The Bangkok Airport is the biggest in Thailand, which makes it a perfect gateway to the city, the islands, and surrounding Southeast Asian countries. It has long been the starting point for backpackers embarking on the so-called Banana Pancake Trail, which snakes through Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia. Suvarnabhumi—pronounced su-wahn-ah-poom and meaning "Land of Gold" in Sanskrit—replaced the aging Don Mueang International (40 minutes away) as Bangkok's primary airport in 2006. These days, the sprawling 8,000-acre travel hub that sits just southeast of the city serves more than 60 million people yearly.
Bangkok is repeatedly named the "world's most-visited city" and traffic at the airport has increased by an average of about 5 percent each year. Given Suvarnabhumi's vast size and modern facilities, though, it seems to manage the swarms of tourists just fine. Bangkok's bustling travel center is like the appetizer before the main course. The terminals have been designed to resemble Thailand's famously lush landscapes, incorporating lots of bamboo and green vegetation within. This little slice of Southeast Asia could be a destination of its own.
Airport Code, Location, and Contact Information
- The Bangkok Airport (BKK) is located about 20 miles southeast of the city in Racha Thewa (the Bang Phli district of Samut Prakan province). It's a 26-minute drive to the center and a 33-minute drive to Khao San Road, a known tourist hangout with an abundance of hotels, bars, and street food stands.
- Website: https://suvarnabhumi.airportthai.co.th/en
- Flight Tracker: https://suvarnabhumi.airportthai.co.th/en/flights
- Map: https://goo.gl/maps/keDc9QvEVPjpUEqZ7
- Phone Number: +66 2 132 1888
Know Before You Go
BKK is split into four levels, with transportation being on Level 1, arrivals being on Level 2, transfers, shops, and restaurants on Level 3, and departures up on Level 4. There are seven concourses and a main terminal, but not to be intimidated by the size of it. The layout is simple enough to navigate and there are hundreds of moving walkways, elevators, and escalators to help passengers navigate the terrain efficiently. The Suvarnabhumi Airport is shaped almost like an H with each leg being a different concourse—labeled A through G— and the line in the middle being the main terminal.
Domestic departures are on the left and international on the right, if you're facing the entrance.
The main terminal building has the capacity to accommodate almost 80 flights per hour. There are a whopping 360 ticket counters for the more than 100 different passenger airlines that fly in and out of BKK. Its busiest routes are Hong Kong, Singapore, Seoul, Dubai, and Taipei. There is no inter-terminal transportation, but a walk from one end of Concourse C to the other end of Concourse G should take only about 10 to 15 minutes.
Given the recent influx of tourism in Bangkok, expect immigration lines to be long. There are, in fact, two immigration sections, so if one seems particularly chaotic, you may switch to the other. Keep the departure card the officer will give to you for a smooth exit when you're ready to leave Thailand.
The tourists who do drive around Thailand rarely rent cars. Motorbikes are a more common way for locals and tourists alike to get around the city (although public transportation and tuk-tuks accommodate non-drivers just fine). In any case, parking at the Bangkok Airport is available in Zones 3 through 7. The first hour of short-term parking costs about $.85 USD (or 25 Thai Baht) with the daily rate being about $8 USD. Long-term parking costs about $.66 USD for the first hour and $4.50 for the day.
The short-term lots are located just outside the main terminal building while the long-term lot is a short shuttle ride away.
The Bangkok Airport is an easy drive or tuk-tuk ride from the city center. Simply take the Sirat Expressway toll road out of the city until it turns into Route 7, then follow it to Suvarnabhumi Road, which is well signposted.
Public Transportation and Taxis
The vast majority of international travelers stick to public transportation while traveling around Bangkok, other parts of Thailand, and Southeast Asia in general. Road laws are scarcely followed in this area and driving a motorbike around the city is not for the faint of heart. An easy and cheap way to get to Khao San Road, where many of the hotels are, is to take Bus S1, which requires no transfers and has no other stops. Its sole purpose is to shuttle travelers from the airport to Khao San, so you'll be on a bus full of Westerners (as opposed to locals who might not speak English).
The bus takes about 30 to 40 minutes and can be found outside of Exit 7. It costs $2 USD, but you must pay in baht (60). Exchange the large bills you received from the ATM machine for smaller currency because the drivers don't carry much change.
Alternatively, you can take the train to avoid all that pesky traffic that congests the streets of Bangkok daily. It costs roughly $4.60 for a day pass and is a great option for people who are staying in the Sukhumvit area. Follow the signs for the train to the lower level, then take the City Line to the Phaya Thai station, where you can transfer to the BTS Skytrain. Note that the airport train stops running at midnight.
If you choose to travel Bangkok by taxi, you'll find one at any of the official taxi kiosks located just outside of the airport on Level 1. Don't accept offers from anyone in the baggage claim area. Expect to pay an airport surcharge of 50 baht, along with all tolls, on top of what the meter says. It should cost about $20 USD for the whole trip.
Where to Eat and Drink
While the airport does have more than a dozen food options—serving up both local flavors and familiar Western staples—it tends to be overpriced. You're likely to find better-quality fare for cheaper in the city (Bangkok, after all, is known for its street food scene), but if you're desperate for a bite to eat before or between flights, there are plenty of restaurants located on Floor 4, including Char Haru, China Town, Eat-Tion, KIN Ramen, and Sushi Go near Concourse F. Western fast food options include Burger Kings in the main terminal and international departures (Concourses B and F); Subways in the main terminal, international, and domestic departures; a McDonald's in domestic departures (Concourse A); and Pizza Company in Concourses B and F of international departures.
The cheapest place to grab a quick meal is perhaps the food court on Level 1 near Gate 8, where airport employees tend to eat.
Where to Shop
If you're in a pinch for some last-minute gifts, there are a few shops in the departures area that raise funds for good causes. Items from Sai Jai Thai (on Floor 4, Concourse D) are made by employees with disabilities. The OTOP Store (with locations dotted around Terminal 1), on the other hand, claims to sell goods produced by villagers. Level 4 of Concourse D is home to luxury brands such as Coach, BVLGARI, Mont Blanc, Tiffany & Co., and more.
How to Spend Your Layover
Make the most of your long layover with a four-, five-, or seven-hour sightseeing tour, which you can arrange at any of the tour desks on the arrivals level (at the intersections of Concourse C and D or D and E). You can even keep your luggage at the airport, thanks to the Left Luggage storage area on Floor 2. Expect to pay about $3 USD per item, per day.
If you'd rather stay inside and not have to pass through immigration, you can relax at Boxtel, an "airport sleeping box" that isn't actually as scary as the name might suggest. Located downstairs near the Airport Link, Boxtel is a quirky solution for travelers in transit looking for a quiet place to rest their heads. A wooden sleeping chamber costs around $10 UDS per hour. There's also the Miracle Transit Hotel onsite, which offers six-hour stays for a heftier price.
There are 17 lounges dotted around the airport, most of which are located in international departures. More than half of them go by the name of Miracle and can be accessed by paying at the door or purchasing prepaid lounge passes. Others include the Bangkok Airways Blue Ribbon Lounge (in Concourse D, opposite Gate D7), the Oman Air First & Business Class Lounge (Concourse E, Level 3), Qantas Club (Concourse G, near Gates 1-5), Air France's KLM SkyLounge (Concourse F, near Gate F2), which is open 24 hours, and the Turkish Airlines Lounge (Concourse D, near Gate D8), which has showers.
There's also a Bangkok Airways Blue Ribbon Lounge in domestic departures (Concourse A, opposite Gate A3).
Wifi and Charging Stations
Wifi is free and available for up to two hours per day at Suvarnabhumi Airport. Connect either to AirportTrueFreeWIFI, AirportAISFreeWIFI, or AirportDTACFreeWIFI. Beware of rogue access points with labels such as FreeWiFi that are meant to capture your data.
Bangkok Airport Tips and Tidbits
- ATMs can be found around the arrivals area and are likely to give you a better exchange rate than any of the currency exchange kiosks can. The fees for ATM transactions, however, can be $6 or more per transaction, so take out the maximum amount allowed if you'll be staying awhile. It would be wise to then exchange your large bills for smaller ones, seeing as most things in Bangkok are cheap and vendors don't often carry a lot of change.
- Many tourists who stay for longer than a week get a cheap SIM card for their cellphones. BKK is a great place to pick these up. Thai SIM cards can be found at kiosks near the ATMs. The big phone networks such as AIS offer week-long, unlimited-data plans that cater to short-term visitors. For $20 USD, you can get unlimited internet for 15 days.
- Keep your eyes peeled for fun architectural features of the airport. It was designed to resemble Thailand's natural landscapes. The roof of the main terminal building, for instance, looks like a wave that's meant to float over the concourse below.