I had to go to Suwannabhumi airport yesterday evening to meet a friend. I was unsure as to what to expect, having read horror story after horror story in the Nation and the BKK Post, the 2 big English newspapers out here about how bad the new airport is. Traffic jams, taxi's refusing to take you unless you offer them a couple of hundred baht extra in tips... and thats before you've even left Pinklao.
Turned out that the journey there was pretty uneventful. There's a little white minivan that passes right in front of my house. I flagged it down and hopped in. It was 1/2 empty, the only other passengers being a Thai-Indian couple and their 5 year old son. The roads were pretty quiet too. We've just had 2 long weekends in a row. I guess most people were too tired or too skint to be able to travel upcountry again. The toll road was empty. Pinklao to Suwannabhumi took only 1/2 an hour.
1st impressions were good. The airport complex is huge. From the outside, the new terminal building looks stunning. The other people in the van were returning to Phuket so the minvan dropped us off in the front of the domestic departures area. I said goodbye to the couple and their kid, and walked (or rather tried to walk) into the terminal building.
2 sets of revolving doors were closed. The only sign to indicate that they couldn't be used was a small handwriten note. It's size ? A4. You had to walk right up to the door before you realised that you couldn't use it, then back along the concourse to the next entrance. More of the same. The 3rd set of doors worked, but, by then, I'd walked around 100 meters further than I'd wanted to and was somewhere near the international check in desks.
Once inside the building, it's very impressive. It reminded me of the new (well not so new anymore) underground stations on the Jubilee line when they first opened, 5 or so years ago.
Having made it inside, the next problem is working out where you need to go. There are few signs to the arrivals area in the departures part of the terminal. It takes a while to realise that its on a different floor. I went down stairs, checked out the information board and worked out that my friend would walk through arrivals gate B. Then I tried to get to the place where I would need to stand and wait for her. Easy, it was only 100 or so meters from gate C to gate B. There was even a sign. Gate B. Straight on, the arrow showed. Only 1 problem. "You're not allowed to walk through. It's for arriving passengers only," the scrawney looking security guard told me. There were a series of booths for limosines, foreign exchange and tour companies so I tried another approach. "Ermm... what if I wanted to use the ATM ?" I asked. "It's for arriving passengers only."
Should you need to go between arrivals doors C and A, it's the same thing. You have to go outside, then(once you find a working revolving door) back in again. Either that, or take an escalator up one floor, walk along the row of shops and restraunts and then take another back down. It seems crazy. I guess the airport managers are more interested in giving the limo and foreign exchange companies booths right in front of the arrivals areas, than creating a way for people waiting to meet friends etc. to walk through the terminal to the correct place.
So far, 2 things (1. get to airport, 2. find place to meet Mo) done.
Only 2 more left.
3. Get something to eat and
4. find the toilets.
Holey runway aside, most of the complaints about the airport have centred around the toilets. There aren't enough. They're dirty. One surprising thing is that, once you finally find the toilets, the signs (telling you the direction and distance to the next set of toilets) are pretty good. But, finding that elusive 1st set of toilets is a mission in itself. There's hardly any signs. You ask someone who looks like they should know. Then another person. Then another. No one knows. You wonder whether its your bad Thai, or whether the people that originally installed them hid them so well that even the people have worked at the airport for over a year have still not managed to locate them.
It was whilst waiting to use the toilet that I realised that I'd left my book in the minivan. It wasn't a new book. It had been sat on my shelf in my room for over a year. But, I'd only picked it up a few days ago. and had only read a few pages of it. I remembered what had happened. As soon as the little kid in the minivan realised that I could understand what he was saying, he started talking to me. What's you name ? How old are you ? Where are you from ? Is it cold there ? Does it snow ? What's snow like ? We'd talked whilst the van made its way along the expressway. When we reached the turn off for airport, we'd played a game. Who would be the first to see a plane ? I'd not thought about reading my book for most of the journey. I got out of the minivan. My book stayed on the seat.
The van driver had long since driven away. I'd no idea where the bus back would go from. I walked outside the terminal building and spied a shuttle bus, going to the transport centre. I walked then, as I saw it was about to leave, ran towards the bus, one arm stretched out wide as if to say 'wait for me, pleeeeeese.' The bus pulled away. It bombed down the road only to pull in at a second bus stop 100 or so meters further down the concourse, parking at a set of doors that, if I remembered rightly didn't open. It's a good job that there is a free shuttle bus to the transport centre. It's miles away from the airport, a good 10 minuteson the shuttle bus. I was glad I hadn't tried to walk.
I found the minivan counter and somehow or other, managed to explain that I'd lost my book. The driver had long gone home, our trip to the airport being his last job of the day. The woman asked me to come back tomorrow (impossible - I'd be at school) then offered to ask the driver to leave it at the minivan office in Pinklao. I promised to collect it.
By this time it was almost time to meet Mo. The shuttle bus took me straight back to the arrivals part of the terminal building. I went through the right (maybe the only ???) set of working doors near Gate B, anc checked the arrivals board again. Her plane had already landed. I shouldn't have to wait too long.
10 minutes later I met Mo. She gave me a giant hug which was great, it made me realise that I hadn't had a decent hug in over a year - Thai culture and hugs don't really go together that well.
As we walked out of the terminal building asked her about her holiday in Indonesia and her plans to live in Oman. I also asked her about her flight, and her impressions of the airport. She said it was OK, but that, for an international airport, and a new one at that, getting off a jumbo jet and onto a shuttle bus is a bit backward. She made it thought customs in around an hour, not too bad. I wasn't counting. I was just so glad to see her again.
For an airport thats completing with Singapore and Hong Kong's new airports to be the 'aviation hub' of South East Asia, Suwannabhumi still has a long way to go. Theres a story in the business section of today's BKK post about how hard the AOT (Airport's Authority of Thailand) are working hard to tackle the problems. My parents arrive here in 4 weeks time so I'll need to go back at Suwannabhumi. Will be interesting to see if things have improved.
|Create Date : 27 สิงหาคม 2550
|Last Update : 2 กันยายน 2550 17:34:28 น.
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