Phones

Telephones & telecommunications the world over (so far) are an interesting thing. In Central and South America, everyone had cell phones. Not just one per household even, I mean almost all individual family members over 16 it seemed. The best part for us was that the internet WIFI VOIP phone worked in many many places, so we made many fun calls to various family and friends that were dirt cheap and quite a reasonable quality (considering!!!). Thanks gawd for Robert & Leesa’s home internet connection for making calls while we were there. Other than that, I only found one place with an open connection fast enough for us to use in a little strip mall a few weeks into our travels there.

The best way to communicate we’ve found, is by gmail chat. It is an instant messaging (IM) piece built directly into their online webmail page. No extra chat software need be downloaded and installed (like MSN, yahoo chat, ect) since the google chat works directly from a browser window after logging into a free Gmail acount. Quick & easy! And you can see people logged in and start chatting immediately! For anyone who wants to sign up (or has an account already) go to:
http://www.gmail.com and our user name is james.rick@gmail.com

As cool as the WIFI internet phone was, it proved to be pretty much useless in Australia as I mentioned above. At least we used it quite a bit in South & Central America before I lost the darn thing in Singapore. Instead, in Malaysia we bought a new cell phone. While this is something I always believed (and said occasionally to some people) I would avoid, it just proved to be absolutely invaluable while traveling. Throughout practically the whole East coast of Australia that we traveled, public payphones were few and far between. Most campgrounds had one, but they were a pain to use! They were often vandalized and required specific coins (which we didn’t have eight of to call around to different campgrounds or tour operators to check availability and pricing) or not giving change for the larger coins that we did have an abundance of. It was also incredibly useful to be able to make calls while driving to make arrangements for a couple of days ahead, but during business hours.

In Australia I bought the cheapest, most basic phone (Vodaphone) that I could find (for about CAN$50) to use there. The rates were OK, mostly about AUS $0.30 per minute (I think?) to call around within the same State, and AUS $1.50/min to Canada. I had planned on using the WIFI phone throughout Asia and didn’t worry about getting a more versatile cell phone. That turned out to be a huge mistake of course, since the Vodaphone was VERY expensive per minute to use in Asian countries, and (EVEN WORSE!) it didn’t work like they said it would in Singapore and Thailand. That’s a $50 credit I will likely NEVER see again from Vodaphone. Worse yet, their customer service numbers can’t be reached from any phone so far here, so I can’t even demand a refund… Live and learn.

After the vodaphone hassle, I did some quick self education on cell phones and bought the cheapest tri-mode one I could get in KL. It was only about CAN $110 and included tonnes of fancy options! Somehow I restrained myself from getting the Nokia E90 messaging phone (about CAN $1,200 in Malaysia) which was about the coolest thing ever! All phones over here have removable SIM card for changing providers (and as a result, phone numbers) in different countries that you travel to. This is incredibly uncommon in North American cell phone models. We seem to get completely screwed by the providers there! (And I haven’t even talked about rates yet!) The versatility of giving the consumer choice with changeable SIM cards is such a fantastic idea, yet we don’t even know about it or consider it. We just eat up the crap and garbage that the huge money making cell phone corporations feed us. Most phones here don’t seem to have nasty, locked in, incredibly expensive plans either. They are mostly all pay as you go with incredibly friendly and adaptable plans and rates. Even in Australia the pay-as-you-go plans were nice. The vodaphone let us pay $29 for $139 of credit that expired in thirty days, (but could not be used to call from other countries). For $30 we got $60 of credit that expired in 90 days (and could “supposedly” be used overseas). Or for $50 it was $100 of credit for 90 days. In Malaysia & Thailand the rates are even better! While the vodaphone was “locked” and couldn’t use other SIM cards, these phones here (in Asia) are completely open to change around cards at the wonderful whim of the owner. A SIM card here (so far in Singapore, Malaysia & Thailand) costs between CAN $8 and $15 which usually includes about $2 to $3 of “starter” credit. After that, “top up” cards can be bought for $3 to $10. These allow the user to just enter an unlocking code and “poof” more calls.

In Malaysia the local calls were very cheap, and even calls to Canada we calculated out to be about 30 cents! (Yes, Canadian cents!) Thus, we were making calls to Canada like crazy at the train station trying to use up our $15 balance. Even after three long calls, we still have a $9 credit on that SIM card that doesn’t expire for another two months. Way cool!

In Thailand, the calls to Canada seem marginally more so far (about CAN $0.33 per minute) but local calls are also so quick and easy! The one bad (sorta) thing about the Malaysian SIM card we bought was that text message sending capabilities (plain or multimedia SMS) required a separate VISA registration and charges, whereas the Vodaphone in Australia was just AUS $0.50 per 160 character message sent. I haven’t looked into yet for Thailand since we only just got here yesterday afternoon, and picked up the new SIM then.

So, sadly a tri-mode cell phone is something we would probably consider a necessity for traveling on your own (not an organized tour), when traveling for more than two months or so. I have no idea what we’ll do with the phone once we get home since we really have no use for one in Fort Smith, (never mind the fact that Northwestel only has analog service!). I’m not even sure if we can get a “Mobility” SIM card in Canada?!?! The cheapest tri-mode phone that I could buy in KL has a video/still camera, push to talk, and all kinds of other features. We might sell it (privately or pawn shop? who knows?) or I might just keep it for when the travel bug hits again!

For anyone who wants to send us an SMS (since we rarely have the phone turned on to receive calls) the number is:
+66-085-790-0565

Although someone told me that the “zero” preceeding the area code is only used when dialing within Thailand. If this is true then the number will be:
+66-85-790-0565

2 Responses to “Phones”

  1. The Perps says:

    Hearing you talk about Malaysia and Singapore sure brings back the memories. I’m glad you were able to experience some of the culture and the back alley eatiers, they sometimes have the best food and way cheaper.
    Shannon

  2. Rick says:

    Agh yes! I had forgotten that you lived here oh, so LONG ago… When are you gonna bring your poor, sweet hard working husband and family and show them around your “young” stomping grounds? Forty is just around (a couple years?) the corner I guess? It’s OK though Shannon… You are still pretty “Hot” for being middle aged! 🙂