Taxi and transportation scams are a part and parcel of any large metropolis, and Saigon is no exception. As a seemingly unsuspecting foreigner, you are the perfect prey for many taxi and cyclo drivers around the city.
Taxi drivers can be very shrewd and unwavering in their attempt to scam you. Many tourists get into cars with broken meters or “quick” meters, get driven several kilometres in the wrong direction or even in circles, agree on a fixed price that is likely more than what the meter would cost, or take a “fake” taxi. Some tourists have reported instances where the driver asked for a hefty tip at the end of the drive and refused to give them their luggage until they paid the tip.
The incidence of cyclo scams is just as frequent as taxi scams and sometimes more dangerous. You will see cyclos on almost every corner in District 1 in Saigon just waiting for their next customer. Cyclo drivers may scam you by agreeing on a price with you and demanding more after the trip by stating that the agreed price was only per person or per hour. People have described situations in which a cyclo driver will drive a customer to an alleyway and demand more money while implying physical harm on the customer. In fact, the city is making an effort to restrict cyclos to only certain parts of the city due to the large number of complaints.
Here are some important tips in avoiding taxi and cyclo scams.
Before the trip:
In Vietnam, the two taxi companies, Vinasun and MaiLinh, have proven to be most reliable (although scams still occur) in comparison to others. Other companies do not have as strong of a reputation of good customer service. MaiLinh taxis are either all green or all white with green. Vinasun taxis are white with green and a red stripe. Both these companies require their drivers to wear a tie. And, check the dashboard for the picture of the driver and make sure it matches. Beware of taxis with slightly varied names – Ma Linh, Vinasune, and more!
The Tan Son Nhat airport is a prime location for taxi scams. As you come out of international arrivals, walk to your left towards the taxi stand. At the domestic terminal, walk across the street and you should see a taxi attendant. Let him/her know that you only want either a Mai Linh or Vinasun Taxi. While waiting at a taxi stand at the airport, you do not have to take the next available taxi. Saigon Air Taxi has a monopoly at the airport but try to avoid them in favour of Vinasun or MaiLinh. Feel free to wait if you don’t see one and if anyone pesters you, let them know clearly that you are waiting for a car from one of these two companies. Please note that MaiLinh and Vinasun are reported to have established a tourism desk inside the airport, although some people have said that they are hard to find. Hiring a taxi from the desk eliminates a lot of hassle but they do charge a small premium. Alternatively, the safest (and cheapest) option is to take Bus No. 152 from the Airport to Ben Thanh Market. As you exit the international terminal, look to your right and you will see the Bus waiting across from the Burger King. If you cannot see it, ask a uniformed guard at the airport. Note that many taxi drivers may try to give you false information. The bus fare is 5000 VND per person and 5000 VND per bag – try to have exact change. The bus only runs until 6 PM. Once you reach Ben Thanh Market, the taxi fares to your hotel will be substantially lower.
It is also very important to understand your route. Look at a map and take note of the general direction in which you need to go. Understanding the layout of the city will help immensely if the driver is really driving you around in circles or taking you somewhere completely different than where you want to go. Understanding the route will also help you determine where to flag a taxi. Walk to the nearest intersection or corner where you can see a clear route towards your destination. Saigon has many one way streets and it is very easy for a driver to take a longer route with the excuse that he is avoiding the one ways.
During the trip:
Always use a meter! Insist on it when you enter a taxi. A legitimate meter will turn on automatically as you start driving. However, you may encounter taxi cars with “broken” meters or jumping meters. Pay attention to how much the meter goes up by as you drive and ensure that it goes up consistently. To give you a general idea of how much a taxi ride should cost, most companies charge between 12000 – 14000 VND at the start or the ride and the first kilometre or so. The fare goes up by 1200 – 1400 VND every additional 200 metres. Saigon is a relatively small city so if you have a rough idea of how far your destination is, you will know how much a reasonable fare is. For instance, from Tan Son Nhat Airport to somewhere in District 1 should be roughly 150,000 VND.
Most importantly, be very clear on where you want to go. Know the address and write it down if you have to. It is all too easy for the driver to say that they did not hear you or understand you. Pronunciations are quite tricky in Vietnamese so unless you are extremely confident in your language skills, write down the name and address of your destination. Please note that if you do write anything down, the accents and tones are essential.
After the trip:
Tipping for taxis and cyclos is not expected in Saigon. If a driver demands a tip, do not feel obliged to give him more money unless you feel that you want to reward them for their work. If you do give the driver a tip, 5-10% of the total price is more than enough. Some instances have been reported where the taxi driver has withheld the customer’s luggage until receiving extra payment. It may be good practice to make sure the driver opens the trunk as soon as you arrive at your destination. Or, if you are traveling in a group, let one person remove the luggage while the other pays.
If you find yourself in a situation where you are the victim of a scam, there are a few things you can do. The first is try and negotiate as much as you can – whatever their demand is, start with half and be as steadfast as you can. You can also try taking a photograph of the driver of car – that tends to intimidate them. In the event that you feel physically threatened, try to bluff and say you’re calling the police or pay an amount that will allow you to leave the situation. However, tourism is very important to the Vietnamese economy so is it highly unlikely that drivers will hurt tourists.
If you are certain that you would like to take a cyclo, only book them through your hotel or tourism company. Many cyclo drivers around the city speak English well enough to sweet-talk tourists into hiring them. However, be aware that you are more likely to be scammed by these independent cyclos versus the ones you book through a hotel. In order to avoid overpaying for their service, hone your negotiating skills! Bargaining is very important in Saigon. Even if you are not bargaining the price much lower than what is offered, you must do it just on principle. If you don’t bargain, it will be a signal to the driver that you will give into their demands.
Before you start the ride, be very clear on what the price agreement is. Make sure you understand what the total price is and what it includes. You should be clear on whether your agreed price is per person, per hour, or a total price regardless of number of people or amount of time. Writing it down and confirming with the driver may help to eliminate the possibility of a misunderstanding. Also, if you are using a cyclo throughout the day and the driver will have to wait for you while you sightsee, make sure that the total price includes waiting time as well. Finally, if you are taking a cyclo as simply a means of transportation rather than for the novelty, we recommend that you take a taxi as cyclo scams have the potential to be more dangerous.
Although it may seem daunting to have to be on edge and alert the very minute you are in need of transportation, many scams are quite easy to spot. Simply remember the key points and use your street sense. Safe travels!