This was the second time I had arrived in Bangkok. I was emboldened and feeling a lot more at home than I did when I first touched down on day 1 of my digital nomad journey.
Because of this, I decided I would head to the store after getting settled in rather than buying my SIM straight away at the airport.
The transfer-in from BKK to the city centre couldn’t be more simple. You get on the train on the bottom floor of the airport and it is one long single track. A ticket all the way to the end costs just 35THB and if you need to get somewhere else in town it stops at stations along the way that connects with the BTS train system that goes around the city.
I already knew where my hostel was. It was a place I had gazed through the window with curiosity many times on my last trip, but I hadn’t booked before now. I had been caught up playing a game of how-cheap-can-I-live on my first visit to Asia. Enchanted by the incredibly low prices of everything I got addicted to seeing just how low I could get my daily outgoings down to. This time I was here to treat myself better, so I was booked in to a style hostel and knew exactly where I was heading.
I felt confident enough to step out into the world without having data on my phone and if you do too and want the best deal then this is the
Anyway, back to the SIM card you are here to learn about!
Which telecoms provider?
The big 3 are AIS, DTAC and TrueMove.
If you are travelling around Thailand and want to visit the various islands then it could be worth doing more research on other websites. I have seen pages with coverage maps and depending on where you want to go, your choice of SIM provider might be influenced by their reach.
For me, I found myself emotionally tied to AIS and that’s who I have used each time I have been here. How did they get me? Well, I read about their hotspots, for example in CAMP, Maya Mall, Chiang Mai, where you can connect to their superfast WiFi if you have an account with them.
As there was not much to choose between the big three providers this is what swung it for me.
AIS Flagship Store in Central World, Bangkok
The day after I arrived, I headed over to their flagship store to buy my SIM. I was within walking distance so I took a short stroll, but depending on where you are you might want to jump on a train. You are aiming to get off at either BTS Siam or BTS Chit Lom, they are both a short walk to Central World (CTW) which is a huge multi-story mall in the Siam area of Bangkok.
The shop is located on level 4 so head up on the nearest elevators and then walk around until you find it, it will just take a few minutes. If you open the map above using the View Larger Map link then you will see an extra feature which doesn’t appear on the embedded map – you can click the floor on the right-hand side to see which stores are on which floor and where they are exactly located.
You will know when you see it, it has the AIS logo plastered outside and all around, and is made up of floor-to-ceiling glass panes with the full AIS range of products inside.
Here’s a shot of the store entrance:
The buying process
One of the nicer things about buying from the flagship store is that the staff all speak a high level of English. You are also buying directly from them so you aren’t going to get tricked with any prices.
Finally, the other nice option is you have the full range of contract varieties available to you – often the resellers that you find around airports and streets will strip back the number of options available to you in order to get you to make a quick decision and not be overwhelmed.
A salesperson will approach you pretty quickly when you arrive. Tell them you want to buy a tourist sim and they will guide you over to a desk directly. If it’s a busier time of day you might get given a number and asked to sit down for a moment. I’ve experienced both but never had to wait that long.
At the desk, they will have a chart with all of the tourist sim options currently available. It should look something like this:
As you can see, this table has many options and you can go for your preferred style. First, you pick how long you want the sim to last. You can buy limited or unlimited data packages. If you buy a limited package then check the After Used Up column which tells you what happens when you run out. Sometimes its the end of the line, often your speed is just reduced for the rest of the days of your contract.
You should also pay attention to the Speed column. This is the maximum download speed. I opted for the 6mb package which was more than fast enough for my needs, but if you plan to use it a lot then you might want to splash out on the 3g/4g packages. This means that it will go the maximum speed the network can handle. This could be up to 30mbps on 3g and 50mbps on 4g, but those top end speeds are rare. Either way, it should be quite a lot faster than 6mbps, which is why there is quite a significant bump in the cost between the two top end prices (6mb, unlimited data, 30days was 600THB and 3g/4g unlimited data 30 days is 1650THB as of May 2018).
The 600THB package is what I got and it was perfect for my needs.
When you have told the sales assistant which one you want they will take your phone and the money. They will want the price on the list + 49THB to buy the sim card.
I suspect if you were savvy enough you could do this all for yourself because what happens next is they take your money, walk out of the store, and around to a set of fancy touchscreen vending machines.
One machine is used to convert your money into vouchers, then a second machine will be used to order and dispense your sim card. The sales assistant will do all that for you while you are sitting and watching through the window of the store. Then they will come back, load it into your phone, do the activation/setup process and hand your phone back to you.
There is no extra fee for getting them to do this so you don’t need to go out of your way to be a hero and try to do it all yourself.
Pro tip – get your messages in English
The first time I got my SIM I was inundated with messages written in Thai. At first I thought they were spam but then I got curious and started translating them with Google Translate. It turns out that AIS is regularly running promotions, so you will get notifications with things like “1gb free internet this weekend, activates Friday night” sent to your phone.
This was confusing and after a while I realised I could probably change these messages to English. Searching on the AIS website I managed to track down the codes and with a few attempts, I got my messages to arrive in English.
You are a professional traveller though! Do not put yourself through this mini ordeal. When the SIM has been configured and the salesperson tries to hand you back your phone, just ask them to put the code into convert the text messages to English and they will do this for you. Tada! What a seasoned expert you are, effortlessly navigating this hurdle.
Pro tip – tether to share with your laptop
These AIS sims will let you create a hotspot using your phone. This means you can share your phone data as a WiFi network to your laptop and you can be productive even if you don’t have normal WiFi. If you got the unlimited data package then this is perfect. If not then be careful about what you are getting up to. Streaming YouTube videos will soon chomp through your data.
It’s also unlikely your laptop will realise what type of connection it’s on and it might start downloading system updates in the background or otherwise accidentally abusing a line which it normally expects to be unlimited data.
Pro tip – keep your SIM afterwards
You will probably be back again and you can save the 49THB / 100THB fee when you arrive the next time. Just show the salesperson you already have a SIM and they will reactivate that one instead of selling you a new one.
Added bonus, if you gave your mum your phone number for emergencies then she doesn’t have to add another one this time!
Buying at the airport
If you really want to hit the ground running then you also have the option of buying a SIM at the airport. You will find yourself walking past stalls at multiple stores that you can buy a SIM from.
In Bangkok BKK, there is one that is right after you get off the plane before you even go through immigration. I used it when I first arrived because I was a scared little puppy and I wanted to feel safely connected to the world before I ventured forth. If memory serves they don’t do an AIS card though so I would skip that, head through immigration and get one from the main hall. In the main hall you will see generic mobile phone shops at first, and if you walk further along you will also find an official AIS store.
If you have arrived at the other airport, DMK, then you will find an AIS store just before you exit to the taxi area.
The number of options available is usually reduced down to about two or three simple choices. The staff don’t usually speak great English so this makes sense. Price wise you will pay a little bit more but not much. When I looked they wanted 600THB for one of the slightly lower packages, and the SIM you need to buy will set you back 100THB instead of the 49THB at the flagship store. Not a huge amount and if you need it, for example, if you plan on getting a Grab, then its worth just grabbing a quick card.