HOW TO...: Get online in Thailand

The Nation, Published on Feb 14, 2003

It’s slow, it’s not particularly cheap, but at least getting online is rarely a problem in Thailand. For tourists, no other country in Asia offers such a profusion of Internet cafes, with prices that range from a low of around Bt25 an hour (a bargain) up to Bt120 an hour (a rip-off).

There’s usually very little difference in connection speeds at Internet cafes, as Thailand has been slow to roll out broadband, and it remains expensive.

For those of us who live here, however, home access is obviously the way to go. The easiest way to go about it is with instant-access Internet cards, which are offered by most of Thailand’s Internet service providers (ISPs) nowadays. The trick is, finding them, though increasingly it’s possible to pick up small time-allotment access cards at convenience stores. All of them offer a specified number of online hours and a use-by time-limit that ranges from three to six months generally.

One of the more popular access cards is WebNet, which is offered by Loxinfo (www.loxinfo.co.th), one of the country’s longest-running and more reliable ISPs. The cards come with a variety of time allowances, ranging from 15 hours (Bt270) upwards, and provide a username and password that gives you instant access. However, as already noted, they’re not as well-distributed as they might be.

Stationery sections in major departments usually stock them, as do audio and visual outlets such as CD Warehouse and some bookshops. This can be a problem if your card runs out after hours and you want to get online.

One quick fix is CS Internet (www.cscoms.com), which offers instant-access kits that can be picked up at any branch of FamilyMart (Bt270 for 25 hours) or 7-eleven (Bt179 for 12 hours). CS Internet actually has some advantages over Loxinfo. For one, its packs are cheaper: and two, if you have a TOT landline, you can access the service anywhere in Thailand through the free 1222 Internet access number. There’s little if any difference in access speeds between Loxinfo and CS Internet, and the only downside is, if you decide to become a regular subscriber, English-language support is minimal.

The other big name ISP in Thailand is KSC (www.ksc.co.th), which also offers instant access cards. The pesky thing about them – until recently – was that unlike Loxinfo and CS Internet cards, they required a sign-up process that among other things asked for a Thai ID number (no, a foreign passport number wouldn’t do).

That’s changed with the introduction of the new KSC Sanook cards, which are cheaper than either Loxinfo or CS Internet and don’t require a sign up.

The packages are 12 hours for Bt99, 25 hours for Bt199, 50 hours for Bt259, and 100 hours for Bt449, which are among the best deals currently on offer.

For long-term residents, constantly buying cards can become a chore. Not only is it cheaper to set up a permanent Internet account, it provides you with a local e-mail address and usually comes with other services, such as Web hosting. You can apply through the websites, and some of the instant-access packages on sale offer the option of converting to subscription.

The best deal is probably KSC again, which offers a no-time-limit monthly deal for Bt559, seven months for Bt3,339 (one month free) and 15 months for Bt6,199 (three months free).

The KSC system has the virtue of simplicity. Loxinfo, on the other hand, offers more choices, with a number of Internet packages ranging from its Web 1, 30 hours a month for Bt440 to its Web 3, no monthly fee 365 hours for Bt5,500. It’s not exactly an impressive deal compared to KSC, but Loxinfo is still the most popular provider with foreigners in Thailand.

CS Internet basically provides three simple packages: 80 hours a month for Bt600, 120 hours for Bt900 and 160 hours for Bt1,200.

The downside is you can expect the unexpected on all the Thai ISPs – slow downloads and occasional lapses in service altogether. Which brings us to broadband.

High-speed Internet services have been slowly rolling out in Thailand over the past couple of years, but they’re still not as inexpensive or ubiquitous as in many other parts of the region.

Both CS Internet and Loxinfo offer Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Lines, known commonly as ADSL, which theoretically offer surfing speeds of 128-256 kilobytes per second (KPBS). Prices however remain high, despite the fact that installation is reasonably inexpensive – Bt1,500 with Loxinfo, free with CS Internet – in the range of Bt34 to Bt38 per hour, which can mount up quickly if you’re spending a lot of time online.

The other option, of course, is cable. But we’re running out of space, so we’ll save the issue of setting up high-speed Internet access at home for next week.