The Thai authorities wanted to sell Suvarnabhumi (pronounced su-wan-na-poom) Airport as Asia’s new international hub and gateway to the region. They wanted to make an impression and they succeeded, despite over-running and a few difficulties. Located 25km east of Bangkok, Suvarnabhumi, from an old Sanskrit word meaning ‘Golden Land’, is grand. It’s not the biggest nor will it be the busiest airport in the world but it is a grand gesture from a country keen to be a serious global player in the transport sector.
It boasts the tallest control tower and the biggest single terminal in the world. Maximum capacity runs to 45 million passengers a year – less than Heathrow, with almost 70 million international passengers, but with room to grow. There are plans for a further two runways and another terminal which, combined, would take total capacity to around 100 million.
The airport is built on an 8000 acre site formally known as ‘Cobra Swamp’ that took five years of land reclaiming in order to get ready for construction, which finally started in early 2002.
So what’s it like?
The architects (Murphy/Jahn) have really created a great atmosphere with Suvarnabhumi and you get a great feeling of openness and space the moment you enter. It’s light, spacious and feels relaxing; a breath of fresh air compared to the previous airport interntational airport, Don Muang. It’s definitely conducive to a calming travel experience.
On entering the airport it’s worth a look around and upwards. The structure is a maze of steel and glass, and enormous concrete pillars.
One point worth mentioning is the arrivals areas. They are smaller than I imagined given the amount of people coming through the arrivals gates at any one time and the amount of family and friends that usually gather.
Getting There and Away
Of interest to inhabitants of Khao San Road will be transport to and from Suvarnabhumi. Fast forward five or more years and the options will be plentiful; high speed underground train, specialised bus links etc. But for now the options are limited.
Leaving aside the expensive limousine service and transport provided by/for first class hotels there are two options at present; bus and taxi. The former being convoluted and the latter being pricey.
Getting the taxi from the airport is clearly cheaper than getting to the airport. Having checked with several taxi drivers at the airport the cost breaks down thus: 50 baht service charge (rumoured to be increased to 100 baht soon), about 65 baht expressway fees and between 300 and 400 baht on the meter, depending on time of day and traffic.
Basically they’re talking 500 baht all in. Traffic permitting it should be possible to do the journey to KSR in less than an hour There’s been some confusion concerning the amount of taxis licensed to enter the airport. Originally they were greatly limited but now the authorities have increased the number of licenses. They’ve also added a restriction on the age of taxis so only reasonably new taxis will be operating out of the airport; up to five years old is the figure being touted.
When I checked with the taxi drivers in KSR it was a different story. They are refusing to use the meter and asking 700 baht plus the expressway charge, and presumably a tip on top. Basically it’s going to cost you for around 800 baht. It might be better trying for a taxi off KSR, there’s more chance of the meter being used then.
I asked around a few travel agents and it seems that no one is offering any kind of airport bus from KSR yet, but it’s surely only a matter of time before someone sets this up. It might be worth asking around all the same as I didn’t go to every one in the area and there might some enterprising guy already on the case.
A cheaper option is the bus. The BMTA say that the best way from KSR is to get the number 503 air-con from Rajdamnern Avenue to Victory Monument and then take the 551 air-con to the airport. Total cost for this option is less than 70 baht (just the bus fee).
Route details are below:
Public Bus Service to Bangkok and area
Bus Number 549 – Suvarnabhumi – Minburi
Bus Number 550 – Suvarnabhumi – Happy Land
Bus Number 551 – Suvarnabhumi – Victory Monument (Expressway)
Bus Number 552 – Suvarnabhumi – On Nut BTS station
Bus Number 553 – Suvarnabhumi – Samut Prakan
Bus Number 554 – Suvarnabhumi – Don Muang Airport (Expressway)
Public Bus Service to other provinces
Bus Number 389 – Suvarnabhumi – Pattaya
Bus Number 390 – Suvarnabhumi – Talad Rong Kluea
Bus Number 825 – Suvarnabhumi – NongKhai
Buses aren’t allowed to the passenger terminal, they drop you at the Public Transportation Centre and there’s a free shuttle bus which will drop you outside the airport, and make the return journey on arrival. The airport is well signed so finding the bus pick-up/drop off point isn’t difficult.
Whilst the bus is pleasantly cheap it does have the disadvantage of taking a lot longer, being much more inconvenient and a real pain, especially if you have a lot of luggage to carry.
There is also the option of a combo of bus and taxi. Take a bus down to Sukhumvit, perhaps the no.11 air-con, and then grab a taxi. This might work out a hundred baht or so cheaper. Then there is cab sharing. If you find a few other guys heading out to the airport pitch in together and lessen the cost.
Try to avoid the ‘hey, what’s 800 baht in dollars/pounds/euros/shekels etc anyway’ attitude. These guys are taking advantage pure and simple and giving in to them hurts locals as well as other travellers. Once they set a figure as a norm then it sticks and everyone has to pay the price.
If, on arrival, you’re feeling particularly flush you could opt for the limousine service operated by Airports of Thailand. They have nearly 400 cars operating 24/7 from the limousine pick up area on the arrivals level.
Another expense worth mentioning is departure tax. At present it is 700 baht.
In a few years time the high speed underground train will link the airport to the existing sky train and underground networks making travel to and from the airport considerably easier and cheaper. But until then, unless you’re lucky enough to have someone meet you or take you, it’s the options listed above.
Suvarnabhumi definitely makes entering and leaving Thailand a pleasurable experience.