The sharper edge to traveling in Asia

Email, internet, & telephone in Bangkok

Written By: herbrunbridge - Jun• 02•10

Telephone upgrade card

Email access in Bangkok is easy virtually everywhere along the Sukhumvit and Silom BTS Skytrain lines, and in hundreds of other places in the city.  Don’t ignore the different sois (streets) branching off of main thoroughfares, as generally, hourly rates are cheaper there.  Signs advertising email access frequently hang from upper stories, easy to see when strolling from major streets.  Typical rates range from 60 baht to 150 baht per hour.  WiFi hotspots are a growing trend, particularly in major hotels, and coffee shop chains, but are generally not free of charge.  Typical WiFi rates are 100-150 baht per hour.

Buying a mobile phone 

If you’ll be in-country for a week or longer, you may want to buy a digital GSM mobile phone, which in Thailand operates at 900/1800Mhz  (there is no support for analogue mobiles or GSM using 1900Mhz, the US Standard).  Prices start at around $23 USD for a new  mobile phone (read the WoWasis review of the Nokia 1280 phone, an inexpensive, durable phone that’s our favorite).  You’ll buy your new phone a SIM (Subscriber Identification Module) card, which you insert into the phone.  The SIM card contains your phone number (it will also store your personal phone numbers and settings). There are a number of telephone phone vendors, but Telecom Asia (True) can link the SIM to your passport number, when you buy at their shops.  That way, if your phone is lost, no one else can use your phone, provided you call True to report your lost phone. 

You can buy phones virtually anywhere, but we found the best service at the Emporium complex at BTS Skytrain PhromPhong.  Nokia has a store on level 3, as does Telewiz, a good shop for updating the minutes on your phone cheaply as well. In those shops, the reps speak English, important since they can tell you how to set up a voicemail box, and give you additional pointers.  Prices there are roughly the same as anywhere else.  Many Thais like buying phones and accessories at MBK in Siam Square, but English is a rarity, the place is crowded, and generally, clerks don’t have the time to deal with Farang, or can’t understand them. 

If you think you’ll be wanting to access your Thai voicemail box from your own country, buy a multi-band phone that will work in your country.  When you return home, turn on the roaming facility, and you’ll be able to access email. 

Voicemail from a mobile phone in Thailand doesn’t work all of the time, so pay attention to the following: if you have a standard Thai provider, and pay a monthly bill, you will have a relatively dependable voicemail system. If you’re using “pay-as-you-go” phone cards, such as the “1-2 Call” card found at most convenience stores, your voicemail will probably not work, even when you set it up by calling customer service, and having them walk you through the bizarre series of steps to establish a voicemail box.  Thailand is not ready for prime time, as far as telecom is concerned, so be forewarned!  

Warning:  roaming charges are expensive, up to 80 baht per minute, to call Thailand from your country, on your Thai-based mobile phone!   Before you leave for home, contact your service provider, and get a customer service telephone number that will work from your country.  Occasionally, users have found it problematic at first to use the phone overseas, and customer service will assist you if you have the proper number.  Additionally, all service providers do have websites with English information.  When you buy your SIM, be sure to ask the name of the provider.  

You add calling minutes to your phone by purchasing a plastic card, such as the “One-2-Call” card available at convenience and food stores and telecom outlets, which contains a scratch-off code number. Upgrade cards differ for each SIM vendor, so be sure to ask which one to buy when you acquire your phone.  To update your minutes, scratch to reveal the code, dial your upgrade dial number, enter the code number, and you’ve upgraded (instructions are on the card).  With most upgrade cards, you can buy upgrade minutes in increments of 300 and 500 baht.  Minutes must be used within a variable-monthly period, or will temporarily expire.  When you eventually buy another upgrade card, your old unused minutes will be re-established, and added to the total. When the calling minutes on your phone runs out, you’ll receive an inbound text message advising you to buy more time.  What do you do with your old, used-up cards?  Some convenience stores will give you a 10-30% discount on purchases, if you turn in an old card at point-of-sale.  As always, the information above is subject to change. 

Please Read This!  Caveat emptor: 

Upgrade cards can be expensive, but most of them offer promotions, which lower your baht-per-minute phone rate.  You must ask about these promotions when you buy your phone, as two-tiered pricing (westerner vs. Thai national) remains in effect.  Example: at 10 baht per minute, the “One-2-Call” card can be pricey.  By calling *777, you can find out about promotions that will give you more calls per card, within certain restrictions. If you press the key for “English”, you will be notified of promotions, but they will not be available to you when you attempt to activate them.  If a Thai friend makes the same call, they will be available.  Therefore, if you don’t have Thai friends just yet, have the Thai who sells you the phone describe the promotions, and have him or her activate them for you.  This way, you can ensure that you’re paying the lowest price possible for your calls. 

Also, when your minutes elapse, you must add minutes within a variable period, generally 30-45 days.  If you don’t, the telephone number registered to your SIM may disappear forever, and you’ll be forced to buy a new one. 

Instructions for adding minutes to your phone via “One-2-Call” brand refill cards, available at food stores:  At the counter, ask to buy a “One-2-Call” card.  Purchase in 300 baht or 500 baht increments.  Unwrap plastic covering, which will reveal the silver scratch-off box.  Scratch off the covering material with a coin.  Dial your phone, with digits in the following sequence: 

1) *120* [scratch-off number you’ve just revealed] #, then press the “call” button.
2) Immediately, you will receive a text message telling you the amount of baht on your SIM, and the expiration date. 

To view the number of minutes left on your phone any time, dial the following sequence (time remaining will be shown on your display): *121# 

Telephone calls be made at the diminishing numbers of phone booths in Bangkok.  The simplest way to do it is to buy a Domestic or International phone card at a convenience store, such as 7-Eleven.  The trick here is to buy the proper card, as there are three different types of phones.  Orange telephones and booths are run by TOT, and require a TOT card, which you can buy for as little as 100 (baht) roughly $2.50 USD.  CAT phone booths are yellow, and there are both Domestic and International variations (the latter differentiated by the word “International” atop the booth).  Often, both versions of CAT booths are side-by-side.  TOT cards don’t work in CAT phones, and vice-versa.  CAT domestic cards will not work in CAT international booths.  The cards have computer chips embedded in them, which count down to zero baht.  International calls are prefixed by “001”, then your country code.  Domestic numbers are always preceded by a “0”.

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