Some things never change. On entering the arrivals lounge at Bangkok's shiny new Suwannabhumi airport, the visitor should still ignore the battalion of polite and not too insistent taxi touts and proceed instead to the nearby desk marked 'Taxis', where fares are at least 50% lower.
Aside from this, much has altered over the last few years and, happily, pretty much all of it for the better. Before the new airport, the journey into the city was a long and even slower one than it is now, through streets so grubby that many a tourist wondered how a country with such a run-down capital could possibly contain the unspoiled nature, melancholy temples, peace and relaxation for which they yearned. The many such visitors who fled Bangkok vowing never to return are advised to give the city a second chance, as much has changed in the capital of the aptly-monikered 'Land of Smiles'.
It's immediately apparent that, for all its blatant corruption, the recently-ousted Thaksin government didn't back-pocket all the tourist dollars, euros, yen and pounds that have recently flowed into the country. The expressway into Bangkok from the airport is lined with lovely bronze statuary and flows past ultra-modern sky-scrapers, whose impact is only enhanced by often being situated amidst shanty-style shacks sporting corrugated-iron roofs. Many Thais bemoan the fact that the tarmac on the Suwannananan runways already, only a year after opening, needs to be repaired, due to 'cost-savings' in the construction project. Visitors have hopefully nothing to worry about, as the too-thin tarmac on the affected runways is being thickened in ways that are more safety-conscious than usual for the country.
It is no accident that Thailand is by far and away the most popular destination in southeast Asia, as it has pretty much everything, bar snow skiing, that any holiday-maker could ask for and is populated by a gracious people unsurpassed anywhere on the planet for their friendly, fun and warm-hearted nature. Thailand's tourist success is due to the number of visitors who return time and again and, whilst the kingdom's climate, topography, sports, culture, religion and food are huge draws, it is the people themselves who keep visitors coming back.
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