March 07, 2015

Notes on Thailand (Part 4)

  • Internet
  • GSM/3G
  • Pharmacies
  • Superettes

Internet

Most bars/pubs/restaurants offer free wifi, and you just have to ask for the wifi password when you're there.

Internet cafes are everywhere. I never had to use one. Laptop/tablet had wifi in the hotel, and my phone had local 3G data.

Your hotel may offer free or (more likely) paid-for wifi Internet.

I paid ฿900 (~R250) for 7 days unlimited wifi access at the Patong Beach Hotel. 1Mbps down/768kbps up. I was able to Facebook, Gmail, do Internet banking, stream audio, and do everything I wanted to do. YouTube was a bit choppy though. Grabbed a 100MB DJ set MP3 - no problem to download.

GSM/3G

MTN allows you to do SMS-only international roaming. Dial *111*14# before you get on the plane. All SMSes charged at R2.00 (or thereabouts). No voice-call roaming, no data roaming, no horrible surprise charges on your bill. Turned out to be very useful when I had to add a banking beneficiary and popped my SA MTN SIM back in to my phone to authenticate/approve.

Get a local Thai SIM (I used DTAC, it worked, other providers include AIS and True). You can pick up a SIM for free in some of the airports. Otherwise it's cheap at any 7-11/superette. ฿3/minute to some international numbers, if you dial a specific prefix first. I filled up with ฿500, did loads of data on it, and barely seemed to make a dent in that balance. My phone showed speeds ranging from EDGE, all the way up to H+. Usually it flopped between 3G and HSDPA speeds.

I was able to use Google Translate, Google Maps and Facebook on my Android phone, with decent speeds.

Although I could have punched in the wifi credentials each time we went to a new bar/restaurant/club, I just didn't bother. Turns out ฿500 lasts a long time if you're mainly using it for data. Also, I had Account Sync turned off on my Android handset.

A travelling partner was roaming on his SA MTN number, with data turned off (it would get charged at R4.00/25KB, I believe), and consequently he turned to me several times asking to use my phone for a Google query. Eventually he just got a DTAC SIM.

In the third hotel I was in, the wifi did not reach to my floor. So I tethered my phone. Even heavy social media usage that day/night didn't make much of a dent in the airtime balance.

You can also sign up for 3G wifi, where the mobile provider takes some Baht off your airtime balance, gives you a wifi username/password, and then you get unlimited access to that mobile provider's wifi hotspots (which are pretty much everywhere) for a specific period of time. I meant to do this, but since the 3G data was working so well, I just didn't bother.

Overall I used about ฿1000 (~R290) for 12 days of local GSM/3G access, with about ฿300 still left on my airtime balance when I returned to South Africa. That included a call to a South African fixed line, a call to a New Zealand mobile, calls to local numbers, texts to various numbers (local and international), and as much Internet as I wanted.

Pharmacies

Everywhere. No prescription needed. ฿200 for an asthma inhaler. ฿15 for a 1mg Xanax tablet. ฿30 for 10x500mg aspirin tablets. ฿70 for a box of Gaviscon tablets. ฿200 for a 70ml bottle of 95% DEET insect repellent spray (lasted the whole holiday).

Superettes

Everywhere. 7-11, The Big 1, and The Big C. Not sure which ones I used. They carry all the conveniences you'd expect.

Their selection of soft-drinks was wide, varied, cheap and utterly foreign to me, so I often bought several different kinds of soft-drinks just to try them all out.

They sell cigarettes and alcohol too (alcopops and beers in the fridges at the back, hard tack and cigarettes up front behind the register. See: Alcohol.)

In Bangkok, the superettes carry the small Red Bull in bottles that you don't get in South Africa. Price: ฿10.

You can use your credit card, but only for purchases totalling over ฿300.

Posted by rory at 03:43 AM | TrackBack

Notes on Thailand (Part 3)

  • Weather
  • Air-conditioning
  • Clothing
  • Footwear
  • Beach/pool towels
  • Hygiene
  • Water
  • Food

Weather

It is hot, humid and sunny (Dec/Jan). 31°C easy. It will rain at some point, but it probably won't rain for very long. When it rains, it won't cool down - the heat just gets wetter. You get used to it quite quickly.

Air-conditioning

Pretty much everywhere indoors (including vehicles) is air-conditioned 24x7 (or at least when people are there). Exception: see Electricity in hotels.

In addition most places have several large fans going to keep the air moving and circulating. If there isn't a breeze, they'll make one.

Clothing

Did I mention it's hot? T-shirts/vests, shorts (if you're planning on visiting a temple/palace or similar place, they may require covered shoulders and long trousers. So take a thin cotton pair of jeans with, or better yet, buy a pair of appropriate jeans there.)

Footwear

Wear sandals/flip-flops that can be easily slipped on and off (since in many places you remove your footwear before going indoors. Exception: hotels.).

However: once I got a good look at the streets of Phuket, Samui, and Bangkok, I preferred to wear lightweight sneakers with short/athletic socks. Once you smell it, you'll understand. And when it rains, whatever is in those drains definitely comes closer to the surface. I didn't want to be stepping in those puddles with bare feet, or feet covered only by open sandals.

Sandals/bare feet for the beach is fine.

The drains in Phuket are often covered with plastic mats. Step over the drains/mats, not on them. One friend stepped on the mat/drain, and went right through, resulting in broken skin, injury and exposure to goodness-knows-what nasties, requiring a hospital visit (see Health and Safety).

Beach/pool towels

On the advice of a well-travelled friend, I didn't take any towels with.

Every hotel I stayed in provided bath towels, hand towels and face towels, changed as often as I required.

The Peace Resort provided pool towels by the pool, daily. Since it was about 3 steps down from the pool to the beach, they're essentially beach towels, too.

The Patong Beach Hotel provided pool towels in the room, and you could have them changed as often as you required. These I used by the hotel pool, and on Patong Beach. Since they'll just charge you if you damage/lose them (or any hotel property), they didn't seem concerned at all as I walked out the hotel with them on my way to the beach.

The Indra Regent had a pool, but since I wasn't there very long I didn't check it out. I don't know if they do provide pool towels, but they probably do.

And if you do really, really want to own a towel, then buy one there for a few baht.

Hygiene

Wash your hands with soap and water every time after using the toilet, no matter where you are in the country. This is good advice for life, generally, too.

In Bangkok, the air appeared polluted at times. I came back from there with a nasty cough, and a sinus infection. Next time, I think I may consider wearing a mask when walking out in the street. I saw quite a number of people wearing masks when out and about in Bangkok.

Water

All hotels advise you not to drink the tap water. They also all provide you with a couple of bottles of complimentary drinking water every day.

1.5L of bottled water in the superette cost around ฿15, IIRC.

Food

You will be spoiled for choice, from restaurants to street food vendors.

We found a gorgeous little place in the Paradise Complex area of Patong Beach where we ate several times. Here, a hearty meal for 3 including alcoholic drinks never exceeded ฿900, and was often closer to ฿600.

Restaurant service may not be up to your expectations in terms of speed, but it will exceed your expectations in terms of friendliness and helpfulness (see: The Thai People)

Try the pancakes on the street. I particularly liked how the lady making my coconut-and-nutella pancake, scraped the coconut topping out of a real coconut, and scraped the Nutella topping out of a real Nutella bottle. ฿40-฿60 depending on toppings.

Next up, in part 4: Internet, GSM/3G, Pharmacies, Superettes.

Posted by rory at 03:35 AM | TrackBack

March 03, 2015

Notes on Thailand (Part 2)

  • Money
  • Electricity
  • Electricity in Hotels
  • Hotels and Guests

Money

The currency is the baht (฿/THB).

There are coins (Satang/'cents') but you'll mainly be using notes (฿20, ฿50, ฿100, ฿500, ฿1000). Every hotel I was at changed my excess coins into notes when I asked, at the front desk.

Excluding accommodation, budget about ฿1000-฿3000 (~R280-~R850) per day. This will let you eat what you want, drink what you want, get a massage, and generally have a lot of fun, every day.

At the time I was there, the exchange rate was approximately ฿3.45 = ZAR1.00. Nice to finally go to a place where the Rand has some muscle. :)

Many places take credit cards, and many places don't. Cash (baht) is king.

Don't bother with forex. Take your credit card and/or ATM card, and use that to draw baht from the local ATMs. Notify your South African bank you're going be using it in Thailand to avoid such transactions being incorrectly seen as possible fraud.

ATMs are everywhere. Seriously, everywhere. The yellow Western-Union ones give lousy exchange rates. All the others appear to give better exchange rates.

In Samui, I had the misfortune to have an ATM reboot on me, swallowing my ATM card (although I still had my credit card). The local bank staff were very helpful, made all the phone calls, took my details, gave me a call the next day, I went in with my passport, and got my ATM card back (see: The Thai People).

The maximum amount you can draw from an ATM in one go is ฿20,000 (~R5,630.86), and you'll be charged ฿150 as a withdrawal fee, regardless of the amount drawn. Put your card in, enter your PIN, and if the screen isn't already in English, within 1 or 2 button presses you will have the option to switch to English.

You can also change ZAR notes to THB if you want to. The exchange rates are posted outside the money-changing booths. TMB (blue-and-white booths) gave the best rates (3.3 vs 3.45) and none of them appear to charge for changing notes. Again, avoid Western-Union in the yellow booths (2.3 vs 3.45).

Electricity

While Thailand uses the small 2-flat-prong plug, their sockets will accept your small 2-round-prong plugs from home. Your large 3-prong plug will need an adaptor. The voltage and Hz is the same as SA.

I plugged in a laptop (3-prong via adaptor) and a South African 2-prong charger for the Kindle/Nexus 7/Galaxy S II into the wall socket of every room I stayed in. It all just worked. (Exception: see Electricity in hotels.)

I carried another universal plug adaptor with a built-in USB connector. It wasn't as necessary as I thought it would be.

Electricity in hotels

Every hotel I stayed in had an electronic key/card for room access.

After opening the door with the key/card, you had to put the card into the slot, which activated the room's electricity.

Leave the room, take the key, and the electricity shuts down after 10 or so seconds. This is to ensure that guests don't run up a huge electricity bill with every light on, TV on, A/C set to full Arctic, etc. (Exception: the minibar fridge remains on.)

Bear this in mind as you leave the room, thinking your plugged-in devices are 'charging'.

Workaround: the minibar fridge is on a separate circuit. Locate the plug point for the minibar, plug your charger in there. Do not let housekeeping find this. It's almost certainly a violation of the rules somewhere. But it'll do for the first time when you haven't planned your charging cycle properly.

Hotels and 'guests'

Some hotels reserve the right to charge you a 'guest' fee if you bring someone back to your room. They usually take great pains to explain this to you upfront when you check-in. This fee seemed to range between ฿1500-฿2500.

The stated reason for this is to ensure the safety of other hotel guests, and hotel property. And, I think, to curb the natural tendency for eager tourists to turn the hotel into something resembling a 'house of ill-repute'.

If you do bring someone back, you may be able to sneak them in a side entrance, and avoid the charge. They won't be allowed to have the hotel breakfast the next day. And if they break something, it'll be for your account.

Most hotels have security cameras covering all the public areas, so keep that in mind.

Next up, in part 3: Weather, Air-Conditioning, Clothing, Footwear, Beach/Pool Towels, Hygiene, Water, Food.

Posted by rory at 01:47 AM | TrackBack

March 02, 2015

Notes on Thailand (Part 1)

  • Background
  • Getting There
  • Luggage
  • Tourist Visa
  • Arriving
  • Smoking in BKK
  • Next Step

Background

I was in Thailand from 23 Dec 2012 to 5 January 2013. This was for 5 nights in Koh Samui, 6 nights in Patong Beach, Phuket, and 1 night in Bangkok.

These notes are not meant to be exhaustive, and they represent only my limited and subjective experience during that time, along with some things I learned along the way. I've included some recommendations - feel free to ignore them.

These notes are from a South African, and slightly geeky, perspective.

Part 1: Getting There, Luggage, Tourist Visa, Arriving, Smoking in BKK, Next Step.
Part 2: Money, Electricity, Electricity in Hotels, Hotels and Guests.
Part 3: Weather, Air-Conditioning, Clothing, Footwear, Beach/Pool Towels, Hygiene, Water, Food.
Part 4: Internet, GSM/3G, Pharmacies, Superettes.
Part 5: Alcohol, Cigarettes, Drugs in Thailand.
Part 6: Transport, Beaches.
Part 7: The Thai People, Be A Good Tourist, The King, Sunscreen, Mosquitoes, Island hopping around Phi Phi, PhantaSea.
Part 8: Shopping, Massages, International Relations.
Part 9: Christmas in Thailand, New Years in Thailand, Lady Boys, Western Decadence, Bangla, Paradise Complex.
Part 10: Hotel Minibars, Laundry, Health and Safety, Leaving Thailand.

Getting there

Thai Airways flies direct three times a week from OR Tambo, Johannesburg to Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok.

You'll leave JNB 13h40 local SA time (GMT+2) and land at BKK sometime just after 05h00 local Thai time (GMT+7), after a 10 hour and 30 minute flight (which will probably say 11h15m on your ticket).

The decor inside a Thai Airways plane is very colourful. :)

Luggage

20kg limit for checked luggage. 7kg limit for hand luggage (although my hand luggage included a laptop and was way more than 7kg. Didn't seem to be a problem.)

Pack light. You'll want space to bring back all the things you've bought.

Tourist Visa

South Africans get an automatic tourist visa upon arrival at BKK. No more than 30 days in one stay, and no more than 90 days total stay in a 6-month (180 day) period.

Arriving

You'll walk from your landing gate, down a long walkway to the part where you go through passport control. There are toilets all the way along this walkway in case you want to freshen up after getting off the plane (see Hygiene).

Suvarnabhumi Airport looks like it has been designed to make it easy for tourists to understand where to go and what to do. All signs are in English and Thai. Read the signs so you know where to go. In some case the signs very conveniently indicate the distance to go, in metres, at regular intervals.

You'll have been given a slip of paper on the plane, or possibly as you go through passport control (I forget where). Fill it in with your details. When you go through passport control they'll take this form, snap your picture (if you're wearing a hat/cap and/or sunglasses, they'll ask you to take them off before they take your picture). They'll also stamp your passport with your tourist visa, and staple your departure form into your passport, which you'll also need to fill in before you leave.

Smoking in BKK

There are a few smoking lounges scattered around the international arrivals side of BKK.

There are no smoking lounges on the domestic departures side of BKK.

If you have a longer stop-over in BKK before your next flight, and you want to smoke, you might want to consider hanging back on the international arrivals side, before going through passport control.

When we arrived, there was a huge throng of people fresh off their flight(s), about to go through passport control. I retired to a smoking lounge, spent some time setting up my local DTAC SIM (See GSM/3G), and when I ventured out again, that entire mass of humanity was gone. I was through passport control in a matter of minutes, no queues, no mess, no fuss.

Next step

Once at Suvarnabhumi, you'll either want to go into Bangkok, or hop off to one of the other islands (Phuket, Samui, etc). If so, that will be another flight of about an hour or so from BKK.

Next up, in part 2: Money, Electricity, Electricity in Hotels, Hotels and Guests.

Posted by rory at 11:03 PM | TrackBack

3191 days

Three thousand, one hundred and ninety-one days since last entry. Let's fix that.

Posted by rory at 07:00 PM | TrackBack