A frequent complaint from guests at our hotel, and from foreign visitors in general, is of being overcharged, ripped off and generally mistreated by the city’s taxi drivers, particularly those operating at Tan Son Nhat Airport. Indeed, a 2007 survey discovered that the number one reason cited by tourists as to why they would not return to Vietnam was being overcharged by taxi drivers.
So how can you ensure that your visit to Saigon isn’t blighted by taxi cheats? Here’s my guide, based on 5 ½ years as an expat in the city!
In my 5 years in the city, only two companies have an unblemished record with regards to overcharging. One of them, Mai Linh, is the Duxton’s taxi supplier of choice – they operate out of the forecourt of our hotel. Their taxis are white & green. Be careful – there are several fake Mai Linh taxis around using very similar livery and logo. The other is Vinataxi – their taxis are yellow. Hoang Long taxis (green/yellow) are also good but their fleet is currently very small, so you may not see them very often.
All other taxi firms should be treated with extreme caution!
Arriving at Tan Son Nhat Airport
When exiting the arrivals hall at the airport, you will be greeted by a huge crowd of people waiting for arriving friends & relatives. You will also be hassled by numerous taxi touts. Even if you ignore them and push past them to the taxi rank, things don’t improve, as there IS no taxi rank – just a mass of rival taxis jockeying for space and customers. In short, it is absolute chaos, especially when compared to the orderly system at Hanoi’s Noi Bai Airport. So what do you do? Well, until the airport authorities take steps to install some sense of order, you have 4 choices:
1. Pre-book an airport transfer through your hotel or tour company. A more expensive option, but one that gives you peace of mind and eliminates hassle at the end of a long flight.
2. Book a taxi at the official taxi counter, which costs around $12 – again, more expensive than a metered taxi, but you get to avoid the chaos outside!
3. Fight your way past the taxi touts to the ‘taxi rank’, and flag down one of the reputable companies above. Have your hotel address written on a piece of paper to show the driver. Make sure he puts the meter on – if he refuses (he may try & offer you a “deal” or claim his meter is broken) get out and take another taxi. If he accepts, the fare into district 1 should be around 90,000-100,000VND. If it is substantially more, refuse to pay and get the porter at your hotel to sort it out for you. Also, if the driver asks you to pay any tolls en route, refuse – they are included in the fare.
4. A more crafty ‘insider’ option this one. On exiting the arrivals hall, turn right and take the stairs or lift up the departures area. It is much quieter there and you will be able to catch a taxi dropping off people at the airport, following the advice in point 3 of course!
Once you are settled into your hotel you’ll want to go out sightseeing or on business, and you may want to take taxis. Again, use the aforementioned companies, have your destinations written down, and make sure the driver uses the meter.
After recent petrol price hikes, many drivers are turning off their aircon to save fuel. Not a good idea in a city where temperatures constantly hover around the 30C mark. If your driver refuses to turn his aircon on, get out and take another taxi.
Tipping is at your discretion and is not expected. If the driver has been polite, helpful or gone above & beyond what you would normally expect, feel free to offer a tip.
Beware of drivers “assuming” that you will tip them – e.g. the fare is 25,000VND, you give him 30,000VND, and he says “thank you” and pockets your money without giving you change. Or alternatively, he may claim he has no change. In this instance, insist on getting your change back and stay put in the taxi. He will then miraculously find some change in his pocket.
All taxis have the driver’s number in the window. It’s worth noting this down. If he gives you bad service or tries to cheat you, you can ring the company to complain and give them the number; and if you leave your bag or camera in the back of the taxi by mistake, you’re more likely to get it back!
Don’t be scared by the above advice into thinking that every single taxi driver in Saigon is a crook, intent on preying on innocent tourists and business travellers! Sure, some of them are, but stick to the companies mentioned above and follow my advice, and you should have a hassle-free taxi experience during your visit. And if you have any other tips to add, please share them with me.