Most visitors fly to Vietnam. The country’s domestic air transport system is good and getting better. The safety record is admirable, while the flights are mostly on time, and well connected to the main tourist destinations. Visitors from the US and Europe usually arrive via Bankok or Hong Kong.
From Cambodia, traveling by boat along the Mekong River is a scenic option. With the opening of several borders crossings, many travelers opt o enter Vietnam by train, car, or bus from China, Laos, or Cambodia. The cheapest, often the quickest, and the most convenient way to get around the country is by the long haul bus system and the Open Tour bus. And for the independent traveler, a car with a driver is relatively inexpensive. Locally, cyclos, metered taxis, and motorcycle taxis, are the preferred modes of transport.
Arriving by air
Of all three international airports in Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City’s Tan Son Nhat is by far busiest. Hanoi’s NoiBai Airport and Danang International are also major airports. Vietnam Airlines, the country’s official international carrier, operates direct flights from many destinations across the world, such as Paris, Beijing, San Fransisco, Sydney, Siem Reap, Bangkok, and Singapore. Many prominent international airlines also service Vietnam, including Air France, Cathay Pacific, Thai Air Ways, Malaysia Airlines, Qantas Lufthansa, Japan Airlines, and Singapore Airlines to name a few. A tran-Pacific journey from the USA takes over twenty hours, while from Europe, the trip takes less time.
The arrival system in Vietnam is now more efficient and streamlined. While on the planes, passengers are handed an immigration form and a customs form to fill out. These need to be submitted, along with your passport, at the airport’s immigration counter. A yellow copy of the customs form will be handed back to you, which needs to be presented at the time of departure. Keep this form safe as misplacing it can lead to delays and fines.
Getting from the airports
Ho Chi Minh City’s Tan Son Nhat is the biggest and best equipped airport in Vietnam. Both arrivals and departures are handled in a quick and efficient manner. Note that at this airport, you must go through security checks during arrival and departure. The airport is 5 km from the center of the city. A metered taxi can be hired from the authorized taxi service, which is located near the currency exchange counter at the airport. Avoid any drivers offering flat rates. Minibuses are also available for transport to the city as are shuttle pick ups, which can be provided by the hotels on request. Be prepared for large crowds outside the terminal as people come not only to pick up their family members, bu also to watch passengers and planes arrive and depart.
Hanoi’s Noi Bai Airport is the farthest from the city center, and it can take more than 45 minutes by taxi to get into town. All transport service operators, including metered taxis and ninibuses, are located outside the terminal. Airport taxis offer the most convenient means to get downtown. Look for the line of of empty taxis and hire a prepaid taxi from the airport. The cheapest way to get to the city center is by taking the number 7 city bus which departs every 15 minutes. It takes an hour to reach the city, and stops when requested on its way to Hoan Kiem Lake. Another affordable option is the Vietnam Airlines shuttle bus, it is supposed to take all its passengers to the airlines’ office on Trang Thi Street.
Danang International Airport is the smallest of the three international airports. It is located at the western edge of Danang City. There is only one terminal, with a small part of it dedicated to international flights. The taxi service outside the terminal offers fixed and inexpensive rates for a ride into the city.
All overseas visitors need to pay a departure tax when leaving the country. Currently, the charges are US$ 14 at Ho Chi Minh City, US$ 14 at Hanoi, and US$ 8 at Danang, and are subject to change. The tax is not included in the ticket price.
Arriving via land or by Sea
Vietnam shares land borders with three countries – China, Laos, and Cambodia. With new border crossing opening to foreigners, more independent travelers are taking the land route.
From China, you can enter Vietnam by car, bus, or train. The popular Friendship Pass, located at Dong Dang, is open to rail and road traffic, and is the busiest crossing between the nations. A bi-weekly train, connecting Beijing to Hanoi, makes a brief stop at this pass, for travelers to board or to get off. The other two borders crossings are at Lao Cai and Mong Cai. Open to only motor vehicles, they are less popular routes.
The crossings from Laos are at Lao Bao, west of Dong Ha and the most used, Cau Treo, and Nam Can. All three are open oly to motor vihicles, usually buses, and can be time consuming. Visitors are well advised to fly from Laos.
Entry from Cambodia is easy and usually hassles free. The Moc Bai crossing is the busiest, being only about two hours from Ho Chi Minh City. Many buses run daily between the two countries. The Vinh Xuong border near Chau Doc offers a more scenic approach to Vietnam. Tourists can travel along the Mekong River, taking in the view from a boat or a luxury ship. A third crossing, for vehicles only, is at the seldom used Tinh Bien border.