Reporters Without Borders ranks Thailand 142 out of the 180 countries that it monitors on its 2017 World Press Freedom Index. A military dictatorship governs the country. It is progressively beefing up the country’s laws to control the population. The government restricts online activities as part of this. It revised the Computer-Related Crime Act in 2016 to increase its powers of control over internet access and allow the authorities more opportunities for surveillance.
Quick Links to our 5 best VPNs for Thailand
The government restricted access to the web in Thailand before the military coup in 2006. However, those site bans focused mostly on websites that contained pornography. The country has always had controls on the press, to prevent criticism of the monarch. However, since a second military coup in 2014, the governing junta has gradually expanded those press regulations to include criticism of its own actions. It has also extended the sanctions to online news outlets, bloggers, Facebook posts, and even the contents of live chat comments.
Voice Chat in Thailand
In short, if you live in Thailand, or even if you are visiting, you’d better be careful about what you write online. You need to protect any text, video, or voice chat systems that you use from surveillance. The Thai authorities can also tap and record mobile phones in Thailand. As such, using a protected Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) connection for calls will provide you with a lot more security than a local SIM.
The most popular voice chat system in Thailand is the smartphone app Line. This has 33 million Thai users. Be wary of relying on the security features of this app, though – the Thai government claims it can crack it. Whichever VoIP or chat system you use, make sure you add privacy and security measures to your connections.
Streaming Sites in Thailand
Foreign media streaming sites aren’t blocked by the Thai authorities. These streaming services are impossible to get into from Thailand, however, because of regional restrictions that the sites themselves operate. Although you can access your Netflix account, you’ll only be able to select from the locally-authorized entertainment library. This cuts out a large swathe of shows and films that you would be able to watch were you in Europe of North America.
The best solution to sidestepping the internet restrictions and surveillance of the Thai government is to install a Virtual Private Network (VPN). This is a privacy measure that encrypts all of your communications. It also masks the true destination of your connections as they pass through the servers of your local Internet Service Provider (ISP). The VPN also masks the origin of a request for service, so streaming servers can be fooled into thinking you’re in their country. This dodges regional restrictions.
VPN Blocks in Thailand
Unfortunately, not all VPNs work in Thailand. A study carried out by the Open Observatory of Network Interference discovered that the Thai authorities block VPN websites. The researchers didn’t test connections to every VPN website in the world. However, they did test connections to hotspotshield. com, anonymous.org, and ultasurf.net. All of these addresses were blocked.
You could take out a subscription to a VPN before arriving in Thailand. However, as the web addresses of these tested sites are blocked, you would find it difficult to contact the customer support teams of these services over the web or via email.
Accounting for the blocks on VPN websites, we have researched services that not only protect your data and mask the destinations of your connections, but also manage to hide the telltale signs of VPN traffic and slip through ISP filters. Website blocks are not consistent throughout Thailand. You can read more about how the country implements its internet controls below. First, why not take a look at our list of the five best VPNs for Thailand?
Best VPNs for Thailand: Summary
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- 30-day money-back guarantee
- Strong security measures
- Fast speeds
- No logs
- Private DNS servers
- Quite expensive
ExpressVPN ticks all the boxes. The company has a server in Thailand, which would be the closest location to you when you want to protect your VoIP traffic. The company is based in the British Virgin Islands and is not susceptible to pressure by the Thai authorities. The VPN servers keep no logs of customer activities once a session has ended, so you don't have to worry about ExpressVPN giving your activities away.
The company offers very fast connection speeds, which are necessary for streaming and international VoIP calls. The server network of ExpressVPN includes locations in 94 countries, which means that it is likely to have a server in the country that you want to access entertainment from. This VPN can get through the Great Firewall of China and can get into Netflix in the US and the UK. As such, you should have no problems with using this self-installing VPN while in Thailand. If you do run into difficulties, the help desk is available 24/7 by live chat to guide you through technical problems.
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- Three-day free trial
- Servers in more than 70 countries, including Thailand
- Private DNS system
- Proprietary cloaking technology
- Gets into Netflix
- Basic plan has weak encryption
VyprVPN has its own proprietary cloaking method, called Chameleon, that defeats the detections systems of both China and Netflix. The company has servers in more than 70 countries, and is very good at getting into streaming services in all of them. There is a server in Thailand and also in the neighboring countries of Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Macau, and Hong Kong. The company runs its own DNS system that is exclusively available to VyprVPN customers. Only consider the Premium plan because the basic offer doesn't have very strong encryption and doesn't include Chameleon.
- One-day free trial
- Based in Malaysia
- Evades detection
- Stealth servers
- No activity logs
- Servers in only 13 countries
- Only three simultaneous connections allowed
BolehVPN is based in Malaysia, right next door to Thailand. The entire network of this company only covers 13 countries - the US, Canada, the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, Japan, Malaysia, and Singapore. The small server network is likely to be the one factor that puts you off subscribing to this service. However, this VPN can get through the Great Firewall of China, so it will also provide good protection in Thailand. The company keeps no activity logs and has strong security, so it can keep you safe from prosecution.
- 30-day money-back guarantee
- Servers in more than 210 countries, including Thailand
- No logs
- High speeds
- Strong security
- Only allows two simultaneous connections
HideMyAss has a huge server network, with a presence in 210 countries. There are two servers in Thailand. The neighboring countries of Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar, Malaysia, and Singapore also host HideMyAss servers. Like all of the other VPNs on our list, this service can slip through the detection systems of China and Netflix. The company keeps no logs, offers high speeds, and has strong security, so you'll be able to stay safe in Thailand thanks to this provider.
- Seven-day money-back guarantee
- Three-day trial option
- Servers in 141 countries, including Thailand
- Allowance of five simultaneous connections
- No logs
- Some server locations slow connections
PureVPN is based in Asia - Hong Kong, to be precise. The service was created to help customers in China. It has since also been successful at protecting customers in many other countries, including Thailand. The server network is very large, with locations in 141 countries. The list includes servers in Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar, Malaysia, and Singapore. There are apps for Windows, Mac OS X, iOS, and Android devices and the service can also be loaded onto routers, set-top boxes, and game consoles. The VPN is also available as a browser extension for Chrome and Firefox. This VPN provider does not keep logs and thus will protect your activities while you are in Thailand. The service can get through the Great Firewall of China and evades detection by the Netflix servers.
Thai Website Blocks
Researchers working on the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) study discovered that website blocks are implemented through domain name servers. These servers implement the Domain Name System (DNS), which translates URLs – the web addresses that you see in your browser – into IP address. Routers need these in order to pass messages across the internet.
Before a web browser can request a page from a server, it needs to translate the URL into an IP address. By default, ISPs manage the DNS servers that browsers use. The government of Thailand has tasked ISPs with blocking access to blacklisted sites. There are a number of core sites, that all ISPs are told to block. However, the entire blacklist is not centrally managed. Instead, ISPs are given parameters of content and keywords to search for. They then compile their own lists of banned sites.
This explains the OONI team’s discovery that not all banned sites are blocked everywhere in Thailand. You may not be able to get into the New York Times in one part of the country, while getting access to it from elsewhere in Thailand.
The original draft 2016 Computer-Related Crime Act included plans to centralize all internet gateway activities in a central government agency. Owing to pressure group protests and international scrutiny, however, the government dropped those plans before the law passed. This suggests that there is no central control of internet access in the country. However, whistleblowers, leaked emails and hacktivist snooping have revealed that the Thai government has invested in surveillance and filtering software.
Remote Control System
The Royal Thai Police and the Royal Thai Army both bought surveillance software called Remote Control System in 2014. This software was chosen because its makers assured Thailand’s National Security Council that it could monitor contents of traffic generated by Line, WeChat, and WhatsApp. The software is also able to monitor all traffic of a specified individual and collect data from individual private computers.
The Thai government has the capability to hijack all security certificates used in the country. Combined with DNS hijacking, this gives it the ability to designate encryption keys that enable it to read all supposedly secure communications. ISPs are also able to divert traffic intended to be protected by HTTPS to use the insecure HTTP instead. The Information and Communication Technology Ministry also create the Cyber Scout program. This employs students as human web monitors. Cyber Scouts read through the comments sections on websites and trawl through social media feeds to identify and report seditious comments.
The use of the DNS server as the first point of corruption shows the need for a system that bypasses the ISP default DNS settings. The VPNs in our list all provide their own DNS servers to their customers. Thus the VPN defeats DNS path to block web access, divert HTTPS to HTTP, or insinuate fake security encryption keys.
If you can’t put up with Thai TV and want to watch Western entertainment, you have to deal with blocks imposed by streaming services. These blocks are there to prevent cross-border access.
Streaming services are under the same contractual obligations as TV stations. They buy the right to show a series or movie in a particular country. TV stations can easily restrict distribution by limiting the signal footprints of their transmitters, or by limiting delivery by cable to addresses within their country of operation.
Web-based streaming services have a much harder job when trying to restrict access. Universally, these services have decided to allow everyone from all over the world to get into their sites and browse their libraries. This is a form of publicity and doesn’t breach contractual obligations. Controls kick in when a visitor tries to play a video. Streaming services block video requests that originate overseas. Every message that crosses the internet has a source and destination address on it. These addresses can be traced to a specific location. All a streaming server needs to do is reference the source address of a request in order to block international access.
These blocks are called “regional restrictions.” A VPN can bypass regional restrictions because it places its own address as the source of each request. The VPN client interface that runs on your computer requires you to select a server location before you turn the VPN on. Select a server in the same country as the streaming service that you want to get into, and it should allow you to watch. That’s because the streaming server will think it’s communicating with a computer in its own country.
Unfortunately, the operators of streaming services know that people use VPNs to defeat regional restrictions. They have installed software that inspects the structure of all requests and derives evidence of VPN activity. This enables them to block VPN traffic. Most VPN companies realize that defeating regional restrictions will win them a lot of customers. However, streaming services constantly refine their VPN detection processes, making getting around regional restrictions a complicated and expensive task for VPNs. Thus many VPN companies don’t bother investing in stealth methods. That means not all VPNs can get you into foreign video services when you’re in Thailand.
Netflix is a special case. If you have a subscription in one country, you have the right to watch the service wherever you are in the world. The server detects your location and redirects your access request to the version of Netflix for the country you’re in, not the country that you were in when you set up the account. Therefore, if you can use a VPN to make it look like you are in the US, Canada, or the UK, you get to access the library for that country and not that for Thailand, where you have a subscription.
This architecture makes Netflix uniquely vulnerable to VPN-assisted cross-border access. As such, the company has invested more in VPN detection measures that any other streaming service. In our investigations to compile our list of the best VPNs for Thailand, we focused on whether a VPN could get into Netflix rather than any other streaming service. Basically, if a VPN can get you into Netflix, it can get you into any streaming service you want.
Journalists frequently remark that Thai government is building the Great Firewall of Thailand. The Thai authorities seem to wish to emulate the thorough scrutiny that the Chinese government imposes on internet traffic. Getting through the Great Firewall of China is one of the goals of top quality VPNs – equal to the goal of getting into Netflix. All of the VPNs on our list are consistently successful at evading detection by the Chinese authorities. They thus work well in Thailand as well.
These VPNs all provide their own DNS servers and encrypt DNS requests from their customers’ browsers. Above all, these VPNs have uncrackable encryption and privacy procedures. These add an extra layer of security to enable you to unblocked banned websites and protect your voice, video, and text conversations online.
The Thai government is increasingly going to extreme lengths to control and monitor web access. Push back with a VPN.
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