Thursday, 26 June 2008

Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok - Resurrecting the Golden Land

Suvarnabhumi Airport, the new Bangkok International Airport, aviation hub and gateway to Thailand was raised from the boggy Nong Ngu Hao or Cobra Swamp in an effort that took 43 years.

Location of Suvarnabhumi Airport

Located to the south-east of Bangkok in Bang Phli district, Samut Prakarn province, Suvarnabhumi Airport is barely 500 m beyond the Bangkok city limits and about 35 km from the city center.

The Bangkok – Chonburi Motorway runs two km to the north of the airport before crossing into Samut Prakarn and then on to Chonburi and the seaside resort of Pataya.

The other main road to the north of the airport is Soi Sukhumvit 77 which leads on the the main Sukhmvit Road at On Nut. Nine km to the south, the Bang Na – Trad Highway links Bangkok to the coastal provinces in the Gulf of Thailand.

Historical background to Suvarnabhumi

The name Suvarnabhumi has a long and interesting history, reminiscent of a golden era of peace and prosperity that's part of the cultural and historical legacy of Thailand.

Long before the first Europeans arrived in South-East Asia in the 16th century, the region had close commercial and cultural links with India, a civilization that existed more than 15 centuries ago. This cultural legacy is still evident in Thailand and many South-East Asian countries.

Indian scholars referred to the region east of India and south of China, i.e. Burma, Indo-China and Thailand or mainland South-East Asia, as Suvarnabhumi or the Land of Gold, a word in ancient Sanskrit, (Suvarn is gold in Thai). The islands of the Malay Archipelago to the south were called Suvarnadvipa or the Islands of Gold.

This was probably because of the rich natural resources in the region which the Europeans were soon to discover. It was no coincidence that the Chinese sea-faring traders had a similar name for the region.

The name Suvarnabhumi (pronounced su-wan-na-poom) or the Golden Land was bestowed on the airport by His Majesty King Bhumipol Adulyadej.

The 43 long years

The development of Suvarnabhumi Airport from its inception in 1973 to its completion in 2006 was perpetually dogged by a series of political and financial problems.

Land for the airport was first purchased in 1973 in an area known by the unsavory name of Nong Ngu Hao or Cobra Swamp. But the target="_blank">14 October 1973 uprising that overthrew the military dictator Field Marshall Thanom Kittikachorn and the subsequent political turmoil grounded the project for the next 20 years.

Suvarnabhumi Airport was revived in 1996 with the formation of the company New Bangkok International Airport (NBIA), to be stalled by the Asian financial crisis a year later.

It was only in January 2002, that construction actually started. This time the project was plagued by cost overruns, defects and delays in construction. By early 2005, it was apparent that the September opening date later that year just couldn't be met. In that same year, NBIA was dissolved and its functions transferred to the Airports of Thailand Plc.

A frustrated Prime Minister Taksin Shinawatra actually camped at the airport construction site in an attempt to drive the project on. Allegations of a massive corruption scandal over the airport bomb scanner equipment added to his woes.

Suvarnabhumi – the Golden Land resurrected

In spite of all these problems, Suvarnabhumi Airport by September 2006 is finally completed. The result is an airport complex covering 32 sq km or 8,000 acres! The passenger terminal, with seven stories, a basement and 360 check-in counters, has a built-in area of more than half a million sq m, just under the combined floor areas of Terminals 1 & 2 at Singapore's Changi International Airport.

With two runways, Suvarnabhumi Airport has a current capacity of 30 m passengers per year, soon to be upgraded to 45 m. The ultimate objective is to add another two runways to boost the capacity to 100m passengers per year.

It also boasts the highest control tower in Asia at 132 m, edging out the 130 m tower in Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

Suvarnabhumi Airport has finally arrived after 43 long and arduous years. This impressive structure is now the new gateway to Thailand, the new Bangkok International Airport and an international aviation hub that's poised to be the pride of Thailand and the aviation world.

Suvanabhumi, the Golden Land has been resurrected, symbolizing the peace and prosperity of an era gone by.

For details on the location of the airport and travel arrangements to the city, please see target="_blank">map to Suvarnabhumi Airport.

Suvarnabhumi Airport is the latest article in Tour Bangkok Legacies, a historical travel site on people, places and events that left their mark in the landscape of Bangkok.

The author Eric Lim, a free-lance writer, lives in Bangkok Thailand.

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