Suvarnabhumi (pronounced soo-wanna-poom) is Bangkok’s vast and modern international airport which took over from the much older Don Mueang airport when it was finally opened in 2006. Located around 30km east of the city centre, it is by far Thailand’s biggest and busiest airport, handling over 65 million passengers and over 1.3 million tonnes of cargo in 2019, making it the 19th busiest airport in the world and second only to Singapore’s Changi airport in South-East Asia. It is clean, modern and easy to navigate, despite its sprawling 563,000m2 of floor space spread over seven floors and a basement. For the vast majority of international travelers, Suvarnabhumi will be their entry point into the country and it is clean and modern enough to give a great first impression.
In our guide to Suvarnabhumi International Airport we take a look at how to get around the airport, departures, arrivals, baggage claim, immigration and visa information, hotel accommodation, shopping and places to eat and drink, onward travel and getting into Bangkok city as well as booking information and emergency information plus more.
Passengers have access to five floors inside the airport, including the basement. It is logically laid out with excellent signage in both Thai and English, making it very easy to navigate. In the basement, you’ll find access to the Airport Rail Link, a very cheap and convenient way to get into the city centre, as well as numerous money exchange booths.
Level one (the ground floor) is where you can access the taxi rank, as well as public buses, the vast majority of which travel to various destinations around the capital, but you can also take buses to three other destinations, namely Pattaya, Nong Khai, and Talad Rong Kluea.
Level two is the arrivals hall, level three is shops and restaurants and level four is departures. You can use the elevators, or the many escalators which criss-cross the inside of the building. Left luggage is found in the basement, there are smoking rooms on floors 1,2 and 4, and access to the road is available on levels 1 and 2.
Thanks to the intuitive design of the airport, getting around is straightforward. The airport is wheelchair friendly and offers electric buggies, lift access to all areas and wheelchair-friendly bathrooms. There are luggage trolleys available if you have heavy luggage, and there are 53 information kiosks around the airport with staff who can speak a variety of languages. Once you have arrived, it’s a short, well-signed walk to the immigration counters, then on to baggage claim. Once you have your luggage, then you will exit the arrivals hall where you may be selected to have your bags x-rayed. Once past the x-ray machine, you will find yourself on level two of the airport, so if you want to grab something to eat or drink, you’ll need to go up one floor, or just head down one floor to find the taxi rank. The cheaper Airport Rail Link is accessed through the basement, this is where you’ll also find the money exchange booths with the best rates in the airport.
As you exit the arrivals hall, you will see many booths operated by several mobile phone companies, where you can quickly and cheaply buy a Thai SIM card if you don’t already have one. You’ll also see several car hire and limousine booths offering their services. Most travelers who are heading into Bangkok should head right down to the basement to use the Airport Rail Link, which at 45 baht ($1.45) into central Bangkok (as far as Phaya Thai) is a real bargain.
One important thing to note is that once you arrive you’ll see signs in blue, yellow and white. The blue signs will direct you to immigration and then baggage reclaim, whilst the yellow signs direct you to gates for connecting flights. The white signs are for amenities such as smoking rooms and lavatories.
During the high season of 2018/2019, Suvarnabhumi was handling the arrival of 200,000 passengers per day, from as many as 800 flights from all corners of the globe. The airport is a crucial local transport hub and is often a popular stopover point for travelers travelling to and from Australia and New Zealand. Flights from Singapore and Hong Kong are the two busiest routes, both for passengers and cargo. You can check the status of arriving flights here.
The departures hall on level 4 is vast and gives you an idea of just how many flights the airport handles. There are numerous budget operators offering flights to numerous domestic locations, as well as excellent links to Asian destinations as well as long-haul flights departing for cities around the globe. In 2019, 77% of departures left the airport on time. You can check the status of departing flights here.
Immigration and Visas
Upon arrival at Suvarnabhumi International Airport, the majority of visitors from Western nations will be eligible for a “visa-exempt” entry, which allows you to stay for 30 days. This can then be extended by another 30 days at your nearest immigration office for a fee of 1900 baht ($61). Alternatively, you can apply for a 60-day tourist visa in your home country before departing, and this can also be extended for 1900 baht, giving a total of 90 days in the country. Note that the use of back to back tourist visas and short border runs to get a new tourist visa is no longer allowed, if you want to stay longer, you’ll need to find a suitable long-term visa.
It should be noted that if you don’t qualify for a visa-exempt entry, you will need to apply for a visa on arrival, which involves having to complete a form and pay a fee of 2000 baht ($64). You can find a list of these countries here.
Overstaying your visa, whether an accident or not, is highly inadvisable. If you’re caught you could be detained at the immigration detention centre, which is very unpleasant, before being, fined, deported and even blacklisted from the country. If you have only overstayed by a few days, then it is unlikely to cause a problem, but you will need to present yourself at the airport and pay the fine of 500 baht ($16) per day.
After clearing the immigration counters, next you’ll need to collect your baggage. Just follow the blue signs until you arrive at the baggage claim hall, where you’ll find several carousels, above which you’ll find electronic screens displaying the flight numbers that they correspond to. The baggage handlers are very efficient and it’s likely that your baggage will be waiting for you by the time you’ve cleared immigration.
Airport Rail Link – By far the cheapest and easiest way to get into the city centre, a ticket on the air-conditioned rail link costs 45 baht ($1.45) and will get you as far as Phaya Thai, which is a very central location. From there, it’s easy to grab a taxi to your hotel, avoiding an expensive taxi ride from the airport and associated fees and tolls. The entrance to the rail link is in the basement of the airport, past the money exchange booths.
Private Taxi – Arguably a better option if you have heavy luggage, you’ll find the taxi rank on the ground floor of the airport. It’s an automated, ticketed system where you take a ticket from the machine and then wait for your number on the screen, which will direct you to a parking space where your driver will be waiting. The fare will vary depending on your precise destination, budget around 500-600 baht ($16-19) for a ride to the Khao San Road area.
Car Rental – If you’re brave enough to want to drive in Bangkok, you’ll find the car rental booths on the ground floor, there are about half a dozen options with the usual well-known rental companies such as Avis, Hertz and Budget. For a smaller vehicle like a Toyota Yaris, you’ll pay around 8000 baht ($255) for two week’s rental. Always take out the most comprehensive insurance cover, including any additional bumps and scrapes policy, as the traffic in Bangkok is chaotic with many people driving recklessly.
Public Buses – There are numerous public buses available at the airport, covering many destinations around the city, as well as a few other further afield destinations, most notably to Pattaya. You’ll need to take the shuttle bus from the ground floor to the transport centre. If you’re travelling to Sukhumvit Road, then take the number 552 which will drop you at On Nut BTS station, if you’re going to the Khao San Road area, then grab the number 551 to the Victory Monument, from there it’s a 10-minute walk to Khao San Road.
Minibuses – There is an express minibus service operating several times per day between the airport and the island of Koh Chang. You’ll find the booth on the ground floor next to door 8, cost is 600 baht ($19) one way, or 900 baht ($29) for a round trip ticket.
The airport is home to an ultra-modern, 600 room hotel operated by the Accor hotel group under the Novotel Suvarnabhumi brand. Having four restaurants and a bar, the hotels offers a more up-market dining experience to discerning travelers and is only a few minutes walk from the main concourse. It is quiet, convenient and with rooms from 2950 baht ($94), it’s also good value for an upmarket airport hotel. There are also dozens of hotels within a kilometre or two of the airport, offering substantially lower rates than the Novotel, including The Park Nine Suvarnabhumi (from around 1100 baht) and Le Meridien (from around 2000 baht).
Money Exchange Booths
There are dozens of money exchange booths around the airport, run by both local banks and money exchange companies. However, the rates offered can vary significantly depending on which booth you use, most notably the booths in the arrival hall offer the poorest rates whilst the booths in the basement just before the entrance to the Airport Rail Link offer much better rates, in line with the rates you’d find in the city. In particular, both SuperRich and Kasikorn seem to consistently offer competitive rates, and are often busy. Bringing your own currency with you and exchanging it in the basement of the airport is the best way to get your baht, however you should be aware that they will not accept torn, defaced or poor-condition bills, and you’ll find that you get a slightly better rate when exchanging large bills.
Restaurants and Places to Eat
On level 3, you’ll find a range of small restaurants, Thai and Asian foods mostly, although there is also a Burger King. The restaurants offer draught beer, although as you’d expect there is an airport premium on the prices. You’ll find Japanese ramen, Chinese dim sum and Korean BBQ on level 3 as well as Asian Corner, which is a buffet-style restaurant with a range of Asian specialities. At the other end of the terminal, you’ll find the Mango Tree, offering Thai food, Volare serving Italian food and several more upmarket (and expensive) restaurants within the Novotel Suvarnabhumi complex. You’ll also find a Dairy Queen, a Pizza Company and a variety of smaller shops selling a range of snacks and pastries inside the main building.
Bars and Pubs
There are several places to grab a cold beer, a glass of wine or a cocktail at the airport, but prices are unsurprisingly inflated. There’s the Bill Bentley Pub, an English-style pub serving traditional pub-style food and draught beers. There is also the Sky Bar which looks down onto the main concourse and has some very comfortable chairs to lounge around in whilst waiting for your flight. As mentioned, you’ll find that some of the restaurants on level 3 also serve draught beers, and there are a several more upmarket bars inside the Novotel complex, including the Touchdown Sports Bar.
Shopping and Duty-Free
As you’d expect for an airport of this size, there are numerous outlets where you can buy all manner of items from books to imported spirits, a vast range of cosmetics, designer clothes, confectionery, electronics, cameras and Thai silk products. There is also a 7-Eleven which is always busy as they don’t mark up their prices just because the branch is in the airport. You won’t find any bargains whilst shopping at the airport, but there are lots of interesting and unique souvenirs and gifts to take home. The duty-free section is much like you’d find at any large international airport, with a huge selection of tobacco products, alcohol and chocolates.
Tickets and Bookings
Whether you want to book an onward journey from the airport, arrange a rental car, or book a hotel, nowadays this can all be done online before your arrival. We recommend Agoda for hotel bookings, 12GO Asia for bus, train, ferry and internal flights and World Nomads for travel insurance. It’s worth noting that some Bangkok hotels have a free airport pickup service for guests and certainly at the more upmarket hotels, they’ll have a service where they can arrange transport you for and make bookings or arrange tickets on your behalf.
Lost and Found
If you lost any items whilst checking in, whilst at the gate, or whilst on the plane itself, you would need to contact your airline. For items lost anywhere else, you will need to head to the departures hall on level 4 and head to the information counter which is just before the KL/MN section.
Alternatively, you can call them on +66 2132 1888. If it is your luggage which has not arrived as expected, you’d need to contact the lost baggage tracking service, also in the departures hall on level 4, their phone number is +66 2132 1880, or you can email them at [email protected].
Suvarnabhumi International Airport Hotline Tel. 021321882 / 021321888
Suvarnabhumi International Airport Flight Inquiries Tel. 021320000 / 021329328-9
Thai Tourist Police emergency line Tel. 1155
Thai Hotels Association emergency line Tel. 1552
A Brief History
The airport experienced several teething issues, which is not surprising given the size of the construction project and the number of contractors involved. The land for the airport was bought many years prior in 1973, a swampy 8000 acres of land in Samut Prakan province, around 30km east of central Bangkok, then referred to as “Nong Ngu Hao” (Cobra Swamp). However, in 1973, the military government in power was overthrown by protesters and the project was mothballed for many years. Then after a long, drawn-out process of draining the land and preparing it for the construction project, work eventually began in January 2002, and the site was named Suvarnabhumi. The name was chosen by the then King Bhumibol Adulyadej, and translates as “the golden land”. At that time, the current international airport, Don Mueang, was seriously overloaded so the government were therefore very keen to push the project through as fast as possible, and had initially planned for the airport to open in 2004.
A company was formed called “The New Bangkok International Airport Company”, however, the commencement of construction was constantly set back by political and economic issues, including the infamous “Tom Yum Goong” crisis which savaged Thailand’s economy in 1997. Seemingly cursed from the outset, work finally began in 2002, an amazing 29 years after the land was initially purchased. Worse still, the construction project itself was plagued by a series of errors, budget overruns, alleged corruption regarding the awarding of contracts, political interference, and amazingly, they even had to bring in 99 Thai monks to exorcise the site after it was found to be built on an ancient graveyard and several workers had reported seeing ghosts.
In July 2006, the airport was almost complete and thorough testing took place including domestic flights and the first international test flights took place in September, travelling to Singapore and Hong Kong. On the 15th of September 2006, Jetstar Asia Airways began operating a limited schedule of flights to Singapore and the airport was officially opened at 3 am on 28th September 2006 with the first international flight arriving 5 minutes later from Mumbai, operated by Lufthansa Cargo.
However, from day one there were numerous teething difficulties and issues once the airport started handling passengers. There were faults with the check-in system, the cargo computer system, the departure boards displaying incorrect information and problems with luggage handling resulting in some passengers having to wait up to four hours for their luggage to come out on the carousel. Further issues resulted from poor quality construction, incorrect building materials being used, incorrect signage and even subsidence, resulting in many flights temporarily being moved back to Don Mueang airport to give the engineers a chance to repair all of the issues.
Less than a year after the airport had begun operating properly, a further issue was discovered from the use of incorrect building materials; it was discovered that the runways and taxiing areas had developed soft spots and ruts, making it potentially dangerous to take off and land, with some aircraft even getting stuck on the soft parts of the tarmac. These issues were eventually rectified and were estimated to have only added 1% to the cost of the entire project.