The siege at Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang Airports is now over and Thailand is again open for business. Tourism is the main source of income for the country and it is very important for them to get their house in order and to re-open their gateway to the world. I was over at Suvarnabhumi International Airport this morning for the official opening ceremony. As we all know, the PAD had incredibly forced the closure of the airport for an unprecedented eight days. Now the doors have been opened again and stranded foreign tourists were able to leave for home. As they entered the airport this morning, they were greeted with Thai girls in traditional Thai costumes together with dance and puppet shows.
Transport Minister Santi Promphat together with officials from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) held a press conference to confirm Suvarnabhumi’s readiness. They told the media that every inch of the airport had been checked and that they had received the appropriate certification to allow them to operate. They even said that Homeland Security from America had given them the stamp of approval. Which is strange, as I didn’t notice any extra security when I drove towards the airport. At one point they had set up cones on the road so that we had to slow down and do a little zig-zag. But only a lone security guard sitting on a chair. At the car park, I had to drive the car over a raised ramp which is where they check the bottom of the car for bombs. But, all of their computer equipment was covered up. They didn’t even check the trunk.
During the airport siege, an estimated 300,000 tourists were left stranded in Thailand. Some managed to reach home via other international airports in the provinces such as the ones at U-Tapao and Phuket. But, there is still a backlog of tourists waiting to leave. Now that the airports in Bangkok are ready, they can now leave from here. According to a press release from Thai Airways, they had 47 international outbound flights and 4 international inbound flights scheduled for today. Passengers arriving at the airport were treated to Thai hospitality. In this picture, Miss Thailand 2008 is bidding farewell to a foreign tourist. She also gave out free vouchers from the Ministry of Culture. These said “Please keep this ticket for free admission to the museums and historical parks for your next visit”. I have one of these vouchers and I will let you know later if they actually honour it.
Waiting passengers were also entertained with dancing and puppet shows. In this picture, you can see the famous Joe Louis Puppet Theatre performing for the tourists waiting to go home. In-between performances, they wandered around the airport so that the tourists could more easily take pictures and also to pose with the colouful puppets. In addition to the shows, the foreign tourists were also given free food and drinks and also a Thailand calendar. Many of the people I spoke to said that they appreciated the warm hospitality of the Thai people and that they would definitely come back again. Though, they also added, that they were happy to be finally on their way home. Latest reports suggest it might take another week to clear the backlog of stranded tourists.
Down on the arrivals lounge, Mrs. Phornsiri Manoharn, the Governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) was on hand to personally welcome the first official flights to arrive in Thailand this morning. She did this with little fanfare and hardly any media watching her. She genuinely wanted to welcome the tourists to Thailand. As they arrived, they were each given a jasmine garland and a calendar. On our ThailandQA Forums, people keep asking if it is safe to travel to Thailand now. Well, apart from a few scary incidents, foreign tourists were never really in any danger. The bombs that went off in Bangkok were mainly done as scare tactics and only exploded in the early hours of the morning near the protest sites. At the moment, everything has clamed down and Thailand is as safe as ever. However, it would be sensible to follow the news on our forums where we post all the latest updates 24/7.
I have posted more pictures of the opening ceremony at the airport over at ThailandQA.com.