Despite the long warning period and the, according to rumour and speculation only so don’t sue me, occasionally less than zealous approach to rooting out wrong-doers by some of our boys in brown, 300 illegal taxi drivers, touts and sundry others have been arrested in a crackdown at Suvarnabhumi Airport. Since everybody knew this was going to happen (and assuming the whole thing is not just made up to lend a better impression to airport operations, which I would not rule out completely), this might all be just as well from a Darwinian perspective – if we are to have criminals preying upon tourists, then let them be crim masterminds of the brilliance, cunning and ruthlessness of Fu Manchu. Really, the main problem with taking a taxi from the airport is the willingness of some people to try to cheat the system. After all the problems we had when Don Mueang was the principal international airport, it was great to come back via Suvarnabhumi, join a regulated and usually quite short queue and then pay the metered fee plus an additional 50 baht (plus any tollway fees on the way). However, there are still people who will try to get taxis unwilling to join this system and try to negotiate an independent deal – there was some clown who wrote in to the Bangkok Post advocating this a couple of weeks ago. If this is not prevented, then the whole system will break down and we will all get the joy of witnessing how Thai people like to queue up in an orderly fashion and how much taxi drivers enjoy going to Ladprao when they think they can get another fare. Speaking of the Bangkok Post letters page, there has been a recent campaign (well, several is perhaps not a campaign but you know what I mean) of anti-taxi driver propaganda – it seems to be part of a conspiracy by, I suspect, paid hacks planting anti-Thaksin and anti-working class Thai lies. There seems to be at least one per day, in addition to the tedium of the usual gang of serial letter writers – the self-righteous, right-wing burblings of Burin Kantabutra, the adolescent exhibitionism of Cha-am Jamal, the legions of people who want to argue about Israel from positions of almost profound ignorance and the various lunatics, mostly American, who have been hanging around since the War in Vietnam and still seem to think it could have been won without the backstabbing pinko hippies. Still, bad as all of this is, it is still better thought out than the editorial comments of certain people I could name (but will save for another blog).
“First out of Suvarnabhumi airport?” they asked me on Friday evening.
“No, last one out of U Tapao,” I answered, somewhat grimly.
After going out to teach at Pathum Thani on Thursday, then, I got a taxi straight away to Mo Chit (via the bus station for some reason) and then crossed the BTS system all the way to On Nut. With no sign of the promised shuttle bus, I took another taxi to BITEC where it was promised that transfer to U Tapao was available. After messing about trying to find out what was going on – it was not too badly organized, although people outside the building (i.e. prior to checking in inside) did not seem to have much idea what was going on) (and I had forgotten just how many people smoke, especially the farang women visitors) – I was directed to a table where a man was selling tickets to U Tapao at 135 baht. It seemed like a good deal and cheaper than going by taxi, which would have required negotiation and a no-meter basis.
Well, it was described as a ‘ban nok’ bus for which I was prepared but I did not expect it to take four hours to get to Rayong, having stopped at every conceivable bus stop in the province of Chonburi. Then, at a traffic junction, the conductor came down the bus, ‘you, farang, airport, airport!’ I rushed to get off – the first time in the entire four hours anyone had rushed to do anything for any reason.
So, standing by the road with two Singaporean travelers, where is the airport? Over the other side of the main road, apparently. Well, we crossed and began to walk up the road until the sign said: Airport, 6 km. Fantastic.
Fortunately, a taxi came be not long afterwards (‘no meter’) and we got to the airport finally. At the Jetstar counter, the first thing they wanted was another 400 baht airport tax (I had already paid airport tax for Suvarnabhumi and the flight was not cheap since it had been a popular holiday weekend when I booked – will be reluctant to fly the generally unhelpful Jetstar again).
There were not so many travelers there as I had expected, having seen photos from earlier in the week. Most tourists seemed to be waiting for a flight to Tehran (and could not understand the Thai version of the name).
Outside the airport a small stage had been set up and a luktung singer was giving it a go to a small crowd of local people, apparently, happily drinking beer. Backstage, a couple of female impersonators waited for their turn to perform. Free internet access and foot massages were also seemingly available.
Facilities were OK although limited and once through the gate, a bus took passengers to the planes and from then on it was like being at any other airport.
So, it was a twelve hour trip – even given all the warning about turning up early, Jetstar still waits for the prima donnas to turn up late and stroll on to the plane after everyone else was sitting and waiting – how come it so often appears to be young women carrying shopping bags who fill the role on this particular flight? Coincidence?)
Anyway, I made it to the National Day function at the Shangri La on Friday, as I had promised.
Back to moaning about the political situation later.
+ + + another update from ram + + +
CNN’s Dan Rivers is walking you through the Suvnarnabhumi airport in Bangkok and points out (yet another) big problem: aviation security. Everyone can now walk into the airport and up to the airplanes and do whatever they want. This poses a huge threat to aviation security, and even if all the protesters would leave know it’s very likely that the international aviation authorities will require the complete airport to be checked from top to toe for security breaches… which would take days, possibly weeks…
(NOTE: before the video a short advertisement is shown… I couldn’t do anything about it, it’s CNN, but afterwards the report starts)
Suvarnabhumi Airport is closed– PAD thugs have been occupying the airport overnight and there is chaos around the many places where people have been trying to get home or go on their holidays. Shots have been fired at the airport and there have been explosions in many parts of Bangkok.
I have said enough about the despicable PAD thugs and their various behind-the-scenes supporters.
This year already, tourism has already suffered considerably: foreign arrivals were already projected to be down 30-50% – and that was before embassies started advising people not to travel here at all (well, they cannot come to Bangkok at all, my wife’s colleague is currently waiting at the gate at Changi Airport with no information and complaining. There are many others, of course). Hotel occupancy was already down 40% (up to 80% in Pattaya, according to one report). As one (unnamed) ‘tourism expert’ observed: ““Do you know when the country’s image is destroyed, it’s very difficult to revive it in a short period? What does Thai hospitality look like now, when there are clashes and violence inside the country?”
As the continuing financial crisis starts to cause real job losses, this is the last thing the country needs.
I will post more later after certain events which are due to take place either have or have not occurred.