Did you read my review of Bangkok's new Suvanabhumi airport (it includes a photos of the departures area -- the world's largest terminal under one roof)?
Well, I went back there. I took a taxi out to Bangkok's new Suvanabhumi Airport the other day, and as my taxi passed under kilometers of new freeway -- much of it elevated, past the graceful curves of the new elevated passenger-rail line, and we pulled into the magnificent airport terminal complex, the same thought kept going through my mind: what a big mistake.
Not a mistake because its poorly designed (which it is), far from the city (true enough), or built on a swamp (they say the runway is cracking). No, it's not a big mistake for any of these or other reasons detailed in a recent IHT article. or illustrated in my earlier blog posting. Suvanabhumi Airport is a mistake because that massive expenditure on infrastructure was badly needed someplace else. Where?
In Bangkok. The money should have been spent improving Bangkok's infrastructure and making Bangkok a place worth flying into. Instead, the Thai government shut down a satisfactory (if unstylish) airport, and build something that was totally unnecessary. The trouble with Bangkok was not its old airport. No, Bangkok's troubles are summed up in two words: traffic congestion and air pollution.
I can't tell you how many first time visitors to Bangkok tell me they have no wish to return -- ever. It's become just another smoggy congested city. For example, in the lobby of my Singapore hotel today I overheard some travellers discuss how you could use Singapore as a base for visiting Phuket: "no need to go through Bangkok." Up in Chang Mai I met a fellow who was timing his return to Bangkok in the early hours of the morning, "you see, that way I won't even have to spend a night in that city." Perhaps the words that best sum up the situation I read in an email, "...tomorrow I arrive in Bangkok. God help me."
Looking at the billions spent on buildings, freeways, and a train line to this "complex in the middle of nowhere," I thought: Thailand, had you spent this kind of money on improving Bangkok, you would have given people a reason to visit. Certainly, the people I overheard in the hotel have a point, for getting in and out of Thailand's tourist spots, Singapore makes for a nice point of departure.
As I stepped off my flight into Singapore's Changi International, I took note of the very dated looking psychedelic colors of the carpet. But neither the age of the carpet or the 1970s fixtures mattered to me one iota. Because I had arrived in Singapore. Singapore built itself a decent airport more than a quarter century ago, and since then it's put all its public investment into making the city itself a worthwhile destination.
Singapore's strategy has payed off. But by continuing to neglect quality of life issues in its capital, Thailand puts an important industry at risk.
TRAVEL TIP: Wondering how to get from Suvanabhumi to Bangkok by express bus? Click here.