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Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Great Taxi Scam(s)

OK, every blog about this city eventually has a post discussing this most unfortunate of topics.  A sad fact of life here but the power of the almighty dollar can never be underestimated.  So here is my 2 cents worth on the matter.  If you are a visitor or planning to visit soon, don't let this taint your view of this wonderful city.  It just always pays to be aware and forewarned is for armed!
I had a fascinating discussion with my "source" the other day.  He drove taxi's around this city for 7 years so it is fair to say he's pretty much seen it all.  First and most importantly choose your taxi wisely.  The 2 main reputable companies are Vinasun and Mai Linh.
As you can see these cars are branded with more stickers than a formula one racing car.  The phone number is clearly displayed along with the cars individual number.  When you get in you will see the fare clearly displayed on the front console.  The driver should be wearing a white uniform shirt and a tie.  They come in both sedan and 7 seater Innovas.  The taxi driver should have his id card clearly displayed on the dashboard.  Don't count on a seatbelt in the back.  You can always dig your hand down the back of the dirty seat and fish for it but do so at your own peril!

This is a fake Mai Linh taxi.  Note it is actually called M Taxi and has no where near as many stickers.  Quite often the windows have a very dark tint.
Ok, so here is the problem.  Over here, when you are on a good thing, people will take advantage of it.  Fake taxi's abound and they will blatantly copy the livery of these too companies then proceed to rip you off blind. Living here it is easy enough to spot a fake but for visitors it can be a bit more difficult.

It is worth noting that Mai Linh also have green coloured Innova's.  These are not necessarily fake, just from a different area my guy tells me. Now I am not saying that these guys are always 100% but they are usually pretty good. You could still get the odd dodgy one who wants to take you the "long way" to get to where you want to go.  He might be profusely sorry and have to stop and ask directions several times.  He will be so upset that he does not know where to go, getting out and banging the roof in frustration.  This actually happened to friends of mine. (It's not hard to find An Phu buddy!).  You will end up paying for a scenic tour you did not ask for.  If this happens I suggest cutting your losses if you can and get out and find another taxi.
Always insist on using the meter.  Some may insist on setting a price before you set off.  This price will always be way more than what it really costs.

Note that the fare is clearly displayed and there is actually a meter!

Note also that if you are getting in to a taxi just as someone is getting out and they close the door on you before you can get in, they are not being rude.  This just re-sets the meter.  The meters.....ahhhh...the meters....Always try to keep an eye on it.  If you see it rolling over like a poker machine, ask the driver to stop and get the hell out of there.  Some of the other tricks that have been confirmed is enough to make even the most happy go lucky commuter paranoid.  They may have a button that they press that puts extra small amounts of money on the meter.  This button can be hidden anywhere but common places are in the shirt pocket of the driver, on the gear stick and on the indicator stick.  Now this one kills me.  Some people have rigged up the meter so that every time they blow the horn more money goes on.  Seriously!  Trust me, there is a lot of horn blowing going on on the streets of Saigon!  Now I know you are feeling quite overwhelmed and thinking there is no way you will make it around in the city without being scammed for your hard earned dong.  There is often no way you can see these things coming so my best advice is use a reputable company but then still keep an eye on the meter.  If you get in an argument, which has been known to happen, it is often safer to just cut your losses.  I have heard of some situations where the driver locks the door and demands the full rip off fare before he will let you out.  If he tries to pull up before you actually get to your hotel don't let him.  Insist he pull right in and then ask the hotel staff to help you sort it out. Try to take down their car number if they have one.  The companies are actually quite responsive to complaints as they have a reputation to uphold.  I have even tired to take a photo of one guy but in hindsight that was pretty silly as it is going to make him VERY angry and then you might risk him stealing your phone/camera!
Having said all of the above, it's not really that bad.  Crime here tends to be more opportunistic i.e. bag snatches etc and violence seems to be uncommon.  These are just my personal opinions but I think the most important thing is your safety.  I am happy to loose a few thousand dong and chalk it up to experience rather than put myself or my family at risk.  Trying not to sound flippant, but you can replace should always come first.  So there it is, a little info that might come in handy one day.


  1. Excellent advice, indeed! Great post! Thanks so much.

  2. Have to say that I passed this article on to my parents before arriving in HCM on Thursday morning. Alas, instead of being ripped off in a taxi, a young man on a scooter attempted to steal her handbag! And they'd only been in the country for 3 hours!!!! Hopefully the rest of their trip will be uneventful. Shirl

  3. Oh Shirl, you have no idea how much your post breaks my heart. This country is so amazing and I feel so sad when this happens. I hope this does not ruin it for them. I only post stuff like this to make people aware. It is in no way my overall opinion of this amazing country. I hope they are ok and hopefully can take comfort in Karma. I just lost $500 in HK and have let it go by hoping that someone who really needs it is benefiting. May the rest of their trip be amazing and they find the heart of this city. X

  4. Dani, oh bugger, that's a lot to lose. Your HK pics look great. It doesn't look like there were many children at DL, just the BIG kids at heart!

    My parents did enjoy HCM and they are now in Dalat. Have to say that we loved our trip to Vietnam 12 months ago, it's truly an amazing country.

  5. I should clarify it was $500HK dollars so really not that bad! Have never been to Dalat. It's on the ever increasing list!


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