Viet Nam has two major international airports: Noi Bai (HAN) which serves the capital city of Ha Noi, and Tan Son Nhat (SGN) in HCMC, or Sai Gon as most people still refer to it. We had an opportunity to sample both, and on our first visit, we also flew Viet Nam Airlines one way (north, because we just had to make the journey by train on the return). For the most part, there is very little hassle involved, as long as you have the required documents, which, at this stage of the game, still involve a visa. They are trying to simplify the process, and many agencies are helping with the"visa on arrival" process, and though it's a good idea, I prefer obtaining the visa from the Embassy here in the States. One less line to negotiate.
In comparison to other Asian capitals, I would venture to say that the airports are not luxurious in Viet Nam. If you have ever stopped in Singapore, for instance, you will understand when I say that I could live in Changi airport. Do remember, however, that this is still a developing nation as far as tourism, which has come a long way in a very short time. Now that developers have gotten wind of the trend, expect more luxury to occur by way of hotels, and perhaps train travel. The infrastructure, however, is something the Viet Namese still need to work on.
Let's start with the airline. See the pretty lotus? That's on all the documents and ticket jackets from VAL. It's quite appropriate. If you are a frequent flyer with them, then you belong to the Golden Lotus Plus Program. By the way, they have recently joined the Star Alliance, which makes me very happy. They use the multi-form tickets that we no longer see in these parts of the world for their domestic flights. I don't know if this holds true for the international ones. Here you see the wing design of the airline. That communist star is not really intimidating anyone, but it's everywhere it needs to be. I think the lotus design could use some improvement, because the tan color is rather dull.
The flight attendants are not yet called flight attendants on Viet Nam airlines. I think they are still in the "stewardess" stages. As you can see, they are very pleasant looking, and either shy or very reserved. They do wear the Ao Dai which is very beautiful. As passengers are boarding the plane, they do stand to the side, and are not engaging. It could be that this was only on this particular flight, but women in general in Viet Nam are not on a par with men.
The food they served was quite good, considering the hideous things they feed us on American domestic flights.
You simply cannot go wrong with rice noodles and shrimp. For dessert, we had a small green tea cake which was outstanding. You can see that cake at the very top of the post. - and the flight is about two hours.
According to their website, they carried almost 7 million passengers in 2006, half of which were international customers. By the end of the decade, it would not surprise me if they were to double that figure.
When we landed in Viet Nam the first time, it was in HCMC, and unfortunately, all the photos that were taken from that momentous arrival were terribly blurred. (must have been the excitement). However, we did get to see the domestic departure side of Tan Son Nhat, and I enjoyed browsing through the small shops.
The waiting area is quite colorful and not segregated by gate, as one has easy access to a few doors on this floor. You can see that it is rather rudimentary in style, but it serves the purpose, and it is exceptionally clean.
There are designated areas for smokers, and if you need a massage, you can get one right here as well. Remember that domestic flights leave from Terminal 1 and international from Terminal 2.
A new airport has already been approved for international arrivals, and when it is completed, Tan Son Nhat will only serve domestic flights.
Noi Bai airport is much smaller than its sister airport in the south. The photos taken below are not from an international flight, but rather the continuation of our domestic flight north. It was undergoing some sort of construction when we arrived, and the airport staff is a little "stiffer" and more formal.
There are approved plans for a larger international airport to be built to serve the capital city.