Sleeping in Airports – Heading to Taiwan (and back)
On our last big trip to South America, Europe and Asia we booked business class RTW (Round the World) air tickets interspersed with domestic flights, trains and busses within the countries we visited on those three continents.
This time we did things a little differently.
This post is about sleeping in airports and I write this after a comfortable night’s sleep in Ho Chi Minh (Saigon’s) Tân Sơn Nhất International Airport. I will refer to the airport simply as Saigon Airport in this blog. We are heading back to Australia after a month of fun in Taiwan. I include links to a formal airport website and an informal website – I have no affiliation with either site. Now straight to the experience.
Our flight departed a little late from Taipei. We were due to depart at 7 pm, but with delays, we ended up arriving here in Saigon a little after 11 pm.
Very few people were making their way back through international transit into the international departure concourse and we were surprised at how much activity was going on in shops still open and large numbers of people making their way to flights. The queues lining up to clear customs and immigration into Vietnam told another story. We left the crowded corridors and lines and ducked into the insignificant single doorway manned by a friendly official who scanned our bags before heading up onto the still busy level two concourse with folks rushing for connecting flights. We weren’t in a rush and went in search of food.
We had a combination meal of Pho with a small dessert and soft drink that cost USD13 each. Standard airport charges for meals so don’t expect any discounted meals here just because the meals on the streets of Saigon are both cheap and super tasty. I love Vietnamese food.
I have created a small video of the facilities for those doing what we did (sleeping in airports).
This short video highlights how to survive (and even enjoy) an overnight kip in an airport. Not all airports are the same and the quality of the food and a few other factors made this a pleasant stay. I want to give a shout out to the staff of Saigon Airport in general, and the Staff of Highlands Coffee who offer 24-hour food (and their internet). A very special mention goes to the wonderful coconut coffee from any of the three locations of another coffee and Banh Mi concession. (see photo) That coffee which is not guilt-free is the best I have tasted.
You don’t have to make a habit of sleeping in airports – unless you are an ex-struggling university student like us – or enjoy the adventure… but it is good to know that when the situation arises you can meet the challenge. In case you don’t know – we are backpacker travellers, not the 30kg suitcase on wheels tourists. And, yes, we are both ex-university students (with completed degrees some 40 years ago, I hasten to add) who never quite lost the joy of meeting other unpretentious travel strangers who became travel friends.
What are the important things to consider when sleeping in airports?
Apart from the facilities which I mention below, safety and staff tolerance are the two starting points. On both accounts, Saigon is both safe and tolerant, even in the wee hours of the morning. We chose to camp up on the third-floor seats where the food courts are. This area after midnight when almost all of the food shops close is quiet although being an airport, an eye mask or repurposed face mask to keep the glare out is recommended. Here are some of the other observations about facilities to make your life more comfortable.
- chairs without armrests to allow you to stretch out
- free fresh drinking water – this is located on level two in about three locations
- clean toilets within close proximity to your sleeping area
- an available power point close enough to keep an eye on your phone. It is up to you to have the appropriate adaptors and plugs to charge your devices
- 24-hour eatery (or at least one that is open when you arrive and are ready to eat) – next best is a snack vending machine.
- Not too noisy when you are trying to sleep (a good set of noise-cancelling headphones helps there)
- Reasonable temperature (not arctic cold or hot tin shed like an Australian outback airport)
Saigon Airport met all the above criteria.
When we arrived and went upstairs to the food concession, this is what we ordered. Having fresh chillies to add into our Pho was a bonus.
In conclusion, sleeping in airports may not be on everyone’s bucket list, but it does put you in touch with the lives of the service staff who work at airports and gives you a chance to slow down and be in the airport rather than just passing through it. I wouldn’t go out of my way to find an airport to sleep in, but if I had to, you could do a lot worse than the international airport at Ho Chi Minh city.
Doing the maths
We checked out the costs for getting a 3-hour session in one of the 3 lounges by asking Chatgpt and the prices varied from 18 to 26 USD per person for 3 hours which would potentially get you a comfortable chair, some food and drink but none of the results mentioned a shower which would be a big plus. I would check that out by inquiring directly at the lounges. With a reasonable meal costing 13 USD from one of the restaurants anyhow, it might be worth springing the extra 5 USD for the three hours. The cost for a visa to exit and sleep in a hotel is about 35 AUD not to mention the customs and immigration, taxi to and from the airport etc so we discounted that as an option. In hindsight, we should have transitted through Guangzhou on Chinese Southern Airlines as that was only a 2-hour layover for the same price. That said we had an experience that didn’t leave us with PTSD ( Poverty Travel Sleep Deprivation ) and gave me a chance to write a post that might help another struggling university student…
This is a bit of a postscript, even though I wrote the following paragraph on our way over to Taiwan, where we had no experience of Ho Chi Minh’s airport apart from the blog readings we did.
We arrived in Taipei via our extended flight from Melbourne via Saigon. After checking out our new favourite website “Sleeping in Airports” which covers more than just sleeping in airports 🙂 we found that regardless of whether you are sleeping in airports or not, knowing where to get free clean drinking water is one of those things that isn’t always marked clearly on the signage. Whether the airport has functional free wifi (all security considerations and care needs to be taken) and in fact if you are spending time in the airport during the dark hours, are there places open to buy food etc.
The real postscript is that I caught COVID on the way back to Australia. Not serious although I ended up on a script of anti-viral medicine for COVID that kept me very drowsy for a few days. Although I don’t think sleeping in airports caused any COVID problems, the 100 or so folks coughing on the plane back to Australia and foolish me not wearing a mask on the plane probably did.
This post is a bit of an anomaly as it describes everything except our Taiwan Adventure which I am just about to get to. Stay tuned or subscribe to receive infrequent blog posts about our adventures.
Until next time…
Mark and Helen – Happy New Year for 2024.