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 Bangkok or Hong Kong. From Cambodia, traveling by boat along the Mekong River is a scenic option. With the opening of severalborder crossings, many travelers opt to 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, metered 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 the busiest. Hanoi’s Noi Bai Air port and Danang Interna tional are also major airports. Vietnam Airlines, the country’s official international carrier, operates direct flights from many desti- nations across the world, such as Paris, Beijing, San Francisco, Sydney, Siem Reap, Bangkok, and Singapore. Many prominent international airlines also service Vietnam, including Air France, Cathay Pacific, Thai Airways, Malaysia Airlines, Qantas, Lufthansa, Japan Airlines, and Singapore Airlines to name a few. A trans Pacific jour ney from the USA takes over 20 hours, while from Europe, the trip takes less time. It’s worth checking whether a transit or tourist visa is required for any stopover to Vietnam.
The cost of flying to Vietnam varies with airline, the season, and your travel agent. The average cost from the North American West Coast is about US$1,500 return fare; prices are equivalent from Europe. The busiest and most expen sive time to travel to Vietnam is from December to February, when many families are flying in to celebrate Tet. Discounted tick ets are usually available during the offseason.
The arrival system in Vietnam is now more efficient and streamlined. While on the plane, passengers are handed an immigration form to fill out. This needs to be submitted, along with your passport, at the airport’s immigration counter. Those who have applied for a visa online must pay the fee and get their visa before passing through immigration.
Getting from the Airports
Ho Chi Minh City’s Tan Son Nhat is one of the bestequipped airports in Vietnam. Both arrivals and departures are handled in a quick and efficient man ner. Note that at this airport, you must go through security checks during arrival and departure. The airport is 3 miles (5 km) from the center of the city. A metered taxi can be hired from the authorized taxi ser vice, which is located near the currency exchange counter at the airport. Avoid any dri vers offering flat rates. Public bus number 152 runs from the airport to the downtown bus station near Ben Thanh Market. Minibuses are also available for trans port to the city as are shuttle pickups, which can be provided by the hotels on request. Be prepared for large crowds outside the terminal as peo ple come not only to pick up their family members, but also to watch passen gers and planes arrive and depart. Hanoi’s brand new 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 minibuses, are located outside the terminal. However, it is necessary to negotiate the fare first as most drivers refuse to use their meters. The fare to the Old Quarter amounts to about US$15–18. Also, watch out for drivers who try to take you to a hotel of their choice, as they stand to make a commission. The Noi Bai taxi mafia is notorious for this trick. The cheapest way to get to the city center is by taking the number 7 or 17 city bus which departs every 15 minutes. They take an hour and a half to reach the city, and stop when reques- ted on the way to Hoan Kiem Lake. Another afford – able option is the Vietnam Airlines shuttle bus, which costs about US$2, and takes passengers to the airlines’ office on Trang Thi Street. Drivers can also drop off passengers at their hotels for an extra fee if requested. Note that you are not required to pay any toll taxes on the way to or from the airport. Located at the western edge of town, Danang International is the smallest of the three inter national airports. There is only one terminal, with a small part of it dedi cated to international flights. The taxi service outside the terminal offers fixed and inexpensive rates for a ride into the city.
Arriving via Land or Water
Vietnam shares land borders with three countries – China, Laos, and Cambodia. With new border crossings opening to foreigners (presently there are three with China, seven with Laos, and seven with Cambodia), 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, connect ing Beijing to Hanoi, makes a brief stop at this pass. The other two border crossings are at Lao Cai and Mong Cai. Open only to motor vehicles, they are less popular routes. The crossings from Laos are Lao Bao, west of Dong Ha; the popular Cau Treo; Nam Can; Sop Hun; Na Meo; Tay Trang and Bo Y. The first three are open only to motor vehicles. Crossing by bus can be extremely time-consuming. Visitors are advised to fly in from Laos. Entry from Cambodia is easy and usually hassle 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. Five other, more remote, cross- ings are less often used.