Taxi cheats are probably the one thing travellers to Hanoi complain most about. While unlikely to cost you a fortune, it’s still annoying to be over-charged or — literally — taken for a ride. So here’s what to watch out for and how to avoid over-paying or ending up at a zero-star hotel in a back alley when you booked in at somewhere fancy.
Taxis from the airport
Noi Bai airport is often referenced as a hotbed of scamming taxi drivers and has been well-covered in the Travelfish.org forum. In theory, all the licensed metered cabs that wait at the rank should be charging the prices on the rate board. If you use one of these taxis, get agreement on the rate before you get in by pointing at the rates sign and getting a confirming nod. If the driver tries to charge you more upon arrival, don’t pay. Also, don’t pay any extras for the tolls/parking — that is all included.
However, although in theory these taxis should be fine — I’ve never had problems — it’s safest to book in advance, either through your hotel or a company such as Hanoi Airport Transfers. This is highly recommended if you’re arriving late in the evening, once the buses have stopped running, as even the licensed, supposedly fixed rate taxis hike their rates up then.
For the budget-conscious, take the Jetstar or Vietnam Airlines buses into town — they have a fixed rate. If these aren’t around you can also try private minivans and public buses, but you are likely to be charged a little more than locals for the minivans — only by maybe a dollar, but if that’s going to bother you stick to the airline buses.
Whatever you do, do not get waylaid by the men who pounce when you leave arrivals; chances are they work for an unlicensed taxi firm and will overcharge.
As well as over-charging, apparently taxis from the airport or station (see below) often take people to the wrong hotel, as they are working on commission. Hotels will certainly tell you this is the case in order to persuade you to book a transfer with them, and of course this does avoid the issue. But if you’ve not booked a hotel or they’re over-charging for the transfer (many do), make sure you have the exact name and address of the hotel you are heading for, ideally written down in Vietnamese, and make it clear to the driver that you have a reservation. There are often multiple hotels with the same name, but they don’t all share an address. If the driver takes you somewhere else you have two options: (1) get out and walk (2) refuse to pay until they take you where you want to go.
Taxis from the train station
Tourists arriving on an overnight train, tired and unfamiliar with Hanoi and just wanting to get to their hotel? Easy prey for unscrupulous taxi drivers. There are usually a good number of Mai Linh taxis at the train station, parked on the platform, so go for one of those if you can — but even they sometimes try to negotiate a high fixed rate, so insist on the meter.
If you don’t get a Mai Linh then you’ll walk out of the exit to a melee of taxi drivers offering you a ride. Dodgy meters — which run too fast — are a big problem at the train station, so it’s one occasion where negotiating a fixed rate, even if it’s a bit higher than the meter should be, is a good idea. As a rough guide, it’s about two kilometres to the cathedral area, so 30,000-40,000 VND is a fair fixed price, depending upon the size of taxi. It’s a bit further to Ma May area, so you’ll likely need to pay 40,000-50,000 VND to get there.
If you decide to risk it with the meter and notice it’s running too fast, threaten to get out (though you won’t really want to as there won’t be any other taxis around) and try to push for a fixed price. Drivers don’t want to lose a fare as they’ll likely have to wait for the next train for another one, so you’re in a good position.
Note that there are a few one-way systems between the station and Old Quarter, so even if you know which direction you should be going, don’t be surprised if it’s not quite as direct as you expect.
Taxis around town
It’s not just from the transport hubs that taxis try it on. I used to avoid getting taxis from Old Quarter home — at that time home was in Ba Dinh, about five kilometres from Old Quarter — because I was convinced they’d cheat me and I didn’t want to have to deal with that, particularly late at night. Even now, I’m wary, but I’m more sussed so am able to avoid problems.
Taxis that service the Old Quarter are particularly at fault, but it happens elsewhere in the capital as well — I took a taxi with three well-built guys from the bia hoi place on Tran Vu into Old Quarter a few months back and just a few kilometres down the road the meter was already on 50,000 VND with no sign of slowing. It should have been about 30,000 VND. “Stop!” we shouted and out we jumped, indicating our displeasure with his obvious dishonesty. On that occasion we didn’t pay him a dime — and he didn’t argue, given the three well-built guys — although for less blatant cheaters we’ll usually pay what we think it’s worth.
So, back to how to avoid a dodgy meter/long route/inflated fixed rate.
One option is to only use the well-regarded taxi companies. Mai Linh is always recommended, but Taxi Group and ABC are also solid — though Taxi Group is pricier — and I’ve never had any problems with the small Phu Dong, Thanh Nga, Vic or Morning taxis. But don’t sue me if you do! They’re sometimes in scant supply in Old Quarter so onto my second piece of advice: walk out of the tourist centre to pick up a taxi. If I’m in the Ma May area, I will walk to the main road.
Another is to get your hotel/the bar or restaurant you’re at to call you a taxi. Most will be happy to do so. There’s no guarantee it will be one of the recommended companies, but as long as you’re at a reputable place it shouldn’t be a problem. Ask them how much it should cost too, just to get an idea.
Agreeing a fixed rate is only advisable if you know how much you should be paying. Their first bid is likely to be high, especially late at night.
Alternatively, take another mode of transport. Walking is a great way to see Hanoi, buses run reasonably frequently, or combine travel with sightseeing on a cyclo.
My final tip regarding taxis, wherever you catch them, is to make sure you have enough change on you. It’s a common trick for drivers to claim they don’t have any change. If they do this, pay less rather than more (if you have it) — no change, their problem, not yours.