Fake Taxis in Vietnam

I’m writing this because I paid 10x the price I should have for a fairly short taxi ride.

This is based on my one bad experience after months of living in Vietnam.

Firstly. If you are going to get in a taxi you should have the Grab app. It’s their equivalent to Uber. Even if you don’t want to, or for some reason can’t order a Grab, look at the suggested price. The taxi prices are usually within 30% of that price, actually they are usually almost identical.
It might be a little different for longer trips, but usually you have to be a hotel to negotiate good prices to the airport that are better than the Grab or normal taxi rates.

So Grab gives you a good reference point price.

The Meter

The second thing to look at is the meter.

The fake Taxi meter looked like this

A fake Taxi Meter

See it’s just got a single display field. The price.

The real Taxi meters look like this

A proper taxi meter. The top left most number is the price
Another photo of a proper taxi meter (with flash so you can see the front face better)

See the 4 different fields. They don’t just show a price. There’s Fare, Time, Distance and Unit Price. There’s also 5 buttons on it.

For the fake taxi trip I traveled for less than 5 minutes, just over 2km and paid $420,000 VND (Vietnamese Dong) or about AUD$25. It should have cost 40k not 450k.

For the legit taxi ride as a reference when I had travelled for 10km it showed 121k VND.

The fake taxi itself looked fairly legit from the brief walk up to it I did, it had been painted green and had a thing on top. He was positioned as if he just dropped a passenger off.

If you think you are being scammed then get the taxi to take you to your hotel or even just a Circle K / 7 eleven equivalent and say you don’t have the money but you’ll get it. Go and talk to the people at the hotel or store and let them know the price the Taxi is asking. See if they think it’s reasonable. If not, they can usually help out.

If language is an issue, use the Google Translate App. It’ll do conversation mode if it has Internet access and as simcards are cheap and you can buy them from the airport, this shouldn’t be an issue. Otherwise be prepared and have the Vietnamese dictionary downloaded for offline use in the app and a Vietnamese keyboard option on your phone. With TouchPal I just swipe on my space bar to change the language.

My story

I got done by the fake taxi because I’d used up my mobile phone data on the train. I have been living and teaching English in a rural village in Nghi Loc. It’s a 7 hour train ride from the nearby train station in Vinh city to Hanoi. I was going there to meet my girlfriend who was flying in from overseas.

I’ve done the trip to and from Hanoi a couple of times, but that was some months ago and I have managed to spend very little money in the meantime. My food and accomodation being covered by the BlueSky English Language Center. As such I wasn’t used to the prices.

I walked out of the train station and was asked by someone of I wanted a Taxi, I fobbed him off and instead headed to the toilet with my heavy bags.

It was around 8pm by now and after buying some food I realised I couldn’t order a Grab because of the lack of data. I should’ve got a recharge at the Circle K I was just at, but didn’t know that was an option. There’s no free Wi-Fi on the train or at the train station, not that I could find. Instead, carrying heavy camera gear and clothes for filming a wedding, I went looking for a taxi. It was a short trip to the Hanoi Lotus Hostel where I was staying. I figured that the difference between a Taxi and Grab would be barely anything.

I saw someone standing by a legit looking Taxi. The sun had set half an hour ago so it was dark, but it looked like a painted, proper Taxi with the 🚕 augment to the roof. 
I got in, showing the business card of the place I was staying and he drove me to the intersection about 10m away and pointed in the wrong direction as if he thought I’d asked to be dropped off at a different location and he was stopped between the two. No big deal I thought.

The meter said 420 and I assumed the dot wasn’t displaying and it meant 42.0 or 42,000 Vietnamese Dong. About the right price I’d expected. I gave him $50k VND expecting change and he said no, 420k.

I was tired and confused. When did Hanoi get so expensive, that was more than the 7 hour train ride I’d just done.

But haven’t I paid a lot for a taxi trip before? Yeah. OK. Whatever, I’m so close, I just want to get to the hostel.

I gave him a 500k note. He gave me 20k change. Woo I said, where’s the rest. I wasn’t THAT out of it. He nearly stiffed me on the change as well, which is more than the price of a legit trip. In hindsight the slight nervous reaction I had here showed he was probably worried the gig was up. Unfortunately I got out and it wasn’t until about a minute later realised I’d just paid the most expensive taxi ride I’ve done in Vietnam, which was also my shortest trip.

So at the critical moment, when going to pay the System 1, fast processing part of my brain remembered that I’ve paid a lot for a taxi ride before, It remembered that it’s some multiple of the train ride.
But, what it didn’t remember was the specifics. The taxi ride was from Vinh city to the rural area in Nghi Loc where I teach and live. That takes nearly 30 mins and costs 250k VND. Expensive yes, but the train ticket still cost about twice that. Or the taxi is about 0.5x the cost of a VIP sleeper trip.
So my brain got the orders of magnitude out of whack and I didn’t think about it properly. I also didn’t expect to get gauged so badly.

Hopefully after reading this you now have a better chance of not being ripped off.

Some other notes

  • It only cost me 25k VND to get from the Old Quarters area to the Hanoi Railway station.
    Also, the railway station isn’t the easiest to find in the Grab search. Try “Ga Ha Noi” as terms like Hanoi Railway station or Hanoi train station don’t really work (not when I tried on the 31st of Oct 2018).
Example Grab ride to Ga Ha Noi — The Railway station
  • Expect it to cost 250k VND from the Old Quarters area to the Hanoi Airport or officially known as the Noi Bai International Airport. It’s a long trip with sections that can go at 80km/hr. Those are faster by car, not bike. So unless traffic is really bad getting out of the rabbit warren that is Hanoi then don’t do the trip by bike. You won’t enjoy it.
When searching for the International Terminal at Hanoi, scroll down past the Domestic ones.
  • The Hanoi Airport International terminal is listed below the domestic terminals in Grab. If you find yourself at the Domestic Terminal T1 (A or B) and need to get to T2, it’s about 2km away to the west section of the airport, not easily shown on Google Maps unless you go into satellite view. The taxi’s won’t want to take you such a short distance. From the T1 building which is Domestic Departures you head West and see the Domestic Arrivals (E), head down and go out the airport and around to the International Terminal. It took me over half an hour to work that out in a frantic hurry.