A Guide to Tan Son Nhat International Airport
Ho Chi Minh City Airport, known as Tan Son Nhat, is the busiest of all Vietnam’s airports, with close to 40 million passengers per year. Luckily, it’s not such a big place, and is pretty easy to find your way around, whether you’re arriving on an international or domestic flight.
But being in a new country, there can be a bit of a culture shock -- the noise, crowds and heat can be disorienting, so it’s best to know in advance what you’re dealing with.
Ho Chi Minh City International Arrivals Hall
The international arrivals hall is really easy to negotiate, and if you arrive at a quiet time with a valid visa, you can be outside in as little as 15 minutes. This will all depend on your visa situation and the crowds waiting to enter Vietnam.
Getting off your plane, it’s a short and straight walk to immigration. If you’ve arranged to secure a visa on arrival, don’t join the queues of people at passport control. Instead head to the landing visa desk in the corner of the hall and line up with your documents i.e. passport, letter of welcome, passport photos and cash to pay for the visa (USD, in CASH, is the accepted form of payment).
If you already have your Vietnam visa, or have a passport from a country that is exempt from visa requirements, join the queues for immigration. After a quick check of your passport, and in some cases a few cursory questions about your length of stay, accommodation plans and such, you’ll be allowed to proceed down the stairs to collect your luggage and head out of the airport.
Ho Chi Minh City Domestic Arrivals Hall
The domestic arrivals hall at Tan Son Nhat is exceptionally simple to negotiate, given its small size. Of course, there’s no immigration and visa desk, so just fetch your luggage and head outside to catch a ride to town.
Transport from Ho Chi Minh City Airport
Here’s where you really need to pay attention, as for newcomers, Tan Son Nhat Airport can be a bit of a minefield. Both the areas outside international and domestic arrivals are unfortunately popular with scam artists, keen to make a quick few bucks at your expense. They’ll charge you much, much more than the going rate to take you to your hotel.
The cost of transport by car from Ho Chi Minh City Airport to the center of town (District 1, 3, 4, Binh Thanh) should usually be no more than 150,000d ($7). If you’re heading further afield to District 2 or 7, it’ll go above 200,000d ($9).
The length of the journey to the centre of District 1 is only around 15 minutes if it’s traffic free, but if you arrive at rush hour, expect it to take as long as 45 minutes.
The cheapest option is to take the yellow airport bus #109, Airport Bus #49 or public Bus #152, which will bring you to the centre of district 1 by Ben Thanh Market, for between 20,000d and 40,000d ($1 - $2), in around 45 minutes.
The bus leaves from Column 12 at the international terminal and column 18 at the domestic terminal.
Hotel Car Service
You can prearrange with most hotels to collect you from the airport. They’ll just need your flight details. This is the simplest, but often the most expensive option, with the service often costing around $15, depending on your hotel. The upshot? The driver will be waiting for you at arrivals, armed with a sign with your name on it. I don’t know about you, but this always makes me feel very important!
Ride Hailing App
Uber has been and gone in Vietnam. Grab is now the most popular ride hailing app, offering both cars and bikes for cheap, easy transport. With the exception of during peak hours and heavy rain, Grab is usually cheaper than most metered taxi companies, but while we highly recommend using it during your stay, Grab is not the most convenient option at Ho Chi Minh City for a number of reasons.
First, their drivers are discouraged from waiting at arrivals for you, so it can be hard to nail them down. If they have to loop around the terminal again it can take as long as 10 minutes for them to come back, and if they call you there may well be a language barrier. As well as this, you’ll need cell phone coverage and the wifi outside of Tan Son Nhat isn’t very strong.
This is, in my opinion, the most straightforward option. It’s important to know which taxi to take though and where to find them. Plenty of less reputed companies will be happy to drive you in circles, racking up the numbers on the meter while calling fair play.
The general consensus is that the taxi companies Mai Linh, and Vinasun, are the trustworthy ones. Mai Linh is recognisable by its green company colour, while Vinasun is mostly white, with a green and red logo.
From domestic arrivals, just cross the road outside and line up where you see the taxis gathered. Insist upon one of the above companies and they’ll understand you.
At international arrivals, when you exit the building head to the far left and you’ll find a number of taxi companies waiting. Just as mentioned above, insist upon either Mai Linh or Vinasun - you’ll be able to recognise their agents by their green or white uniforms alike.
Simply give the driver your accommodation address and relax. An insider tip? Speak some basic Vietnamese to the driver! (Xin Chao is “hello”, Cam On is “thank you”). Trust us, they’re more likely to take you for someone who is familiar with the country and will be keen to keep you satisfied.
In case you’re extra vigilant, the agent will have given you a slip of paper with the company details on it, and the dashboard will have your driver’s ID on view. Keep a note of these to ease your mind, as you’ll be able to contact them at a later point. This is also really worth doing in case you leave something valuable in the taxi such as a phone, passport or wallet!
One Final Tip: Getting a sim card at the airport
Wifi is almost everywhere in Vietnam, while Mobile Data is incredibly affordable. 10 USD worth of data ought to be enough to cover you for a two week stay. We’d always recommend getting a local sim card at the airport if you don’t already have cheap international coverage.
You can buy a sim card at Ho Chi Minh City international arrivals, right outside the luggage collection hall, in the hallway before you exit the airport. There are ATMs (we recommend Citibank), people offering taxis, and people selling Sim cards. The most popular networks are Mobifone and Viettel, and in truth there’s little difference between the two in terms of coverage or pricing.
It’s pretty easy to buy one, just tell the salespeople that you’d like to spend X amount on data or airtime (we’d recommend 200,000d - Just under $10US), and they’ll insert a new sim card. This is especially helpful for tracking your taxi journey to your hotel via Google Maps - yet another deterrent against opportunistically greedy taxi drivers, if you’ve hopped in an unreliable company’s car.