Ask Dave: How Can I Avoid Taxi Ripoffs in Saigon?

By Dave Fox

ian-potter-capetown-south-africa“Thanks for such an amazing, positive site you have.

“I am going to Vietnam for the first time…. I have heard that the taxi drivers try and rip people off and they suggest only using metered taxis. Just like to hear your opinion.”

–Ian Potter, Cape Town, South Africa


Thanks for your question, Ian, and even more for the flattery!

Unfortunately, yes, you have heard correctly; you do have to be careful which taxis you use in Saigon. Even if a taxi has a meter, you need to keep an eye on it. Some meters are set to rack up charges at a ridiculous rate.

Two companies – Vinasun and Mai Linh – are widely considered the most reputable. They are the only two I ever use in Saigon. Be careful when getting in that the taxi really is from one of those two companies. Other companies with similar names, such as “Vina Taxi” and “M’ Linh” abound. (A few years ago, I was told Vina Taxi was okay too. I have used them without problems; however, friends in Saigon have recently cautioned me against them.)

SONY DSCOnce you get in to a Vinasun or Mai Linh taxi, be sure the meter is running, and you will usually be okay. The only time I was cheated in one of these cabs was when the driver went a ridiculously wrong way, so I ended up paying double for a ride that should have cost around 30,000 dong, or US $1.50. Net loss: Not enough to stress about.

When I arrive at the airport (if I’m in the international terminal), I usually pre-book a taxi at one of the travel company desks just outside the customs area. They charge 10 US dollars for a ride from the airport to a downtown hotel. They might send you with a different company, but that’s fine since you’ve prepaid. If you catch a cab outside at the airport taxi stands, you might save a couple of bucks – if you find a reputable driver. (Again, look for Mai Linh or Vinasun.) The airport is rife with rip-off drivers from other companies that prey on freshly arrived tourists. I’ve heard horror stories of these drivers trying to charge 50 dollars or more. I like knowing I can prepay ten bucks and not have to stress about what might go down at the end of my 30-minute ride.

To add one more level of excitement, there is one game the pre-paid drivers occasionally play. Taxis are charged a fee to exit the airport. If you’re paying the metered fare, you are expected to cover this exit fee; however, if you prepay, it’s included in your cost and drivers should cover the exit fee themselves. Again, it’s minimal – I think around 20,000 dong (one US dollar), but it irks me when drivers, who know I’m not supposed to pay this fee, try to charge me.

When they ask me to pay it, I tell them I’ve been to Vietnam many times and never pay it. (You can use that line even if it’s your first trip.) If they try to charge me for that, or any sort of “luggage fee,” I refuse, and I don’t tip them. If they don’t play these games, I tip them the equivalent of a buck or two when we reach my hotel. (If you’ve just arrived and have no small Vietnamese notes, they’re happy to take US dollar bills as tips.)

All of that said, stick with Mai Linh and Vinasun, make sure the meters are running, and then don’t stress about it. It’s infrequent that I have problems with these two companies. (Don’t be shy about saying no to a driver from another company, and then flagging down a Mai Linh or Vinasun cab while you stand next to him. He won’t think you’re being rude. He’ll think you know what you’re doing.)

Thanks for your question, Ian. Have a great trip! Saigon is an amazing city!

Do you have a question about travel, writing, or anything else? (Yes! Anything!) Send it in and you might see your answer in a future “Ask Dave” column.

Got tips or experiences to share concerning taxis in Vietnam or other countries? Share your thoughts in the comments box below!

Published on Saturday, October 26, 2013

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