This afternoon I finally decided I should drive over to the new airport at Suvarnabhumi before it became too late. For the past month, they had been running daily tours of the new airport in preparation for its grand opening at the end of next month. I think the idea was to familiarize people with the new location which covers a much bigger area than the present international airport at Don Muang. Yesterday, I read in the newspaper that today would be the last day for the tours because of security concerns following the failed airplane attacks in the UK. So, I packed my camera and headed out towards Suvarnabhumi Airport.
One of the most exciting prospects for us about the new international airport is that it is located in our backyard in Samut Prakan. The old international airport (funny how I am saying that even though it hasn’t closed down yet) is located north of Bangkok which is the opposite end to us. Now, we didn’t have to pass through the traffic in Bangkok. However, we would have to contend with local traffic. I was curious to see which airport we could reach quicker. The first part of my journey was from Paknam to the Bang-Na Trad Highway. The traffic was slow moving and it took us about 30 minutes to reach Central City Bang Na. However, the highway was much faster going. There has been signs on this road for a year or so now. This was the first time I would follow them. It was quite easy, though at one point an airport sign said turn left and another said go straight on!
It only took about 15 minutes to reach the turning for the airport. This was a relatively new road now and the signs suddenly stopped. At one point there was some road construction and we soon found ourselves on a gravel road. It didn’t look like we were going the correct way any more but we kept going. About five minutes later the road was getting very rough and we decided finally that we were indeed going the wrong way. I slowed down to do a u-turn at an open gate. It was the entrance to the runway. I contemplated whether to drive up the runway and park under the control tower but decided against it. I had heard that cracks had been found on the edge of the runway and I didn’t want to damage my car. So, I did the u-turn and drove back to look for the correct road.
I found it at last. It wasn’t really that difficult as the 132 metre high control tower did stand out quite a bit. We ended up driving up the east side of the runway. This side had a proper wired security fence separating the road from the runway. However, I hope that they will do a better job with security before the airport opens in 30 days. What is stopping someone parking a utility van here and getting out a bazooka? A 747–400 airplane is quite a big target at this distance. The same goes for the control tower and terminal. About an hour after leaving home, we finally reached the bus terminal where the tours were scheduled to begin. Not bad going considering we got lost at one point and that we had to enter the airport at the southern end and the terminal is about 5 kms to the north!
The newspaper had said there were 400 visitors per day. I think they miscalculated. There were thousands. We had to queue up for over an hour just to register. Then another 30 minutes waiting for the shuttle bus. So far we were quite impressed. Partly by the big open spaces, but also by all the new bus routes that had already started running from Bangkok to the airport. We even have our own bus route that passes by my house. Which is obviously great. As we left the bus terminal, our tour guide pointed out the car park for the limousines and taxis. I am not sure what the story is here. At the old terminal you could walk out of departures to the taxi rank or to the private hire cars. If you didn’t want to pay the 50 baht surcharge for taxis, you could even walk down to the main road. But, not here. The arrival lounge is just over 10 minutes away by shuttle bus. And you would have to walk much further to reach the main road. As long as the shuttle bus is free then it shouldn’t be a problem. A bonus is the well organized bus terminal. (The train link probably won’t be finished for another year or so.)
Before we entered the departure lounge, we had to go through security. This involved sniffer dogs, x-rays and body searches. Nothing too serious as I think it was mainly for show. As soon as we entered the building, I told myself that no way would this place be finished in time for an early opening on September 15th. That is the latest date announced for selected domestic flights. There were workmen every where. The sounds of drills and industrial machinery was really loud and it was hard at times to hear our tour guide. The paint and the dust was at times also very overpowering. But, having said all of that, the huge departure lounge with the high ceilings was pretty impressive. The tour guide told us that this main building covered an area of 563,000 square metres. As we walked around we passed some mythical demon giants similar to the ones at the Grand Palace. Also a 48 million baht sculpture depicting demons tugging on the tail of a naga snake (top picture). Now that is a lot of money. I think it could have been put to better use with more subtle displays of Thai arts and crafts around the airport. But, maybe more will come later.
Suvarnabhumi Airport is being rushed to open for 28th September 2006. It has been a long time coming (more than 40 years from conception) and many people cannot understand what all the rush is. Surely a few more months wouldn’t hurt anyone as Don Muang airport is still functioning perfectly. Wouldn’t it be better to wait for the paint to dry or at least wait for the public transport links to the capital to be finished? But no. The common belief is that Thaksin is rushing to have the airport opened before the national elections due in October. Let’s hope that nothing serious will go wrong that will lead to a tragic accident.