Okay first, pronunciation. Soo-WAH-na-poom.
Low cost carriers like Air Asia fly out of Don Muang, Bangkok’s old international airport but the rest of the Thai capital’s international and domestic air traffic comes through Suvarnabhumi International.
1. Free Wifi
Yes. Passengers can sign up for 120 minutes of free wifi in the terminal. Enter your name, email, passport number and mobile phone number and the automated interface will spit out a long, garbled user ID and password.
If you show up the required three hours prior to international flights, the 120 minutes isn’t enough. I tried to use my second passport and a different email to trick the system into giving me another two hours of access but it must have cached something on my iphone because it caught me. I tried the same hack again, from a different device, and was successful. #onestepclosertobeingasoftwareengineer
2. Train Connection To Somewhere Worth Seeing On A Four-Hour Layover
Yes. The Bangkok metro’s Airport Link line connects Suvarnabhumi to Phaya Thai station where you can transfer to the Sukhumvit Line to hit Siam Square, one of Bangkok’s large shopping mall complexes. It’s only a 30 minute trip so you can buy a Same Same, But Different shirt and some knock off Gucci and then take the train back to the airport with time to spare.
3. Duty Free Costs
On the high side. The international departures terminal feels like a Thai shopping mall with a few departure gates tucked away behind the retail storefronts. Spend your leftover baht on Thai silk pillow covers, brightly dyed candied fruit, or clothes, bags and sunglasses from all the major luxury brands. There are several duty free stores that all look the same from a distance, but each sell a different combination of fragrances, cigarettes and liquor. I had to hit a few before I found the brands I was looking for.
1L Bombay Sapphire gin = THB830 (CAD$27)
Coco Mademoiselle eau de parfum 50ml = THB3220 (CAD$107)
4. Security Screening
Fast if you time it right. My last few flights through Suvarnabhumi have been at off-peak hours so waits have been short. That said, it’s a high volume airport so I can imagine that the queues will stack up at peak travel times.
5. Ease of Orientation
Easy. The airport has several identical wings but each is clearly labeled and there are clear maps and signs at frequent intervals. Amenities are located on different floors – taxis on floor one, restaurants on floor three, departures on floor four – but there are escalators that take you and your luggage trolley between levels.
6. Pre-Flight Food
Moderate selection. There are lots of food outlets but few international chains. Many of the food outlets serve Thai food or sandwiches. If you’ve had one too many green curries (is that even possible?), hit the ramen place on the Departures level, before you go through security.
7. Architecture/Interior Design
Middle of the road for Asia. Travellers to Asia are spoiled with all the relatively new, architecturally impressive international airports in capital cities like Singapore, Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur. Suvarnabhumi’s circular, tent-like roof structures, large windows, and electric blue external lighting are striking and memorable. However that design choice also means lots of floor-mounted air circulation units that are visual and physical obstructions in busy passenger areas.
The last two times I’ve flown through, windows in key viewing areas were streaked with dust, no doubt frustrating for the Instagram-aholics. The terminal’s grey on grey interior colour palette feels institutional and there are often people sleeping on the tile floor, waiting for connecting flights.
8. Most Exotic Destinations on the Departures Board
Male, Almaty and Novosibirsk.
Overall Rating for BKK: 79%
Photo courtesy of Uwe Schwarzbach