Saigon's tourist taxi scam - Rusty Compass travel blog

Saigon's tourist taxi scam

| 13 Jul 2009
13 Jul 2009

Saigon is by and large well served by its taxis - but travellers are expressly targeted by the city's dodgy operators. There are several large companies that provide good, cheap, friendly service that would stand up very well alongside the better taxi companies the world over. What a shame then that the city's most dodgy taxis seem to have first pick at tourist venues.

Nobody is more vulnerable to a taxi scam than a traveller in a new city. We don't know directions, distances, taxi conventions, flagfalls, toll charges, nor the extent of taxi regulation. We're pretty much at the mercy of the taxi driver we select, the company that employs him or her and the city's regulations. And that vulnerability seems to be exploited to maximum effect in Saigon.

Photo: Mark BowyerThe Vinasun scam taxi

On arrival at Saigon's Tan Son Nhat Airport, travellers are accosted by uniformed taxi drivers that look official enough. They demand fares three and four times the proper metered fare claiming these to be the correct fares. The normal meter fare to Saigon's downtown area is around 100,000Vietnam Dong or $6 - $8USD.

Visitors might reasonably expect a company named Airport Taxi that has best access to tourists from the arrivals hall, to be reputable and to be a reliable service for the ride to city. Not so. Many of the drivers proposing fares of $20USD to $40USD are from this company.

Insist on using a metered taxi and try and find one of the more reputable companies - the bright yellow of Vina Taxis or the white vehicles of Vinasun. Mai Linh taxis also tend to be OK.

Once you get into the city, by a remarkable twist, you'll find dodgy taxis reliably stationed at places likely to be frequented by unwitting tourists. On my most recent visit, I noticed these outside the Rex Hotel, Ben Thanh Market, the War Remnants Museum and Apocalypse Now bar. I'm told by more reputable taxi operators that they are prohibited from seeking business at these prime tourist locations.

Photo: Mark BowyerDubious taxis outside the Rex Hotel in the city centre

The other complication is that the dodgy taxi companies usually trade off the logos and names of the more reputable companies. One of these, Vinasum, uses the same colours and virtually the same name as the more reputable Vinasun. Foreign companies shouldn't hold out much hope of progress on intellectual property protection for their products while Vietnamese companies are ripping off their own with impunity.

So what happens in a dodgy taxi? Usually you'll pay more for your ride. Sometimes you'll pay two, three or more times the normal price - especially travelling late at night from some of city's clubs. You will probably also be taken the long way to your destination. And you might find yourself in a nasty spat if you question the fare.

So, when in Saigon, choose your taxis carefully. The city has some of the best and worst taxi experiences on offer. Fortunately there are lots of taxis around so read the taxi name carefully and be aware that as a tourist, you are marked out for attention by dodgy taxis. In most cases, dubious taxis are poorly maintained older sedans. The better companies tend to use newer vehicles and maintain them well. So it looks suspect, it probably is.

Recommended taxi companies -

Vina Taxi - bright yellow vehicles - 0838111111 
Vinasun - White with dark green trimming  - 0838272727
Mai Linh. White with bright green trimming - 0838262626

These companies may not be perfect and we can't guarantee trouble free travel, but a better experience can be assured than that offered by the dodgy operators.

Mark Bowyer
Mark Bowyer is the founder and publisher of Rusty Compass.
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2 comments so far

A series of unfortunate experiences: I came to Saigon to be with my Saigonese girlfriend (8 months)- and have had a series of bad experiences with Mai Linh Taxi Company. My girlfriend works for Johnny Walker-Diageo International- and they have a standing contract with Mai Linh Taxi Company. The first bad experience occurred when she had paid the fare using her company credit card- and I cautioned her to remind the driver payment was made since I didn't speak the language. By the time I got to the hotel, the taxi driver tried to double-bill me for the fare she already paid when I requested a receipt! I opened the door and started to leave the vehicle--he just laughed- and acted like it was all a funny joke to cheat foreigners. The second bad experience occurred the night of the Johnny-Walker Platinum Black-Tie Launch in Saigon. We had taken a Mai Linh cab to the venue- and I had placed my Canon Powershot camera in my girlfriend's purse. Unfortunately, she removed it to reorganize her purse- and left it on the back seat of the taxi. Three hours later, she noticed it missing- and called the company since she had contact information for the vehicle/driver on the credit card receipt. The woman taking the call asked the following questions: 1. Was this around 730-800 p.m.? 2. Was the destination the JW Platinum Party and 3. To provide a physical description of the camera to prove ownership. My girlfriend hung up positive they'd been made aware of the camera's discovery by the driver. The camera HAD been reported left in the cab by the driver--the woman taking the call made this much clear to my girlfriend and reassured her they'd be in touch for a return. An hour later, my girlfriend called Mai Linh again- only this time, they denied having seen the camera altogether. It was clear to us the driver-, or someone else in Mai Linh Taxi Company, decided to keep the camera for themselves. I urged my girlfriend to complain to the taxi cab company owner-, the police- and Johnny Walker-Diageo Regional Representative about the issue since it was clear the camera had been reported, but not returned. She said she'd do her best, but the reality is foreigners have no legal rights in Saigon and everyone is very poor so cheating/stealing is rampant. So, keep all this in mind before you go to Saigon. The taxi drivers will harass you for their services and refuse to leave you alone even long after you say "no." Walking in Saigon- or taking a motor-taxi is not a safe option--both have a high chance of traffic injury/fatality and you won't have any rights in that scenario either. Whatever you do, be sure to keep small- and big money bills in separate front pockets. Also be absolutely certain to have luggage locks on your purse/backpack since there are cheats/thieves everywhere. Best practice is to wrap your purse handle around the wrist at least twice- and/or move the backpack to the front of your chest. Don't trust anyone or you'll find yourself in a similar situation with no legal rights to justice.

  • Kevin Williams
  • Ho Chi Minh City
  • Friday, 17 August 2012 21:27

Excellent advice from Kevin. I found that one has to be very insistent at hotels and the airport in order to get the "right" taxi (Mai Linh or Vinasun). Most often it seems that the doorman has a deal with other drivers and will "huff and puff" if asked to call another cab company. Just ignore him, it's your money after all.

  • Byo Boykie
  • Ho Chi Minh City
  • Monday, 03 June 2013 20:06