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.