Tet in Vietnam: Do you know the way to the airport?

Tet in Vietnam: Do you know the way to the airport?



It’s time for Vietnam’s Tet holiday annual exodus. And it’s chaotic.

Having recently battled my way through Tan Son Nhat International Airport on the way back to Hoi An in the center of the country, I can inform you that this year you might need body armor, a baseball bat, shark spray repellent (or incredibly bad body odor) and the battle tactics of the Vietnamese army to get to your flight in one piece.

Mind you it’s not as massive as China’s flood of humanity, estimated at more than 700 million moving by train and bus and an estimated 58 million plane trips! 

Ah...airports; expensive, crowded, slow, jammed, demented, over-worked, too many planes and never enough staff. I’d stay at home except I live a cosmopolitan, jet-setting lifestyle (stop giggling) and urgently need to get on that plane... Now! 

Ho Chi Minh City’s Tan Son Nhat airport is a tough place to break into. The hotel receptionist tells you to take the taxi about 40 minutes before your flight but the ride (about 7km from District 1) on this particular occasion took an hour, interrupted by two traffic jams, one accident and someone selling sugarcane expensively on an unauthorized footpath.

I do remember about five years being delayed on the way to the airport as a young skinny guy was having a punch-up with a well-dressed middle-aged fellow in the middle lane of the access road to the domestic terminal, forcing my taxi to a crawling pace as we all poked our heads out, laughed and added our comments to the untalented, clumsy brawl.

I read recently that an overly ambitious chap proposes building a cable car system to get passengers to the airport on time, which sent my imagination into overdrive. 

I can just picture the chaos at the cable car boarding stations as passengers man-handle huge cardboard boxes of goodies for their relatives’ shops and families and seven pieces of luggage onto an already dangerously overloaded cable car. With everyone squashed in, their faces squeezed against the windows, the likelihood of making it to the terminal without the cable breaking is a terrifying yet funny fantasy. At least they wouldn’t get wet as the city sinks!

My own brilliant idea involves digging a canal that outbound travellers could float down in relative peace and relaxation until they disembark at the departure entrance – I think it would be more impressive than pulling up in a limo.

Another answer to the stress on Ho Chi Minh City’s fragile traffic system as you inch towards the airport (fuming...) might be hot air balloons. I think a trial project set up linking Da Nang Airport to Hoi An for research purposes would be sensible.

It was suggested to me a few years ago and still holds true as a great idea is to simply walk the last half mile with your luggage provided it’s not all enormous boxes of trade goods for your aunt’s bedding shop in downtown areas. Hmm...might be an opportunity for enterprising young locals for wheelbarrow carting to the terminal?

The simple truth as with most things is to cut out that one small annoying, interfering factor that makes a mess of things. In this case, it’s the number of road users occupying the airport terminal lanes by putting a concrete barrier between the lanes which prevents them from slipping in and out of the lanes – that way they are trapped into the airport road circuit increasing their travel time. 

This also forces drivers and riders to make a choice much earlier to abandon using the airport lanes so the traffic thins out long before the approach to the airport.

Another mess to fix is the huge amount of time dropping off passengers is taking. 

In Australia there are ‘tow away’ zones at many airports that are much stricter than here in Vietnam with more aggressive warnings by security to move ‘or else’.

So whichever way you make to the airport in Ho Chi Minh City or out of Hanoi’s airport, it’s only the start of your adventure in doing the ‘airport obstacle course’ in Vietnam. You haven’t gotten through check-in, security or the departure gate yet!

So have a great time travelling over the Tet holiday. Maybe you should pack a unicycle!