Are you travelling to south east Asia, and expect to take a taxi or two while you’re there? If so, these tips are for you. Worrying about taxi scams can make you anxious about every little journey you take, but as the saying goes, knowledge is power – the best way to protect yourself from scams is to recognise when your driver may not be as genuine as they appear.
Read on to discover some common taxi scams I discovered on a recent trip to a few south east Asian countries, as well as some shared by fellow travellers I met on the way.
Don’t agree to a fixed price fare
Western tourists stick out like a sore thumb in south east Asia, so scammers are ready to take advantage of this. A common tactic of taxi drivers to earn themselves some extra money is to agree a fixed fare for their passengers before driving off. Invariably, this is a ludicrously inflated price, which a tourist that’s new in town is unlikely to realise, and therefore agree to, especially if they’ve come straight off a 9 hour flight and want nothing more than to get to their hotel.
On top of that, tourists are an easy target as they may not yet have got to grips with the value of the local currency, or how much a taxi journey should typically cost.
There is no chance of getting a good deal with a fixed fare, so this is best avoided. Check whether the taxi has a meter – if not, walk away.- there’s plenty of other taxis out there! If it does, make sure it’s turned on and working, and insist the price on the meter is the price you pay before you get in.
Yes, the overcharge may only work out to be a worth a few extra dollars, but if you take a lot of taxis, which is likely since transport links in many south east Asian cities are poor, this really does add up over time and could have been better spent on a three course meal!
Changing pricing on arrival
Suppose you ignored the advice above and took a taxi for a fixed rate – what might happen? One thing the driver may do is to manipulate the fact that the original agreement on the price was in fact rather vague, and upon arrival, explain that the price was in fact per person.
This could multiply the fare again, which was already massively overpriced, and something I experienced first hand when arriving in Bangkok. It’s not a good feeling when you know your cases are in the back of the car. If you get out and don’t pay the new fare, would he drive away with them? The only thing left to do was to negotiate and get a lower fare, though still higher than the initial price.
Fortunately, this was the only time I got ripped off while in Bangkok, and while the extra cost only amounted to the price of a couple of beers, the principle of getting ripped off on such a simple scam leaves a bad taste in your mouth.
Again, this is avoided by ensuring you only agree to a taxi ride with the meter turned on.
Taking the scenic route
There is one caveat to driving on a meter – know where your driver should be going. One scam I experienced in Hanoi, was after insisting the driver used the meter instead of the fixed fare he had offered, he took us in the complete opposite direction of our destination to bump up the meter’s mileage.
Again, this is an easy way for taxi drivers to take advantage of tourists, who likely don’t know the city as well as they do. The solution is to simply make sure you have Google Maps loaded up on your phone, allowing you to track your route as you go. If you load up your destination over wifi before you get your taxi, you can even have the quickest route planned in.
After seeing the driver was not taking a direct route, we got out of this one by showing him we had Google Maps open and the destination programmed in, and said if he went off course again we’d get out and not pay.
Offline maps is your friend here – make sure you have your destination dialled in before you set off, and watch your route as you go.
Is your driver taking you somewhere else?
Here’s one to watch out for if you’re looking to get to a famous attraction in the local area. When on the lookout for a ride, the driver may tell you the attraction is closed, and he can take you somewhere else instead. It’s easy to fall into the trap – he’s a local after all, and probably knows the area better than you do.
Unfortunately, chances are it’s a scam. Drivers may be getting commission from someone at the attraction, who’ll duly rip you off on arrival. Worse still, you may be taken out to the middle of nowhere have to pay an extortionate taxi fee to get home.
Another variation of this is when a scammer sees you on foot walking towards an attraction or touristy area on foot, and offers to drive you there, or tells you the attraction is closed. In Bangkok, I was walking back to the hotel in Chinatown, and was approached by a man who said the Chinatown market was closed, and offered to take me to the floating market, a good 45 minute drive away. Had I been interested in going to a market that afternoon, it most likely would have cost an arm and a leg.
As with the other scams here, research is key. Check online before you head off to any attraction, and check with your hotel reception if you’re not sure.
Count your fare carefully
Here’s a final one that a fellow traveller told me about. When abroad, local currencies can be confusing, particularly if notes are in much higher numbers than you’re used to back home. Take Vietnam for example – a 50,000 and 500,000 note can be easy to mix up.
Furthermore, in some countries notes can look very similar, adding to the confusion. This can cause problems if you’re a little intoxicated and need a taxi home.
This scam is a simple one, where the driver will accept your money, secretly switch your note with a similar looking smaller one, and claim you’ve not paid enough. As you’re not used to the currency, you may doubt yourself, and pay up the extra.
Avoid this one by counting out your money in full view of the driver so there can be no dispute about how much has been paid.
By reading up on these scams, you’ll be more likely to identify them when you’re out there in South East Asia. If something feels a bit wrong, be prepared to walk away – there’s always plenty of other taxis out there. Above all, ensure you do your research about where you’re heading before you leave the door of your hotel!
Featured photo credit: Christian Haugen