Bangkok (Thai: กรุงเทพฯ Krung Thep) is the capital of Thailand and, with a population of over eleven million inhabitants, by far its largest city. Its high-rise buildings, heavy traffic congestion, intense heat and naughty nightlife do not immediately give you a warm welcome — but don’t let your first impression mislead you. It is one of Asia’s most cosmopolitan cities with magnificent temples and palaces, authentic canals, busy markets and a vibrant nightlife that has something for everyone.
For years, it was only a small trading post at the banks of the Chao Phraya River, until King Rama I, the first monarch of the present Chakri dynasty, turned it into the capital of Siam in 1782, after the burning of Ayutthaya by Burmese invaders. Since then, Bangkok has turned into a national treasure house and functions as Thailand’s spiritual, cultural, political, commercial, educational and diplomatic centre.
Just under 14 degrees north of the Equator, Bangkok is a tropical metropolis that is also one of the most traveller-friendly cities in Asia. A furious assault on the senses, visitors are immediately confronted by the heat, the pollution and the irrepressible smile that accompanies many Thais. Despite the sensationalised international news reports and first impressions, the city is surprisingly safe (except from some petty crimes) and more organised than it initially appears, and full of hidden gems waiting to be discovered. The high relative humidity and warm temperature favour the growth of tropical plants — you’ll find exotic orchids and delicious fruit everywhere. Bougainvillea and frangipani bloom practically all over the city. Thai cuisine is justifiably famous, varied, and affordable. Bangkok for many represents the quintessential Asian capital. Saffron-robed monks, garish neon signs, graceful Thai architecture, spicy dishes, colourful markets, traffic jams and the tropical climate come together in a happy coincidence. It is difficult to leave with lukewarm impressions of the city.
Bangkok is served by two airports: Suvarnabhumi Airport and Don Muang Airport. Suvarnabhumi Airport is used by all airlines in Thailand, except for domestic flights on Nok Air and Orient Thai, which still use the old Don Muang Airport. Due to the flooding of Don Muang Airport end of 2011, Orient Thai and Nokair both currently fly from Suvarnabhumi. Both these airports are about 30 km (19 mi) from the city centre, so be prepared for a long ride to get into the city. Also allow at least three hours to connect between them, as they are far away from each other and there is heavy congestion on the roads.
Located 30 km (19 mi) to the east of Bangkok, space-age Suvarnabhumi Airport (สุวรรณภูมิ, pronounced “soo-wanna-poom”) (IATA: BKK) started operations in September 2006 and is now Bangkok’s main airport and the busiest airport in Southeast Asia. It is used for almost all international and domestic flights to Bangkok. There is only one terminal building, which covers both domestic and international flights, but it is huge (by some measures the world’s largest), so allow time for getting around. There are two immigration sections, but processing time is lengthy — at least 30 minutes.
Suvarnabhumi offers all facilities you would expect from a major international airport. There’s a transit hotel, ATMs, money exchange, restaurants, tax-free shops, an observation lounge and even a “redemption booth”, very reassuring for karmically challenged passengers. There are about 50 dining venues spread over the terminal building. The one that sounds most interesting probably is Panda Ready To Eat, but the cheapest place for a meal is Magic Food Point on level 1, near gate 8. There are a few stores in the check-in area, including a convenience store and a post office; however, the real shopping experience awaits travelers on the other side of immigration in the departure area, where the number of shops and duty free outlets leaves you wondering whether you are in an airport or a mall. There is not much to see at the observation deck on the seventh floor, since the steel structure of the roof blocks most of the view.
There are plenty of ways to get into the city from Suvarnabhumi Airport. Most people opt for the Airport Rail Link, by far the fastest way to get into downtown, although taxis are also reasonably priced by world standards.
Located on the basement level of the passenger terminal, the Airport Rail Link offers a high-speed train service to downtown Bangkok. It’s also a way of avoiding Bangkok’s horrendous rush hour traffic, particularly when it’s raining. Trains run 06:00-midnight every day and travel at an amazing 160 km/h (100 mi/h). Two different services are operated:
The non-stop Express Line brings you directly to either Makkasan or Phaya Thai station in 15/18 minutes for 90 baht one way, with plenty of space for luggage. Express trains leave Suvarnabhumi Airport every 20-30 minutes, but check the destination: Phaya Thai offers an easy transfer to the Skytrain, while Makkasan station is technically at walking distance of Phetchaburi MRT station, although the link bridge is still under construction and it’s quite a hike at the moment (300+ m). You can take bus 556 here that heads directly for the Southern Bus Terminal (the bus stop is not clearly marked though). On the way back, Thai Airways offers baggage check-in at Makkasan if you arrive 3-13 hours before your flight.
The slightly slower City Line is a commuter rail line that stops at all stations. Trains leave every 15 minutes, and after Makkasan station it continues to Ratchaprarop and Phaya Thai stations. The ride to Phaya Thai takes 24 minutes from/to the airport and costs 15-45 baht depending on the number of stops. Given the fact that it runs more frequently, the City Line may effectively bring you to your destination sooner than the much more expensive Express Line.
If you’re heading downtown, the Airport Rail Link has a good connection to the BTS Skytrain at Phaya Thai, though you will have to buy a new ticket. If Khao San Road is your final destination, you can hail taxis from the main road (around 70 baht), or hop aboard bus 15 (7 baht); this bus goes along Ratchadamnoen Klang Road and Chakrabongse Road serving both sides of Khao San Road.
Private Airport Express buses, including backpacker favourite AE2 to Khao San Road, stopped running in June 2011. To take a public bus or minibus, you must first take the free shuttle bus ride from outside the second floor to the bus terminal that is a few kilometres away. Go to the first floor and walk to the far right of the terminal. Exit the last door, and continue about 100 m to the right, where you will see the sign for the “ordinary bus”. These free shuttle buses are white in colour, and will make a few other stops on the way to the terminal. The BMTA public bus lines are:
- 549: Suvarnabhumi to Min Buri
- 550: Suvarnabhumi to Bang Kapi
- 551: Suvarnabhumi to Victory Monument
- 552: Suvarnabhumi to On Nut
- 552A: Suvarnabhumi to Sam Rong
- 553: Suvarnabhumi to Samut Prakan
- 554: Suvarnabhumi to Don Muang Airport
- 555: Suvarnabhumi to Rangsit (using the expressway)
- 558: Suvarnabhumi to Central Rama 2
- 559: Suvarnabhumi to Future Park Rangsit (using the outer ring road)
These services take about 1-2 hours depending on traffic; frequency is usually every 20 minutes during daytime. At nighttime, it ranges from 20 min-1 hr depending on the route. To give an example, the fare between Suvarnabhumi Airport and On Nut on 552 is 32 baht, and the journey takes about 40 minutes in mid-afternoon traffic. There are also privately-owned BMTA minibuses to many parts of Greater Bangkok, such as Don Muang Airport, Bang Kapi, Rangsit and Samut Prakan. They charge a flat rate of 50 baht and go directly to the destination, so they are faster than public buses that stop frequently along the way.
Long-distance first class bus services connect Suvarnabhumi Airport directly with Chachoengsao, Nong Khai, Pattaya, Rayong, and Trat.
Ordinary metered taxis are available on the first floor (one floor below arrivals). Follow the “public taxi” signs that lead to the outside of the airport premises, queue up and state your destination at the desk (English is understood). You’ll get a two-part slip with your destination written in Thai on it. The small part is for your driver, the large part is for you. This ticket is for complaints and is how the system is enforced: hold on to it to help avoid arguments later. There is a 50 baht surcharge on top of the meter (not per passenger!), meaning that trips to the city will cost 250-400 baht (plus possible expressway tolls of 45 and 25 baht, depending on time). Make sure you have change ready to pass to the toll operators to avoid being overcharged for the tolls later on. The ride takes about 45-60 minutes depending on traffic and location. No other surcharges apply, not even for going back to the airport. If there is a huge taxi queue, consider taking a limousine taxi, or take the free shuttle bus to the Public Transport Center, which has more taxis. Go straight to the “official taxi stand” and wait there. It is rare, but there have been reports of rigged meters that make the ride cost more than 400 baht. These taxis usually appear highly modified and it is a good idea to avoid them, or record the licence plate number of the taxi.
So-called limousine taxis (which charge by distance, e.g. around 800 baht to Sukhumvit) can be reserved at the limousine hire counter on the second floor (just outside arrivals), and aggressive touts will try to entice you on board. If you allow yourself to be waylaid by one of these taxi touts, they might quote you more than double the fare than an ordinary metered taxi would charge (900 baht instead of 400 baht, for example). You’d be silly even acknowledging their existence — ignore and walk straight past them.
There are plenty of hotels near Suvarnabhumi Airport, and huge construction projects are planned for the future. Day room facilities for transit passengers are now available at the Miracle Grand Louis Tavern on floor 4, concourse G, ☎ +66 2 134-6565, 2,000 baht per 4-hour block, no reservations accepted. Travellers looking for a free quiet place to doze undisturbed at night can use one of the benches on the bottom floor of the terminal (which seem to be a popular choice with tourists and locals).
All other accommodation in Bangkok is listed in the relevant district articles. If you want an overnight stay within 20 min of the airport, get a hotel along Lat Krabang Road, here covered in the Ramkhamhaeng district. The Tourist Authority of Thailand and other hotel and tourist agencies have counters on the arrivals floor of the main terminal. You can make reservations at plenty of hotels here. Check for special promotions and also whether the hotel offers an airport pick-up and drop-off service — especially useful for late night arrivals and early morning departures.
Don Muang Airport
Don Muang Airport (IATA: DMK) (or Don Mueang), about 30 km (19 mi) north of downtown, was Bangkok’s main airport until 2006. The airport currently handles Nok Air and Orient Thai domestic flights, but the former international terminal is now limited to charters and general aviation.
The public taxi stand is on the pavement outside the arrivals area (don’t be fooled by all the taxi service booths in the main hall), and is probably your best bet for getting into town — it’s your only option after 23:00. The same booth and slip system as at Suvarnabhumi Airport is used here. If the queue at the taxi stand is long or you need a more spacious car, you may want to book a (so-called) limousine taxi from the desks in the terminal. This will get you a slightly nicer car at about twice the price (500-600 baht). Ignore any touts outside and do not get into any car with white licence plates, as these are not licenced to carry passengers.
Across a covered overpass from the airport is Don Muang Train Station. Tickets to Hualamphong Train Station in central Bangkok cost 5 baht at the ticket booth. While taking the train is the cheapest way to get from the airport to Bangkok, it is not for the faint-of-heart: schedules are erratic, the run-down passenger cars often have beggars roaming through them, and are relatively empty late at night.
There are also a number of public transport buses going by the airport, just follow the signs out toward the train station. Buses towards central Bangkok are at the airport’s side of the road, so don’t cross the highway. These are useful bus lines:
Air-conditioned bus 504 will take you to CentralWorld at Ratchaprasong intersection (close to Siam Square), as well as to Lumphini Park and Silom, from where you can have access to the Skytrain.
Ordinary and air-conditioned bus 29 will take you to Hualamphong Train Station passing by many places, including Victory Monument and Siam Square. You can also get off at the Chatuchak Weekend Market, where you can switch onto the metro or Skytrain.
Air-conditioned bus 59 will take you to Sanam Luang in Rattanakosin. This route is time-consuming as Rattanakosin is far off from the airport.
Keep in mind that some of these buses don’t complete the route. They are called “additional bus” (Thai: รถเสริม rot serm). These kind of buses have a red sign in front of them with the final destination written on it (in Thai script of course). Check this before taking the bus. You can ask the locals at the bus stop or a conductor on the bus.
InfoSource: Wikitravel Under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.