The terminal, an airy, futuristic structure designed by German architect Helmut Jahn, is about five times the size of the old Don Muang. The exterior ? comprising large glass panes interlocked with steel structures ? is impressive and reminiscent of one of the world?s most famous and busiest airports, New York?s John F. Kennedy International Airport.
Its interior, though, is not so hot. Bare concrete walls and ceilings are meant to look avant-garde and artistic, but come across as looking merely unfinished.
The terminal was dim because its massive but dirty glass panes blocked out sunlight. Cleaners were spotted wiping the panes from the inside, but the airport has yet to devise a system of cleaning from the outside.
We arrived at Suvarnabhumi at 9.30am on a Thai Airways flight. The walk to Immigration took a good 10 minutes, but it might have been faster if the travellators were working.
Signs pointing to Immigration were clear enough although they were on makeshift stands. Clearing Immigration and baggage claim was a breeze, as half of the 28 passport counters were manned that morning.
We were on our way out by 10am.
At 5.30pm, checking in was no problem. The check-in queues were no longer than those at any other airport in the world, and the short queues at passport control took under five minutes to clear.
But there were no clear signs to the departure gate. I asked an airport staff for directions to gate C8 ? at the left end of the airport ? and she actually tried to direct me to Concourse E, which is at the far right end. I had to assume ? correctly in the end ? that gate C8 must logically be in Concourse C, and relied on the free airport map to navigate my way there.
c. TRANSPORT TO THE CITY
There are several ways to get to the city: by private car, metered taxi, van or public bus.
You can also rent cars from Hertz or Avis.
Private cars charge about 900 baht (S$38.50) per trip to central Bangkok. You can hire one straight out of the arrival hall on Level 2. They are parked outside, like taxis are at Changi.
Metered taxis (above) cost 350 to 400 baht. Go down one level to queue for one. There are three queues. Don?t join the first one you see which will be very long. Turn left at the door and you will find two other relatively short queues along the same road. The taxis arrive in a steady stream to all three stands.
Vans and public buses are cheaper, at 40 and 35 baht respectively, but you will have to take a free, 10-minute shuttle-bus ride from the terminal to the Public Transportation Centre to catch these.
There are no clear signs pointing to this pickup point for shuttles, but you will find it if you walk further down left, past the third taxi stand.
All journeys take about 45 minutes to an hour, depending on how bad the notorious Bangkok traffic is that day.
Forget Siam Paragon shopping mall in downtown Bangkok. The Thai city?s most luxurious shopping strip can be found in its new airport terminal.
Famous brands like Chanel, Fendi, Bvlgari and Tod?s line the middle section of the terminal, as do souvenir shops, bookstores, money changers and counters selling duty-free perfume, cosmetics, cigarettes and liquor.
High-fash prices there are largely similar to the ones in Singapore. Shops like Sai Yai Rak, Sai Jai Thai and Jim Thompson sell silk shawls and other handicrafts.
You can also find exquisite souvenirs like traditional doll figurines for about 2,500 baht.
But not all travellers are wowed by the vast expanse of over 50 shops, which cut down on space for people to move quickly.
?There are too many duty-free shops here. It?s as if I?ve walked into a King Power super mall,? Mr Sappasit Foongfaungchaveng, 27, a museum curator in Bangkok who flies out of the airport regularly, said.
King Power is the sole retailer of duty-free goods in the airport.
You can find a good assortment ? Thai rice, Chinese noodles, American subs and sushi.
If you are craving for tom yum soup (152 baht), head for Tate Cafe, Level 2 of the main terminal. It also serves international cuisine like Italian pasta, Twinings English teas and mouthwatering French Lenotre pastries.
Running to catch a plane? Grab sandwiches (110 baht) from Bakey Chic and dim sum (85 baht) from S&P, both located next door, to go.
Cheaper options can be found in the food court, Magic Food Corner, in the main terminal on the ground floor next to the taxi and shuttle bus stands. Here, you can find chicken rice, roast duck noodles and other Singaporean food-court fare for an average of 35 baht.
Once you have checked in and have gone past Immigration, don?t miss the Sushi Bar, a two-minute walk to the left. The spicy tuna roll is fresh and tasty, albeit a little pricey at 280 baht.
Travellers with a sweet tooth and an extra 20 minutes to spare can trek to Concourse B to find The Cream And Fudge Factory, which makes amazingly creamy ice creams and milkshakes. First, choose a flavour and a topping or two, then watch the server chop it all up and reconstitute it into a new ice cream flavour for 95 baht.
There is a handy baggage storage facility at the terminal where you can leave your baggage. Turn right as soon as you enter the arrival hall. Look for an office that is tagged Left Baggage ? by far the most confusing sign, which led me to think it was a room for forgotten bags ? situated next to the Tourist Office. It costs 100 baht per stored bag per day or part thereof.
The toilets did not seem as filthy as previous reports suggested, but they are inadequate. Even men had to queue to go to the loo.
We made random checks at various parts of the airport throughout the day, and found cleaners on duty at most times. However, they were not always cleaning. Some were talking on their mobile phones and others stood around.
Several airport officials we spoke to said queues for the women?s toilet just outside Immigration at the departure hall can stretch as long as 15m between 8.30 and 10.30pm.
While other toilet locations were not exactly hard to find, each women?s toilet had only about three to five cubicles, and the men?s toilets only two cubicles and one urinal.
This article was first published in Life!, The Straits Times on January 16, 2007.