Scam Free Rides in a Saigon Taxi
Why would I even bother to write a post on how to prevent scams when you catch a Saigon Taxi? Well, unfortunately one of the most common rip-offs for visitors to Ho Chi Minh City is the “overcharging taxi cab”. Authorities are constantly cracking down on the dodgy companies but in a country where success means you instantly have at least 2 or 3 copycats, it’s like cutting off the head of a Hydra. Banish one and another 2 appear. The funny thing is that many tourists probably won’t even realized they’ve been scammed as taxi fares are incredibly cheap compared to most Western countries. Even charging you 3 or 4 times the price can seem like a bargain when you first arrive and don’t know any better.
Don’t be put off by the possibility of being ripped off, however. Catching a taxi in Ho Chi Minh City is one of the safest and most comfortable ways to get around the city and cheaper than risking it on the back of a motorbike if there are two or more of you. If you follow the hints below you should be fine.
My Top Tips for Scam Free rides in Saigon Taxis
Number 1 -Only use Vinasun or Mai Linh taxis. These are the biggest cab companies in Ho Chi Minh City. Sit in one spot for long enough and you will see hundreds of them drive by. Their drivers are well trained and professional and, in my experience, always use an accurate meter. All their cabs are air conditioned, in good condition and kept spotless. The flag fall and per kilometer rates are prominently displayed on both the outside and inside of the taxi. Drivers display their Identification and unique identifier clearly in the front of the cab.. There are other companies who are honest but as I can’t personally recommend them I won’t mention them here.
Number 2 – Beware of Vinasun and Mai Linh fakes. Yes you heard me ….FAKES! There are a couple of companies with very similar paintwork and logos. The easiest way to be 100% sure you are in a real one is to check the phone number on the side of the cab. Vinasun is 38 27 27 27 , Mai Linh 38 38 38 38 for their green cabs seen below . Below are pictures of their cabs with their markings clearly shown. Mai Linh cabs may sometimes be white with green markings and have a phone number 38 26 26 26.
Number 3 – Both Vinasun and Mai Linh “own” ranks around the city. For example, take a cab from the Diamond Plaza Shopping Centre rank and it will be a Mai Linh. Vinasun runs the one on the Rex Hotel side of the Union Square Shopping centre right in front of Saigon City Hall. If you catch a cab from a company rank there will be a uniformed attendant assigning cabs who will give you a slip of paper with an identifier. You can quote this if you have any problems. The attendant will often speak English and can assist in telling the driver your destination.
Number 4 -If you are not near a rank, cross to whatever side of the street the traffic is heading in your direction. Stand in a space a cab can safely stop for you. This is not a requirement as they will literally stop anywhere; however it IS safer for the general population. Watch for a Vinasun or Mai Linh cab to appear (should take about 2 seconds!!) and put your hand up to hail them. If it is another company let them go on.
Number 5 – For getting home safely, always carry the business card or another written form of your Hotel’s address IN VIETNAMESE. I’ve never come across a hotel that doesn’t have a card, even the very cheap ones. This will solve a lot of confusion. Street names are hard to read, hard to say and will inevitably cause immense confusion if you try to communicate with the driver verbally. We always take a copy of a Google map with our address and the location of our apartment clearly marked even though we know the way home from most places.
Number 6 – When heading out for the day, carry a map and get your hotel staff to mark your destinations on OR write them on a piece of paper BEFORE you find a cab. Better still, ask them an approximate price then get them to hail the cab and give the driver instructions for you. Most hotel staff will be more than happy to do this for you. Make sure they hail a Vinasun or Mai Linh cab.
Number 7 – If you carry a smart phone, plot the route out on Google maps before you go so you have some idea of what direction you should be heading in. Show the driver if he seems unsure. DO NOT take this as gospel though. Drivers sometimes know a better way to go, especially in heavy traffic and there are many one way streets in the city. However, if they deviate too far off course call them out immediately and get them to radio in to the office for directions.
Number 8 – If you pick up a cab as someone is getting out ALWAYS close the doors and reopen them before you get in. This will ensure the meter is reset and you don’t just get your fare added on top. The meter should go blank and then restart with the flag fall. Normally between 12 and 15 000 VND depending on the size of the taxi.
Number 9 – If for some reason you do end up taking another company – ALWAYS MAKE THEM USE THE METER. This will not guarantee you are not ripped off as some of the bad companies have dodgy meters, but you at least have a fair chance. Do not use them if they insist otherwise. Flag fall should be no more than 15 000VND (~75 cents) and the per km rate is around 15 000 VND. It advances in multiples of 3000 VND (15 cents) every 200 m or so AFTER the first km. This rate varies slightly between different vehicle types. Large vehicles with more seats are a little bit more expensive than smaller cars. If your meter starts spinning rapidly, stop the cab and get out immediately.
Number 10 – Always identify if you only have BIG notes before you head off. This includes 100 000VND and above as most rides around the city will cost you less than that. Honest cabbies will make all attempts to find change but it can sometimes take a while. If he doesn’t have change, find another cab or break the note before you take the ride. (Buy some chewing gum in the closest minimart).
Number 11 – If you have shopping or bags not within immediate reach, always make sure you have access to them BEFORE you pay the driver. That way he cannot extort more money by holding them hostage and is unlikely to drive off with your possessions.
Number 12 – We usually round up the fare to the nearest 10 000VND. Taxi Drivers from the big companies do not expect a tip but certainly appreciate it if you do. It also solves the problem of having to have really small money, especially when you first arrive. If your driver hassles you for a large tip, make like you are going to report him. Start writing down his details and phone numbers. They will normally back off quick smart.
Number 13 – Check the seat and floor to make sure you have taken everything before closing the door and letting the cab drive off.
Extra Tips for Catching a Taxi from the Airport
If you don’t have a hotel pick-up arranged from Tan Son Nhat Airport, then head outside for the taxi rank . IT WILL BE CHEAPER THAN BOOKING A TRANSFER INSIDE THE TERMINAL.
At the International Terminal, walk out of the arrivals hall and turn left. Head straight until you find the very obvious rank.
At the Domestic Terminal, walk out of the terminal. Turn to your right and across the street you should see a parking lot with many Vinasun and Mai Linh taxis.
DO NOT accept offers from other people offering you a ride, especially those not in a uniform. YOU WILL BE RIPPED OFF!!!
At the taxi rank join the end of the line and you will be assigned a cab in turn. If it is not Mai Linh Or Vinasun you are within your rights to refuse the cab and let the next person have it. Make it very clear that you will use only those two companies and there should be no problems. Have your accommodation booking form ready, with the address clearly marked, to give to the rank manager assigning the cabs and/or the driver.
If you do not have accommodation booked then you will probably want to head for Pham Ngu Lao (pronounced Fam New Lao) or Bui Vien (pronounced Boy Vien) if you are looking for cheap accommodation or around Ben Thanh Market if you are mid range. Check out my post on how to find cheap accommodation in Ho Chi Minh City. If you are heading for Top End and haven’t got a booking or a transfer arranged then just ask for The Caravelle. There are at least half a dozen 4 star and above hotels within a block of here. All cab drivers should know where all of these are. A trip from the airport to any of these locations should cost no more than 160 000 VND ($8) maybe 180 000VND if the traffic is REALLY, REALLY heavy.
There should be no reason to book a transfer back to the airport UNLESS you are leaving extremely early in the morning. There are thousands of cabs around. You should never be stuck. If you do book a transfer it should cost ABSOLUTELY no more than the equivalent of $10 for the whole ride (NOT per person).
When you arrive at your destination, make sure you have access to your luggage BEFORE you pay the driver. It is not unheard of for dodgy drivers to demand a hefty tip before releasing the boot lock. The logistics of this are obviously easier if there are two or more of you, but should still be possible if you are alone. At most hotels, even the cheaper ones, the hotel staff will come to your aid as soon as you pull up out the front and being allowed to carry your own bags is more of a task than getting someone to carry them for you.
As I said at the start. Don’t let the potential of getting ripped off stop you from taking a Saigon Taxi. They are, on the whole cheap, comfortable and professional. Follow the tips above and you’ll be fine. Please let me know in the comments below if you’ve had any good OR bad experiences with taxis here in Ho Chi Mih City. I’m sure there are other good companies but I follow my own advice so I really can’t say.
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