Category Archives: Suvarnabhumi Airport

Twelve Giants at the Airport

At the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, you will find six pairs of giant demons that stand guard at each of the entrances. They are facing inwards towards the ubosot as if they were protecting the Emerald Buddha. These giants were built during the reign of King Rama III and each represent an important character in the Ramakian story. When the new Suvarnabhumi Airport was built a few years ago, they also decided to have their own giants. Twelve of them, measuring six meters high and each wearing more than ton were built at a cost of 30 million baht. They were put in the arrival lounge on the 2nd floor.

On November 9th, Airports of Thailand President Serirat Prasutanond presided over a Brahman ceremony to move the twelve giant demons to a new location. Serirat told the press that passengers often overlooked these giants and that it was decided that they should be moved up to the check-in area on the fourth floor where they would be more appreciated. Also, the area, behind check-in counters D-R, is more spacious and easier for people to take pictures. He went on to deny that the move had anything to do with the shopkeepers complaining of bad luck that has been plaguing them since the airport was opened in 2006.

The cost of the move would be more than 1.5 million baht and it would take them an estimated 90 days to finish the task.

New Seats for Suvarnabhumi Airport

If you have ever been in the waiting area of the departure lounge at Suvarnabhumi Airport then you will know how uncomfortable those seats are. The grey metal is not only hard but it is also cold to the touch. Whenever I have to fly out, I always wait as long as I can in a restaurant before going to the departure gate. However, after receiving many complaints, the AOT have decided to renovate and upgrade all of the seating in the airport. As you can see from these pictures, they are not only colourful, but they now have cushioned seats and backs. The seats will be replaced in all areas of the airport and the job is expected to be finished by the end of this year.

Bad Security at Suvarnabhumi Airport

Suvarnabhumi International Airport has been receiving a lot of bad publicity lately. We all know very well about the taxi scam where the drivers refuse to turn on the meter or dump you in the middle of nowhere if you try to kick up a fuss. Even the airport officials who run the taxi queues are in on the scams. When I tried to catch a taxi there the lady on the desk insisted that I had to pay a fixed fee of 500 baht to Samut Prakan. She didn’t seem to care that when I came to the airport it only cost me 150 baht on the meter. Another scam that has recently come to light, but has been going on for a while, is the extortion scam in duty free. If you walk around duty free with a product in your hand and then step over an invisible boundary line you could get arrested for shoplifting. Other people have reported that the cashier put extra items into their bag without permission. They just presumed it was a free gift. They are then pounced upon and told to pay large sums of money or face a long time in prison. I have visited some of these people in Samut Prakan Prison. These are the unlucky ones as they didn’t have any money to pay the “high fees”. Every week, one or two foreigners arrive at the prison after being accused of shoplifting at King Power at the airport.

Things have got so bad that people are now being warned to stay away from any duty free shop at the airport. Even the British Foreign Office posted this travel warning recently on their website:

“You should also be careful to observe demarcation lines between shops and stalls, particularly in market areas and at Suvarnabhumi Airport. Taking items from one shop’s area to another is likely to be treated by shop staff as suspected theft. You may be arrested by the police and asked to pay a substantial fine and/or face imprisonment.”

In the letters page of The Nation recently, a reader reported that he was able to board a flight at Suvarnabhumi International Airport even though his boarding pass had expired two days previously. He was supposed to fly on the 18th June but actually flew on 20th June. His boarding pass had been issued to him in advance. No-one at any of the security gates checked his boarding pass carefully. He also mentioned that they weren’t very thorough at the x-ray machine before boarding. I have experienced this kind of lax security myself first hand. Recently I was able to walk through baggage claim, immigration and then beyond even though I didn’t have a passport or any form of identification on me. I was also carrying a bag that was never checked even though I was entering sensitive areas.

I had gone to the airport to attend a press conference. I registered at the desk as normal and was given a press pack and a temporary airport pass. They didn’t ask me for any identification nor any media credentials. At the time I didn’t know we were going to go through immigration to the other side. On the pass, where it says “name” it was just written in Thai “member of press”. After the conference was over, I just followed the crowd of journalists who were accompanying the Minister to welcome some foreigners off a plane. We went through a side door to by-pass immigration. No-one checked our passes. Anyone could have sneaked in with us. We went as far as one of the arrival gates where there was a small ceremony. I wondered off by myself to take some pictures. Then I followed the crowd of journalists and the Minister to the Immigration area where I took these pictures. I then split away from them again taking some pictures in baggage claim and then eventually left by myself through the Customs area and out into the arrivals lounge. No-one questioned me at any time even though I was the only foreigner among the journalists and cameramen. I could have just been a tourist.

What worries me the most about security at this airport is how easily it was closed down late last year for a week by a group of protesters. Some even gained access to the control tower. Then, after it was all over, the airport was speedily re-opened. Did they really have time to check everywhere for bombs or sabotage? Is Suvarnabhumi International Airport really safe?

Thailand is Open for Business

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.

Flying into Bangkok’s Airport

Bag collection

Yesterday I started my Guide for Suvarnabhumi Airport. I already told you some tips for leaving Thailand. Now for flying into the new airport. When you get off your airplane, there is always a mad rush for the people to get to immigration first. No-one wants to wait ages in a long queue after a tiring flight. So, here is a tip for you. There are in fact three immigration halls for arriving passengers. When I flew back from England the other month, I noticed that the immigration hall was full to capacity. So, I just kept on walking while my fellow passengers joined the long queue. The next hall was still full so I kept on walking. Finally, the last hall was practically empty. Now another tip for choosing which immigration queue to join. Sometimes there are two people on duty on the desk but only one queue. So obviously if that is the case don’t join the shortest queue, go for the one with two officers on duty! When you get there, stand on the spot marked on the floor. Then face forward as they will take your photo. Don’t expect them to smile or say “Welcome to Thailand”. According to the Bangkok Post, they have to sleep on the floor between shifts so they are understandably grumpy.

Once you pass through here you are now in baggage claim. There are 22 baggage conveyor belts altogether and you can easily walk between them all. So, that is why it didn’t matter which immigration hall you went through. Usually your baggage conveyor is the one nearest to your arrival gate. So, when I arrived the other month I had to walk five minutes back to the other end. However, I was the only person there as the bags started to come out. My fellow passengers were still lining up in Immigration. From here you pass through customs and out into the arrivals lounge. There are three exits labeled A, B and C. You can see “C” on the arrival board in the picture below. Exit “A” is Domestic and the other two are International. If you have someone waiting for you, tell them to look on the board as it says which gate is nearest for each flight. But, you can actually leave by any gate. If you want some tourist information, then exit through Gate C because there you will find the official Tourist Authority of Thailand. However, don’t expect much help from them. Many times there is no-one on duty and they don’t always have the tourist brochure that you need.

Arrival Board

Arrivals at Exit C

The good news is that taxis are now on the same floor as arrivals. As you come out, ignore the people asking you if you want a taxi. They really mean limousine service which is double the price of public taxi. This service belongs to AOT who also run the airport. Obviously they want you to use their services as they like to make lots of money. Just smile and wave as you walk by. Follow the small, and partially hidden signs for the public taxi, to the exit doors and go outside. You will see a taxi queue. It is not usually long. If it is, just walk down to next taxi stand as there are three in total outside this building. The new system they have is to crack down on scams. You tell the first person where you are going and she will then give you a piece of paper. Give this to the next person five metres away who is waiting with the taxi drivers. He will exchange your slip of paper for a form that gives you details of who your taxi driver is. You can use this form later to complain about service. Also note that there is a 50 baht surcharge on top of the meter charge and any toll fares. A trip to city center would be about 200–250 baht.

Many people complain about these taxi drivers but so far I have never had any bad experiences. I always speak English to them when I first get into the taxi just to see if they will try and cheat me and not turn on the meter. But they always do without me asking. However, there are always rotten apples in most apple barrels around the world. We have received one firsthand report from a friend who said that after leaving the airport with the meter turned on that the driver drove for five minutes and then stopped in the middle of nowhere. He then turned off the meter. He told them that they had a choice. Either get out or pay 500 baht to get into the city! Obviously they were scared and agreed to pay. But really you have the law on your side and the taxi drivers know this. If you are not alone then call his bluff. Say you want to be taken to the nearest police station. By law he must turn on the meter. He knows that.

Wheelchair access

Wheelchair access for the Airport Shuttle Bus

Really, I feel sympathetic towards most taxi drivers. The starting rate for the meter is only 35 baht (US$1) and has been like that for many years despite the price of petrol going up so much. In addition, these taxi drives are members of the airport taxi pool. This means they can only operate from the airport. The taxi driver I had the other week said he had been waiting nearly three hours in the queue. He said he was hoping I would go to Pattaya as he would get at least 1,500 baht. He would then wait there for a foreigner who wanted to go back to the airport. He said for my local trip he probably wouldn’t find anyone for the return journey to the airport. He said that in one day he probably would only have 3 or 4 passengers at the most. As he was a honest driver, I made sure I gave him a good tip once we arrived at my destination.

These days, with the opening of the new airport, people no longer need to go into Bangkok for their first night in Thailand. Both the Motorway to Pattaya and the Outer Ring Road have access ramps near the airport. So you can quickly go to the beach either in Pattaya or Rayong, or go the other way to Cha-am or Hua Hin. In addition, from the airport you can take a free shuttle bus for five minutes to the airport bus terminal. From here you can catch long distance buses to many places around Thailand. With the opening of the Airport Train Link next year to the city, you can see that transportation in and out of the airport is much more convenient. When I used to go to Don Muang we always got stuck in local traffic. But Suvarnabhumi Airport is situated alongside some major highways which connect you to destinations all over the country. A holiday on the beach in Pattaya has never been nearer.

I have written many blogs already about Suvarnabhumi Airport. Click here to see some of the blogs at thai-blogs.com.