What looks like a saloon entrance leads to a low-lit cavern, and up the wrought-iron staircase, a sultry woman croons along with a jazz combo.
Downstairs, the well-heeled crowds sip elaborately crafted cocktails, seemingly unconcerned with the blacksmith tools scattered about.
This is a typical after-hours scene in Bangkok, or more specifically, Thong Lor, one of the City of Angels’ most cosmopolitan neighborhoods. A world away from the backpacker dives of Khao San Road and the city’s less salubrious red-light districts, the area—based around Sukhumvit Road’s Soi 55—offers edgy watering holes, craft brews on tap and pop-up music nights that cater to locals and expats alike, proving that it’s possible to have a night out in Bangkok without recreating “The Hangover Part II.”
Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport has been the subject of several recent news stories about the facility’s long immigration lines and overall congestion:
The Bangkok Postreported last Monday that the country’s Immigration Bureau says the lengthy queues are due to unmanageable passenger volume.
On Thursday, the Post said that “female riot police officers” will help ease overcrowding by assisting in checking passports.
On Friday the Postnoted that in order to ease congestion, the government will “encourage” budget airlines to use Bangkok’s Don Mueang airport, the old international gateway.
Then on Sat. the Postprovided some additional details on possible upgrades to Don Mueang.
Elsewhere, Reuters ran a story Friday summing things up. It’s headlined “Bangkok airport problems threaten tourist-friendly image” and begins:
When Bangkok’s futuristic $4 billion (2.5 billion pound) Suvarnabhumi airport opened six years ago, it was hailed as a model for the region.
Today, it is beset by two-hour immigration queues, passenger numbers far beyond capacity and a crisis over management.
Immigration queues have grown so long travellers have been told to arrive three hours before a flight, an hour longer than in most air hubs, threatening to damage Thailand’s tourist-friendly image.
The problems have become so acute in recent days that the government is trying to convince growing numbers of low-cost carriers to move operations to Don Muang, a domestic airport.
The immigration bureau has in the past blamed long queues on a staffing shortage. An official at Suvarnabhumi’s immigration division, however, said it had more to do with lack of space.
“There’s construction going on which is limiting the space we have available for security checks,” he said, declining to be identified.
But travellers grumble at the frequent site of empty immigration kiosks and lines for foreigner nationals stretching far longer than those of Thais. Others say kiosks designed to hold two officers are often manned by one.
Some airlines expressed concern and confusion on Friday over an announcement a day earlier by Thailand’s transport minister, Jarupong Ruangsuwan, to move flights to a different airport.
Thai Airways, in a memo this week to travel industry partners, said passengers should arrive three hours before their departure time. For arriving passengers, it noted that processing visas at immigration now takes two hours on average.
There is a shortfall of more than 200 immigration officers at Suvarnabhumi because many are reluctant to work at the overcrowded airport.
“It is a very stressful job — there’s no doubt about it,” said Imtiaz Muqbil, executive editor of Travel Impact Newswire, a trade publication.
He told The Straits Times: “Most of the officers are not very good in English. They get overwhelmed by the complexity and sheer scale of the traffic, and the risk of making a mistake.”
Earlier this week, Airports of Thailand (AOT), which runs the terminal, agreed to raise the overtime pay of immigration officers as an additional incentive.
The People’s Alliance for Democracy yesterday backed away from its threat to stage a major Bangkok rally against the charter rewrite in a move hailed by the government as a breakthrough in easing political tensions.
However, after a meeting of about 2,000 rowdy PAD supporters at Lumpini Park Hall, the group’s leaders said shelving the mass rally was dependent on two conditions. First, the constitution rewrite should not reduce the power of the King or change the structure of the monarchy, and second, it should not open the way for an amnesty for fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his “cronies”.
The People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) will set up a committee to campaign for national reform instead of holding mass rallies to counter the Pheu Thai-led government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, according to PAD spokesman Panthep Pourpongpan.
Panthep said the group would launch protests if the government changes Article 112 of the Penal Code, amends the charter or any laws to waive penalties on Thaksin Shinawatra and his group, and when the time is right.
It was the first mass rally of the anti-Thaksin PAD, known as the yellow shirts, since Thaksin’s sister Yingluck became the prime minister. More than 3,000 people joined the rally, which lasted from 10am until late evening.
A fire at a high-rise hotel in Bangkok’s main tourist district sent smoke billowing through the upper floors, killing at least one foreigner and injuring almost two dozen other people, authorities said Friday.
When firefighters arrived at the 15-story Grand Park Avenue Bangkok hotel Thursday evening, they saw people screaming for help from the upper floors, said firefighter Rampan Kaewyongkod.
The mid-range hotel, formerly known as the Grand Mercure Park Avenue, has 221 rooms and is located off Sukhumvit Road, a tourist and residential district popular with foreigners.
Click through to the story for some images.
Elsewhere, today’s Bangkok Postsays two foreigners were killed:
Two foreigners are reported to have died after a fire broke out at the Grand Park Avenue Hotel on Soi Sukhumvit 22 in Klong Toey district last night.
The fire was reported around 9.40pm. Thong Lor police suspected the blaze started at a seminar room on the fifth floor of the 18-storey building before spreading to other floors.
Two foreigners, a woman and a man, were killed in the fire, said a firefighter.
Forensic photographs obtained exclusively by ABC News show an undetonated explosive device that was designed to be a part of a failed bomb plot in Thailand. Three Iranian suspects were arrested last week for their alleged involvement in the plot which fell apart when a similar device apparently exploded in an accident at the house where the Iranians were staying
The mysterious stickers found posted along a road in Klong Toey district definitely belonged to the group of suspects believed to have been involved in the Feb 14 bombings on Sukhumvit Soi 71, police said.
Fifty-two stickers bearing the word “Sejeal” were found on electricity posts and signboards on Duang Phithak Road.
“We are sure they belong to the suspects, as we found about 300 similar stickers at a house rented by Leila Rohani, one of the five suspects,” said a police source inside the Metropolitan Police’s investigation team in charge of the case.
The officer said authorities believed the stickers were used to mark the escape route for the gang members after they completed a bombing mission, rather than marking potential target sites.
Examinations of the stickers found a phrase which indicated that they were produced outside the country, said the source. Investigators were trying to locate the sticker’s manufacturer.
“It is very likely that Ms Leila brought them in from a foreign country,” he said.