This October marked the 4th time that I had been at the Bangkok Airport in ~3 years. Going through the motions between deplaning and arriving at my hotel, I realized that I now take a few things for granted, things that I had no clue about the first time I arrived at BKK, March 2010. Thus, jotting them down here in case it may be helpful to the internet:
For the most part, immigration is straightforward. Coming from the US, Europe, and most western countries, no visa is required. 30-days tourist stay is granted automatically. What is very important to note is that the entry card you fill out when you land in Bangkok (assuming international flight) has a complementary departure card with matching numbers. HOLD ON TO THIS departure card. The immigration officer will take tear away the Arrival Card and stamp your passport before entry. Then it is your responsibility to hold on to the corresponding Departure Card for departure customs, via Bangkok again or another city. Sometimes, the entry immigration officer will staple the Departure Card to your passport, sometimes not… just find a way to hold on to that card.
2. Money Exchange
Most everyone waits until after clearing immigration/customs to exchange money. This creates quite a rush/line at the limited number of exchange kiosks – there are a couple next to baggage claim (past immigration) and a couple more in the main arrival lobby of the airport (past customs). A better way is to exchange money before hitting immigration. There is one THB exchange counter before you hit immigration where the lines are typically very short because everyone else is rushing to immigration. The THG exchange counter is immediately past the entrance to the main immigration hall. Everyone will be turning left for immigration, but there are plenty of booths there to keep the lines reasonable even after your money exchange detour. So skip immigration at first, go past the main entrance to the hall, and immediately on your left with be a THB counter. Simple, easy, avoids lines. Oh, and THB buys foreign currency with no fees – added perk.
Sanctioned taxis are on the ground floor. Once you exit customs, take the escalators/elevators to the very bottom level, exit the main doors, and you will see the taxi lines on the curb. You queue up to talk to a teller, who asks you for your destination. Drivers, meanwhile, park their cabs in a line and come stand next to a teller with a customer. The teller will note the driver and cab number on an official sheet, then tell the driver where to take you (in Thai), and then dispatch you together to the parked cab. You get a copy of the official paper, for your peace of mind. For this service, you pay an extra 50 baht fare (USD 1.50) to the driver at the end of the ride, which I think is well worth it. It also goes without saying that when you queue up, pick the line that has the most travelers traveling together. The shortest line of 10 people all waiting for individual cabs (10 cabs total) will be much slower than the longer line of 12 who are actually traveling, say, in groups of 4 (only 3 cabs).
There is also a light rail that runs into the city from the airport and connects up with the subway system. It is very easy and straightforward, so I won’t really go into details. When I took it in August 2011, I believe the fare was 90bt (~$2.75), which is about half of what a cab will cost into the city center (or thereabouts). If your destination is conveniently located close to a subway stop, then the light rail is a pretty good option. If not, it may be worth shelling out the extra cash for a cab, especially if you have luggage to carry.
4. Checking in
When you are back at BKK on your way out of Thailand (or to Phuket, Chiang Mai, any number of places), the arrival hall is huge. Look up your flight on a few clusters of monitors in front of the rows of check-in counters. On the monitors, next to your flight number, will be a letter. That letter corresponds to your check-in counter row. Each row of check-in counters is marked with the giant post with a letter up top. There are enough rows to reach the end of the alphabet, so you really don’t want to just walk up and down all the rows looking for your airline. Or maybe that was just silly me.
Happy traveling… As I ease my way back into posting.