Footsteps in Vietnam – Taxis are a surprisingly cheap way to get around the major cities in Vietnam – and if need be, its event not too prohibitive to take a taxi between cities. In Saigon the crowded streets and haphazard construction can make walking a very hot and tiring exercise so it can be quite a relief to hop into a nice cool taxi when you are starting to wear out.
In general cross city taxi travel in Ho Chi Minh City between major tourist sights can be achieved for $1-2, occasionally up to $5 or $6 if you need to travel a particularly long way – for instance from downtown Dong Khoi area up to Chinatown. The vast majority of taxi drivers are very courteous, helpful and safe drivers, if a little too fond of their horns at times, so you should feel free to relax and enjoy the scenery as you drive.
That being said, taxis are not closely regulated and if you do not travel with a trusted brand you may find the meter has been fiddled and you are paying over the odds. The government have recently been holding a crackdown on dodgy taxis at the airport in o Chi Minh City which appears to have been quite successful, but it seems little is being done to put a stop to overcharging in private taxis in town.
To help visitors and expats new to the city we’ve put together a guide to the taxis to trust and those to avoid. Its quite easy to stick with the trusted brands if you follow our guide below – and if you feel you are being taken for a ride, just ask the driver to pull over and choose another cab. You will have to pay whatever is on the meter if you want to avoid a very lengthy argument, so it is better to stop and do so sooner rather than later!
Since most drivers only speak Vietnamese do bear in mind that at times a detour they are taking may be to avoid heavy traffic and roadworks to get you to your train, bus or plane on time, rather than to inflate the meter. There may be a few crooks operating tourist taxis but the majority of taxi drivers are legitimate, so try to avoid taking a cynical view on your travels – you will enjoy your time in Vietnam a great deal more!
The taxis to avoid
It’s a dead giveaway really. You will see many of these taxis hovering in the tourist areas, outside backpacker ghettos, museums and late night bars but rarely picking up local passengers .. What do they know that you don’t?
It’s quite simple actually – painted on the side or on the roof are the words “Taxi Du Lich” – which translates as ‘Tourist Taxi’. While I generally like to advocate supporting independent traders chances are you are more likely to pay much more for your fares in one of these than in a taxi run by a major company.
Taxis we know and love
Vinasun – Possibly one of the most comfortable fleets – at least in Saigon – Vinasun have cool, clean and spacious cars and seven seater ‘people carrier’ style taxis. Their meters start low – around 12,000 Dong – and the drivers are friendly and helpful
Mai Linh – One of my favourite transport companies in Vietnam, Mai Linh are building an empire on good service and fair pricing. I always use their buses when I have the choice and their taxis are great too – though the larger vehicles in their taxi fleet are a little boxy compared to Vinasun’s, but to be fair I am a fair bit taller than your average Saigon resident.
VinaTaxi – bright and yellow just like new york taxis, Vinataxi are cheap and cheerful. Meters start at 9,000 Dong which perhaps reflect the age of the fleet – they were the first taxi company in Saigon and some of the cars are beginning to look a little sad and old. Still, they are dependable and very competitively priced, so you can’t complain.
The following are also of great values:
Although you may not see so many of them, all of the following cab companies will give you a decent rate and a comfortable journey.
Sadly success often leads to copycats in Vietnam and the same is true of taxis. Therefore if you see a ‘Vinamet’, ‘Vinameter’, ‘Lai Minh’ or similar play on one of the popular brands above chances are its a fake and given the slightly unscrupulous adoption of their competitor’s names it is fairly likely they may be just as unscrupulous when it comes to setting their meters.
Outside Saigon – what to look for in a good taxi
Many towns have their own local taxi companies so it is difficult to list them all. Mai Linh and Vinasun above can be found in just about every town in Vietnam and are consistently reliable, but many of the smaller local operators can be cheap and effective so don’t be afraid of giving them a go.
In general we would recommend looking for the following before you get in a cab:
- A clean, reasonably new car – legitimate companies care about their image so their taxis will look in a much better condition than the fly-by-nights
- A brand name and logo – preferably one that doesn’t look like a copy of someone else’s!
- Perhaps most importantly – a ‘So Dep’ or ‘pretty (phone) number’ such as 8111 111 or 27 27 27 27 – these are expensive and first come first served and so usually imply the taxi company is in business for the long term.
Travel Guide to the Backpacker District in Saigon, Vietnam