The big news in Bangkok today is that the city’s long-awaited new airport has finally opened.
Bangkok opens much-delayed air hub
World class airport with no air-conditioning?
— The award for best airport story goes to the IHT’s Tom Fuller:
The official inauguration of Suvarnabhumi, which is pronounced Sawana-poom, will be the latest in what has become a sort of Asian ritual in recent years: As national economies rise, governments discard the crowded, often improvised old airports and open giant, gleaming replacements. In Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong and now Bangkok the new airports are the cathedrals of international air travel, with soaring glass facades and cavernous departure halls.
But the official opening of Suvarnabhumi on Thursday comes with some added baggage, and not the kind that passengers carry to check-in counters. This is political baggage.
The airport project floundered for about 40 years before Thaksin Shinawatra came to power in 2001. Thaksin, a leader whose motto could have been “I don’t want to hear excuses,” pushed through the airport’s construction and sought to open it before elections that were to be held in October or November.
Those elections were called off last week when military leaders removed Thaksin from power. Now, with the prime minister gone, the airport has become a symbol of the ambivalence that the country feels toward him.
While Thaksin was appreciated for an aggressive, can-do style that brought universal health care to the country and paid back the debts owed to the International Monetary Fund, Thaksin also came to be seen as too aggressive in a country that highly values politeness. And his administration was dogged by allegations of conflicts of interest and corruption.
“He got it done. No other government was able to do it,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a professor of political science at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok who has written about the airport. “On the other hand he cheated along the way and took a lot for his cronies.”
In terms of geography, the move is a step down. Don Muang means “city on a hill” while the area around Suvarnabhumi used to be called cobra swamp before being given its present name, which means golden land. Don Muang will handle cargo and some catering for a few weeks or months and then will be used for charter and government flights.
“Cobra swamp.” Awesome.
— Ismail Wolff has an op-ed in the NYT recounting his experience of the coup here in Bangkok:
The Silk Revolution
Thailand’s coup leaders struggle for acceptance abroad
And last but certainly not least:
Thai generals ban go-go dancers
— Here’re more pics on a Thai Web site.
Only in Thailand, my friends. Only in Thailand.