Whenever anybody asks me for advice about an upcoming visit to Saigon I always start with the same tip: be careful which taxi you choose to get in.
[mks_boxquote align=”right” width=”200″ arrow=”0″]”Never take a taxi from directly outside a big tourist attraction like Ben Thanh market or the War Remnants Museum, because it will almost certainly be fake”[/mks_boxquote]With a public transport network comprising mainly of archaic buses, the timetables of which are unfathomable to most tourists, it is virtually impossible to avoid using a taxi during a visit to Saigon.
Unlike other countries in the world, the fear is not that getting into the wrong taxi will result in kidnapping or elaborate scams involving fake police officers, but getting into the wrong taxi in Vietnam will hit your wallet hard.
Counterfeit taxis in Vietnam are not dangerous, but they are an annoyance.
I have read numerous blog posts about travellers being scammed in Vietnam, and I won’t deny that it does happen, but when it comes to the rip-off taxi scam it is surprisingly easy to avoid. I managed to for the full three years that I lived there, as did all of my friends.
So without any further ado I pass on the benefit of my knowledge to you, my fellow traveller.
Use a Reputable Company
Undoubtedly, there are more reputable companies than the ones I list here, but these are the ones that I found offered consistently good service: by that I mean that they:
- Have pristine bodywork—no rust or dents
- Display a fare chart inside the cab
- Have the driver’s ID and number visible
- Never turn you away when you say where you want to go
- Always use a meter
- Ask for directions when they don’t know the way
- Take the most direct route, or the route with least congestion
- Never ask for the fee in US dollars
MaiLinh taxis are predominantly white with a green logo and lettering. MaiLinh also has a shuttle bus service that operates around the country.
Vina taxis are bright yellow, so they are impossible to miss. The driver wears a yellow shirt.
Another white and green brand, where the driver wears a white shirt with a green tie.
Sometimes you might see VIP, or Luxury versions of these companies. These are also reputable but charge about twice the normal rate—but you do get a much more comfortable ride.
There are many counterfeit taxis in Saigon that cash in on the brand of reputable taxis. These taxis look remarkably similar to the well-known companies, but look carefully and you will see the differences.
If there are letters missing, or the name is misspelt then don’t be fooled—they are a rip-off taxi.
Well known Vinasun rip-offs include Vinasum, Vinamet, or simply Vina (but not the yellow ones).
MaiLinh has a copycat that uses the ML logo, but the taxi does not have the full name MaiLinh printed on the side of the cab.
Counterfeit taxis often look a bit older than their reputable counterparts, and are sometimes more ‘boxy’ than the sleeker, newer cars. They may also have rust patches or dents—the reputable companies do not operate in this condition.
Finally, before getting in you should have a look through the window and check if the driver is displaying his ID badge, whether you can see a fare-meter (that is in good condition), and if the fare-card is displayed. If you do not see these things then DON’T GET IN!
If you flag a taxi from the street and you think it is a rip-off taxi don’t feel obliged to get in, just wave him off and wait for another one.
Copycat Taxi Hangouts
There is a direct correlation between how touristy something is, and how many copycat taxis are circling around it. Therefore:
Never take a taxi from directly outside a big tourist attraction like Ben Thanh market or the War Remnants Museum, because it will almost certainly be fake. Always walk a little further down the street to find a better company.
If the driver is persistently yelling at you or trying to get your attention, then, again, it is likely to be a rip-off taxi. The good companies do not hassle tourists to use their taxi.
There is a high concentration of rip-off taxis in the backpacker streets of Pham Ngu Lao, Bui Vien and De Tham—especially at night when they know that alcohol affects travellers’ judgement. The good companies also operate here so don’t assume that every taxi is out to scam you. Just check before you get in.
At the Airport
The vast majority of the time the first taxis you see when you come through the departure gates will either be counterfeit taxis or expensive airport taxis.
Ignore them. They will be yelling at you so it’s not easy! Walk to the far end of the rank and you will find Vinasun and MaiLinh waiting calmly for you. The driver may approach you but he will be calm and professional. Use the advice I have given you in this post to make sure they are not copycats and you will be fine.
Do not agree to pay in dollars (there are ATMs outside the terminal), as you will never get a good exchange rate and counterfeit taxis will probably try to charge a flat-fare rather than use the metre. Don’t agree to this. The airport is not far from the city and should cost about 150,000VND (about $8) to the city centre. I have heard stories of people paying $40 + for this journey, so take your time at the airport and choose wisely.
Sadly, even the best companies will not be honest if they find an expensive phone or fat wallet in their car after you have left, so always check the car carefully for your belongings before you get out.
Vietnamese is a tough language to master, always write down your destination before you get into a taxi as you will not be able to pronounce it in a way that they will understand. Include the street name, number and district if possible. Taxi drivers are unlikely to know the names of shops or bars.
As ever, remember that being very obviously drunk will always make you more open to exploitation so try to travel in groups at night.
If you do end up in a rip-off taxi then it’s always best to pay up the bill at the end. Yes, it is unfair. Yes, it is infuriating. But the law will never be on your side.
Remember, it’s really not that much money to you anyway so try to keep some perspective. Pay up and check your taxi choice more carefully next time.
Have you ever fallen prey to the rip-off taxi scam? Do you have any tips to help a fellow traveller recognise a copycat taxi? I’d love to hear your comments below. If you think the post might help other travellers then spread good karma and share