In Vietnam, fake taxi is the number one on the list of complaints for tourists and expats. Ripped off for a trip, going in circles, and being robbed off are all too often and are daily affairs.
In Ho Chi Minh City, the taxis are divided into two categories, company operated taxis and private (fake) taxis.
Private / Fake Taxi in Vietnam
Avoid at all cost, even if it means you will need to walk 20km.
That is the extend of the seriousness of taking a private / fake taxi in Vietnam
These private (fake) taxi are unregulated in Vietnam. There are no background check done, and there is nothing to stop them from over charging you or even hurting you with force.
These fake taxi lurk around in tourist spots all over Vietnam like train station, outside popular bars and pubs at night, bus station, just to name a field. The moment you venture out of district 1 they will stalk you.
Tourists stands out like a sore thumb in Vietnam. These taxis are constantly on the prowl for tourists. They are also known to stalk tourist. They can sit around whole day just for one job, that is you. And one job is all that is needed for the day, or even weeks to come.
They will try to disguise their taxi as a legit ones with taxi company’s phone number written outside their taxi, or have extremely similar or similarly but not exact taxi company’s name decal stick to their taxi. For example, I have seen Vinasum taxi, Vinnasun taxi, VinSun taxi. (The legit taxi should bear the name Vinasun.) You name it.
The easiest way to identify these private taxis are by their puny little meter. The first thing you will notice upon entering these taxis is that the interior of the taxi is run-down. And the driver is not in uniform.
Company Operated Taxi
Even company operated taxis are not safe to be honest. Even my wife (a Vietnamese) is afraid to travel on certain companies’ taxis.
There used to be just two companies operated taxis which are safe to take, namely Vinasun and Mai Linh.
But these days, the locals are giving Mai Linh taxi a berth as well. So that just left us with Vinasun.
Forget about Saigon Tourist Taxis. These taxis are driven by thugs. They tout at the airport and some downtown 5 star hotels. These are their turfs. Other taxis are prohibited from picking up guests there. I have seen other cabbies beaten up by these Saigon Tourist Taxis.
And these thugs also threatens passengers when they refused to pay tip. They will routinely refuse to give you back any change. They will almost always take the longest routes. And I have reasons to believe their meters are tampered with. There’s just too many horror stories that I have heard. So just avoid them completely.
If the hotel you stay in happens to have these thugs as the official taxi, just walk out to the main street and hail a taxi.
The safest by far is Vinasun taxi. Mostly honest day to day work horse of Saigon. They have strict policies that will see you being erased as a driver if you receive more than 3 complaints from passengers.
Their taxi is their only livelihood for most. And I have spoken to many whom spent every night sleeping in their taxi, only to return home for a shower and meal and off they go again picking up passengers.
By sleeping in their taxis, first they ensure nothing can be stolen from the taxi (like side repeater light! Trip meters!). Second, their home are probably rented and really small, so by sleeping in their taxi at night ensures their wife and children get more room to sleep.
How to spot and recognise a legit Vinasun taxi.
Most restaurants and shops will hail a Vinasun or call one for their customers.
For example, if you have just finished a hair cut and need to get a taxi to head back to your hotel, just tell the cashier or the guy guarding the motorbikes that you need a Vinasun taxi.
Then sit and wait inside the shop. Relax!
When the taxi arrives or when hailed, they will inform you accordingly. Remember to give a small tip (VND20,000)
What to do if you got into a fake taxi?
Do not panic!
Immediately, in secret, prepare a VND50,000 note in hand, the equivalent of USD2.50.
Allow him to travel a few hundred meters. Pretend to spot some shops selling interesting items and ask him to stop. Or pretend to vomit (always works).
There’s no way his meter can jump that much during this short distant.
The next step is that he will most likely try to create an issue or scene. An excuse for him to become aggressive or turn violent.
When he stopped, open the taxi door. Everybody gets out and shove him the VND50,000. He can keep the change.
Never allow him to engage in any conversation. Don’t even bother replying him. Just look up in the sky and walk away!