Buying a Unitel Sim Card in Luang Prabang is easy peasy. Pretty much every shop in town stocks them. The Unitel 3G Cell Carrier is the biggest provider in Laos, so look for the sign that says "Unitel" ask for a sim card and away you go.
However, not all shops will be able to sell you a Unitel Sim Card that fits your iPhone 4 model. The iPhone 4 takes the micro sims. So you may have to go to a mobile phone shop to get one cut for you. They just use a sim card cutter. Kind of like a hole puncher but for sim cards. Dara Market in the city centre, found easily on a map, has mobile phone shops that will be able to supply you with a micro sim punched sim card.
Ok, you have your Unitel Sim Card. Congratulations. You have a Laos mobile phone number. This is where it gets annoying. Unless your mobile phone shop guy (or girl) can speak great English and is willing to help you out. You will need to set up your phone to use 3G Data yourself.
To enable 3G on your phone to access FaceBook or Twitter or your email or Google Maps... Oh yes, being able to work out exactly where you are on Google Maps is awesome... you first need to purchase a 3G package.
As of April 2012, Unitel's 3G Packages are... The "M--" are the 3G Package names -
MI0 – pay per use
MI5 – 5,000 kip/day, receive a free 50mb per day
MI15 – 15,000 kip/month, receive a free 100mb per month
MI40 – 40,000 kip/month, receive a free 500mb per month
MI150 – 150,000 kip/month, receive a free 2GB per month
To check the most up to date 3G Data Package Prices check out Unitel's website.
So, you need to choose exactly how much 3G Data you think you would use in your time in Laos. For us, we just went for the "MI150 - 150,000 Kip for 2GB of Data".
The cost works out to be about $18 USD for the month. Not entirely cheap but you do get 2GB of 3G Data to use in a one month period and well, we were going to be heading out into the possible nether lands of Laos and wanted to know that we could use the 3G on our iPhone if we needed to.
The next step after choosing what 3G Package you require is to put that amount of credit on to your phone's sim card. Buy the amount of credit, in our case 150,000 Kip worth, take all the scratchy cards they give you, and then input each amount by following the instructions on the scratch card.
Your Unitel Sim Card is now full of credit.
The next thing you do is send the package name of the 3G Package to Unitel... they will then add that 3G Package to your phone number:
Open Up a Text then Send: "MI150" in the message body TO receiver "209" (without the quotes)
You will receive a message back approving the 3G Package on your phone.
Congratulations.... But there is more to do yet.
You need to rejig your 3G Data settings on your phone. On the iPhone, follow as below:
Go to Settings > General > Network > Cellular Data, and input ‘unitel3g’ on the APN field.
If you want to enable personal hotspot, (which we recommend) make sure you do the same with ‘Tethering’.
And there you go, you have a local Laos cell phone number as well as 3G Data.