Long stopovers can be the bane of travellers – hours spent in unknown airports can seem to stretch on and on. But if you have a transit in Bangkok, whether en route to another country or a destination elsewhere in Thailand, fret not: there’s plenty you can do to make your stay more enjoyable, with a quick trip out of the airport to one of these attractions.
Nationals of plenty of countries are eligible for a free visa-exemption stamp on arrival at an airport in Thailand, allowing you to pass immigration and be stamped into the country without needing to apply for a visa, usually for a period of 30 days. Passport-holders of many other countries can apply for a visa quickly and easily on arrival. Always check the latest immigration requirements for your nationality with your nearest Thai diplomatic mission before departure.
Both of Bangkok’s international airports have left luggage facilities, so if your cases aren’t checked all the way through to your final destination with your airline (or you want to leave your carry-on luggage in order to lighten the load as you explore Bangkok), you can deposit them for a small fee. At Don Muang airport this costs 75 baht per item for the first 24 hours and then 38 baht for each additional 12-hour period; Suvarnabhumi charges slightly more, at 100 baht per item for the first 24 hours and then 50 baht for each additional 12 hours. Electronics and other valuables aren’t accepted.
Bangkok is famed for its huge shopping malls – and you can visit one even if you don’t have time to head all the way downtown. Numerous shopping centres are located within close proximity to Suvarnabhumi airport, allowing you to escape the airport for a couple of hours, enjoy a Thai meal, and stock up on souvenirs or treats for yourself.
Paseo mall is located just an six-minute taxi ride from Suvarnabhumi airport, and features plenty of massage salons, restaurants, and inexpensive retail outlets. For a wider range of designer and everyday goods, head to Mega Bangna, a huge low-storey shopping centre that also boasts a wide range of restaurants and fast-food chains, a large hypermarket, and even Thailand’s first branch of IKEA – just in case you feel the need to stock up on furniture during your layover! From Suvarnabhumi airport, Mega Bangna is around 15 minutes away by taxi.
While Bangkok is full of inexpensive spas and massage salons – some rather more dubious than others – Health Land is a chain that’s perhaps first off the lips of Thais and expats when asked for a recommendation of a reputable, genuinely relaxing and professionally delivered massage.
Though slightly more expensive than run-of-the-mill massage shops – traditional Thai massage starts at 550 baht for two hours, while a 90-minute aromatherapy message will set you back 950 baht – Health Land offers high-quality treatments carried out by trained and experienced therapists in comfortable and extravagant, well-maintained surroundings.
The closest Health Land branch to Suvarnabhumi airport is on Srinakarin Road, around a 25-minute taxi ride away. There’s also a branch in the Chaengwattana area of northern Bangkok, around a 30-minute taxi journey from Don Muang airport. Both branches are open daily from 9am until 11pm – call or e-mail ahead for an appointment in order to avoid disappointment.
If you’re transiting through Don Muang airport at the weekend, making a dash for the infamous Chatuchak market (also known as JJ Market) is a quick, layover-friendly option. It’s just a short hop by bus route A1 from Don Muang’s departures level to Mo Chit BTS Skytrain system – the bus takes 20 minutes, costs 30 baht, and runs every 12 minutes between 7.30am and midnight – and Chatuchak market is located right alongside, just through Chatuchak park.
Prepare to shop until you drop – it’s not for nothing that the saying goes ‘if you can’t buy it at Chatuchak, it doesn’t exist’ – but also be prepared for huge crowds. Time your visit carefully to make sure you don’t lose your way around this maze of a market and end up missing your onward flight!
If you’ve got long enough between flights, it’s quick, easy and inexpensive to get downtown from Suvarnabhumi airport using the Airport Rail Link. Taking the train to Phaya Thai takes just 19 minutes, and from there you can connect to the BTS Skytrain in order to reach downtown areas like Siam (for Siam Paragon shopping centre), Chidlom (for Central World shopping centre), Asok (for Terminal 21 shopping centre), Phrom Phong (for Benjasiri Park and the EmQuartier and Emporium shopping centres), and the trendy coffee shops, restaurants and boutiques of Thonglor.
It’s also possible to connect to the Skytrain’s Silom line at Siam, and then change at Saphan Taksin for a picturesque ride along the Chaophraya Express river boat down to the old town of Rattanakosin island. Alternatively, you might want to change for the MRT subway at Asok and head along to Hualamphong central train station, from where Bangkok’s Chinatown district of Yaowarat is a short walk or tuk-tuk ride away.
Don Muang airport, located to the north of Bangkok proper, is less conveniently connected to the city by public transport. That said, it’s still possible to take bus route A1 to Mo Chit BTS Skytrain station, and then use the Skytrain to head downtown towards Siam and all the other attractions listed above. Alternatively, bus route A2 runs every 30 minutes from Don Muang to Victory Monument (takes around an hour, and costs 30 baht), where you can also connect to the Skytrain further down the Sukhumvit line.
What are your tips for making the most of a layover in Bangkok? Let us know in the comments!
Photos by Jithesh; Takahiro Yamagiwa; Tara Angkor Hotel; Chris Wotton; Mark Fischer