True Wi-Fi, search for the network “@truewifi”, enter your phone “[email protected]” as login and receive your password via SMS. 3G coverage is growing fast and many places (e.g. most of Chiang Mai beyond the airport until recently, or Pai) do not yet appear on the official coverage maps.
True’s new prepaid plan, Unlimited x3 [www], offers unlimited Wi-Fi network usage (daily/weekly/monthly = 49/99/299 baht), up to 500 MB of 3G internet (128 Kbps overage), and free calls and text messages to True’s numbers. If you are travelling outside a major city (e.g. from Hat Yai to Nakhon St. Thammarat) and you cannot access the internet, you will need to go to your operator settings and change your operator network to Manual and select True-H.
Note that to use 3G at 850MHz (DTAC and TrueMove) you need a phone or USB dongle that supports 3G WCDMA at 850MHz (not the common 2100MHz band) – while many phones (including all 3G-compatible iPhones) do, others, especially older and cheaper ones, do not. Check your phone’s manual for supported 3G bands, not to be confused with supported GSM/EDGE bands. AIS uses an even more exotic 900 MHz band (for 3G services) that is normally used for GSM, so the chances of your 3G device working with their 3G are even lower.
In addition to these options, there are a few lesser known ones:
- TOT 3G and several resellers offer 3G on 2100 MHz (compatible with most 3G phones and USB dongles) throughout the Bangkok area. Unlike other providers’ packages, data usage is charged by the megabyte, but the free allowances are usually generous. With I -mobile 3GX, for example, you get 2 GB of downloads with a 500 baht top-up (for data only).
- CAT Telecom offers the CDMA2000 EV-DO Rev. service in the 800 MHz band (supported by most but not all CDMA devices). They offer unlimited rates, extended 3G coverage and (theoretically) unlimited contingent, but you must either buy or bring your own CDMA2000 EV-DO compatible modem or (unlocked) phone.
- Tune Talk [www] 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 on 2100MHz. However, it is difficult to get a SIM card outside Bangkok. The website is well designed in English and you can manage/recharge your account online.
Many smartphones access the internet in the background, even when you are not actually using the phone or the internet. This can quickly use up your minutes, and then use up the rest of your money much faster if you have a time-based plan. In this case, it is better to use a volume-based plan or an unlimited plan. Otherwise, make sure your phone has a reliable way to cut off internet usage.
On some smartphones, the APN (Access Point Name) must be entered manually for the internet to work. APNs have many configurable settings, but usually only a small amount of data is required. Check your phone’s settings; the procedure for changing APNs varies from phone to phone.
- DTAC – APN name: www.dtac.co.th, user name: guest, password: guest
- AIS – APN name: internet, username: ais (may not be required), password: ais (may not be required).
- TrueMove – APN name: internet, username: internet, password: internet
Topping up an internet package is not as easy as topping up voice minutes, but it is not impossible even if you do not speak Thai. Although you can easily top up your voice minutes at any shop, you may come up empty if you ask for internet packages. Internet plans can be topped up at mobile phone shops, which are relatively easy to find in populated areas – though they are unlikely to know all the current offers and options. Of course, many services will be available at the offices of many operators (DTAC shop, TrueMove shop, etc.), which are generally available in large shopping centres (Big C, Tesco, etc.) and other public places – check your operator’s website for details. You can also call customer services (1678 for DTAC, 1331 for True, 1175 for AIS) – both can give you the location of the nearest branch if you still need it, or switch on or off an internet (or SMS or MMS) tariff you want. However, calls to these service numbers are often paid for by prepaid SIM card users with a call charge of up to (DTAC) 3 baht/minute. If you don’t want to go through this every time you need to switch providers, there are numbers where you can do it yourself via a (free) voice menu: *1004 for DTAC Happy (in Thai only), *9000 for True (in English, at least for inter-SIMs distributed at airports).