Can I Use My iPhone in Laos?

Can I Use My iPhone in Laos?

16 comments

The simple answer is yes, but just barely. Expect to purchase a lot of refill cards and seriously curtail your data use. And you’ll need the patience of Buddha.

After enjoying cheap and abundant internet access all through Vietnam, Laos is quite a come-down. I was able to find internet access in most every place I visited, but it was slow and sometimes unreliable.

Buying a Laos SIM for my iPhone enabled me to at least check my email and mobile news sites, but I quickly found that surfing the web was an expensive luxury.

A friend had given me his SIM card that he had used in Laos, but after buying a refill card for it, I found that it didn’t support data so it was pretty much useless for my purposes (without calling the provider and enabling the option). A bit of online sleuthing led me to Tigo, which is set up for data from the beginning.

A Tigo SIM is cheap (10,000 kip – $1.25 US) and refill cards are available in values of 5,000, 10,000, 20,000, and 50,000 kip. There is no all-you-can-eat option available and –while I never figured out the cost per byte– you don’t get much bang for your buck… err… kip.

Signal coverage throughout Laos was pretty good — I was usually able to get at least a weak signal in all but the smallest towns.

Viewing non-mobile-optimized sites in Safari will burn through your minutes in a heartbeat and the service is so slow that your Laos visa will probably expire before the page is fully loaded. You’ll just have to grit your teeth and think of the Buddha. Here’s how I managed:

I always kept my iPhone in Airplane Mode to keep any background processes from checking online and burning up my minutes while I slept (saves on battery, as well). I also turned off all “push” options to safeguard against those times when I forgot to use Airplane Mode. Go to Settings > General > Mail and turn off all “Push” options. You’ll want to check the settings for other apps as well, such as Facebook or Twitter clients.

I avoided any full-bandwidth sites and only viewed mobile versions of news sites and such. Most apps are, by nature, adapted for low bandwidth, so I was able to check Twitter, Facebook, my website stats, and read/post email without any problems. The signal has a tendency to drop out often, so IM clients rarely worked. Finding my location in the Maps app occasionally worked, but it was a slow process.

I found myself buying a new 20,000 kip ($2.50) card approximately every other day.

Even with these precautions, I found myself buying a new 20,000 kip ($2.50) card approximately every other day, so it cost me about $30 a month overall. Internet access at cafes varied widely in cost, with the average being around 10,000 kip per hour and the highest clocking in at 30,000 per hour. Wifi was rarely available and free wifi at a cafe or hotel nearly nonexistent (unless you’re staying at a fairly fancy hotel).

Though slow and relatively expensive, being able to access my email, tweets, and Facebook without searching for an internet cafe was very convenient.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Neale October 7, 2010 at 12:11 pm

Good to know, this is one of my planned destinations over the next few months whilst renewing my Thai visa.. One thing that I have found “even though it is simple” Is that those (fairly fancy hotel’s resorts) are more than happy to let you use that WiFi for the price of a drink or two… I had an emergency in Penang and could not get good bandwidth, ended up using this place http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?pid=1803179&l=6a177c1e7d&id=1518284279
for about 2-3 hrs each day they had no problem at all with it..

Also having an iPhone allows you to walk around and find WiFi “an app that beeps when it finds a signal would be good “must exist”
.-= Neale´s last blog ..4 Months and all is looking well =-.

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wes October 9, 2010 at 8:32 am

Ooh, when you find a ‘wifi sniffer’ app, please let me know — that would be extremely handy.

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Pirate63 October 7, 2010 at 3:14 pm

Great tip Wes,what’s the wifi like in Thailand?

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wes October 9, 2010 at 8:31 am

Wifi in Thailand is plentiful and fast — you shouldn’t any troubles. Easy to find at a cafe/bar and most hotels/hostels have a decent pipeline as well…

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Garrett October 7, 2010 at 7:43 pm

How about dropping in a Skype app and calling home via wifi connection?

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wes October 7, 2010 at 10:35 pm

I did manage to use Skype from some of the larger cities — Luang Prabang, Vientiane, etc. In many of the smaller towns, the signal was so spotty that it dropped calls too much to really use or was nearly inaudible.

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ayngelina October 7, 2010 at 8:31 pm

Ouch that is crazy expensive for the travel world.
.-= ayngelina´s last blog ..The best damn vegetarian I’ve ever eaten =-.

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Christy - Ordinary Traveler October 8, 2010 at 1:52 am

We noticed a few hotels offering free wifi in Vang Vieng. Although, it was much easier to find internet in Luang Prabang. Most of the restaurants and bars have it. I can imagine it’s hard to come by in the remote areas you have been visiting.
.-= Christy – Ordinary Traveler´s last blog ..An Island Fit For Kings – Koh Phangan 9 =-.

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wes October 9, 2010 at 8:30 am

Yeah, I should have mentioned that — Vang Vieng had several spots with free wifi. The only downside was the constant Friends/Family Guy background noise. Babylon Cafe was my favorite spot.

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Stuart October 10, 2010 at 8:39 am

Did you try the Ah Lo 3G service from Lao Telecom – gets a pretty good report here:
http://newdigate.me/2010/03/mobile-internet-se-asia/

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wes October 10, 2010 at 9:03 am

Ah, I saw the signs around but never gave that one a try. It *does* sound good. I’ll have to give it a shot next time ;)

Thanks for the tip!

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Jade November 3, 2010 at 6:56 pm

I have tigo on an iPhone right now. Internet works fine but as soon as I tried to tether it, my tethering option totally disappeared. Does tigo block tethering? I can’t get tetherme because it appears cydia is also blocked :(

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wes November 4, 2010 at 9:15 am

I think Tigo is blocked and I never found a way to enable tethering on it. The cost per byte is so high (and speed so slow), though, that I don’t think you’d want to tether anyways — you’d burn through your minutes like crazy loading normal web pages on a laptop…

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honcheng December 18, 2010 at 4:56 pm

has anyone tried this?
http://www.lao-mbinfo.wapka.mobi/site_204.html
supposed to have 7 days unlimited with Tigo, but the website doesn’t look official. can’t find any info elsewhere to verify

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wes December 19, 2010 at 3:49 pm

I hadn’t seen that. To be honest, Tigo in Laos is so slow that ‘unlimited’ doesn’t really mean much — you could leave something running all day and you’d only get a few megabytes in the end.

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Vieng July 17, 2012 at 9:46 am

Thank you very much for choosing Laos as the your tourism place
We always welcome,
And now Telecommunication is pretty good
We are developing

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