Airports & Flights: Damascus to Chiang Mai

Derek Syria, Thailand, Transportation 11 Comments

This is a new idea that came to me while flying from Syria to Thailand a few months ago upon completing my recent set of rewarding Middle East travels. Given that I’ve been spending so much time flying all over the planet as of late (25 flights in the past 5 months), I decided to start sharing summaries of my ‘travel days’, days in which I travel from one destination to another by air. The idea is to not only tell the tale, but to hopefully share any tips or lessons that I learn along the way that might prove useful to other travelers making a similar journey.

Damascus, Syria to Chiang Mai, Thailand

Part 1: Taxi to Damascus Airport (800 Syrian Pounds / $18 US)

The taxi ride from the city center to the airport took about 30 minutes, and Rawiz, my taxi driver, gave me a most interesting farewell to this country where I had spent much of the previous two months. Rawiz spoke to me about the Jewish population of Damascus and before long, I received what has to be the most comprehensive summary on the matter. (The short story is that there is still a small Jewish community in the city, even though most of the Syrian Jews immigrated to the United States when the Syrian government lifted restrictions on their movements about 6 years ago. According to Rawiz, Muslims and Jews get along quite well in Damascus and he claimed to have several Jewish friends himself.)

 

Part 2: Damascus International Airport

Arriving one and a half hours before your flight out of Damascus is more than sufficient no matter where you happen to be flying. To put it simply, the airport is tiny. Only ten minutes passed from the moment I walked through the doors of the airport until the moment I sat down at the gate. There was not a single person in line at the check-in counters, security or immigration.

And so, with seventy-five minutes to kill, I wandered around the departure terminal (which took exactly 4 minutes) and then plopped down in a chair for some good old people watching until it was time to board the plane.

All you’ll find inside the terminal building of this airport are a handful of souvenir shops and one stall selling bottled water, soda, nuts and chips.

 

Part 3: Flight from Damascus to Bangkok (via Bahrain) – Gulf Air ($302 USD)

Gulf Air, the principal airline of the Kingdom of Bahrain, often offers cheap long-haul flights to many destinations around the world and their website is always worth a look if you’re headed anywhere that requires you to pass over the Middle East. The only potential issue is that many of their flights involve long layovers in Bahrain and unless you obtain a visa ahead of time, most nationalities won’t be allowed to leave the airport. But apart from that, I’ve found Gulf Air to be a good value airline and have now used them on several occasions.

Old Souk, Damascus, Syria

Part 4: Bahrain International Airport

Luckily, my layover in Bahrain was only 5 hours this time around and with free Wi-Fi offered throughout the airport, the time passed quite quickly. (Plug outlets are difficult to find but are located in the corners of most gates, right next to the internet computer stations.)

Apart from getting some work accomplished, I also had a quick chat with a Filipino guy who was on his way to Riyadh, where he worked as a construction laborer. Interestingly enough, he had also spent time working on board cruise ships as a cabin steward when he was younger and so we both reminisced for a while about life at sea.

When the time arrived for me to board my flight to Bangkok, I must admit that the sound of Thai voices and the sight of Thai people that greeted me on that Airbus-320 had such a calming effect on me. Only minutes after sitting down in my seat, I found myself engaged in a friendly chat with the bubbly Thai guy next to me. This was perhaps one of the happiest planes I’ve ever been on, with widely smiling people everywhere I looked.

Of course, the conversations died down for a minute when the Bahraini woman in front of me chugged two beers, a glass of whiskey and three cups of red wine in the first hour and a half of the flight and then became violently ill while her husband informed the concerned Thai stewardess that his wife had never drunk alcohol before in her entire life. This was not a pleasant scene but before long, the overall positive mood of the flight returned. Such is the power of the Thai smile.

And six hours later we arrived in Bangkok.

 

Part 5: Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport

After passing through Thailand’s efficient immigration lines, I had 3 hours to spare before my flight to Chiang Mai. So I headed straight for the domestic terminal where I simply walked up and down the huge departure wing for over an hour in order to stretch my legs. I thought about turning on my laptop but I learned that while the airport does have Wi-Fi, you need to obtain an access code from one of the Information Desks and this only entitles you to 15 minutes of free internet. Each gate also has free Internet Kiosks but I’ve always been quite wary of using such kiosks after reading this interesting post over at FoxNomad.com.

I also withdrew some Thai Baht from the ATM while waiting for my flight, and was surprised to discover that all ATMs in Thailand now charge a fee of 150 Baht ($5 USD) per transaction. So it definitely pays to take out a decent amount of money the first time or else those extra fees will start to add up quite quickly.

Suvarnabhumi Airport also offers a huge variety of cafes and restaurants (most of which are open nearly 24 hours per day) and an abundance of comfortable seats and benches to relax in. The airport is also quite well-organized, with official, and typically friendly, Information Desks located everywhere and clearly marked with blue and white signs.

Buddhist Temple in Bangkok

Part 6: Flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai – AirAsia ($61 USD)

While AirAsia offers what may appear to be absurdly cheap fares to various destinations around Asia/Australia, there are a lot of extra fees involved depending on how much luggage you carry, if you want to choose your seat and even to use a credit card to book your ticket. In the end, the price of my Bangkok to Chiang Mai flight was only $8 USD cheaper than a flight with Thai Airways (a wonderful airline!), so AirAsia might not always be worth it. I ended up using Air Asia because Thai Airways didn’t have a flight that fit my schedule, otherwise, I would have gladly paid the extra $8 USD.

 

Part 7: Chiang Mai International Airport

One of the reasons I love flying into Chiang Mai is because it offers what is perhaps one of the easiest arrival experiences of any airport in the world. Your flight arrives and less than ten minutes later you’re out the door and less than ten minutes after that, chances are you’re already checking in to your guesthouse/hotel.

One thing I noticed this time upon arrival at the Chiang Mai airport is that there is a kiosk located right next to the luggage carousel where foreign visitors can receive a free SIM card for their phone. You can’t miss the kiosks as they’re bright yellow with a sign that says “AOT” and I definitely recommend taking advantage of this offer. It takes only a minute to sign up and once you have your free SIM card, all you need to do is add some credit (which can be done at any 7-11 shop, of which there are dozens in Chiang Mai) and you’re ready to make phone calls. While it may not sound like such a big deal, this offer will save you about 200-300 Baht (the normal cost of a SIM card) as well as the potential hassle of having to get your phone set up once you get into the city.

When leaving the airport in Chiang Mai, I recommend heading straight for the exit doors at the far left end of the arrival hall. Immediately outside you’ll see another kiosk with a sign that says “120 Baht Taxi”. Simply tell the staff at the kiosk the name of your booked hotel in Chiang Mai and they’ll immediately assign you a taxi. Once you reach your destination, you pay the driver 120 Baht ($4 USD) and that’s all there is to it.

So on December 12th, I eventually reached my final destination, a small guesthouse down a small lane in the middle of the Old City of Chiang Mai. It was quite a smooth, enjoyable journey in the end as I managed to get some work done, sleep a decent amount, watch a couple of crappy movies and meet some interesting people along the way.

And I don’t know about you, but whenever my final destination is home to mango and sticky rice, I’m one mighty happy traveler.

Total Trip: Damascus to Chiang Mai / 19 hours / 3 flights / $363 USD

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Comments 11

  1. Sarah Pouzet

    Hello,
    Thanks for this great post, especially the Chiang Mai part since this is where I’m planning on going at the end of the year. I have been searching for practical info since last night and in one short easy to read post I got more useful tips than I did reading other sources’s lengthy posts. Thanks 🙂 I undersand that infos on accommodations change very quickly and that each person might have different standards on comfort but if you could recommend an affordable/clean/good vibe place to stay in Chiang Mai I would really appreciate. I’m planning on learning Thai yoga massage as a way to support my recently adopted nomadic lifestyle :-). The various schools I’m looking at all recommend guest houses that are poorly reviewed on Tripadvisor or that have totally extreme reviews from ” best place to stay” to ” horrible, don’t stay there”. I will most likely pre-book a place for just a week and then go somewhere else if I don’t like it but still, it would be great to hear from your personal experience on accommodations in Chiang Mai. Thank you 🙂

  2. Art selikoff

    Earl,
    This is first time I learned about your site; I find it highly informative, and look forward to reading more about your travels in the future.

    I do have one suggestion that would be very helpful to me and other readers:

    When you stay at a hotel, guesthouse, etc., pls provide its name and cost. When you eat at a great restaurant, pls provide name and cost.

    This will not only provide important, practical information to your readers, but will serve to enhance the importance of your blog.

    Keep up the great work, and all the best,

    Art Selikoff
    Zhuhai, China.

    1. Earl

      Hey Art – Thanks for the comment. And while I do mention some of those places from time to time, I generally prefer not to give out too much information as things change so quickly, especially in terms of price. But I’ll keep your comment in mind and continue mentioning as many wonderful places as I can that I do discover on my travels! Hope all is well in China…

  3. Sabina

    Earl, thanks for the Gulf Air tip. I didn’t know. Another tremendously good Middle Eastern budget airline is Air Arabia, based in Sharjah, where I lived for three months. They can fly you literally all over the Mid East, India and even a little bit of Europe. And did you know you as an American can enter Bahrain without getting a visa ahead of time? I did and spent about 36 hours there a few months ago.

    1. Earl

      Hey Sabina – Thanks for sharing that info about Air Arabia. I did hear about them while in the Middle East but never used them myself. And I wasn’t aware about Americans being able to enter Bahrain without a visa. But that certainly is good to know for the next time I’m passing through. Hopefully you had an enjoyable 36 hours there when you visited!

  4. Nick Berggreen

    Great tip about the free SIM card, Earl. It’s little things like that, that can add up to long savings over time.

    Chiang Mai is definitely among my top 5 places I’d like to visit. It sounds great.

    1. Earl

      Hey Nick – There’s a reason why so many people visit Chiang Mai and end up staying for a while. It really is such a comfortable city to spend some time. I hope you make there in the near future!!

  5. Bluegreen Kirk

    I see you have had more luck with planes than I. Most of the time I get people who simply want to sleep or be left alone on flights. Five hours of layover good thing for the WiFi.

  6. Migrationology

    Wow, that Damascus International airport sounds pretty tiny for such a big and historical city. 4 minutes to walk around the entire airport – I think that’s about the same amount of time it took me to walk around the Dar Es Salaam International airport in Tanzania!

    Yes! It’s such a joy to arrive in Thailand knowing that an infinite amount of glorious meals and sweet snacks are just waiting for you!

    1. Earl

      @migrationology: That’s exactly what I thought. It might be the smallest airport I’ve seen for such a large city!

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