A comprehensive guide to avoiding taxi and cyclo scams in Ho Chi Minh City

Taxi and cyclo scams in Ho Chi Minh city

Taxi and cyclo scams in Ho Chi Minh city

Taxi and transportation scams are a part and parcel of any large metropolis, and Saigon is no exception.  As a seemingly unsuspecting foreigner, you are the perfect prey for many taxi and cyclo drivers around the city.

Taxi drivers can be very shrewd and unwavering in their attempt to scam you.  Many tourists get into cars with broken meters or “quick” meters, get driven several kilometres in the wrong direction or even in circles, agree on a fixed price that is likely more than what the meter would cost, or take a “fake” taxi.  Some tourists have reported instances where the driver asked for a hefty tip at the end of the drive and refused to give them their luggage until they paid the tip.

**** If you would prefer to avoid dealing with taxis altogether, or if you’re arriving to Ho Chi Minh City very late and/or you have young children, we can highly recommend Drive Vietnam for the best Saigon airport transfers ****

The incidence of cyclo scams is just as frequent as taxi scams and sometimes more dangerous.  You will see cyclos on almost every corner in District 1 in Saigon just waiting for their next customer.  Cyclo drivers may scam you by agreeing on a price with you and demanding more after the trip by stating that the agreed price was only per person or per hour.  People have described situations in which a cyclo driver will drive a customer to an alleyway and demand more money while implying physical harm on the customer.  In fact, the city is making an effort to restrict cyclos to only certain parts of the city due to the large number of complaints.

Here are some important tips in avoiding taxi and cyclo scams in Ho Chi Minh city.

(Please click on the link below to jump directly to the section you would like to see)

  1. Taxi scams
  2. Cyclo scams

TAXI SCAMS

Before the trip:

In Vietnam, the two taxi companies, Vinasun and Mai Linh, have proven to be most reliable (although scams still occur) in comparison to others.  Other companies do not have as strong of a reputation of good customer service.  Mai Linh taxis are either all green or all white with green. Vinasun taxis are white with green and a red stripe. Both these companies require their drivers to wear a tie.  And, check the dashboard for the picture of the driver and make sure it matches. Beware of taxis with slightly varied names – Ma Linh, Vina Taxi, and more!

Vinasun taxis are found throughout the city - the characteristic white with red and green striped car is hard to miss!

Vinasun taxis are found throughout the city – the characteristic white with red and green striped car is hard to miss!

 

MaiLinh is one of the best taxi companies in Saigon and the cars are either white+green or all green

MaiLinh is one of the best taxi companies in Saigon and the cars are either white+green or all green

 

The MaiLinh fleet also contains vehicles that are all green.

Green Mai Linh Taxi

 

Beware of fakes! Look closely - the name of this "company" is Ma**inh and the phone number is wrong!

Beware of fakes! Look closely – the name of this “company” is Ma**inh and the phone number is wrong!

 

Tan Son Nhat airport is a prime location for taxi scams.  As you come out of the international or domestic arrivals, walk to your left towards the taxi stand. Let the taxi attendant know that you only want either a Mai Linh or Vinasun Taxi.  While waiting at the taxi stand at the airport, you do not have to take the next available taxi.  Saigon Air Taxi has a monopoly at the airport but try to avoid them in favor of Vinasun or Mai Linh.  Feel free to wait if you don’t see one and if anyone pesters you, let them know clearly that you are waiting for a car from one of these two companies.  Please note that Mai Linh and Vinasun are reported to have established a tourism desk inside the airport, although some people have said that they are hard to find.  Hiring a taxi from the desk eliminates a lot of hassle but they do charge a small premium.

Alternatively, if you want a cheaper and relatively safe option get to the city center, you can take the yellow 109 bus which follows the following route from the airport:

To City Center:  International Terminal – Domestic Terminal (Tan Son Nhat International Airport) – Truong Son – Tran Quoc Hoan – Hoang Van Thu – Nguyen Van Troi – Nam Ky Khoi Nghia – Ham Nghi – Le Lai – Ben Thanh Bus Station – Pham Ngu Lao – 23/9 Park

Note the closest street to your hotel if you’re staying in District 1 and get off at that stop. If you’re not staying in District 1, then it’s better to take a taxi.The ticket price for the 109 bus is 20,000 VND per person (less than $1 USD). The 109 bus departs every 15-20 minutes and runs from 5:30am to 1am. The 109 bus is much better than the old 152 bus because it’s cleaner, roomier and has more luggage space (no extra charge for luggage), and there are signs and announcements in both English and Vietnamese. To find the 109 bus, turn right as you exit either the domestic or international terminal and follow the signs posted on the walls.

109 Airport Bus

109 Bus

 

If you don’t mind paying a little a higher fare to be dropped off directly at your hotel in District 1, you should consider taking the 49 Yellow Shuttle Bus, which like the 109 bus offers a safe, comfortable ride from the airport to the city center. The fare for the 49 shuttle bus is 40,000 VND per pax (less than $2), which is double the fare of the 109 bus but as mentioned before you are dropped directly at your hotel. The route and running times for the 49 bus is the same as the 109 bus.

49 Yellow Shuttle Bus

49 Bus

 

If you want the cheapest possible option to get to District 1 then you can also choose to use Bus No. 152 from the Airport to Ben Thanh Market.  As you exit the international terminal, look to your right and you will see the Bus waiting across from the Burger King.  If you cannot see it, ask a uniformed guard at the airport.  Note that many taxi drivers may try to give you false information.  The bus fare is 5000 VND per person and 5000 VND per bag – try to have exact change.  The bus only runs until 6 PM.  Once you reach Ben Thanh Market, the taxi fares to your hotel will be substantially lower. Please keep in mind that that the bus attendants only speak Vietnamese so you need to pay attention and know which stop to get off at.

Bus #152 from the Airport to Ben Thanh Market is a cheap and hassle-free alternative to a taxi

Bus #152 from the Airport to Ben Thanh Market

 

If you decide to take a taxi from Ton Son Nhat airport, it’s very important to understand your route. Look at a map and take note of the general direction in which you need to go.  Understanding the layout of the city will help immensely if the driver is really driving you around in circles or taking you somewhere completely different than where you want to go.  Understanding the route will also help you determine where to flag a taxi.  Walk to the nearest intersection or corner where you can see a clear route towards your destination.  Saigon has many one way streets and it is very easy for a driver to take a longer route with the excuse that he is avoiding the one ways.

During the trip:

Always use a meter!  Insist on it when you enter a taxi.  A legitimate meter will turn on automatically as you start driving.  However, you may encounter taxi cars with “broken” meters or jumping meters.  Pay attention to how much the meter goes up by as you drive and ensure that it goes up consistently.  To give you a general idea of how much a taxi ride should cost, most companies charge between 12000 – 14000 VND at the start or the ride and the first kilometre or so.  The fare goes up by 1200 – 1400 VND every additional 200 metres.  Saigon is a relatively small city so if you have a rough idea of how far your destination is, you will know how much a reasonable fare is.  For instance, from Tan Son Nhat Airport to somewhere in District 1 should be roughly 150,000 VND.

Most importantly, be very clear on where you want to go.  Know the address and write it down if you have to.  It is all too easy for the driver to say that they did not hear you or understand you.  Pronunciations are quite tricky in Vietnamese so unless you are extremely confident in your language skills, write down the name and address of your destination.  Please note that if you do write anything down, the accents and tones are essential.

At the end of the trip, you should also be careful when you pay in cash to the taxi driver. Recent news shows that there are taxi drivers scamming customers by changing their 500,000 VND note to 20.000 VND.

This is the 500,000 VND note that the passenger gave to the driver

He quickly replaced it with a 20,000 VND note and asked for more money

After the trip:

Tipping for taxis and cyclos is not expected in Saigon.  If a driver demands a tip, do not feel obliged to give him more money unless you feel that you want to reward them for their work.  If you do give the driver a tip, 5-10% of the total price is more than enough.  Some instances have been reported where the taxi driver has withheld the customer’s luggage until receiving extra payment.  It may be good practice to make sure the driver opens the trunk as soon as you arrive at your destination.  Or, if you are traveling in a group, let one person remove the luggage while the other pays.

If you find yourself in a situation where you are the victim of a scam, there are a few things you can do. The first is try and negotiate as much as you can – whatever their demand is, start with half and be as steadfast as you can.  You can also try taking a photograph of the driver of the car – that tends to intimidate them.  In the event that you feel physically threatened, try to bluff and say you’re calling the police or pay an amount that will allow you to leave the situation.  However, tourism is very important to the Vietnamese economy so is it highly unlikely that drivers will hurt tourists.

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CYCLO SCAMS

Cyclos found throughout the city in search for their next customer.

Cyclos found throughout the city in search for their next customer.

 

If you are certain that you would like to take a cyclo, only book them through your hotel or tourism company.  Many cyclo drivers around the city speak English well enough to sweet-talk tourists into hiring them.  However, be aware that you are more likely to be scammed by these independent cyclos versus the ones you book through a hotel.  In order to avoid overpaying for their service, hone your negotiating skills!  Bargaining is very important in Saigon.  Even if you are not bargaining the price much lower than what is offered, you must do it just on principle.  If you don’t bargain, it will be a signal to the driver that you will give into their demands.

Before you start the ride, be very clear on what the price agreement is.  Make sure you understand what the total price is and what it includes.  You should be clear on whether your agreed price is per person, per hour, or a total price regardless of the number of people or amount of time.  Writing it down and confirming with the driver may help to eliminate the possibility of a misunderstanding.  Also, if you are using a cyclo throughout the day and the driver will have to wait for you while you sightsee, make sure that the total price includes waiting time as well. Finally, if you are taking a cyclo as simply a means of transportation rather than for the novelty, we recommend that you take a taxi as cyclo scams have the potential to be more dangerous.

Although it may seem daunting to have to be on edge and alert the very minute you are in need of transportation, many scams are quite easy to spot.  Simply remember the key points and use your street sense.  Safe travels!

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We hope you found this post from XO Tours – Vietnam Motorcycle Tours useful.  For more amazing Vietnam Travel Tips, please revisit our blog regularly! We will be delighted if you book a scooter tour to discover Vietnam in a unique way.

5 great ways to relax in Saigon!

relax in Ho Chi Minh City

Relax in Ho Chi Minh City

Honking horns, throngs of motorbikes, packed pedestrian sidewalks, street vendors on every corner selling everything from greeting cards to charcoal-grilled delicacies, and the intense afternoon heat are all attributes that make Ho Chi Minh City a great place to make a custom itinerary in Vietnam.  With constant stimulation, every second spent in the city, vacations in this lively setting can get quite exhausting.  The perfect solution to rejuvenate your senses is just around the corner.  Here are a few suggestions on how to find your personal oasis in a thriving city.

TOP 5 GREAT WAYS TO RELAX IN HO CHI MINH CITY:

(Please click on the link below to jump directly to the activity you want to know)

  1. Escape in the greenery 
  2. Escape in the sky
  3. Escape in literature
  4. Escape into Nirvana
  5. Escape to the Water

Escape in the Greenery:

Cultural Park open for the public

Cultural Park open for the public

In a city with tens of thousands of motorbikes and cars, rush hours can become overwhelming after a while.  A retreat into a lush, green space can be an excellent recharge.  Fortunately, Ho Co Minh City has beautiful parks that may make you feel, for an instant, that you are in a different world altogether.  The Cong Vien Van Hoa Park is an excellent place to escape the afternoon sun, people watch, and admire the sculpture art placed throughout the space.  An old clubhouse in the centre of this park pays homage to the French colonial period in Vietnam – a must see!  Another favourite is the Cay Xanh Park (literally translated as Green Tree Park).  Join along with the many Tai Chi enthusiasts who frequent this park or take some time to enjoy the view of the city through the trees.

Cong Vien Van Hoa Park – enclosed within the streets Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, Truong Dinh, Nguyen Du, and Cach Mang Thang Tam.

Cay Xanh Park – located at the corner of Vo Thi Sao and Hai Ba Trung.

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Escape in the Sky:

Strata Restaurant at Bitexco Buidling, Saigon

Strata Restaurant at Bitexco Buidling

Ho Chi Minh City’s urban spread seems to be outward not upward, but it’s a matter of quality versus quantity.  Even though this city is not packed with skyscrapers, many of them have beautiful rooftop terrace restaurants and bars – a great way to see the bustle from a distance.  As packed as the streets are during a busy work day, sitting on the rooftop with a chilled drink in hand makes the city seem vast and spacious.  Visit the 50th floor restaurant of the Bitexco tower for breathtaking views from the highest eatery in the city, enjoy a cocktail at Chill Skybar, or relax in the garden rooftop of the Rex Hotel.

The Strata Saigon at the Bitexco Tower – enjoy High Tea from 2:30-5:00PM for VND 350,000 per person.

Chill Skybar – open from 5:30PM-2:00AM daily with different genres of music on each night of the week; choose drinks or food from an eclectic menu; strict dress code; www.chillsaigon.com.

Rex Hotel Rooftop – world class food, cocktails, and snacks enjoyed throughout the day; located at 141 Nguyen Hue Blvd, www.rexhotelvietnam.com.

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Escape in Literature:

To some, the perfect relaxation activity means curling up with a hot cup of coffee and delving into a riveting piece of fiction and giving one’s mind a gateway into imaginary bliss.  Well, fear not!  Ho Chi Minh City has some of the unique coffee shops where not only can you sample Vietnam’s prized crop at its finest but also peruse the shelves of novels for something you fancy.  Try the PNC Book Cafe in District 1 or Hub Cafe, another popular haven for readers.  For the multi-linguists, Hub Cafe has a wide selection of Vietnamese and foreign language books!

PNC Book Cafe – 2A Le Duan Boulevard, open from 8:00 AM to 10:00 PM.

Hub Cafe – 18A Cong Hoa Street, Tan Binh District.

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 Escape into Nirvana:

Giac Lam is a fantastically atmospheric place set in peaceful, garden-like grounds

Giac Lam is a fantastically atmospheric place set in peaceful, garden-like grounds

As hectic as Ho Chi Minh City can be, finding refuge in a spiritual haven may be just the thing to re-energize one’s mind and body.  Temples and pagodas are at the heart of Vietnamese faith and spirituality.  These architectural marvels can be found all over the city and some of the oldest ones also have a unique religious, and sometimes political, history.  Each temple has a special significance – some are frequented by people seeking prosperity and some for fertility.  Chua Ong Pagoda is popular among those praying for wealth and fortune but can get quite crowded throughout the day.  The Giac Lam and Emperor Jade pagodas are also popular tourist destinations but are hauntingly beautiful in their architecture and feel.  For a quieter path to inner sanctity, visit the Chua Ba Thien Hau pagoda near the Chinese area of Ho Chi Minh City.

Chua Ong Pagoda (Ong Bon Pagoda) – 264 DL Hai Thuong Lan Ong.

Giac Lam Pagoda – 118 Lac Long Quan Street, open hours between 5:00 AM to 12:00 PM, no admission charge but feel free to donate if you wish.

Jade Emperor Pagoda – 73 Mai Thi Luu Street, open hours between 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM; as is the case with most pagodas, feel free to donate if you wish.

Thien Hau Pagoda – 710 Nguyen Trai Street.

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Escape to the Water:

The Deck is situated on the banks of the Saigon River

To get away from the hectic city noises, a soothing place to find refuge are the scenic banks of the Saigon River.  The river snakes around the entire city so there are many places to access the tree-lined river banks and find a place to sit and enjoy the view.  For an instant sense of peacefulness, stand at the quay in District 1 and watch the silhouette of fishermen along the river during a beautiful evening sunset.  Or, take part in Yoga on The Deck at The Deck Saigon restaurant for an invigorating experience in a calming setting.

Fishermen watching at the pier – sunset usually occurs between 5:30 and 6:15 PM.

Yoga on The Deck Saigon – between 250000 VND and 300000 VND admission; weekend classes include a croissant and juice; see thedecksaigon.com/yoga-on-the-deck for more details.

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Best of luck in creating an urban relaxation experience during your adventures in Ho Chi Minh City!

We hope you enjoyed these Vietnam travel tips brought to you by XO Tours, voted one of the top things to do in Ho Chi Minh City by the users of Tripadvisor!