How to Avoid Saigon’s Rip-Off Taxis: A Comprehensive Guide

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 

The name MaiLinh is always written in full on the side

MaiLinh taxis are predominantly white with a green logo and lettering. MaiLinh also has a shuttle bus service that operates around the country.

Vina 

An iconic yellow Vina taxi drives past Notre Dame Cathedral

Vina taxis are bright yellow, so they are impossible to miss. The driver wears a yellow shirt.

Vinasun 

Vinasun taxi drivers wait (quietly) for business

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.

Counterfeit Taxis

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).

Other than one digit in the phone number and one letter, these fake taxis look convincing!

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.

Check your taxi choice carefully outside popular tourist traps like Ben Thanh Market

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.

Taxis outside shopping areas are often more expensive, or ask tourists to pay in US dollars. I didn’t use these companies.

General Tips

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.

A taxi waits outside the busy backpacker bars but how many people will check to see if it’s not fake?

Finally

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 🙂

Post Author
Runaway Brit

Comments

27 Comments
  1. posted by
    Simon P
    May 28, 2012 Reply

    I was never knowingly ripped off by a Saigon taxi but I did find it incredibly annoying having to repeatedly argue with them to turn on the meter! I climbed right back out of more than my fair share of taxis!
    Simon P recently posted..Finding Utopia in Luang Prabang

    • posted by
      Runaway Brit
      May 28, 2012 Reply

      I guarantee that if you have to ask them to turn on the meter then it is not a reputable taxi, I’m pleased to hear that you got out! The companies I have mentioned never once tried to get away with not using a meter.

      If you are going for a long distance journey (of a few hours for example) then it is always wise to negotiate a price beforehand but the meter should be used for any journey within the city.

  2. posted by
    Val Hamer
    May 28, 2012 Reply

    Great article which would have helped me out a lot had I read it a couple of years ago!

    I wrote about my experiences in Hanoi here: http://www.vagabundomagazine.com/taken-for-a-ride-in-hanoi/

    • posted by
      Runaway Brit
      May 28, 2012 Reply

      I just read your account! Doubly duped in one day 🙁 My heart sinks when I hear tales like this from Vietnam as it is such a fantastic country but so many travellers fall victim to scams like this, even when, like you, they are already pretty travel savvy.

      Unfortunately, the con-artists are always going to find more ingenious ways of catching people unawares, which makes it most important that guys like us share our experiences for other travellers.

      Thanks for commenting, and for sharing your experience.

      • posted by
        Val Hamer
        Feb 10, 2013 Reply

        Somehow I missed your reply, sorry bout that.

        I was sooooo mad at the time but now I can tell the story as a warning to others. I think that having been savvy and prepared, yet still falling for two scams made it harder to get over!

        As I was in Vietnam for a good while after this I became more familiar with things – and it made meeting the honest people so much sweeter.

  3. posted by
    Denise
    May 28, 2012 Reply

    I spent two months in Vietnam, but I was never scammed because I always used reputable companies. Occasionally, I was taken for a bit of a longer ride, but this only resulted in around 0.50 USD more.
    Denise recently posted..The Ecstacy of a Wonderful Meal: Can Tho and the Victoria Can Tho resort

    • posted by
      Runaway Brit
      May 28, 2012 Reply

      Knowing which company to use can really make a big diifference to your experience in Saigon. I don’t mind the slightly longer way round route when it only costs a few cents more, just as long as I can avoid the expensive rip-off cabs!

  4. posted by
    Jarmo
    May 28, 2012 Reply

    I agree, the more persistent the taxi driver is getting you on board, the more likely it’ll be a scam. Taxi driver tried to scam me in Hanoi, going from the train station to the hostel where we were staying in. The meter was running a lot faster than it should had, he took a massive detour and actually tried to drop us off at the wrong place.

    Thankfully I had been to Hanoi before so I knew to insist that he dropped us off at the right place, which he finally agreed to do. The total came up to about five times too much, so I basically gave him the correct amount (I think it was 50K dong), which he did agree to take in order to avoid encounter with the hostel manager who was coming to sort out the situation…

    But if I hadn’t known where I was going, it could’ve been a lot trickier.
    Jarmo recently posted..The 39th Cambridge Beer Festival

    • posted by
      Runaway Brit
      May 30, 2012 Reply

      I’m glad you managed to avoid an unpleasant situation, I have heard of many people who have tried to argue with a bogus taxi driver and it doesn’t always end so well. At least you had the confidence to stand up for yourself! If the meter is running faster than it should be I would probably just tell him to stop and get out, it’s never difficult to find another taxi. If the fare card is visible (which it always will be in a reputable taxi) then you can work out if the meter is telling the truth.

  5. posted by
    Geoff
    Jun 28, 2012 Reply

    Nice Experience With a Vinasun Taxi…

    We took a short trip from the new Saigon Tower to Saigon Square. My wife left her wallet (containing over US$1,000 & invaluable personal papers) in the taxi. After much panic and hasty phone calls to Vinasun the taxi appeared with the wallet and the cash still intact…

    To be honest I thought we had less than 10% chance of getting it back. My hat is off to the very helpful Vinasun staff, and the honesty of the driver…

    THANKYOU Vinasun…

    Geoff,
    On a consultancy project in VN

    • posted by
      Runaway Brit
      Jun 29, 2012 Reply

      Wow! That is great to hear, I would not have expected you to get it back – sometimes even the taxis that don’t rip you off will pretend they didn’t find belongings left in the taxi. I respect Vinasun even more now, they will definitely be the company I recommend first in Vietnam. Thanks so much for sharing your story.

  6. posted by
    Mark Wiens
    Jun 30, 2012 Reply

    Excellent advice. I’m thinking about visiting Saigon for a visa run soon, so these tips are extremely useful. Thank you!
    Mark Wiens recently posted..Photo: Magnificent Longsheng Rice Terraces in China

    • posted by
      Runaway Brit
      Jun 30, 2012 Reply

      Thanks for the comment, taxis can be the biggest nuisance to a traveller in Saigon, but not if you get in the right ones! I hope you have a lovely trip, let me know if you go!

  7. posted by
    stephy
    Oct 26, 2012 Reply

    thanks very much for yr post!!! I’m going to HCMC this weekend and i’ve always heard abt the nightmares of counterfeit taxis. I just spent an hour searching for HCMC taxi guides for travellers and I’m so glad i finally come across your blog. MUCH THANKS!

    • posted by
      Runaway Brit
      Oct 28, 2012 Reply

      Thank you for your comment, I’m pleased I helped. Hope you have an amazing time in HCMC – I would love to be there right now too!

      • posted by
        Barb Londee
        Dec 2, 2012 Reply

        I had the same problem you did with rogue taxi. I was coming out of museum at the end of the day and had been out walking since about 7 AM, extremely hot/humid (just before when it rains) and I was tired. Even though I’d been in Hanoi for one week and had been careful to get the correct taxis, that day I got in one with one letter changed( didn’t know it at the time).

        We had gone one short block and the rate was up to 400,000 dong (about $20 US). I told the taxi to stop he said he couldn’t and went almost another block (maybe 100M total) distance from my starting point. Now the meter is up to about 600,000 dong ($30 US). No way was I going to pay that. I was leaving the next day and if i paid that fare i’d have to get some more money from ATM.

        I gave him $3 US which was more than enough for the initial distance covered when I said stop. He kept pointing to the meter but he left the air on! We went back and forth for about ten minutes- I didn’t mind I was in a cool place…had he shut off the air I would have paid. I kept looking for police but saw none. For those that don’t know, like Hong Kong, taxis in Viet Nam can have a central lock so you can’t just get out and throw the money at the driver.

        When he said I was trying to cheat him (!!), I’d had enough. I stood up in the taxi (I’m an older female(50?s) , almost 6 feet tall) I said here’s your money(the $3). [I live in Thailand and would never do this there as most males know Muay Thai.] I said,” If the Americans had bombed your parents house, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.” [I know this was not a very nice thing to say] He said I was a nasty, old lady. Replying, I said that maybe I was and that he was a thief. He finally took the money and unlocked the door.

        I’ve been back 8 times since to Viet Nam and have never gotten another rogue taxi. I check the name before getting in any taxi. Another secret I was told by a teacher at a Vietnamese university was to look for a Vietnamese person getting out of a taxi…they won’t be getting out of the rogue taxis, and take that taxi. Can’t remember the names but they have an even lower drop rate than Mai Linh and Vina Sun in HCMC or Hanoi

  8. posted by
    Runaway Brit
    Dec 1, 2013 Reply

    Thanks for sharing your story, and sorry for taking so long to reply (I never received a notification for some reason). It is so horrible to fall prey to a scamming taxi driver, but I like the advice about looking for a Vietnamese person getting out of them.

    There was a company that used lime green and yellow colours. I can’t remember the name now, but they were cheaper than Mai Linh and Vinasun. The Vietnamese used this company mostly, I see to remember.

  9. posted by
    Travel within Vietnam: TIPS | Ellie Rofe
    May 22, 2014 Reply

    […] This link has much more information about the good taxi firms in Vietnam from someone who lived there for three years: […]

  10. posted by
    Hung Le
    Sep 24, 2014 Reply

    On September 12, 2014, my wife and I were nearby HCM Pharmacy & Medical School, formerly Sai Gon Medical School. It was raining hard and I flagged down a taxi to go back to Dong Khoi Street, a trip normally would cost no more than 110.000 piasters or $5.5 US dollars. I did not pay any attention to the taxi company and did not look at the meter. When the taxi stopped at our hotel, the meter indicated 485.000 piasters or $24.3 US dollars. I told the driver of this taxi it seems that his meter ran quite fast but paid the full amount anyway. I then looked at the name of the taxi company and it is SaiGon Tourist. I told my classmates (Class of 79 SG Med. School) about this crooked taxi company and told them to stay away. Lord and Behold, they took the same taxi company on behalf of the guy who guarded our hotel (Bong Sen) and they paid 150.000 piasters ($7.5) but on their return trip with Vina Sun, they paid 70.000 piasters or $3.5.

    A good lesson to learn for all tourists who will go to Ho Chi Minh City. Stay away from SaiGon Tourist taxi company at all costs.

    Hung Le

  11. posted by
    shaari
    Dec 16, 2014 Reply

    Choose older driver taxi than a younger driver at hcmc because the younger one is very dangerous and they will take advantage from u

    • posted by
      Runaway Brit
      Dec 19, 2014 Reply

      Thank you for the advice. I was also always aware of taxis that were in bad condition – they were quite often bad news too!

  12. posted by
    Geoff Martens
    Oct 24, 2015 Reply

    I caught a taxi at the post office in Saigon. The driver asked me to get in the front seat and my wife went into the back seat. I found this to be unusual to be in the front.The driver was on his mobile phone a lot but I thought nothing of it. On our way to the hotel he stopped his taxi and said to me that he was changing drivers. The first driver got out and the second driver got in.He asked me to pay the first driver what was on the meter, about 61000 dong. The first driver was on his motorcycle outside my window. I was looking at the first driver out the window when the second driver touched my wallet, without me knowing he removed 500000 dong. (I noticed it was gone after he dropped us off) He didn’t want to drop us off at our hotel but parked 100 metres short of the hotel and we had to walk. I now know he didn’t want to be recognised by hotel staff. I was scammed by two very clever taxi drivers. it was a Vinasun taxi which I always found to be honest and no I didn’t get the number of the taxi. It wasn’t the money that bothers me but gives you a bitter taste in your mouth that I was scammed, I have visit Saigon twice now and was scammed by a cyclo the first time I visited.( another story)So I was extra careful this time but it happened so quickly. Warning to others if you feel uneasy about a situation in Saigon then it’s best to keep walking or get out of the taxi

    • posted by
      Runaway Brit
      Oct 25, 2015 Reply

      Wow. Yes, you should always go with your gut feeling in any situation. I’m sorry to hear that you had a bad experience 🙁 I always found Vinasun to be very honest and reliable. Is there any way it could have been one of their imposters? They look exactly the same, but often with an ‘m’ at the end, so it says Vinasum, instead of Vinasun? Other than that they are identical, their drivers even wear the same uniforms.

  13. posted by
    kritika
    Nov 26, 2015 Reply

    I wish i had read this article before. I got into a taxi outside ben tham market thinking it was vinasun. It turned out to be counterfeit taxi. The trip which would cost me maximum 30,000 dong ended up costing 435,000 dong. When i looked at the meter i thought it meant 43,500 dong. On resisting paying, the driver got aggressive. Its not about the money. But it leaves a really bad taste.

  14. posted by
    Chantal
    Jun 20, 2016 Reply

    I was scammed today but got off without paying. The meter skyrocketed and after I complained I realized we were at the same spot as before, so I kept yelling stop until he pulled over. I got out but he said he wouldn’t open the trunk where my bag was until I paid 250k. I then took a photo of his license plate, someone asked what was going on and then talked to the driver and he opened the trunk. I got off with a few “fuck you’s”. It was only a 3 km ride so could not have been more than 75k.

  15. posted by
    Anton
    Aug 5, 2016 Reply

    good fares you will find on http://www.taxi2order.com booked their very often in the last years and never had any problems

  16. posted by
    Taxis in Vietnam – vietnamnov2016
    Sep 17, 2016 Reply

    […] How to Avoid Saigon’s Rip-Off Taxis: A Comprehensive Guide […]

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