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Things you need to know for a great airport experience before leaving Ho Chi Minh City

Things you need to know for a great airport experience before leaving Ho Chi Minh City

Friday, October 28, 2022, 08:42 GMT+7
Things you need to know for a great airport experience before leaving Ho Chi Minh City
A restaurant at the departure terminal of Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Photo: Ray Kuschert / Tuoi Tre News

If you are like me, leaving Vietnam always comes with a shade of sadness, even though I'm just going for a holiday back home in Australia. However, recent improvements to Tan Son Nhat Airport in Ho Chi Minh City are quickly changing this once basic facility into a real adventure playground for anyone flying internationally.

A decade ago, when I first visited Vietnam, I fondly recall waiting for the flight home and being able to buy a beer for VND25,000 (US$1). Although the beer was cheap and cold, there wasn’t a whole lot more to do at the airport, and the few chairs available were not really comfortable.

Fast forward 10 years and the Tan Son Nhat in 2022 is fast becoming a really enjoyable part of your travel experience when leaving Vietnam. However, a little knowledge will do so much to improve your experience and leave very pleasant memories of your travels.

Here is a breakdown of what you need to do and what you will find at Tan Son Nhat Airport:

Getting to the airport

No matter where you are traveling to, getting to the airport early has its benefits.

The first part is the traffic outside the airport. The factors that could catch you out when leaving Vietnam are local traffic and incoming planes. Truong Son Street leading to the airport in Tan Binh District sometimes comes to a near standstill at the strangest times of the day, so allow time to navigate the traffic.

If you are lucky enough to arrive at the right time, you will be a bit early, but that can only help you. Never leave it to the last minute because you may miss your flight.

A dining area at the departure terminal in Tan Son Nhat International Airport Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Photo: Ray Kuschert / Tuoi Tre News

A dining area at the departure terminal of Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Photo: Ray Kuschert

Early check-in

As you arrive at the departure entry of the international terminal, you will always see 1000’s of people standing around. This is partly culture and most of the people are not travelers but families sending off their beloveds.

Don’t worry about being early and don’t hang around outside with the crowds. Go straight in through the doors to the check-in area.

Inside the check-in area there are around 10 check-in counters. Locate your check-in counter and go there to see how many people are waiting.

Spending a little time waiting near the front of the line will benefit greatly a little later. If things are quiet, there is a café or two where you can get a coffee or drink. The prices are not that cheap, but it is an airport, and the prices will still be much cheaper than in airports in other countries.

Check in as early as you can. This has two benefits. Firstly, you might get a good seat on the plane and, more importantly, you might beat the rush through immigration and security. In peak times the wait to get processed may roll up to an hour. I have also seen lines for check-in for some flights exceeding 50 meters for some high-volume routes and the frustrated faces are enough to tell me arriving early is the way to go.

Something special that happens in Vietnam is the check-in staff will ask you to go to a door near the check-in counter to watch your bags go through the scanner. This is to make sure you can confirm all is ok and you can be available if there is an issue with your checked-in bags. Wait for your bag to pass through the scanner then move off to immigration.

A restaurant at the departure terminal in Tan Son Nhat International Airport Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Photo: Ray Kuschert / Tuoi Tre News

A restaurant at the departure terminal of Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Photo: Ray Kuschert

Immigration and security

There is no doubt that immigration processing in Vietnam is more traditional. Thankfully, unlike other countries, there are no electronic self-service devices to confuse you. Visa processing is done manually by a customs officer. It can look rather daunting because the customs officers don’t get into any conversation with you. Follow the directions and you will be ok. Wait in line. Make sure only one person at a time goes past the red line to the window, unless you have children. Remove your mask or face covering. If you are asked a question, give a clear and honest answer. It takes about three minutes for most people to process their visa.

Once your visa is cleared, you move onto security checks. You are required to remove any liquids that you may be carrying, like bottles of water and other liquids over 100ml.

Next, line up for the security scanner. Give the officer your ticket and passport at the front of the line. They’ll check and tell you to go to a line for security screening.

The security scanner is the same as every other airport. Remove shoes, belts, watches, and jackets and place them on a tray. Remove all electrical devices from your bags and place them on a tray, then put the entire contents on the rollers and allow staff to X-ray your carry-on luggage. Once this is done you are finished, and you can start having fun before your plane departs.

A dining area at the departure terminal in Tan Son Nhat International Airport Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Photo: Ray Kuschert / Tuoi Tre News

A dining area at the departure terminal of Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Photo: Ray Kuschert

Airside facilities

Tan Son Nhat Airport has had a strong rebound since the pandemic and there are more than 75 percent of businesses back in full operation, with others currently being under construction and open in the near future. And the secret is that there are a lot more airside facilities than you can see.

As you leave security, you will see the usual expensive international brand stores. If that is your thing, then enjoy shopping. Close by there are also a couple of duty-free stores selling a range of products that you'll find in these stores worldwide, and the prices are generally reasonable for the high-end products.

As you venture further toward your gate, you will find a few cafés which are rather good. They sell banh mi, pho, and a range of muffins and cakes. Of course, Vietnamese coffee is available at every location, along with a few of the local beers to assist you in bidding farewell to Vietnam.

Mixed in with these cafés are a number of souvenir kiosks. The surprising thing is that the prices of these mementos are not too bad. Sure, they are more expensive than local markets, but they are still reasonably priced, so if you have some VND left over, it is a good place to grab a bag of cashews, coffee or a statue to take home to remember your trip. All stores at the airport accept USD and VND.

But it is what you don’t see that makes this experience special. Hiding behind the brand name stores near security is an escalator that takes you upstairs to see a food hall and general relaxation area. With a burger chain store, Vietnamese pho restaurant, and some high-class cafés, it is a great place to get anything from a top-quality international wine, to local beers and a meal to suit any taste.

The view of the airport is pretty good. You can grab a beer or two and sit for a while watching the planes land and take off with 180-degree views. The cafés have a few charging points for phones and there is free Wi-Fi across the airport.

The back side of the level is still being developed and I expect to see a range of shops and cafés opening in the near future. There is also a spa if you are keen on a massage, and whilst currently closed, it should be open again to service the high volume over Tet (Vietnamese Lunar New Year, which falls on January 23 next year).

A pool table at the departure terminal in Tan Son Nhat International Airport Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Photo: Ray Kuschert / Tuoi Tre News

A pool table at the departure terminal of Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Photo: Ray Kuschert

There are facilities for everyone and not too many people using them. Apart from the toilets that are basically empty, there is also a pool table in a far back corner of one of the cafés if you want to play a few games with your friends before boarding, and the seating is really comfortable. You could sit there for hours and just enjoy the feeling of calmness and relaxation that should be part of any travel experience.

I am confident once you find this amazing little area, you will never battle the crowds sitting at the gates for hours on uncomfortable seats and lining up to use the toilets.

A waiting area at the departure terminal in Tan Son Nhat International Airport Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Photo: Ray Kuschert / Tuoi Tre News

A waiting area at the departure terminal of Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Photo: Ray Kuschert

Vietnam is growing and infrastructure continues to improve. Make sure your next travel experience includes some of the good facilities at Ho Chi Minh City’s international airport.

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Ray Kuschert / Tuoi Tre News Contributor

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