By the end of September 2006 the old Don Muang airport in Bangkok was closed and the Suvarnabhumi International Airport was inaugurated. In this trip to Thailand I had arrived at the first and departed from the second, and had thus the opportunity to check out the new airport and the way leading to it.
The days of cheap rides to the airport with bus number three are definitely gone since Suvarnabhumi is located in the southeastern suburbs of Bangkok, an area which was undeveloped until now and was not served by the regular lines. The old Airport Bus service is still available at the same cost (beginning at B100 - around $3) from the same stops around town to the new airport, but this has always been an expensive option.
Several regular air-conditioned buses lines were added to serve the new terminal, the most convenient one is bus 556. It leaves from the main entrance of the lottery building on Ratchadamnoen Avenue, just next to Khaosan Road. Being a new and unknown line, the buses travel almost empty; and the day of my trip I shared it with just one couple. It has very few stops in town and then it travels most of the way through an impressive network of highways. The trip costs just B35 (about one dollar) and after leaving the Khaosan Road area travels through the Din Daeng Rama IX Highway.
In the early afternoon the access to the highway was rather slow and the trip took a full hour. However, it was an attractive ride offering unusual views of Bangkok. The new airport is located in an area of swamps and the highway support columns rising out of the water are quite a view.
The new complex is huge and much work has been done to ensure a smooth access to it. All the buses arriving from Bangkok stop at a special bus terminal, from where free shuttles leave to the airport terminus. The arrangement is simple: the shuttles leave from bays placed across the arrival bays and are painted in a bright yellow color. The shuttles have a circular path along the complex and passengers board and leave at all the stops; they get very crowded thus it is wise to sit next to the doors, a location that allows a clear sight of the signs marking the terminus.
Finding the shuttle was the easy part. Inside it I discovered what seemed to be a code of number for the different stops (domestic, international; arrivals, departures) and I happily waited for the right number to appear. Surprisingly, the clearly numbered areas of the huge terminal building had no relation to the numbers appearing in the bus. After a fifteen minutes ride, I left the bus, entered the terminal at a random place and completed a mini-marathon to my check-in window. In that aspect, very little changed since the old days; the departure is an orderly affair, the departure tax is still B500 and leftover local money can be exchanged just next to the departure tax window and after that in the duty free shopping area.
After having seen the Singapore and Hong Kong new airports I thought that Suvarnabhumi would have a hard time to impress me, but I was proven wrong. I quickly forgot the unclear signs and was overwhelmed not only by the size of the building, but mainly by its elegance. It was built to resemble huge connecting oval tunnels and it imparts mainly a feeling of being a lightweight, floating, well-lighted structure. Wooden pagodas adorn its interior and in the day of my visit traditional Thai puppet shows were performed at one of the main junctions. Suddenly, the awaiting flight became a secondary issue.