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.
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.