Wednesday, February 14, 2007

BANGKOK AND SUVARNABHUMI AIRPORT

It's been hectic couple of weeks and I've had no time to blog. I'm not complaining because it's been fun as well. The Chinese New Year is around the corner and in this neck of the woods, it is a big event, especially this year, supposed to be the lucky year of the Golden Pig. very auspicious indeed. For my Chinese readers, I'd like to wish them Gong Xi Fa Cai!

Couple of weeks back saw me head to Bangkok, landing at the new Suvarnabhumi Airport (pronounced by the Thais as Suvarnapoom). The new Airport looks grand and feels grand but there have been more problems here than is normal for any new greenfield Airport. Now, let me not try and compare Indian Airports with Suvarnabhumi because there's really no comparison. But, comparing it with regional heavyweights such as Singapore's Changi or KL's new terminal makes Suvarnabhumi look bad. Sure teething problems are normal but cracks in the runway, taxiways and other problems have forced some of the Airlines operating there to do a re-think and wanting to move back to the old Airport (Don Muang). Now, anyone who has been to Don Muang can see that it is a dump. I've been to Don Muang enough times to dislike using it again for commercial operations.

I am not sure that the move back and forth is going to benefit anyone. Nok Air, a discount carrier in thailand wants to go back there citing cheaper costs. Air Asia, the leading low cost/low fare Airline in Asia is sticking with the new Airport saying that the savings are negligible (if moving back to Don Muang). Anyway, the Airport and the scandals associated with it have received wide but negative publicity.

As for Bangkok, it is a big city, I spent very little time as I normaly do unless I am on vacation. However, there are a few things to note for an Indian traveller coming in on a passenger Airline. if you are coming into BKK, go to the "Visa on arrival" counter first before going to the Immigrations desks. You'd have to fork out Thai Baht 1,000 for the visa fees and you'd need to fill up a form and stick a photograph of yourself on the form. Keep a 1,000 Baht note ready for this. Arrival areas after immigration is rather cramped with shops, taxi companies and tourst representative companies jostling for space. The Thai people are friendly and hospitable but you'd probably find the opposite type at the "visa on arrival" counter.

There are various transportation options at the Airport to get you to down town or wherever else you may going. Bangkok is traffic filled, bursting at the seams, smoky and many areas of it look like any major Indian city and I don't mean it in a complementary way. English speakers are very less and don't expect people to communicate like we do in the rest of South Asia. I particularly mean taxi drivres, bus conductors (yup they have bus conductors issuing faded badly printed paper tickets that you can't read unless you know the language) and water taxi conductors. They have a Sky Train running up and down Bangkok and while it is a good system, it still looks inadequate. Shopping is good if you know where to go. I'll give more details of sightseeing and shopping after my next trip there, hopefully on vacation. I did take the grand tour of the Palace complex and a ride on a water taxi on the Chao Praya river. There's more to do of course and I will leave that for another blog later some day.

Departure hall is huge, humungous, big...you get the picture but still seems a bit cramped! Don't go to the restaurant level before immigration, the food options are not great and the prices are inflated. Instead, you'd be better off clearing passport control and going to the departure areas where there are better food options. For veggies, like yours truly, it's always a challenge here. Like at some of the Airports in India, they'll bus you to the Aircraft instead of using the aerobridge, if the taxiways have not been repaired. There are plenty of aerobridges at the new Airport but many of them cannot be used because of the tarmac conditions leading to them. All said and done, it's a nice place (some of it) and perhaps some people may have a good time there and better time visiting places other than Bangkok. Not my favourite town, though.

Here's wishing them all the best with the new Airport and hope they can get through this difficult period, get their act together and make Suvarnabhumi an important aviation hub. They need this to work, desperately.

7 comments:

Quodlibet said...

I figured that you must be off doing some interesting flying since you had not written in a while! Sounds fun as always - so many adventures!

Nikhil Joshi said...

Hey Capt. Murthy!
Not been a regular to the net, lately, apart from the life sustaining emails, of course. But I am glad I haven't missed too much here. I've been quite busy too, with college and all the controversies surrounding my flying lessons. *Phew* I am sad to tell you that I am still jinxed in that regard. I have not had a single hour behind the yoke as yet. And the TSA regs aren't a help either.
What new projects are you working on now? Are you still on the RanAir acquisitions?

Nikhil Joshi said...

Oh by the way, talking about airports, I am hearing from folks back home at MYS that the runway's being constructed now...? Have you kept pace with that one, lately? I try to look it up on the net every once in a while, but I don't see any news articles/govt. updates, etc.

Capt. Anup Murthy said...

Thanks Quodlibet, Thailand is interesting, Bangkok not so much but a gateway to the country, though. I think my trips to Laos, Cambodia (this time to Phnom Penh)and Macau should be more interesting. My colleagues did a flight to East Timor recently, a new country struggling to come up in the World and I thought that would have been interesting.

Nikhil, sorry to hear about the difficulties you are facing. I know you are desperate to fly and I hope things go right for you. I am not with Ran Air anymore. I am now (still based in Singapore) but with a Medevac/air charter company. We fly Learjet 35A's with life support systems on board. We've been flying all over Asia and Australia too. The longest we did was to Japan from Singapore (Via Guam)! I am also the lead consultant to the company.
Regarding Mysore Airport, the runway work has started and mostly involves excavations. It will be some time before they started laying the asphalt tarmac. Latest official news puts in the completion date as "end 2008". Knowing how things work there, it would be safe to add some margin to this and assume mid 2009, maybe I am optimistic! Anyway, it is still a good thing for Mysore and something that was being talked about for two decades now.

Cynical Consultant said...

Interesting... Keep posting.
Maybe something about delhi airport?!, what its like etc...
(i know it must be cliche, but its an airport ive actually seen :)

Capt. Anup Murthy said...

Cynical Consultant, I haven't been to Delhi since, I think, last July/August and nothing had changed then. But with private companies winning the bid for modernization of Mumbai and Delhi (GMR and GVK), it would be interesting to see how things progress. At the moment, there's no airport in India that is truly International in standard and I am not talking about the new Instrument Landing Systems at New Delhi, I am only talking about neat terminals and tarmac areas, tidy facilities, clean toilets, friendly immigration staff and such things that a normal passenger comes across in his/her travels.

Whats more interesting in the news is that private players have taken interest in developing and modernizing smaller regional airports and the Government is keen on it as well. This is where the future growth of passengers will be from and regional airlines will benefit equally from lower landing charges, lower fuel taxes at these regional airports and also get better yield on their passenger fares. Maybe I'll turn this into a blog sometime soon.

Preetam Rai said...

And the Visa on Entry guys now demand to see some cash on you for your expenses in Thailand. I think it is about 100$ a day. They don't acknowledge cards. But you can withdraw money from the ATMs before the VIsa on Entry area.

I actually liked the Don Muang Airports. Have many nice memories of the place.
http://tinyurl.com/2d55u3