The airport with the difficult approach path
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The airport with the difficult approach path

There's no such thing as a soft landing at Bangkok's old gateway to the world, even after a walk through the time tunnel.

The airport with the difficult approach path

Don Muang, Don Mueang. It used to be the former. Sometime in the last five years that extra “E” was added, but it didn’t help. Call it what you like; I prefer "Hellish Airport", which also contains a single letter E.

This is a cry for help in the form of a short novel, since a visit to Don Mueang International Airport these days is a bit like stepping into a bleak futuristic work of fiction.

So let’s go.


There are two parking lots at the airport; one directly under the terminal which is always full. There is another seven-storey parking building a little further south that requires a bit of a trek past the renovations of what will be the main terminal. Upon arriving at that building last Sunday, however, there was a barricade and a security guard.

“The car park is full,” he said.

“Impossible. It’s seven storeys tall,” I replied, as if my comment would magically make him change his mind, but it didn’t. When I asked where I was supposed to park, he pointed south towards the abandoned, decaying terminal a kilometre south.

“And how am I supposed to get from that terminal to here?” I asked.

“Walk,” he answered.

Ask a stupid question.

That is how I ended up driving an extra kilometre down the airport, getting off on wild fantasies of shuttle buses and electric powered golf carts  — or a high-placed relative working at Airports Of Thailand, clearly something those parked in the seven-storey building all have.

Chapter One: Love in a destitute car park

Love, like a tiny shoot between concrete cracks, can blossom anywhere, even in the most anguished places. Even in a remote open-air car park with no visible means of escaping the heat.

I am waiting at the entrance gate to get into that parking lot. I am also waiting for the kid in the ticket booth to get off his phone.

He is trying to establish a time to meet his girlfriend at Future Park Rangsit. I know this because I can hear him, window down, my hand out, expecting to receive a ticket, but instead having to wait for him to persuade her not to work that extra shift. Do the shift, lady; he’s not worth foregoing the overtime. 

“Nong! Hurry up!” I snap. He shoots back: “Deo!” (“Wait!”) and I almost feel like apologising. I receive my ticket along with a scowl and the gate lifts up. I wish him success in meeting his girlfriend; it is insurance against him keying my car.

Chapter Two: Long day’s journey into fright

The journey ahead is not one kilometre. It is a kilometre and a half.

Is this the only airport in the world that proclaims, with pride, a walk of “1,500 metres” to the departure lounge? If I were heading AOT I’d be keeping that little fact as close to my chest as possible. And besides, isn’t it “1.5 kilometres”, or would that revelation spur an instant uprising of air passengers?

I stand under the sign and pray. I give thanks I can still walk a mile in 40-degree heat — not to mention congratulating myself for packing lightly and not lugging a big friggin’ suitcase without wheels.

Chapter Three: The road

Back in the 1990s when the second terminal was constructed, a connecting walkway was built which really should have been a mini-railway or people-mover. It is, after all, a journey of 1.5 kilometres.

Instead, a walkway inside a big metal tube was built. Imagine how hot the place would be without air-conditioners.

Imagine no more!

First-time tourists, lured to the country by alluring TAT ads, must be intrigued to discover this journey through post-apocalyptic Bangkok.

The walkway is full of discarded signs, broken windows with window panes bubbling in the heat, black dirty tubing that twists and buckles menacingly along the sides, air-conditioners making weird grunting noises (though only the ones still working) and even birds racing through the tunnel. They too, are desperate to find a way out. The only thing missing are the rabid zombies.

Halfway down the heat becomes stifling. It is here there are no open or broken windows and the air-conditioning is broken. My shirt stains with sweat and my breathing becomes laboured.

And yet the human spirit is indefatigable, dear reader.

I refuse to lay down and die. With a parched throat I reassure myself that surely I am halfway there. It is this resilience that gets me through to the deserted end of the seven-storey car park.

Chapter Four: A world without humans

The alleyway to the elevators is a glimpse into what Bangkok will be like when the food chain collapses.

There is an abandoned Food Centre, still featuring gaily-coloured pictures of ice-creams and cakes, albeit caked in grime and dirt. The place hasn’t seen a mop since the early Thaksin regime.

Next to it is an old drug store; the sign points unbalanced to a corner of the ground, or maybe to Hell. At least the name is appropriate; if I hang around long enough I’m sure to score.

It is a great sense of relief when I finally make it to the elevators, though there is no indication as to which floor I am supposed to continue to. Do I go up or down? Do the lifts even work? Is it now the murderous gang descends upon me?

The wall next to the lift has been bashed out — by terrified new-arrivals perhaps? I don’t blame them one bit.

Chapter Five: A wall of people

I get past the elevator obstacle. I make it out of the seven-storey car park, past the jackhammers of the renovations and finally reach the Departure Lounge.

Although spent of all energy, dripping with sweat, adrenalin pulsing through my veins, I still want to dance with elation. I made it.

But there is one final barrier to battle through. It is a wall of people.

There must be at least 400 of them. They stand like herded sheep, motionless, smitten of all enthusiasm and anticipation. They are alive, but there is no life in their collective eyes. Don Mueang has sapped them of that.

A glance in the general direction of where these poor souls are facing and I see the sign: Public Taxi.

Nobody is keen to let me through. I receive a collective scowl as damning as the one on the oversexed ticket boy back at the car park.

It is at that very moment I achieve insight; despite the ghastly experience I just dragged myself through, there are still many people in worse situations than mine.


Later that day I make my way back through that same obstacle course to get to my car, but knowledge is power, and I prepare myself with a quick Bacardi Breezer or four in the departure lounge.

There is an extra deterrent on the way back; at the tunnel’s end are two giant spotlights trained to shine directly into my eyes just before reaching the car park.

Once recovered from my temporary blindness I have an urge to visit the men’s bathroom, but there are no public toilets. How I want to relieve myself on the walls of Don Mueang International Airport — what a fitting metaphor that would be!

It is my understanding that this current military government is in power thanks to wresting it from those elected to power. I am not complaining about this. I am simply asking that they do the same at the AOT. Instigate Section 44. End the zombie apocalypse. Leave the letter E in its place. But just do it now before any more tourists arrive.

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