I recently went back to Vietnam to visit friends and family. This is arguably the most exhausting trip that I have ever taken since I went overseas at 19 years old. I’ll share some of my experiences below that hopefully may be helpful with your upcoming travel. My post is for informational purposes only, so please do your own research.
Read up on travel restrictions and prepare in advance
Like many other countries, Vietnam requires visitors to be at least double-jabbed. If you are vaccinated in the US like me, the square vaccination card should be enough. Visitors must also show a negative PCR test result that has to be taken within 72 hours before arrival. There are many types of Covid tests; therefore, research what is accepted and take an appropriate test. For reference, my test was a Nasopharyngeal Swab taken at Total Wellness in Omaha, Nebraska. PCR tests for travel are pricey, to the tune of $220 each, but if you are insured, you should be covered. Taking a cheap rapid antigen test will save you some money, but since such a test is not usually accepted, you are putting your trip up for more risks. Once again, research on what is accepted by all destinations on your journey and take appropriate actions. Folks often receive their test results digitally, but I recommend that you print them out and have them stamped, if possible.
Trips from the US to Vietnam often include a transit to Japan. I couldn’t finish the check-in process on the United Airlines app. When we got to the Omaha airport, United Airlines told us that we must show a filled quarantine questionnaire. We were spooked. My fiancé flew from Vietnam to the US through Japan and she didn’t have to show that questionnaire. Did something change in between? We frantically checked everything we could about travel restrictions in Japan, but the only thing we could find was this passage from ANA.
Since we were only transiting in Japan and our transit didn’t involve changing airports nor exceed 24 hours, according to ANA itself, we wouldn’t have to show any documents. But the United Airlines staff didn’t listen. She kept asking us for a completed questionnaire which mandates a quarantine address that we clearly do not have. After more than 30 minutes back and forth, she finally let us check in because the boarding time was coming, but implored us to finish the questionnaire before we landed in Japan. Once we got through the security check, I called United Airlines and was told that our interpretation of the situation is correct. Hence, if you are transiting in Japan and your transit doesn’t exceed 24 hours or involve a transfer between airports, you should not have to show any documents.
Transit at Haneda Airport in Japan
Barring any changes in the near future, if you transit at Haneda airport, you are likely to do so at Terminal 3. According to Haneda Airport‘s website, there are 38 stores at Terminal 3. Unfortunately, many of them are “temporarily closed” and some don’t open before 9am. If your flight lands there earlier than 9am, expect to see a lot of closed doors. The remaining open stores include mostly tax-free shops that sell perfumes, liquor, chocolate and some souvenirs. There are a few restaurants but the choices are limited and I couldn’t see any with sushi on the menu. The best option is to use a lounge. We used the ANA Lounge, whose access is worth 6,000 yen or about $50. Guests have unlimited access to a small buffet with good Japanese food. Liquor and wine are available only after 11am. I really enjoyed their soup as the broth was authentically delicious. I had nothing but praises for the staff. Even though they spoke limited English, their customer service was excellent. They brought food to our table and retrieved the empty trays for us. Promptly and unintrusively.
In addition to the buffet, there are also areas where guests can rest, wind down and get some work done in silence. What made the Lounge great for us is the shower. Access to the shower is by appointments only and each appointment is capped at 20 minutes. The shower rooms are spacious with excellent facilities. From the hair dryer, the toilet to the shower itself. If you have a long transit, a shower is just what the doctor orders.
In short, we were fairly disappointed with the stores at Terminal 3 of Haneda Airport. If you have a long transit there, adjust your expectation on what you can actually do. Make sure you check out the Lounges! In my opinion, they are worth the money
Arrival in Vietnam
Vietnam just recently opened its borders after two years of completely being shut off from the world. The border control at Tan Son Nhat airport is strict and tiring. It’s imperative that you keep the boarding pass of the flight to Vietnam. Immigration officers in Vietnam will repeatedly ask for it; which was not there before Covid, if my memory doesn’t fail me. After disembarking from a plane, visitors will have to show that they adhere to the Covid restrictions before getting to the passport control. Proof includes their vaccination status, a negative Covid test that was taken no more than 72 hours before, and a declaration on tokhaiyte.vn. There is Wifi at the airport; therefore, don’t panic if you don’t fill out the declaration in advance. It’s actually better to declare right at the airport because it’s more up to date, but make sure you have digital access to your vaccination card or proof that you recovered from an infection. The lines can be very long, so take this into account when you make travel plans in Vietnam. We landed around 9pm local time and only left the airport 3 hours later.
We didn’t have any rapid antigen test upon arrival at Tan Son Nhat airport. Hence, we only had to go through 3 days of self-quarantine at a hotel. We chose the Blue Diamond Luxury Hotel on Thi Sach street. The price for two people for 3 days, including 3 meals/day and a PCR test, was 7 million VND or about $300. The hotel is located in a quiet area of District 1. You are not disturbed by bars or heavy traffic. The food was actually better than I expected. The room was decent enough and the staff was nice. In hindsight, I don’t think that price was unreasonable.
We were told by a few friends and family members that a quarantine was not needed. I am not sure about that. We actually got a call from a local government official asking about our whereabouts and our test result. Being in quarantine is no fun, but I felt good that we followed the rules. We had time to recuperate after a long flight, slept to alleviate the jet lag and brought ourselves some peace of mind for not having to constantly look over our shoulders.
Covid cases in Vietnam have been rising after Lunar New Year. Hence, do yourself a favor and make sure you have hand sanitizers and masks with you at all time. I recommend that you have several masks and one of them is from paper. N95s offer great protection, but they can be hard on the ears after a while. Paper masks will be the break that your ears will desperately need.