Start in the north or the south?
For travelers, choosing where to fly into Vietnam isn't always straightforward. The opposite ends of the same country have completely different vibes. Flight prices vary. Even the climate differs by season.
Overall, you have three popular choices for flying into Vietnam: Saigon (south), Hanoi (north), and Da Nang (roughly in the middle). Flying into either Saigon or Hanoi are the most popular ways to begin exploring Vietnam.
Getting Your Visa for Vietnam
Before arriving at one of Vietnam's three major international airports, you'll need to have your tourist visa already taken care of or risk being denied entry. Fortunately, Vietnam's new E-Visa system will eliminate a lot of the former hassle.
Your three choices for getting a visa for Vietnam:
- The Old Way: Tourist visa stamp already in your passport (obtainable from a Vietnamese consulate outside of Vietnam).
- Visa on Arrival: Use a third party to get a visa approval letter. You'll then use this letter to purchase a visa on arrival at the airport in Vietnam. This was the most popular way until replaced by the E-Visa system.
- E-Visa for Vietnam: On February 1, 2017, Vietnam implemented an E-Visa system. Travelers will be able to upload a scan of their passport, pay the US $25 fee online, then three business days later receive an E-Visa via email. The E-Visa is swapped upon arrival for a passport stamp granting entry.
Note: There are a lot of fake E-Visa for Vietnam websites. In fact, the real site barely makes the results in search engines! These middlemen sites simply want a fee for submitting your information to the real Vietnam E-Visa site.
Fly to Saigon or Hanoi — Which Is Best?
Obviously, your trip itinerary and aspirations for the trip may dictate where is the most logical port of entry. A majority of travelers seem to begin in the south by flying into Saigon. Flight prices are often cheaper for Saigon. Plus, according to some opinions, Saigon provides a slightly "softer" landing culturally for first-timers in Vietnam.
Because of volume and other factors, flying into Saigon (airport code: SGN) is almost always cheaper than flying into Hanoi (airport code: HAN).
In fact, Saigon's Tan Son Nhat Airport (SGN) handles a bulk of all international traffic in and out of Vietnam. Strangely, Hanoi's Noi Bai International Airport (HAN) actually boasts a larger capacity but handles less passenger volume.
If you intend to see the entire country, consider starting in the south and then applying the difference in flight costs to take advantage of the scenic Reunification Express train.
The line runs from Saigon to places of interest in the north, including Hanoi. Overnight buses are another option for moving around, although train travel is certainly more enjoyable. Once in Hanoi, you could grab one of the low-cost domestic flights back to Saigon. International airfare to Western countries is usually cheaper from Saigon.
Finding Cheap Flights to Vietnam
If you're already in Asia, the cheapest flights to Vietnam often originate from Bangkok, Singapore, and China. The state-run Vietnam Airlines handles international flights to Australia, Europe, and the United States. Check prices directly on their site before committing to a fare on a third-party booking site. Remember to check prices with private browsing turned on!
If flight prices directly from your home city aren't favorable, consider hopping through one of the major hubs where passenger volume to Asia lowers prices. For instance, try flying LAX-BKK-SGN or JFK-BKK-SGN. Apply some flight-booking hacks to score the best price.
Vietnam Airlines is based in Hanoi's Noi Bai International Airport. They are a member of the SkyTeam alliance; you'll be rewarded with Delta SkyMiles when flying with them.
The Airport in Saigon
The airports in Saigon and Hanoi are both functional and very easy to navigate.
Because the Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Saigon is located within the city and cannot be easily expanded, construction on a new international airport (to be known as Long Thanh International Airport) is already underway. The new airport will be huge!
Vietnam's new airport will be located around 31 miles northeast of Saigon and is expected to start handling flights in 2025. The airport will reach full capacity by 2050.
Saigon's old SGN airport will be converted to service mostly domestic and regional Southeast Asia flights, much the way that Bangkok's old Don Mueang International Airport was utilized after the completion of Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK).
Flying into Saigon
Many hotels provide airport pickup. If possible, go ahead and schedule a driver. Saigon taxi drivers have a long reputation of scamming new arrivals. Some will demand more money halfway to your destination. Others will try to take you to fake hotels.
If airport pickup isn't an option, you'll need to enter the taxi stand in front of the airport. If possible, hold out for or demand a VinaSun taxi — they are the most reputable taxi company in Saigon.
Regardless of which taxi company you choose, plan to pay a small airport fee directly to the driver in addition to whatever the meter says. This is a legitimate fee, not a scam.
Tip: If you have room, keep your luggage on the back seat rather than in the trunk of the taxi. If you need to get out of the taxi after a bad interaction, a dishonest driver may demand more money before releasing the trunk! Your luggage will be held hostage.
Flying into Hanoi
Hanoi's Noi Bai International Airport (airport code: HAN) is actually the largest in the country but handles far less passengers than Saigon. Noi Bai International Airport is the hub for Vietnam Airlines as well as low-cost carriers Vietjet and Jetstar Pacific.
All international flights come through the Terminal 2, opened in January 2015. Hanoi's airport is located approximately 21 miles (around 35 kilometers) northeast of the city. If your hotel provides airport pickup, take advantage! Taxis can be an expensive nuisance to negotiate after a long flight.
Flying into Da Nang
A third option for entering Vietnam is to fly into Da Nang International Airport (airport code: DAD) from another point in Asia. The airport mostly handles traffic from Southeast Asia, China, Korea, and Japan.
The only real advantage of flying into Da Nang is to begin roughly in the middle of Vietnam, within striking distance of two very popular tourist stops in Vietnam: Hue and Hoi An.
If time is short and getting some clothing made in the charming riverside town of Hoi An is your primary objective, flying into Da Nang may be the best choice. AirAsia operates flights to Da Nang from Kuala Lumpur.
Exiting Vietnam Through Saigon
Save yourself some last-minute hassle by arranging airport transportation through your hotel.The rate is usually about the same as you would pay for a taxi. But having a scheduled driver eliminates potential shenanigans from drivers who know you'll pay a little extra if an international flight is on the line.
International flights depart Saigon through Terminal 2. Your driver may ask.
Vietnam Departure Tax
An international departure tax of US $14 for adults and US $7 for children is levied when you fly out of Vietnam.
Most airlines build the tax into the price of your ticket; you'll never notice. If for some administrative reason the departure tax is not included in your ticket price, you'll need to go to a counter to pay before allowed to get to the departure gate.
A departure tax of around US $2 is also added to domestic departures.
Departure Tip: Spend all of your Vietnamese dong before exiting the country. Exchanging Vietnamese dong after leaving Vietnam is nearly impossible. The currency is not useful outside of Vietnam. The airport in Hanoi does not have money-changing facilities on the other side of immigration. You'll be stuck with whatever currency you have left!
Getting Around Vietnam
Getting around Vietnam has its challenges, however, costs are surprisingly cheap given the distances covered.
Vietnam's oblong shape means that you'll need to cross a lot of rice-growing regions to reach tourist stops strung out along the north-south route between Saigon and Hanoi.
Aside from the most expensive option of hiring a private car with driver, you have three primary options for getting around Vietnam: flights, buses, and trains. Foreigners are typically not allowed to rent or drive cars.
Although driving cars isn't really an option, foreigners can get usually away with driving scooters in Vietnam without a Vietnamese license (technically, you are supposed to have one).
Before hitting the streets on two wheels, make sure you've got what it takes to contend in the famously congested roundabouts of Saigon or Hanoi. Even crossing the street on foot can be a challenge. Scooters are a great way to reach the sights in smaller places such as the sand dunes in Mui Ne. Lots of intrepid travelers even opt to drive motorbikes between Saigon and Hanoi (you can sell it back to someone planning to drive the other way).
Driving in Asia can be challenging, but driving in Vietnam takes the "excitement" to a whole new level!