Surviving a Layover in Bangkok Suvarnabhumi airport
Any seasoned traveller would agree that long layovers can sometimes be a nightmare. Throughout my travels I’ve experienced layovers at several international airports, yet Suvarnabhumi is definitely my favourite one to be stuck in.
Personally I think one of the most comfortable and easiest places to kill time between flights, both in an out of the airport. In this guide we’ll be covering the basic necessities for any layover; food and rest and I’ll also be sharing a few helpful hints and tips that have really helped get me through many a long layover in BKK. First of all, let’s take a look at actually getting past the transfer area and through immigration!
Assuming you have a layover of at least a couple of hours you’ll need to make your way to immigration, about 600m or so from the gates. Thankfully, the automated walkways make this journey a lot easier and you should be there in less than 5 minutes. To leave the transfer terminals and enter what is essentially Thailand, you’ll need to make sure you have the proper visa. The type of visa you’ll need (transit or visa on arrival), your eligibility and the cost all depend on your country of residence so be sure to double check these before you fly as the costs and conditions are constantly changing. The wait at immigration can sometimes be in excess of 40 minutes, depending on the time of year, so be sure the length of your layover justifies the wait and potential visa costs!
Food and restaurants are a big part of any airport experience and Suvarnabhumi International Airport is no exception. There are plenty of restaurants on the first floor serving up a variety of both local and foreign cuisine, including some major international brands such as Starbucks, Subway and Burger King. If your layover is particularly long or you’re traveling on a budget, then there are a couple “These stalls are my favorite place to eat and offer you the closest representation of authentic Thai food throughout the entire airport” more local market-style stalls on the ground floor serving up local cuisine at near market prices (30-50 baht). These stalls are my favorite place to eat (if they’re open) and offer you the closest representation of authentic Thai food throughout the entire airport. If you’re in a pinch, the 7-11 and Family Mart convenience stores are also decent places to grab a quick bite, with inexpensive instant noodles, toasted sandwiches and even pre-made microwaveable meals available anytime. One thing’s for sure though, you definitely won’t go hungry!
So you’ve had your fill and now it’s time to find a place to relax or get some sleep. Whilst BKK may not have many plush, comfy chairs or sofas for you to lie down on, there’s definitely no shortage of seating. The ground floor tends to be noisy most of the time, the air conditioning is strong and honestly the seats aren’t that comfortable. My favorite place to sleep is way up on the 4th floor; there’s barely anyone around, the chairs are a little more comfortable and it’s significantly warmer than the first floor. If you’re flying in late, it’s definitely possible to get a decent night’s sleep on the 4th floor. Alternatively, if you prefer to lie down, there’s plenty of room on the basement floor to stretch out and relax. It seems to be where all the locals hang out but they seem to be a lot more used to sitting and laying on the cold, hard floor than us Westerners so be sure to bring along a blanket or a sleeping bag! If you’re willing to spend a little more for extra comfort and privacy, there’s a number of nearby airport hotels starting at around 900 baht per night which offer free transfers to/from the airport. Even if you don’t have a reservation, it’s fairly easy to spot their drivers in arrivals that’ll happily drop you off.
Keeping Yourself Busy
Within the airport itself, there’s actually not much to do apart from browsing the various shops, walking about or pampering yourself at the airport spa. That combined with eating and sleeping will probably keep you occupied for a couple of hours but if you’re on a particularly long layover, it might be worth taking a look at what’s outside the airport. If your next flight doesn’t leave until late at night, it’s well worth stepping out of BKK and catching a taxi to Paseo Mall. Rather than a large shopping center, Paseo Mall can be described as modern night market with a few brick and mortar restaurants within the complex. Just a 15 minute drive from the airport, the journey should cost around 70 baht (+50 baht airport surcharge) when using a metered taxi. Paseo Mall is open daily from 10:00am and the night market is held every day apart from Tuesday. The night market itself is a great place to entertain yourself and pick up some last minute gifts. Note that Paseo Mall caters primarily to Thai locals, so don’t expect all of the store owners to speak English. Similarly, rather than the Thai handicrafts and souvenirs found at night markets in more touristic areas, most of the stalls sell clothes and other fashion accessories.
Once you’re done its easy enough to catch a taxi back to the airport in time for your flight. If your layover is during the daytime hours or you just don’t like the idea of browsing markets, Min Buri district is more or less the same distance from BKK as Paseo Mall and is primarily a residential area. It’s a great place to eat in a local restaurant, grab a few drinks or simply have a stroll around and watch the locals go about their day in Thai suburbia. Unless you’ve got a layover of 8 hours or more, going into the actual city is generally not recommended. The city center is around 30km from Suvarnabhumi International Airport and heavy road traffic is to be expected (try being stuck in the back of a Bangkok cab for 3 hours during rush hour). “Complimentary Wi-Fi is provided to travelers throughout the entire airport” If your layover is long enough you can even book a transit tour right from the airport itself. These tours vary in length and will give you the opportunity to see at least a few of Bangkok’s landmarks and places of interest. They’re the easiest and least stressful way to get a bit of sightseeing done during your layover ensuring you’re back in time for your flight. There’s around 15 tours to choose from, 4-12 hours long and these can all be booked between concourses C/D and D/E as soon as you’re through immigration and have entered the arrivals area.
Suvarnabhumi International Airport Facilities and Additional Information
If you haven’t checked in your luggage straight to your final destination, you don’t have to be stuck dragging it around for the entire duration of your layover. Luggage storage facilities are available 24 hours a day on the 2nd floor (arrival hall) and on the 4th floor (departure hall) and charge a reasonable daily rate of 100 baht per piece of luggage.
Complimentary Wi-Fi is provided to travellers throughout the entire airport. Simply connect to the “AOT Free Wi-Fi by TrueMove H” wireless network, fill in the short registration form and you’re granted 2 hours of free Wi-Fi. If 2 hours isn’t enough, there are plenty of coffee shops and restaurants around the airport offering their own private Wi-Fi to customers. Apart from Wi-Fi, there are 126 internet kiosks located throughout the departure lounges and holding areas in both the domestic and international terminals. These grant you 15 minutes of internet access and will log you out once your time is up (but you’re free to simply log in again and continue where you left off).
Smoking is only permitted in designated areas outside the airport. The main outdoor smoking areas are located on the ground floor. Signs are easily visible and benches and ashtrays are provided. Smoking rooms are also spread throughout the departure gates. Please note that smoking outside the designated smoking areas is not tolerated and carries a heavy fine of around 2,000 baht.
There are plenty of bathrooms spread throughout the airport and all are easy to find. Outside the bathrooms, one can find fresh water drinking fountains which add a nice touch and keep you from having to spend a fortune on drinking water during your stay. Shower facilities however are nonexistent and it’s practically impossible to properly clean yourself up in BKK, so make sure you’re prepared for this!
Taxis & Public Transport
Meter taxis can be found on the ground floor, as soon as you exit the airport. The taxis are well regulated, organized and “taxi scams” common in other tourist destinations are practically unheard of. Sometimes you’ll be asked to pay a fixed price when going to a particular destination but you’ll find that once you get there, the meter reads the same or slightly more than the price you’ve agreed to pay (you won’t be obliged to pay the difference). Public vans are a cheap way to get around and will take you to most major destinations around Bangkok. They’re not really recommended for shorter layovers as you normally have to wait until the van is full before it leaves, which can take anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour.
If you want to travel cheap yet would rather avoid the roads, the best and cheapest way to get around is by using the various rail lines that run throughout Bangkok. You can get on the Phaya Thai Express Line/Airport Rail Link from the basement floor of BKK airport right to Phaya Thai where you can connect to other stations or even the sky train (BTS).
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