Opened to much fanfare in September, 2006, Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport is the main entry point for most visitors to Thailand. It boasts the second largest terminal building in the world and handles almost 48 million travellers a year.
Suvarnabhumi serves all domestic and international flights to Bangkok, with connections to all airports in Thailand and most major regional and global destinations. Limited regional flights also leave Bangkok’s old Don Mueang Airport (north of the city), which provides a much quieter alternative.
Suvarnabhumi International Airport is served by a large number of the world’s major airlines, including Thai Airways, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, United Airlines, Japan Airlines, Singapore Airlines and Emirates, and is a hub for many visitors to Southeast Asia as well as a stop-over point for those continuing on to Australia and New Zealand.
Plenty of flights thus originate in Europe, along with a number of flights either starting or ending in Bangkok that stop in Japan en-route to and from the west coast of the US and Canada. Budget, regional airlines also operate from Suvarnabhumi.
Bangkok’s international airport has one very large passenger terminal, comprising seven levels and seven concourses. Upon entry you will find domestic services to the left and international services to the right. The airport’s entry side features one single open space stretching from level one to the roof. It is fronted by a glass wall giving the entire terminal natural light and a sense of spaciousness, while the check-in level has a vaulted ceiling. The entire complex, with its extended gate ‘arms’, has a distinctive arched steel frame covered in glass tiles, making it one of the world’s most unique and attractive transportation terminals.
Level 1 (basement) houses the transportation lobby; Level 2 is the Arrivals area, with Immigration and Customs, Baggage Claim and transfer services; Level 3 (a mezzanine) contains most passenger facilities and amenities; Level 4 houses the Departures areas; Level 5 is occupied by airport and airlines business offices; Level 6 has restaurants; and Level 7 boasts an observation deck. The seven concourses are labelled A to G, with A and B servicing domestic flights, and C to G handling all international services. A series of elevating walkways and glass lifts connect the various levels.
Food and drinks outlets abound and you’ll find restaurants offering fast-food and Thai specialities, as well as bars that are open round-the-clock. There are many coffee shops, too, along with left luggage, a prayer room, convenience store and pharmacy which are found on the mezzanine floor between Arrivals and Departures. A Thai food court resides on the Departures level (beyond security), between the domestic and international concourses. Duty-free shopping options are fair, while many shops specialise in Thai products and handicrafts, and others offer clothing, gifts, jewellery, and books and magazines.
On arrival at Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport, nationals of most countries will be issued a 30-day tourist visa. It’s best to check visa requirements beforehand to be sure about current rules, however. Baggage Claim is located on the same level, immediately after the immigration point. The Customs area is situated just beyond the baggage carousels, with only spot checks are conducted. During busy times, such as mornings, there can be sizeable queues at immigration, lasting about as long as it takes for the luggage to arrive.
ATMs and currency exchange counters are located throughout the terminal and are open 24 hours – several can easily be spotted upon exiting Arrivals. There is also a (pricey) internet service available, provided by public terminals, and they accept credit cards, phone cards and coins.
Airline representatives hold desks along one lengthy service area fronting Check-in, including a centrally-located information counter. Medical help is also found here, with the main clinic located on Level 1. The majority of airline VIP lounges are found in the terminal’s domestic departures wings. Travel time from the exit of Arrivals to the farthest point of Departures (domestic or international) is about 10 minutes using the trolley-friendly elevating travelators. Walking distance to the farthest gates is about 20 minutes.
Getting to and from Suvarnabhumi International Airport (BKK)
There are a number of convenient options on offer at the airport for transfer to Bangkok and destinations in the surrounding area. Choices include an Airport Rail Link, airport express bus services, public buses, taxis and so-called ‘limousines’. The airport is located about 30kms southeast of the centre of Bangkok, and several major highways and expressways link the airport with routes coming in and out of Bangkok. Taxi travel time is about 40 minutes, but can be considerably longer during rush hour (07:00-09:00 and 15:30-19:00), or in the event of frequent unforeseen jams, particularly in the rainy season (June-October).
After leaving Customs, you will enter the crowded Arrivals Hall and will likely be overwhelmed by the barrage of transport representatives and freelancers offering you special deals on transportation to Bangkok or other destinations using the AOT-sanctioned Airport Limosine Taxi Service, which is incredibly overpriced.
The most convenient and direct transport option are the metered taxis, located outside Arrivals. The queuing point is obvious and there is a 50 baht charge, while a typical journey in to the city inclusive of toll fees is about 400 baht (US$12). This option guarantees you don’t have to haggle over meter use, but some drivers tend to drive dangerously.
The Airport Rail Link (opened in late 2010) is perhaps the best (and fastest) option for getting into town for those without lots of baggage. There are two lines, the Express Line and the City Line. The express departs every 30 minutes and heads for Makkasan station at high speed, non-stop (150 baht), while the City Line runs every 15 minutes and makes many stops (45 baht). Services depart from the basement of the terminal building between 06:00 and midnight, daily.
There is also a reliable and inexpensive service on express and regular public buses that operate from the airport to most of the city’s popular tourist destinations. You’ll need to hop on a shuttle bus at Level 1 first, which will take you to the bus terminal at the airport’s Transport Centre. This service can take up to 90 minutes to reach your destination, though.
Car hire is also an option if you don’t mind trying your hand at driving in Bangkok’s traffic, and is also a suitable option for anyone planning to visit one or more of the provincial areas. Carrentals.com is an efficient online car hire booking engine, having access to all the major car hire companies represented here. Vehicles are driven on the left hand side, but beware, Thailand has a reputation for poor observation of road safety rules.
The Novotel Suvarnabhumi Airport Hotel Bangkok is located within the airport complex, directly across from the passenger terminal, and is connected by a walkway. The hotel features over 600 guest rooms and business and conference facilities and, at present, is the only airport accomodation. You can find other nearby hotels here.
Suvarnabhumi International Airport website: www.suvarnabhumiairport.com.