This was originally intended as a plain (pun unintended) travel post but two things have changed it.
First, the actual visit to this Airplane Graveyard itself.
This is not a commercial tourist attraction. It is, technically, a junkyard that happens to house the fuselage and parts of three large commercial jet planes, one of which is that of a B747, Queen of the skies no less, left unceremoniously on this weed-infested land. It is obvious that whatever was the plan for this had not quite materialized and now it stands, sits or actually sticks out like a sore thumb in the low-rise landscape of this rural town in the Eastern outskirts of Bangkok.
A Surreal Sight:
Why did I come here? Well, I’ve always hated visiting shopping malls during my travels. My wife Angie knows that the moment we enter a mall, you’d expect my facial disposition to ‘change’. So, coming to a shopping destination as famous Bangkok, she had to include certain level of ‘enriching’ activities for this culture and heritage-loving husband of hers.
I’ve heard of this unique site from photographer friends and upon checking with the taxi driver, discovered it wasn’t too far from our route to our hotel in Bangkok. So, here I am, with my 8 year-old, staring at these derelict abandoned plane fuselages. A rare encounter, made even more surreal in a rural Thai town. The initial feeling was one of wonderment mixed with a certain weirdness that no other places I’ve visited, not even mystical Stonehenge, majestic Borobudur or even the mighty Niagara can rival. Yes, weird but thought provoking.
Just like Stonehenge, it appears out of ‘no where’. No fanfare, no large signs. In fact, we were just driving past a row of small shop-houses and there, after a row of tall trees, sits the wreckage of these graceful giants that once soar through the skies.
We parked in front of its large metal gate and I got our Thai driver to speak to the caretaker – an old lady who sits inside a makeshift hut of sorts together with two children, which I assumed are hers. At first, she made a sign to chase us away, saying that the owner doesn’t want visitors but after some negotiations with her through my Thai driver, she allowed Dana and I in for 200 Thai Baht each. We were joined by two tourists from Netherlands to tour the Airplane Graveyard.
Take a virtual tour with us:
A Boy named ‘Squeaky’:
As we stepped intrepidly into the junkyard, the caretaker summoned a young boy who was probably slightly younger than Dana – about 6 or 7 years old, and pointed to the plane. With a nonchalant face, he held a small yellow ball which he squeaked intermittently as he pointed us towards the Jumbo – yes, he will be giving us a ‘guided tour’ with the squeaky ball.
I was glad I chose to wear my Skechers hiking boots and comfortable clothes as I heaved my heavy body into the bottom of the B747 through a ruptured baggage compartment. I had not expected to see what greeted me. Scene of utter chaos comprising of parts of the plane interior, some torn, some ripped apart, some fallen but all totally a wreck. It was clear this is NOT a KidZania plane.
The boy, I call him Squeaky, then climbed up a ladder through a small hatch about the width of a thin adult body and disappeared into the passenger cabin above. He squeaked as he climbed and once there, he started squeaking more intensely, signaling us to follow him. Dana swiftly followed and disappeared up the hatch. I knew I had to keep up. Fast. So…up I went, bulky camera bag, bulky camera, bulky body, into a very small hatch. Don’t even ask.
The scene that greeted us was quite disturbing. Broken passenger seats strewn around. This looks like a perfect set for an air plane crash scene. Squeaky stood there squeaking and before I could catch my breath, he squeaked and gestured for me to follow up. He sprinted towards the rear of the plane and there, we peered out this gaping hole of the half-torn Jumbo into the ‘face’ of another jetliner. Behind me were rows of yellow oxygen masks strewn on the floor together with catering trolleys and other mish-mash of plane parts. Thoughts of how the planes ended up in this state here at this Airplane Graveyard raced through my mind. Coupled that with the expressionless face of Squeaky and his squeaking ball…this seemed to be a perfect setting for a Thai horror movie, if one had visited after sunset.
Before I could fully ‘relish’ this surreal moment, Squeaky squeaked and gestured again. This time pointing towards the cockpit, or what’s left of it by climbing up to the 2nd deck of the B747. I smiled – as an aviation enthusiast, I’ve always wanted to go to the top deck of the B747 and it has to be now – in a derelict jumbo sitting in a Bangkok junkyard. Thank goodness for humor.
Just as I thought the scenes I’ve seen were already disturbing, nothing beats the scene of a damaged cockpit with its instrument panels damaged, twisted seats and with the occasional yellow oxygen masks lying around. I took in the moment for a while before deciding that it’s time to go – after all, this is NOT a tourist site and the structural integrity of this derelict plane may not be safe at all. So, retracing my steps I quickly exited the jumbo and heaved a sigh of relief.
Dana was ahead of me and once I emerged from the torn fuselage, she was there, playing with expressionless Squeaky who still had not muttered anything. I gestured to Dana that its time to go and we walked towards the exit. There, the caretaker smiled at me and then waved to a teenage girl with long unkempt hair and lifeless eyes to open the gate for us. She walked slowly towards us, opened the gates and ushered us out. The whole episode left me reflecting.
I later learnt from my Thai driver that this family does not own the planes, they are simply squatters who take care of this junkyard for the owner. It is unclear what the owner intends to do with these broken planes (and how they got there!) but it has been there about a few years and things have remained unchanged. Visitors are normally not welcomed and are only let in at the discretion of the caretaker for a token fee (ranging from 200-600 THB each).
A Father’s Reflections:
As our taxi pulled away from the makeshift gate, I took one last look at the surreal scene of a large derelict B747 staring out into the streets of this rural Thai town. Two things in particular dawned upon me:
Land. That Thailand actually have that much land to house these broken planes for indefinite number of years with no plans whatsoever for redevelopment.
Kids. As I previewed my shots taken on my DSLR, the photos of Dana with Squeaky touring the plane and later playing outside stopped me in my tracks. Two kids, about the same age but leading vastly different lives. In fact, what disturbs me was seeing Squeaky’s lifeless eyes and expressionless face. Circumstances seem to have rendered him and the teenage girl devoid of joy, laughter or a meaningful purpose to exist.
Sadder still is seeing Squeaky inside the heavily damaged fuselage looking out through those signature oval plane windows. For him ironically, it seems that the dreams of flying, of experiencing the world outside of the Airplane Graveyard would always remain a distant dream as he stands inside the very object that evokes dreams and freedom, but these broken airplanes ironically, will not be taking him anywhere.
I write this as Singapore just saw our PM deliver his 13th National Day Rally on Sunday evening. A rally which many would remember, among other things, for its serious subject matter touching on the threats of extremism to our social fabric, a rally where PM primed Singaporeans to embrace the realities of a new, ‘disrupted’ economy and a rally which we saw our PM taken ill mid-speech but bounced back with grit to deliver it all.
It reminded me again about how blessed we are living and raising families here in Singapore. No natural resources, small multiracial population, limited land but yet, our visionary pioneer leaders have steadfastly forged a future which today is a reality. Going from our 50th year into our 51st year and beyond, we need to continue the baton of building that dream of even better things for our children, and grandchildren. We are blessed not because we have a perfect country. No, far from it. Singapore, I believe, is still a work in progress and will always be one due to our vulnerability.
The last two years, we have also witnessed the mortality of our leaders. Last night’s rally was a scare and even ‘scarier’ was the fact that there were those amongst us who were actually mocking the entire situation on social media, ridiculing our PM even as he lay recuperating. Heartless, irrational, ungrateful.
But when the PM arose, took the platform and completed the rally, I watched with a quiet but deep sense of respect for him and our political leaders – that magnanimity, that heart for the people, for the future of kids that belong to their countrymen, yes even for those who mock them.
I wish for my kids, when they read this post, to realize, just like what our PM said, that what we have here in Singapore, is something “special”, unlike any other country. That my kids would have the wisdom to count the blessings for the many opportunities this little tiny red dot gives them. I hope my kids will realize that not far from them are kids with no means to chase after any rainbow. Kids like Squeaky who live day after day surrounded by ample resources that are of no use to them…including large derelict land and jumbo planes that will never fly.
I wish for my kids to hold on to what makes their home unique and possess that bit of divine discontent so that they will also want to do their part for this work-in-progress called Singapore.
P.S. The Airplane Graveyard is not an official tourist attraction but remains a fascination for any aviation geek. There is an article by upworthy that focuses on the lives of the families living here rather than the airplanes themselves. There are also some good precautionary tips in this article if you wish to visit. Do have a read.