Mobile data across Asia
We live in a connected world. We are used to have access to Internet at every moment during the day. While traveling this is not an exception. We need to plan our trips, book accommodation, search for good restaurants and bars, share photos and impressions with friends and families, among other things that require data.
Nowadays is extremely easy to find mobile data solutions for a short period of time through prepaid cards available in most of the countries. Most of data plans also include calls within the country, which can also be very useful to make local calls to restaurants, hotels or even new local friends.
Generally SIM cards can be obtained at the airport or in the city centres. The prices at the airport tend to be more expensive, but we always prefer to pay a bit more and have the SIM card working as we arrived. Additionally, at the airports scams are less likely to occur.
We normally opt for plans that include local voice calls, which is always extremely useful.
The buying process tends to be very simple and quick, as it only takes about 15 minutes to insert the new SIM card in your phone and activate the new number. You just need to make sure that your mobile phone is not locked to a specific company of your home country.
Besides that, do not worry about your Whatsapp account, although you have a new SIM card, you can still use your account with your home country number and keep all the chat history.
In case of need of additional data, it is always possible to top up the SIM card, which can be done in local stores or, sometimes, online.
Regarding on our experience in this long trip through Asia, we prepared a summary of the main telecommunication companies in the countries we have visited so far, including details about data plans and usage experience.
Main telecommunications companies: Cellcard, Metfone, Smart, Beeline, Excell
Company we chose: Siem Reap International Airport
Where we bought: Metfone
Data plan: 30 days I unlimited data
Price: 16 USD (13/14€)
Usage experience: in general, the overall experience with Metfone was good. In Siem Reap and Phnom Phen we had no problems, while in the province of Battambang we had poor connection sometimes. Still, we were satisfied with our decision!
Main telecommunications companies: BSNL, MTNL, Airtel, Aircel, Vodafone India
Company we chose: Airtel
Where we bought: New Delhi International Airport
Data plan: 30 days I 1Gb per day
Price: 800 INR (10/11€)
Usage experience: the overall experience using Airtel was really good. Even in more remote areas, such as McLeod Ganj, the coverage was good.
Main telecommunications companies: Telkomsel, XL Axiata, IM3, Tri
Company we chose: Telkomsel
Where we bought: Telkomsel store in Sunset Road, Seminyak
Data plan: 30 days I 8GB+8GB
Price: 220.000 IDR (13/14€)
Usage experience: we chose Telkomsel because it has the widest coverage, although the most expensive. We could not buy the SIM card at the airport (the store was closed at the time because it was around 1am). We tried to find a place in Canggu, but we were not told that the only way to obtain a registered SIM card from this operator (new rule from the Government implemented in 2018) was to go to a Telkomsel store in Sunset Road, Seminyak. We went there and they took care of all the registration process and our SIM card started working immediately. During our stay in Indonesia, so far only Bali, we have always had good coverage and data speed.
Main telecommunications companies: Unitel, Lao Telecom, Beeline, ETL
Company we chose: Unitel
Where we bought: Luang Prabang center
Data plan: 30 days I 5 GB
Price: 100.000 LAK (10/11€)
Usage experience: since we arrived late at Luang Prabang Airport, the SIM card stalls were closed and we had to do it in town on the next day. In the night market area there were plenty of currency exchange stores selling prepaid SIM cards. We opted for Unitel since we heard it was the company with the best coverage. We did not find any problems during our stay and the internet speed was reasonable. However, please note that we only visited the north of Laos and the most touristic places.
Main telecommunications companies: Xpax, Hotlink, DiGi, U Mobile
Company we chose: DiGi
Where we bought: Penang International Airport
Data plan: 7 days I 1,5Gb I 1Gb extra everyday between 1pm-7pm
Price: 25 MYR (5/6€)
Usage experience: good coverage and Internet speed, but we were always in city centres, so we would not expect the contrary.
Main telecommunications companies: Ooredoo, MPT, Telenor
Company we chose: MPT
Where we bought: Yangon International Airport
Data plan: 30 days I 12 Gb
Price: 22000 MMK (13/14€)
Usage experience: during our stay in Myanmar, we always had coverage and reasonable Internet speed, even while visiting less touristic places, such as Hpa-An or Mawlamyine. We were told Ooredoo is also a good alternative and it offers cheaper prices.
Main telecommunications companies: Globe, Smart
Company we chose: Smart
Where we bought: Cebu International Airport
Data plan: 30 days I 800Mb per day
Price: 1100 PHP (17/18€)
Usage experience: we opted for Smart instead of Globe because we were told the Smart coverage is better in the islands. Globe is preferrable if only staying in the big cities, such as Manila or Cebu City. Our experience proves this point, since we were able to have coverage most of the times. Of course there was no network during some parts of our 5-days Tao Experience in the remote islands of North Palawan, but we were already expecting that.
Main telecommunications companies: Mobitel, Dialog, Etisalat, Airtel, Hutch
Company we chose: Mobitel
Where we bought: Bandaranaike International Airport, near Colombo
Data plan: 30 days I 20 GB during day time (from 9 am to 12 am) + 20 GB during night time (from 12 pm to 9 am)
Price: 3500 LKR (19/20€)
Usage experience: we opted for Mobitel because it is the national mobile service provider in Sri Lanka. Sometimes we found poor connection in areas like Ella or Udawalawe Park, but we believe it is a problem faced by all network companies.
Main telecommunications companies: DTAC, AIS, TrueMove
Company we chose: AIS
Where we bought: Phuket International Airport
Data plan: 30 days I unlimited data I 6 mbps
Price: 649 THB (16/17€)
Usage experience: during our stay, the coverage and Internet speed was always very good (LTE most of the times). We covered different areas of the country, including the north of Thailand and the southern islands (Phuket, Krabi and the islands in the Gulf of Thailand). Even during our 5-day boat trip around Krabi and Phuket, we always had network, but sometimes only 2G or 3G.
Main telecommunications companies: Viettel, Vinaphone, MobiPhone
Company we chose: Vinaphone
Where we bought: Saigon International Airport
Data plan: 30 days I 4 GB/day
Price: 200.000 VND (7/8€)
Usage experience: in November 2016, the Ministry of Information and Communications in Vietnam started the enforcement of registration rules for SIM cards. As a consequence, millions of SIM cards were cancelled. For this reason, it is now important to buy a SIM card from an approved provider to avoid having problems with the SIM card afterwards. We bought at the official stores at the airport and there were no problems at all during our 45-day stay in Vietnam. Both Vinaphone and Viettel are good alternatives. We opted for Vinaphone because it offered a better package including phone and data balances. During our long stay all over Vietnam, from south to north, we always had good coverage and good internet speed. Since we stayed for more than one month, we had to top up our SIM card. At the time we were in Cat Ba Island and we could not top up our previous SIM card and we had to buy a new one. It was the same price and it started working immediately (change of mobile number was not a problem for us!).
We will keep this list updated as you visit more Asian countries and have mobile data experiences.
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