Saigon International Airport – Tan Son Nhat Ho Chi Minh City

Tan Son Nhat - -waiting for passengers to arrive

Tan Son Nhat - -waiting for passengers to arrive

Back in the 1960s, Saigon’s airport, known as Tan Son Nhat, was one of the busiest airports in the world, as companies of American soldiers were flown in and out of the country to fight in the war between North and South Vietnam. After re-unification in 1975, the place became almost deserted as the country stagnated and all movement in and out ground to a halt.

Then in the 1990s, the resurgent economy and welcoming calls of the government started things moving again. These days it is once again one of the busiest airports in Southeast Asia, bringing tourists from around the globe to visit this culture-rich city. And in 2007, a new international terminal, funded by the Japanese, was opened, and the old terminal is now used for domestic flights only.

This expansion now gives the airport the capacity to handle around 17 million passengers a year. Despite the re-naming of the city from Saigon as Ho Chi Minh City and the airport as Ho Chi Minh City Airport, the IATA code for it remains SGN.

The airport is served by many international carriers, such as Air France, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Qantas and Singapore Airlines. In 2004, United Airlines began the first direct flights from the USA to Vietnam for around 30 years. The terminal is well-laid out and includes amenities such as exchange bureaux and ATMs, restaurants, tourist information and left luggage offices.

Getting from Saigon Airport by taxi

The airport lies just six kilometres from the city centre – a journey that takes 30 minutes to an hour depending on the traffic. The easiest way to get into the city centre is by taxi, which is about US$12 (250,000 dong), though you’ll need to be on your guard against scams (see below).

Alternatives to taking a taxi are a motorbike taxi--which is much less but not very sensible if you have heavy luggage--or the 520 bus to Ben Thanh bus station, which is just a few steps away from the cheap hotels in the budget district. This bus leaves from in front of the domestic terminal.

Scam alert!
Vietnam’s international airports are plagued by scams among taxi drivers, and Tan Son Nhat is as bad as anywhere. Some of them will suggest they are doing you a favour by offering a fixed price ride rather than using the meter, though this price will inevitably be higher than the standard fare. If they can’t get away with that, they may take a long route into town, all the while trying to persuade you they know somewhere better than your chosen hotel.

The simple fact is that it’s better for them because they’ll pick up a commission from the hotel owner. The easiest way round this potential problem is to contact your chosen hotel in advance and ask for a pick-up, which avoids any danger of being scammed in this way. Some hotels will do this for free, while others charge around US$10. For more on safety risks in Saigon.

Getting from Saigon Airport by bus

Airport bus #152 is the cheapest method of getting to Saigon from the airport. It costs 5,000 dong (10,000 with luggage) and sets you down on the western edge of Pham Ngu Lao neighbourhood or the bus station to the south of Ben Thanh Market roundabout. The bus leaves from outside the domestic terminal (five minutes walk from international) but only runs until 19:00. Duplicitous taxi drivers will insist that the bus do longer runs, but check for yourself before taking their word.

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