Saturday, November 3, 2007

Getting There - Flights

Finding an affordable flight can be difficult. Flights from the East Coast of the US to Bangkok range anywhere from $750 and higher for a round trip ticket. Anything in the $750 - $900 range is considered extremely good.

I usually spend some time searching on Orbitz. Once I locate a cheap flight, I then book it directly on that airline's website to avoid paying the Orbitz fees :) I have found decent flights on ANA and United. United will book your flight on other Star Alliance partner airlines (ANA, Thai Air, etc).

Most routes from the East Coast will include 1 or 2 stops. If its a 2 stop flight, your first stop is usually in LAX, SFO, or ORD. The second stop (or first stop in a 1 stop flight) will be either Narita Japan or Incheon South Korea. After deplaning, you will be required to pass through a security check point. You will be required to show your passport and occasionally the connecting ticket so keep these handy. These airports are quite some distance from the urban metro areas, so unless you have approximately an 8+ hour layover, you will not have time to leave the airport and come back. The international connection areas of these airports are heavily populated with Duty Free Shops. However, all of the duty free shops seem to sell exactly the same items as the Duty Free Shop next door, at the same set prices as well. These areas also seem to have a very limited amount of dining options compared to the US airports. At this point, you still have another 5 or 6 hour flight to Bangkok to look forward to. Because of this, my usual routine is to find a food shop with power outlets on the walls. I grab a quick bite to eat while I let my electronic devices recharge (iPod, laptop, etc). I then use the remaining couple of hours walking around stretching my legs and preparing for the next portion of my journey.

A typical itenrary will look something like:

2 Stop:

IAD to LAX (5 hours) --> 2 hour layover in LAX --> LAX to NRT (12 hours) --> 3 hour layover in NRT --> NRT to BKK (6 hours) = Total 28 hours

or single stop:

IAD to NRT (14 hours) --> 3 hour layover in NRT --> NRT to BKK (6 hours) = Total time 23 hours

In the past year or so, both Thai Air and Singapore Air have started offering direct non-stop flights out of New York's JFK. It greatly reduces the amount of overall travel time! The flight is to Bangkok is approximately only 17 hours non-stop. Thai Air has brokered a deal with the Russian government to offer flights in and out of Moscow. Because of this, they are now allowed to fly through Russian air space. The JFK - BKK flight goes directly north, just to the right of the north pole, and then down over Russia, Mongolia, China, and into Thailand. I highly recommend this flight. Because Thai Air is part of Star Alliance, you can have a United agent check prices and book for you.

On the flight, I would recommend taking snacks and dressing in layers. The food is usually mostly Asian and like most airlines, barely edible. I usually pack a few snacks in my bag to get me through. Additionally, Asian people seem to have a much lower tolerance for colder temperatures than a typical Westerner. Because of this, I often find that flights to and from Asia are alot warmer than I would prefer. I often will stash a pair of shorts in my carry on in case it gets too warm.

1-2-Call Instructions

In my previous post I covered how to get up a mobile phone up and running in Thailand using a local cellular provider. Inevitably, at some point you are going to need to "top up" your cell minute balance. A top-up card can easily be purchased at practically any 7-11. These are mostly found in 300 and 500 baht card values.

Once you have purchased the card, scratch off the back of it to revel the "secret code". Next you want to press:

* 120 * "secret code" # and then click send on your mobile phone.

You should receive a text message shortly after informing you of your new balance. If at anytime, you would like to check your remaining balance, simply press:

* 121 # and then click send on your mobile phone.

Again, you will receive a text message with your current balance.

When calling or text messaging someone in the US from your phone, remember that you will need to preface their number with either a + or 001. A + sign can usually be made by pressing and holding the "0" key on your mobile phone until the + sign appears. So a US phone number such as 1 (202) 265-0299 would be dial as +12022650299 or 00112022650299 from your Thai mobile phone.

Mobile Phones In Thailand

Many travelers will be able to use the mobile phones from their home countries. However, its a bit more tricky for Americans. There are a lot of differences between US cellular networks and the rest of the world. Thailand primarily uses GSM based cell phones. If your cell provider in the US is Sprint, Nextel, or Verizon, you are out of luck. These networks use a cellular technology known as CDMA. However, if your phone is on the Cingular, AT&T, T-Mobile, or other networks, you may be in luck. The first thing to check is whether your cell phone requires a SIM card to operate. If your US cell phone requires a SIM card, most likely it is a GSM based phone.

The next thing you will need to know, are the "bands" your phone supports. The US GSM networks operate on the 1900 MHz and the 850 MHz networks, while Thailand (like most of the world) uses 900 MHz and 1800 MHz. So, if you happen to have what is known as a "Tri-band", "Quad-Band" phone, that means in addition to the two US bands, your cell phone also supports one or both of the international bands as well. Sometimes these phones are also labeled as "world phones".

So, once you have determined that you A.) have a GSM-based phone with a SIM card, and B.) your phone supports international frequency bands, you now must unlock your phone. US cellular providers employ a dubious practice of "locking" your phone. This means that in addition to all the name branding they stamp and load all over your phone, they also prevent that phone from working on any other cell provider's network than theirs. The easiest way to get your phone unlocked is to call your provider and tell then that you are traveling overseas and will need to use a local SIM chip while there. Depending on how nicely you ask, the operators current mood, etc, they will provide you with a series of codes that you need to enter into your phone to unlock it. If for some reason they refuse, just hang up, call back later, and try your luck with another operator. Your other option is to Google search for somebody that can unlock it for you over the Internet. This service usually costs approximately $20-$30.

Now, when you arrive in Thailand, go to 7-11 or Jay-Mart and ask for a 1-2-Call SIM and also prepaid minutes. If you go when they aren't to busy and ask nicely, most of the time the store clerk will activate it for you and add the minutes for you. The phone minute rates are very reasonable... even for calling back to the US!

If you prefer to buy a cell phone in Thailand, the de facto place to visit is the 4th floor of the MBK mall. There are literally thousands of new and used cell phones for sell at very very reasonable prices. Most of the mobile phone vendors don't show up until after 11 AM, so don't show up too early. Also remember that bargaining is a way of life, so don't be scared to shop around and bargain for the phone that catches your eye. Another thing to bear in mind, is that the large majority of the phones for sell are Single or Dual-band only. This means that your new phone on your US cellular provider's network back home.

Sawat Dee Krap! - Inaugural Post

Welcome to! Loosely translated, "Ta Lueng" is a Thai word for "dirty mind". This site is my attempt to document helpful hints and tips for anyone planning to visit, live, or work in Thailand. Subject matter includes everything from what to expect when arriving at the airport, to where to find the best bar for a 5am nightcap, and everything in between. Most information is original content, however reader submissions, suggestions, and links are extremely welcome.


Because I myself am an American, this site will have a decidedly American slant to it. While I hope that my content is helpful for all, occasionally I will address issues that only apply to US citizens visiting the Land of Smiles (LOS). I apologize in advance :)


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