Opened in 2006 and now servicing more than 50 million travellers per year, Suvarnabhumi (BKK) is Thailand’s main international air hub and one of Southeast Asia’s busiest airports. The whole place operates out of a single titanic terminal at Bangkok’s far eastern fringe. Read on for transport details, tips and more.
Airport Rail Link
The elevated SRT “Airport Link” opened in 2010 and does a passable job of connecting the airport to the MRT “Subway” at Makkasan / Petchaburi stations, and the BTS “Skytrain” on the Sukhumvit Line at Phaya Thai Station, between Victory Monument and Siam Square in the heart of Bangkok. The fare to Phaya Thai is 45 baht and trains depart every 15 minutes from 06:00 to 24:00 on Floor B inside Suvarnabhumi. It’s a solid half-hour ride into the city.
Khao San Road-Suvarnabhumi city bus
The orange city bus S1 runs between Suvarnabhumi and the Khao San Road area every half-hour from 06:00 to 20:00 for 60 baht. At the airport, it picks up outside of Door 7 on Floor 1, across the traffic lanes, and you can get off near the west end of Khao San or continue down to Sanam Luang in the old quarter. If heading to the airport, catch the bus at a marked stop on the north side of Ratchadamnoen Avenue, between Democracy Monument and Tanao Road and a short walk southeast of Khao San Road's eastern end. The bus also picks up at a stop on Phra Arthit Road, just south of the entrance to Phra Arthit river ferry pier and close to Soi Rambuttri.
Shuttle bus from Suvarnabhumi to Don Muang Airport
Bangkok Airways and THAI are the only carriers operating flights to other parts of Thailand out of the quiet domestic section of Suvarnabhumi. All other domestic flights and many regional flights arrive and depart from the old Don Muang International Airport (DMK) in Northern Bangkok, mainly with low-cost carriers like Air Asia and Nok Air.
To reach Don Muang from Suvarnabhumi, catch a shuttle bus on Floor 2 (Arrivals) in front of Door 3, next to the “Meeting Point”. It runs 24 hours a day, departing every half-hour at slow times and ramping up to every 10 minutes around rush hours. The shuttle is free but you must show proof of a flight ticket from Don Muang to use it. Allot yourself a solid two hours to change airports.
Metered taxis to Suvarnabhumi cost between 200 to 500 baht, depending on where you’re starting from, and always drop passengers in front of the Departures area on Floor 4. When leaving the airport, the official taxi stand fronts Floor 1 outside of doors 2 and 3. An airport staffer will give you a printed sheet with the taxi license number and your destination before directing you to a parked taxi. Politely tell the driver that you expect him/her to use the meter before getting in, and go back to the desk where you received the paper if they refuse.
In addition to the meter fare, travellers must pay a 50-baht airport surcharge and any tolls. You can avoid the surcharge by grabbing a taxi outside of Floor 4 right after they drop off departing passengers; this is technically illegal for drivers but we’ve never had problems doing it.
Long-distance buses from Suvarnabhumi
If you don’t like Bangkok, buses and minibuses (vans) skip straight from the airport to a handful of other destinations. To find them, head to Floor 1 and look for a cluster of ticket desks next to Door 8. Buses pick up right out front; it’s no longer necessary to take a shuttle bus to the transport centre.
Hua Hin: Minibuses depart every 1.5 hours from 07:30 to 19:30 for 260 baht.
Ko Chang: Buses depart at 07:50, 11:00 and 14:00 for 600 baht and drop passengers right at the ferry pier in Laem Ngop. These buses also stop at Chanthaburi and Trat town.
Nong Khai: A bus departs at 21:00 and stops at Khon Kaen and Udon Thani before terminating near the Laos border in Nong Khai.
Pattaya: Minibuses depart hourly from 07:00 to 22:00 for 120 baht.
Sri Racha: Minibuses depart hourly from 05:00 to 20:00 for 100 baht.
Rental car companies including Avis, Budget, Hertz, National, Sixt, Thai and Chic have offices at the Suvarnabhumi transport centre, which can be reached by shuttle buses that pick up in front of Door 5 on Floor 2 and Floor 4. Most likely you’ll need to show a Thai or international driving license to rent a car from one of the airport kiosks.
The airport’s main parking garage is conveniently located directly across from the terminal and connected by pedestrian bridges on Floor 2 and Floor 4. Daily rates are reasonable compared to most airports in Western countries, but you could save cash by parking at the long-term garage near the transport centre and catching a 24-hour shuttle bus to the terminal.
After passing through immigration and baggage claim, all incoming passengers arrive through any of three exits on Floor 2. Around the centre of this floor you’ll find a “Meeting Point,” shops selling Thai SIM cards and a Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) office where you can check your email on a free computer and pick up maps and brochures covering any of Thailand’s 77 provinces. Make your way down to Floor 1 and Floor B for transport options.
Food, medical, police, massage, money, WiFi
Along with a 24-hour health clinic and a large tourist police office, a bunch of restaurants and shops are found on Floor 3, including the popular Korean fried chicken joint, Bon Chon, and other chains. For a cheaper meal with more space, head to the food court on Floor B, where you’ll also find a bar and Thai massage. The WiFi at Suvarnabhumi is free, fast and easy to access. Full-service Thai bank branches are found on Floor 3 and Floor 4, where you’ll also find the VAT tourist refund desk.
The airport’s “Left Luggage” office is located on the back wall of Floor 4 (Departures), opposite check-in Pier Q. Luggage of any size costs 100 baht for the first 24 hours and then 50 baht per 12-hour period following. Travellers pay up front, but if you leave luggage longer you just make the difference up when you get back. Bags that aren’t picked up within 180 days are torched as offerings to the yaksha (giant) statues that line the floor.
All airline check-in counters are on Floor 4 and divided up by numbered rows. You can enter a security and immigration checkpoint in two places: one to the right with your back to the entrances, and another to the left. Use the one on the left if you need a re-entry permit to keep your Thai visa valid; these are available 24 hours and all you need is the 1,000 baht fee. We’ve rarely had to wait for more than 20 minutes when going through immigration at Suvarnabhumi, in either direction, but others have reported long queues at times.
Between immigration and your flight
Welcome to a strange pseudo-Thailand in which duty-free Gucci handbags and bottles of Johnny Walker Blue are easier to come by than bottled water. Beyond the gaudy boutiques, Suvarnabhumi’s boarding gates try to be futuristic but are actually utilitarian and not well designed. Buy food and magazines on the way in, as it’s often a long walk back to shops and eateries from the gates.
At the airport
The Novotel Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport is the official airport hotel, offering more than 600 rooms in the 5,000 to 10,000 baht range along with several restaurants and bars, a swimming pool, spa and fitness centre. From the airport it’s accessed via a walkway from Floor B, or a shuttle bus. For a cheaper bed without leaving the airport, Boxtel at Suvarnabhumi Airport sells tiny air-con rooms with free WiFi for 1,250 baht—zit’s located next to the Airport Link station on Floor B.
Near the airport
Loads of accommodation options are found within a few kilometres of the airport and they usually offer a free or cheap pick up and drop off service. These can be convenient if you arrive to Bangkok late at night and fly out the next morning. But if you plan to explore the city at all, a room in the Sukhumvit or Siam Square areas of central Bangkok will serve you much better.
Hostels near the airport include the slick-looking Staying Hostel and the inexpensive YHA Bangkok Airport Hostel. Those looking in the 1,000 to 2,000 baht range could try Lilac Relax Residence or Suvarnabhumi Ville Airport Hotel, which has a swimming pool. If you’re not into the Novotel, the Ammata Lanta is a large resort with a lagoon-style pool and unusual circular brick rooms starting at around 5,500 baht. All of these are located in Lat Krabang, which has plenty of food options and an Airport Link station if you want to head into the city.
Suvarnabhumi was intended to be Bangkok’s only airport and Don Muang closed briefly after it opened. This didn’t last long given Thailand’s rapidly increasing tourism arrivals, and it’s likely that a second terminal and more runways will be added by 2020—good news for pilots who reportedly dread the inevitable holding patterns when arriving here.
The word Suvarnabhumi, pronounced suwannapum, means “Golden Land” and was used by ancient Indian traders to describe some or other parts of Southeast Asia. For every Thai historian who insists the name applied specifically to what’s now part of Thailand, there’s a Burmese, Lao, Cambodian and Vietnamese historian who thinks otherwise.
Many Thailand-based expats affectionately (or not) refer to the airport as “Swampy” because it was built on marshland, just beyond Bangkok’s city limits in Samut Prakan province. This nickname took on other meanings as the airport worked out many kinks, including cracked runways, in its early days.
The airport opened during a time of political upheaval in Thailand. In 2008, scores of “yellow shirt” protesters occupied and shut down both Suvarnabhumi and Don Muang airports for eight days, stranding thousands of travellers in an effort to oust then-prime minister Somchai Wongsawat.
Suvarnabhumi boasts the world’s tallest air traffic control tower, standing 132.2 metres high. A good place to view it is atop the parking garage opposite Floor 4, where you’ll find more not-so-useful facts at the Airport Museum.
David Luekens first came to Thailand in 2005 when Thai friends from his former home of Burlington, Vermont led him on a life-changing trip. Based in Thailand since 2011, he spends much of his time eating in Bangkok street markets and island hopping the Andaman Sea.