Layovers in Bangkok Suvarnabhumi International Airport

Inside Suvarnabhumi's space-age concourse design

Inside Suvarnabhumi's space-age concourse design

Getting stuck in Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport may not be quite as thrilling an experience since its US$4billion lustre as died down, but there are certainly worse places to kill a few hours in between flights. Facilities here are top of the range and there is always the chance to nip into the city centre for a first class meal, spot of shopping or perhaps even the cinema.

But those that cannot be bothered to store their baggage and jump on the express train are also in luck, as there are more than 50 cafes and bars within the terminal building to enjoy plus Thai massage facilities. There is even a luxury spa at the next door 600-room Novotel Suvarnabhumi Airport Hotel. The resort is a five-minute walk from the terminal and 24-Hour Flexi – no set check in time so arrive when it suits and checkout 24 hours later.

Those wanting to get in the swing of things can choose between Muang Kaew Golf Course and Thana City Golf Course within easy reach. However, by September 2012 Le Meridien Suvarnabhumi Golf Resort and Spa will open to offer a full five star service plus 18-hole course just three kilometres from the terminal building. More on activities.

Survarnabhumi is certainly not the cheapest place for a layover with most of the strip of restaurants and bars on the middle concourse offering your typical Thai dishes of pad thai and tom yum goong at vastly inflated prices. But there is a neat trick for those penny-pinchers who feel hunger pangs come on during their Suvarnabhumi layover.

On the second bottom floor at the far north of the pre-check in area (next to where the buses for Pattaya depart) is dirt-cheap Magic Point Food Court, which is mostly used by airport staff and a smattering of travellers in the know. It’s tremendously badly sign-posted – a ruse to keep international travellers in the expensive eateries above perhaps? – but offers standard Thai fare from around 20 baht per dish.

Promotional video for opening of Suvarnabhumi

There are also a couple of 7eleven-esque 24-hour convenience stores just next door to this cheap eats godsend, which offer cheap beer and spirits around the clock – perfect for backpackers with a unquenchable thirst. They also stock snacks and travel essentials such as flip-flops at reasonable rates rather than the rip-off prices charged post-passport control, and those with a laptop filled with films to watch can happily camp down here for a few hours.

On the subject of drinking, it often happens that passengers arrive into Suvarnabhumi late in the evening and have a connecting flight during the wee hours of the next morning. In this situation one can either take a room for a few hours at one of the nearby airport guesthouses – ask at the ‘hotel booking’ counter outside baggage claim for rates from 500 baht per double including breakfast and free transfer shuttles – sit in the terminal building, or check out some of Bangkok’s legendary nightlife.

If you’re just been snoozing throughout a long-haul flight then the latter is probably utmost in your mind, but the decision remains where exactly to head? The backpacker mecca of the Khao San Road is an obvious choice for 24-revelry and a low price tag, but getting there takes an hour and can be an expensive prospect at around 400 baht each way depending on traffic (the area is not serviced by the new airport shuttle train).

Getting to the city centre has now been made simple by the Airport Railway Link. There are two lines: a non-stop express that takes passengers to Makkasan or Phayathai station in 15/18 mins for 90 baht each way, and a slower conventional service. More on the Airport Rail Link.

Both connect with the BTS Sukhumvit line at Phayathai which is perfect for heading into the dance clubs of Bangkok’s bustling centre such as Bed Supperclub or Q-Bar. Khao San Road is only a 70 baht taxi ride from Phayathai as well. However, as both these services only run from 06:00 until midnight every day, they are not really suitable for anyone needing to be back at the airport before 09:00 – leaving an expensive cab journey instead.

The best option for nightlife near Suvarnabhumi International Airport is to grab a taxi to RCA. This is a whole area dedicated to clubbing, with nearly a dozen venues down a single pedestrianised street. Rich young Bangkokians crowd here every night of the week and there’s always something going until the early hours. And because of its proximity to the airport expressway, it’s only a matter of minutes getting there and back to the terminal again.

Those doing a Suvarnabhumi layover during daylight hours should hop on the airport express to Silom and explore the malls and restaurants of Bangkok city centre. But visitors that want to grab a little culture during their stay can get to the old town relatively easily, either by taxing an meter taxi at outside arrivals or taking the Airport Rail Link to Phayathai and jumping in a cab from here (around 70 baht).

Bangkok’s stand-out attraction is the stunning Grand Palace, which includes Wat Phra Kaeo (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) from the 14th century. There is a strict dress code here to visit the 150ft statue, while the Wat Pho complex also contains Thailand’s first university and a leading centre for the teaching of Thai massage. More on Bangkok attractions.

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