Sunday, June 20, 2010

Review Of Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, Thailand

A Good Traveling Experience at Suvarnabhumi Airport Depends on If You're Traveling International or Domestic I live in Bangkok, Tha... thumbnail 1 summary

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A Good Traveling Experience at Suvarnabhumi Airport Depends on If You're Traveling International or Domestic
I live in Bangkok, Thailand so am a frequent traveler out of Suvarnabhumi Airport. Suvarnabhumi Airport has only been open for a couple of years and, during that time, has had a lot of problems. A late initial opening
date was followed by computer problems at check-in desks, bad signage so travelers were confused, huge lines at immigration, not enough toilets being built, and finally a takeover of the airport by protestors against the government that put the airport out of commission for more than two weeks. Since it opened however, I've actually enjoyed traveling out of Suvarnabhumi Airport as I was traveling on international flights. That all changed last week, when I took a domestic flight. For international flights, Suvarnabhumi is an excellent airport. For domestic flights, it's one of the worst airports I've ever flown out of and this review explains why.

Design of Suvarnabhumi Airport - The actual design and architecture of the airport is beautiful. It's all steel and glass with absolutely enormous ceilings, a vast open feeling to every space and, at night, when it's all lit up in purples and blues, it looks gorgeous as you come in for a landing.

Traveling on International Flights - If you travel on an international flight from Suvarnabhumi, you're likely to be quite pleased. Overall, check-in is quick, immigration now moves fast and the international departures area is lovely. It has one of the largest international departure shopping areas I've ever seen at an airport. There are over 100 shops, restaurants and cafes selling everything from Thai silks to handicrafts, toys to books, perfumes to jewelry and much more. There are many choices for restaurants and cafes, and their prices are not much more expensive than in Bangkok itself. When I travel on international flights out of Suvarnabhumi, I always make sure I allow myself extra time to check out all the stores and get a good meal.
Traveling on Domestic Flights - I took my first domestic flight out of Suvarnabhumi Airport last week and couldn't have been more disappointed. I flew Air Asia, which is notorious for late departure times and problem
check-ins, so this flight was no exception. When I arrived at the airport, the check-in lines were huge and, after standing in line for more than 20 minutes I was asked to move to another line, where the wait ended up being even longer. My flight was at 6:30am, so I had had to leave my apartment at 4am to be able to check-in on time. So, by the time we walked through into the domestic departures area, I was dying for a cup of coffee.

The walk to our gate from check-in was like being in a long-distance race. We walked for 15 minutes before we got anywhere near the gate and, during that time, didn't see one shop, restaurant or coffee shop anywhere in the domestic departures area. As international departures has many choices of restaurant and cafes, I'd expected the domestic area to be the same. Imagine my surprise when we got to our gate to find absolutely nowhere to even get a cup of coffee. We backtracked, and finally found a very small shopping area but, at 6am, nothing was open. Another two or three minute walk, and we finally found a large restaurant where I was told we could buy a card (minimum 200 baht) to go inside and buy a latte. As I didn't want the hassle of having to buy a card, get a latte, and then get the price difference refunded from the card purchase, I asked for a 3-in-1 coffee sachet from the front counter instead. Imagine my surprise, when I discovered that the 3-in-1 coffee sachet and paper cup, which would have cost me 15 baht at any 7-11 in Bangkok, was 100 baht at Suvarnabhumi. At this point in time, I will avoid ever buying anything at the domestic terminal at Suvarnabhumi again.

The size of Suvarnabhumi Airport is ridiculous. It takes forever in the domestic terminal to get to gates and, as most of it is walking, it would be very easy to miss a flight. The airport domestic section is huge, boring and with nothing in the way of shops or entertainment. The old airport, Don Muang, was much better for domestic travel and it's a pity the Thai authorities, in all their wisdom, decided to transfer all domestic travel to Suvarnabhumi.

Overall, if you're planning on flying from Bangkok, I highly recommend Suvarnabhumi Airport for international travel. For domestic travel, if you have any other options (bus, taxi, car, motorbike, boat), I would say
take any of them before you fly out of Suvarnabhumi. Check-in takes too long, gates are too far away, getting a cup of coffee is just about impossible, and the waiting area itself is quite uncomfortable. The people who designed the domestic terminal did not have their passengers comfort in mind when the terminal was designed and, if you've traveled anywhere else in Asia, you will be severely disappointed.