Sunday, February 12, 2012

Surviving Suvarnabhumi – Travel Log 111711

Bangkok was a pleasant 28 degrees when my plane touched down the Suvarnabhumi runway. There were butterflies in my stomach for a different reason – Bangkok floods! The waters, in a darkly shrouded landscape, could be seen from the sky. It was all too apparent that I’d have to eventually deal with this issue sooner or later.

Immigration was a breeze; it didn’t even take 10 seconds to stamp me in and take my photograph. My immigration officer was disinterested with my arrival. I leisurely sauntered out of the hallway, proceeding to Baggage Belt 23; changed $200 worth of Thai baht at a measly 30.40B per dollar. With 5,900 baht on hand, I stepped into the Arrival Hall which is at the second floor of the airport. I went to the Tourist Information Counter (they call it TAT – Tourism Authority of Thailand) and asked for free maps of Ubon Ratchathani and Chiang Rai. Luckily, they had brochures instead, but one would need a magnifying glass to peruse the miniscule details in the map.

It was 12:30 AM.


Now the dilemma! The “hole” in my well-planned itinerary. In 6 ½ hours, I will be flying northeast of the country – to Ubon Ratchathani!

Since the airport link trains stop their service at 12 midnight, I’d have to take a taxi to get to Bangkok proper. While not exactly scrimping, neither did I plan on needless expenditure. After all, available money is always limited when one is on the road.

A taxi to the city will cost me somewhere between 300-400B one way – or 600 to 800B return. An acceptable, but relatively inexpensive room in KSR (Khao San Road) will be in the vicinity of 800B (I prefer not to stay in bug-infested 400B rooms anymore, thank you). All these would amount to a total of 1,600B.

Is it worth spending 1,600B (roughly $52 or P1,400) from 12:30AM to 7AM?

Travel to the city and back will take two hours. Checking in and out of a hotel will take roughly an hour as well. This will leave me 3 ½ hours of sleep! Is it really worth paying 1,600B for 3 ½ hours? There is a transit hotel in Suvarnabhumi but I didn’t even dare inquire. Novotel , with its luxurious 612 rooms, is just 5 minutes by free shuttle. But last time I checked, a room (with a one-month advance booking) will cost $150 – that’s a staggering 4,622B for a few hour stay! In short, this wasn’t cost-effective. No thanks, Novotel!

Rows of unoccupied seats near Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) counter at the 2nd floor arrival hall.


It was 1AM. There was a row of unoccupied seats near the Information Counter. A Caucasian guy, with his humongous backpack, lazily plopped down at the end of the row. I sat right across Bumrungrad International counter. Six hours until my 7AM flight. Thus the hole is gradually dealt with. I decided to camp it out at the chilly Suvarnabhumi! It’s not like someone’s going to drive me away. I will be alright. I’ve waited longer than 6 hours in less comfortable environs, why not here? I yawned. Maybe a 25B sandwich could wake me up? I began to feel hunger. Sleeping wasn’t an option just yet.

Third floor of Suvarnabhumi Airport is home to a dizzying array of restaurants, expensive and otherwise; street gastronomy and high end dining. Hmmm. Why don’t I document this opportunity? The 3rd floor has about 20 restaurants and shops. With a cart bearing my 9kg baggage, I began searching for my midnight meal and ended in front of China Town Restaurant. At 90B ($2.90), I was salivating for a Crispy Pork with Rice. To my right were 2 other Filipinas waiting for their flight. At my left was a French couple who looked like they were misled from the showers in 2 weeks. My bad.

Third floor's row of restaurants

After my meal, I took my cart away from the crowd, and settled on the glistening floor right across Foot Massage and Spa, at the extreme end of the restaurant row. Three other souls have conveniently made their bed beside the posts; overheard a loud snore from one, and I was swept with envy.


I draped myself with my jacket and laid down the cold floor. Why the floor when there were chairs at the lower level? I wasn’t too sure. Maybe because I preferred stretching my legs lying down? Maybe because three others were sleeping soundly and my upper lids were starting to droop involuntarily? Maybe I wanted to reenact the romance of sleeping on a floor. I’ve done this before in Indonesia when my red eye got delayed for 6 hours too. See? I wasn’t a stranger to 6 hours. I once waited in Hong Kong for a 12-hour connecting flight from London.

My backpack turned into a pillow. And I drifted into a constrained slumber. If I had to drag myself to REM, I would. But it was futile. I tossed and turned and after an hour of trying, I stood up; gathered my stuff, and proceeded to the 4th floor – the Departure Hall. It was 4:30 AM. At 6, I could probably deposit my baggage for check in. The waiting stretched to forever. I sat and just watched the airport come alive. But after a while, the crowd had multiplied – there was a burgeoning chaos of people trying to get to their destinations. Like me.

After checking in, I relaxed. I decided to check out the gigantic 20 foot statues – half a dozen of them stood in every hall across the 4th floor - depicting characters from the Ramayana. I started snapping away, but gradually realized that they almost looked similar.

Crispy Pork with Rice at 90B ($2.90) in China Town Restaurant.

China Town Restaurant at the 3rd floor

The bohemian spirit of sleeping on the floor is a romantic, but "
uncomfortable" notion. From the distance, you could see others sleeping on the floor.

I found my departure gate and prepared myself for a ride that’s expected to slice through Thai air space for 1 hour ten minutes. There were empty seats inside the plane. I hurriedly gobbled my pre-ordered meal (Chicken Rice) then drifted to a dreamless sleep. If I did survive a night at Suvarnabhumi, I was too darn sleepy to care. Would I enjoy Ubon in my torpor? This should be interesting.

This is the Eye in the Sky!

Askan-Mara, chief of giants, looming large in one of the halls of the departure area. (above and below)


Trotter said...

Hi Eye! It’s already deep into the New Year and into the crisis, but hope is the last thing to fade... We’ll survive, as you survived... ;)

Something similar happened to me in 1969 in Stockholm; the difference was that I was strolling the streets as the youth hostel was fully booked and railway station closed for the night! The train to my girlfriend's house was also only available in the morning... ;)

Blogtrotter Two is visiting a place you probably wouldn’t suspect... ;). Enjoy and have a great week ahead!!!

eye in the sky said...

@ Trotter:

It's always memorable when things like this happen, but then it was a choice. I could have easily chosen to leave the airport, but I didn't. I specifically remember the same situation in Luxembourg, that was scarier because Europe's too far away from home. But these things make beautiful anecdotes to friends. LOL

Welcome back. I hope you're healthy. :)

Ramakrishnan said...

Time well spent & money saved for a rainy day ! A true traveler cum blogger. Crispy rice with pork looks yummy(I do not eat pork though or any meat for that matter)
The Ramayaanan statue is perhaps that Ravana or one his brothers ? Suvarnabhumi is a word that has its origins in Sanskrit: Suvarna=Gold, Bhumi=Land. Hence Land of Gold.
Here I go again with the tough word verification:))

eye in the sky said...

@ Ramakrishnan:

I think Ravana stands at a different hallway in the airport. There are about 7 or 8 of those giants standing in Suvarnabhumi. Wow, I didn't know Suvarnabhumi literally meant "Land of Gold"! Thanks for the info.

Ok ok... I'll deal with my word verification on my next post. :)