Phuket memories

Bus in Patong with some scooters escorting it. Instagram @firepol

Arrival in Phuket: everything fine till we had to organize the transport. The minivan we got was a typical tourist “trap”. It stopped before the destination, to a travel agent. We were about 9 people and 2 were interested in a tour or in a booking. We all had to wait before going on to Phuket. This resulted in arriving late at the guesthouse, the owner was not there and I had to call, with roaming costs (that’s why, buy a local sim card when you arrive in a new country).

I was impressed by the traffic just before and while in Patong. Many vehicles. Too many. I was also impressed by the disgusting smell of sewer in different occasions when walking the main road.

Anyway, some positive things about Patong:

  • many places to find street food / hawker stalls
  • good shopping places (cheaper than anywhere else in Thailand, e.g. some Billabong shorts for 150 baht, elsewhere -Khao Lak, Koh Tao etc.- I saw the same for 450 baht and could not bargain down to 150)
  • many dive centers (but they are more expensive than in Koh Tao)
  • interesting night life: if you like to party, this is the place to be
  • many motorbike rentals (a must to explore the island at a cheap price): be careful and take photos of the vehicle before renting it, some cheasters try to charge tourists for scratches that were already there

Negative points (for me):

  • if you don’t like to party, this place will get on your nerves soon
  • the traffic sucks in general in Phuket, not only in Patong
  • noisy party animals in the hostels / guesthouses. If you are looking for sleep quality, try a hotel!

We stayed in Patong for 6 nights. We escaped from Phuket after (highlight) doing some diving.

Phuket temples. Flickr set @firepol

 

Phuket views. Flickr set @firepol

Good memories:

  • Open Water Diver certification for Nastya (congratulations!)
  • 2 diving daytrips for me
  • Good and cheap street food
  • Nice island tour with a private driver (very expensive -1800 baht- compared to renting a motorbike for about 250 baht/day…)

Escaping Bangkok, heading to Phuket

Bangkok, police block (seen during shuttle transfer to Don Muang airport). Instagram @firepol

During Christmas Eve I saw some news about the protests in Bangkok and thought “oh shit”. Yes, because I initially planned to stay 5 nights in the big city, as the flight I booked was for Bangkok. Luckily, the hotel booking I did was via hrs.de, which often offers a cancelation of the booking with full refund. The deadline to cancel was the end of the year (3 days before arrival). I canceled a few days before, and booked a flight to Phuket. I thought, let’s go to the beaches and nice water instead of staying in the smog and risk some slowdowns because of protests…

…of course, reading the news after my decision, I saw that I missed something. I missed Bangkok. Well, I was there already, with one of my best friends. It was fun. I think I’ll head to Bangkok in the future, if the situation will become stable. For now I keep my itinerary quite flexible.

What to say about Bangkok, not that much besides the fact I did a mistake by not buying a sim card directly at the airport (it would have saved me time and money later during the same day when I arrived at the guest house in Patong and nobody was there for the checkin…).

Besides that, everything worked smoothly, the free shuttle transfer from the main airport to Don Muang was punctual and worked perfectly.

Paolo and Nastya’s adventure in Southeast Asia

I started this blog thinking that I would post some news about my journey with my lovely girlfriend Anastasija (Nastya).

I was partially wrong… the trip started on January 2nd (and will finish on March 26th, 2014) and the only news I posted so far are the “serious” ones. With serious I mean the post about withdrawing money without banking fees abroad, and the post about getting a prepaid sim card with plenty of Internet data in Thailand.

It’s never too late to post some news. So here I am. I will try not to write too much, first because I think that nobody cares to read long posts, second because I have no time to write long essays ;)

So here I am, sitting on a couch in the lobby of Kuala Melaka Inn, Langkawi island, Malaysia, writing my first personal post.

I will write the past news about our trip in Thailand later on.

Mood: relaxed (there is not that much to do, that’s why I am motivated to blog a bit).

Thai Happy Tourist prepaid Sim card

When you land at the airport, I recommend buying directly the dTac Happy Tourist SIM card for 299 Baht. You will get 100 Baht credit for phone calls and sms and 1gb of data at 42 Mbps for 7 days.

I’m using Google maps and when I arrived at the hostel in the night, the lady was not there for the checkin and I had to call with my swiss number and pay a high roaming just for a 1 minute conversation.

Wish I had the dTac sim card already… So if you need connectivity, go for it.
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Important: to activate Internet follow these instructions (you must download the settings and install them in your phone, if asked, the code is 1800 as you may have seen in the messages)

Withdraw money at the airport

When you land in Bangkok, just after the passport control you will be able to withdraw money with your VISA credit card (see my post about the DB credit card: I just got 20’000 Baht and no DKB fees. Only 150 Baht for the ATM).

Don’t lose time as I did, looking for an international bank to avoid the 150 Baht fee. I asked and a guy at the airport told me that there is no ATM without fees, at the airport. In the city you may find the AEON bank or other international banks, but not at the airport.

So, if you need money, just go to the first ATM you find and withdraw 15’000 Baht or 20’000 or entering your custom amount and that’s it.

Update: I kept all the reseeds for all the withdrawals (I took a picture with the phone) and at the end of the trip I sent an e-mail to DKB. DKB refunded me all the ATM fees. The DKB-Cash Visa credit card is just awesome!

Withdraw money abroad without any fees

If you are familiar with credit cards, you know that typically (I would say in the majority of cases) banks will get a commission if you withdraw money abroad (in many cases, even in the same country).

Situation in Switzerland

In Switzerland, even the big banks (UBS for example) doesn’t let you withdraw money for free (see  UBS Maestro Card prices: they charge 1% commission for withdrawal, see also UBS Credit Card prices: they charge 3.5% commission for withdrawal, 4% if you go over-the-counter).

Same for the popular free credit cards Visa or Mastercard SupercardPlus (from COOP, issued by Credit Suisse) and Visa or Mastercard Cumulus (from Migros – previously GE Money Bank, now issued by Cembra bank). For every withdrawal the user will have to pay 3.75% commission (minimum 10 CHF) + 1.5% surcharge for foreign currency use.

For example, if you withdraw 1’000 CHF abroad (I used CHF for my convenience, for easier calculations. Say you need the equivalent in Thai Baht), the commission would be 37.5 CHF + 15 CHF because of the transaction in foreign currency. In total you would lose 52.5 CHF in commissions. Of course you don’t withdraw so much money, but just divide per 2 (500 CHF: 27 CHF commission) or do the math yourself, for smaller amounts. This is quite ridiculous.

Best way to withdraw money without any commission

Luckily, I found a good and FREE alternative to solve the money problem when traveling: the DKB credit card (issued by Deutsche Kreditbank, Berlin, Germany – but you can open an account per post, even in Switzerland and other countries) is the only one I’ve found so far that lets you withdraw money without any commission. I was a bit skeptical, how can this be possible? Well, I don’t know the reasons (I speculated below, see my note about futurism) but it works!

DKB credit card

Just follow this rule: use the credit card to withdraw money from an ATM. For all  other uses check their prices and conditions. E.g. I’ve read that if you go inside a bank and interact with a person, then you have to pay a commission. So don’t do that, just use an ATM.

When I order something online, if I pay in Euro, there is no commission. I’ve tested this already when I booked my flight (via airline direct) and when I booked my hotel (via HRS).

UPDATE 2019: I have this card since July 2013 and used it abroad many many times. If you have the Aktivkunde status, you can withdraw money and use the credit card in foreign currencies than euro without fees.

Aktivkunde?

For the first year from the moment they open a relationship with you, you will have the Aktivkunde status for free. After that, you need to make sure to deposit at least 700 euro each month. You can deposit them and withdraw them one day later. If you lost the Aktivkunde status, the only way to get it back is to do such deposits for at least 3 months. I lost the Aktivkunde status and tried to ask if it would be possible to get it back faster, they answered me that it’s not possible, I can back it back only after 3 months of moving 700 € back and forth from one account to DKB and back, how stupid is that if you ask me…

Without Aktivkunde status, if you withdraw money from ATMs you will be charged 1.75% fees. If you use the credit card outside the Euro zone, the transaction will be also be subject to 1.75% fees.

So, if you lost your Aktivkunde status and realized it just before your next trip abroad, in a few words, you are screwed.

If that happens I suggest you to order a Revolut credit card, at least with Revolut you won’t be charged a cent for using it in a “different currency”, the card is made for making it easier to use it with any currency in the world. The only downside is that you can withdraw only 200 € / month, after that every withdrawal will be subject to 2% fees. You can upgrade the card, but then you will pay a monthly fee. Get Revolut via my referral link.

Since I like free credit cards that allow you to withdraw also a bit of money for free, I can recommend you a to get TransferWise via my referral link.

How to get this card?

Simple, go to the DKB website website and fill the forms. It will take 5 – 10 minutes of your time. You will receive a confirmation email and to verify your identity online you can just follow the link from a tablet, phone or computer equipped with webcam. Then DKB will proceed and open a relationship with you, or reject it.

After a week and a few days, you will receive in 3 separate letters containing 1) the credit card, 2) the credit card pin code and 3) the e-banking password.

DKB e-banking security

You can login to the DKB e-banking with your username (Anmeldename) and a password (PIN). What I don’t like, is that the PIN code can be only 5 characters long and contain a few special characters. On the other hand, the username can be between 7 and 15 characters long and it can contain more special characters. Both username and PIN can be changed under Service > iTAN-Verwaltung und weitere Funktionen, this is quite handy.

Anyway, on my opinion, the username should be short and easy, the password long and complex. I wonder why they decided the opposite way.

For extra security, like any decent bank, there is 2FA (2 factor authentication) required each time you want to create a transaction.

The e-banking will automatically log you out after 2 minutes of inactivity.

DKB e-banking reports

With reports I mean seeing your transactions. It’s quite important to check regularly your transactions. This way you can report eventual abuses.

I withrdrawed some money on Wednesday at 09:00. I could see the transaction only 2 days later (Friday at 09:00). This is a bit slow, but probably this is how credit cards work. Just keep it in mind.

What do other people think about DKB and this card

Have a look at these reviews (only in German, but I guess you know google translate, don’t you?):

Puketastic.com: Im Ausland (kostenlos) Geld abheben – meine Erfahrung mit dem DKB Konto

Kritische-anleger.de: DKB Erfahrungen - seems that almost 50% are not happy with DKB, ready why.

DKB-Kreditkarte: Ein kritischer Blick - this traveling blogger was totally happy with the DKB credit card (for the reasons I mentioned above: you can withdraw money for free), till the card was “stolen” -after a successful withdrawal of money if was not given back- by an ATM in Cuba, it was illegally used for a couple of thousands USD and the girl didn’t get her money back, when normally a serious credit card institute has a sort of insurance for this kind of cases (for example, with UBS, in my past, I reported a card misuse and they refunded me when I reported the case). Cuba, anyway, is a particular case. Many tourist guides warn to be careful with ATMs in Cuba and suggest even not to use those ATMs. The blogger was unlucky and DKB was not really helpful with her case. In general -I think- when your card is stolen or misused you can be lucky or unlucky.

What are your experiences with the DKB credit card? You are welcome to comment about it.

Disclaimer

I am not affiliated with DKB, nor I got a commission for this article. I just believe that money, in general, should not be subject to any commissions. Banks earn already a lot of money: it’s ridiculous that the consumers must pay extra commissions just for getting cash from an ATM or using a credit card in a shop. Thus I’m happy to share with you this discovery. Enjoy.

Drink coffee in a sustainable way

This blog is not only about traveling. Well, unless you have an open mind and you let your thoughts travel around, also when you actually are at home…

So, I wanna share with you my ideas for a better world, thus I have to share this fantastic idea of a coffee machine based not on pads, or recyclable capsules. No, this is so much better: a coffee machine where you insert the pure and fresh coffee beans. The machine will do the coffee directly from those.

The project was successfully founded on kickstarter. See World’s first roast-grind-brew coffee machine

The company/start up producing this coffee machine is called Bonaverde and is based in Germany.

If you wanna support them, or secure your coffee machine already, check the Bonaverde project on indiegogo.

As the project was just founded a few days ago, the coffee machine production has just started and you’ll need to wait a few months, before it will be available to the market, but I guess it’s worth to wait for it, if you like the idea.