For many travelers to south east Asia, including myself, Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport and Kuala Lumpur’s KL International (KLIA) are the most popular airports in the region. Serving a couple of million passengers every year, both Suvarnabhumi and KL International (KLIA) are known as ‘gateway to Asia’ airports but one airport is actually better than the other. But which one is it?
Efficiency at Suvarnabhumi vs KL International – Both airports are equally efficient, at least most of the time. During the first few months after Suvarnabhumi Airport opened, efficient was the last word you could use to describe it. Check-in was a sad story of long lines and computer systems that kept going down. Immigration was slower than Christmas and baggage was an age arriving. But, once Suvarnabhumi got all the kinks worked out, it became one of the most efficient airports in the region.
KL International, on the other hand, has always been efficient with super fast check-in, friendly and quick immigration officials and baggage on the carousel before you even get there. In the efficiency department, both Suvarnabhumi and KL International are neck and neck.
Ease of Getting Around at Suvarnabhumi vs KL International – While Suvarnabhumi Airport is one long huge corridor with shops and cafes on both sides, KL International is separated into smaller groups of stores. While it’s easy to walk around at KL International without getting exhausted, Suvarnabhumi is so badly designed you have to walk from one end of the airport to the other (about a mile in length), just to get to everywhere you need to go. Exhausting, particularly when you’re in a time crunch.
Getting to the departure gates at Suvarnabhumi is also a pain. Whereas KL International has trains that go from the main concourse area to the departure lounges, so you don’t have to walk for miles, Suvarnabhumi’s terrible design means you spend half your time at the airport walking to your gate
Restaurants at Suvarnabhumi vs KL International – The restaurant arena is where KL International really shines. With cafes and restaurants like Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, Harrods, Starbucks, KFC, Chinese, Japanese, Malay, Indian, American, and a whole lot more, not only is the selection excellent but prices overall are cheap too.
Suvarnabhumi airport, on the other hand, is a letdown when it comes to eating. All the restaurants in the international area are at one end of the airport or the other, with barely anything in the middle. Food is mediocre, the area is stifling hot (the air conditioning isn’t powerful enough around the restaurant wing), and prices are outrageous. A burger and fries that I can buy at a fast food outlet at KL International for $3 is $8.50 at Suvarnabhumi’s airport and that’s at Burger King.
Internet Access at Suvarnabhumi vs KL International – KL International shines when it comes to internet access. The entire airport is Wi-Fi enabled, which means you get free internet access for as long as you want it just about anywhere in the airport. Starbucks and Coffee Bean also have free fast internet, or you can pay for it at the airport’s special lounge. With many inexpensive or free choices, you’ll never be disconnected at KL International.
Suvarnabhumi’s internet access, in this day and age, is pathetic. To get internet access at all, you have to go to the customer service counter and ask for a password. They make you sign in with your name, passport information and boarding card number before they’ll even hand over a password. Then the service is slow and inefficient. You can get free internet access at one of the internet booths in the departure lounges, but with only two booths per lounge and 200 people on a plane, good luck finding an available one.
Shopping at Suvarnabhumi vs KL International – Again, KL International is miles ahead of Suvarnabhumi for shopping. While Survarnabhumi has concentrated on high-end designer shops and expensive duty-free places, KL International has a nice range of stores for every budget.
Weirdly, in 2010, Suvarnabhumi Airport was voted the world’s best airport in a survey by a travel magazine. As more than a few expats living in Bangkok asked after reading the results, “Who did the Thai government bribe to skew the results?” as Suvarnabhumi truly is a beautiful but mediocre airport, while KL International is easily the best airport in south east Asia.