Most of the time, you will have to walk quite a bit until you reach immigration. Make sure that you are leaving the plane as fast as possible and quickly proceed to immigration. The line can be really long (at Chinese New Year, for example, it took me over an hour). The number of your baggage carousel will determine which immigration exit you should take.
Do not forget to fill out your arrival card beforehand (I always do it immediately when the crew hands them out on the plane). The airport staff has become quite strict about sending people back at the end of the line in case you forgot about it.
After immigration and baggage reclaim, you can buy local sim cards at one of the small shops in the arrivals hall. There are quite a few restaurants on the various floors as well.
Getting into the City
Taxis are on the first floor at gates 4 and 7. Suvarnabhumi Airport is located in the West of Bangkok and the taxi drive will be about 30 minutes to one hour and will cost about THB 300-500 (USD 9-15) depending on the traffic. Make sure you have smaller notes available (20 or 100), because taxi drivers sometimes refuse to accept bigger notes. Always make sure that the meter is running and insist that the driver turns it on. Alternatively, you can also take the limo service by AOT for THB 1,200 (USD 35). The price will depend on the type of car. They also have bigger vans if you travel as a group.
Most of the time, I take a Grab-taxi (similar to Uber; note: Uber does not operate in Thailand anymore) which is usually about THB 500 to the Sukhumvit area. I prefer it because I know the price beforehand and do not need to have a discussion with the taxi driver to turn the meter on. On both apps, there is an option to indicate the door at the Arrivals floor where you meet the driver. Door number 5 works best most of the time, because the drivers can park there. You need to walk about 50 metres from the actual door, cross the area where the airport limousines park to meet your driver at the pick-up point. In the Grab app, you can chat with the driver. There is a translating function which allows you to type in English and the drivers will see it in Thai and vice versa.
A much cheaper option may be the train (Bangkok Airport Link), which costs between THB 15-45 (USD 0.45-1.30). However, it does not take you to the city centre or to a road where you can get a taxi easily. Considering that taxi fares are relatively cheap, I think it is a safer option to take the taxi right at the airport. At the arrival hall, some guys will come over to you and offer taxi services at a fixed rate. Do not take these “taxis”, they are not official taxis and a guarantee for a rip-off.
Getting to the Airport
Bangkok traffic can be nasty and it is better to leave earlier. I usually leave three hours before departure. Depending on the day time. I leave three and a half to four hours before departure during rush hour. It seems exaggerated, but there are times where you are stuck in the car and do not move for a very long time. Unfortunately, the train is not really an alternative, as it is quite a hassle to go to the airport by public transport.
Check-In, Immigration, Security Check
Also, plan enough time for check-in, immigration and security check, as this can take quite a while if you fly economy class. Check-in lines can be really long. I check-in online if I can. However, some airlines require you to come to their counter. To be safe, I would factor in about 1 hour if you have luggage for check-in, immigration and security check for economy class.
For business class, there are fast lanes for immigration and the security check. The process there takes about 15 to 20 minutes in total.
Do not forget or lose your departure card (it is part of your landing slip you received upon your arrival).
If you have tax free items you would like to declare, do not forget to get the form before (!) going through security. At the counter in the gate areas they will need this form (I learned it the hard way because the first time I did not know about this requirement).
As, the line for the tax refund in the gate area can also be very long, you should factor this in before you go to the airport.
After security and immigration, there is a big range of shops – I think they are OK, there are some local (though overpriced) shops as well as the typical high-end shops from Armani to Zegna, which you get used to when living in Asia. As mentioned in my Bangkok Guide, I love Jim Thompson for high quality Thai souvenirs, which are not mainstream. If you did not make it to their city branches, your last chance is at the airport (the selection is much more limited than in the city though).
The duty free shops have a very big selection of chocolates (if you are a fan of Kinder products like me, there is a huge variety from Kinder Bueno to Nutella). Regarding cosmetics I think the range is a bit limited – you do get the most common brands (even Bobbi Brown which I have so far not spotted at too many airports). However, the products are often limited to creams and perfumes or travel items and a lot of shades for non-Asian skin types are not available. It is a bit annoying because a lot of items are on display and still are then “sold out” and “coming next month”. Over the past two years, I have repeatedly asked for the same products and they always “come back next month”. Well, well.
Dining-wise you have a big option of Thai restaurants – I always choose Mango Tree at the beginning of Zone B. There is another branch at the other end of the terminal as well.
Of course, there are a Starbucks, Burger King and other fast food restaurants. There are also two branches of Dean & Deluca. However, do not expect the same quality as in the city centre. The coffee is not the same standard. The croissants and sandwiches are OK.
As BKK is divided into two major wings, you will find most of the restaurants in both sides. Hence, there is no need to walk all the way from one end to the other.
Seating Areas, Plug Sockets and Wi-Fi
The seating areas are quite limited. Between the zones there are some seats, but if you wish to sit down, you either have to go to a restaurant or to your gate. As the gates only open about 50 minutes before boarding and you cannot enter the area earlier, there are only a few seats available in front of the entrance if you happen to be there earlier. Furthermore, plug sockets are very limited (even in the restaurants). BKK offers unlimited free Wi-Fi. You need to register via an online form. Sometimes, it drops and you need to fill out the form again.
If you transfer at BKK or if your gate happens to change, plan enough time to get from one gate to the other because the distance can be quite far.
In general, I think BKK is very nice and easy-to-navigate with a decent range of shops and restaurants to kill your time.
More about Bangkok
More Airport Guides
Original article published in 5/2016, last updated in 3/2018. All information as of the date of publishing/updating. We cannot accept responsibility for the correctness or completeness of the data, or for ensuring that it is up to date. All recommendations are based on the personal experience of Elisabeth Steiger, no fees were received by the recommended places above.