As I arrived in Hanoi several years ago, I took it for granted that the official looking taxis at the airport are entangled with the airport and therefore kinda safe.
Well, I was used to Europe and China, but not to the scam and ripoff tactics which rule Vietnam, especially Hanoi.
And I was jetlagged, sick and weary… Thus, I paid too much from the airport to my hotel in Hoan Kiem, the old quarter and tourist area of Hanoi. So the question is, how to avoid getting ripped off by the taxi drivers in Vietnam?
1.) Pick a reliable taxi company
I am not very familiar with the taxi companies of the North, but from Da Nang to Saigon, there are two major players.
Mai Linh and VinaSun.
Mai Linh usually has green (sometimes white) cabs, VinaSun mostly white ones. These two companies are quite professional and take care of their reputation, so they are the most reliable in my opinion.
Usually in life I always go with the smaller companies, because I don’t really dig big corporations. But to be honest… the few times I had to take a cab from a less known firm, I ended up in a furious argument.
Some of you might call it unfair, that I mention only those two firms. There might be other reliable companies out there. Well, I write about my own experience.
2.) Get your info and insist on the taxi meter
Nonetheless, even if you pick one of the above, insist on the taximeter and inform yourself beforehand (hotel staff, travel agency, taxi booth), how much the fare from the airport/train station to your hotel is. Show them that you have asked somebody about the fare and have them turn on the meter. I have heard of taxi booths a the airport, where you pay the fare in advance and get a voucher which you hand over to the driver once you arrive. A safe solution, but I don’t know where exactly these booths are available. Just check the info desk at the airport and use it.
3.) Be polite, but not too much
It’s sad that I have to mention this, but I have seen people treating service providers in Asia very badly. The only difference between Europeans and SE Asians in this aspect is, they are used to hide their emotions behind a smile until it’s enough and time for payback. So don’t get rude, unless they get rude first. This should actually suffice.
But if something happens…
…despite your preparations, don’t bother calling the police. They don’t care. Who actually cares, is the taxi company – because they have a reputation to lose. So if you suspect the taxi driver to pull off some type of scam, take your cell phone and take a picture of the driver’s ID in front of you (if there), the license plate, the driver himself… Usually that is enough to scare him enough to deliver proper service. Otherwise you have to call the company directly and hope, that somebody there speaks English. If that doesn’t work, don’t let anybody intimidate you. Stand your ground firmly, get your hotel staff to translate…
But also keep in mind…
…that it might maybe not be the driver’s fault. See, the Vietnamese currency is most likely completely different from yours. 10.000đ look much, but it’s merely half a dollar or 0.30-0.40 €. Construction sites in Vietnam can get out of hand sometimes. Like currently in Saigon, the entire Nguyen Hue street is blocked off due to construction works for our new subway, which forces the entire traffic to a detour and causes major traffic jams during rush hours. Getting into a shouting match with a cab driver because of a few cents is ill advised.
Common taxi scams
They give you a “discount”. If you agree on not using the taxi meter, they don’t have to share with their company and give you a cheaper price, negotiable in advance. Nope. If you are not familiar with the route, the price is likely higher than if you use the meter.
They take a detour. While sightseeing might be one of your goals in Vietnam, doing so involuntarily is not desired. Cab drivers often wait for hours to pick up a customer, so if they finally have one, they want to get the most out of it. Show them that you have inquired about the route beforehand, that should solve this.
They take you somewhere else. Make sure you provide the exact address where you want to go in written form to avoid misunderstandings. Ask the receptionist of your hotel for help once you arrive there.
They tamper with the taxi meter. One of the worst things that can happen. Watch the meter – if it starts counting to astronomical heights after the basic fare runs off, make him drop you off instantly. Ignore his shouting and take another cab. But take care he doesn’t run off with your luggage. (But keep in mind what I said about the currency.)
They drive off with your luggage. Taking a photo of the license plate before entering the taxi takes care of that, but usually taxi drivers help you getting out your stuff from the trunk before you pay the fare.
One of the funniest things I have seen in Vietnam so far, unfortunately I didn’t make pictures, are the faked Mai Linh taxis. While on the first glance the look like the originals, the logo is distorted and the name is slightly changed. One read MaLinh, another one MaiLynh…
I saw them in front of Ben Thanh Market last year, where they picked up tourists… but they vanished pretty fast. A bigger problem are the clones, that cannot be distinguished from the originals. On the picture, traffic inspectors take care of taxi clones.
How to avoid that? Well, again I would suggest taking a picture of the license plate is a good idea.
I just read a “new” trick, some taxi driver apparently used on tourists in Saigon: He put the hand luggage on the front seat and the passengers on he back seats. The driver’s cabin was separated with a blanket, and while the people cannot watch their property, he steals valuable items like phones, cameras and stuff…
We actually had a problem with a MaiLinh driver in Hue, who tried charge us 65.000đ airport fee (instead of the 15.000đ the airport charges), while himself not paying it at all, but rather striking a personal deal with the guard of the airport. Of course in a situation like this I freaked out, ending up not paying that fee at all and having him hand me a receipt for the transport fee, followed by a report to the MaiLinh central office on Hai Ba Trung street in Saigon. The experience of tourists in Vietnam must be improved if this country wants to compete with other players like Thailand or Malaysia in the future.
Generally, if you choose one of the good taxi companies in Vietnam and use your common sense, there should be no trouble though.
So, my fellow traveller, take care and enjoy your trip in Vietnam!