Vietnam Taxis Part 1: Wolves in MaiLinh Clothing

The two most reputable cab companies in Vietnam are MaiLinh and Vinasun. In my experience this is deserved, but they are a considerable distance from being watertight.

As with many, if not most, countries, each edition of the Lonely Planet on Vietnam gives a certain amount of attention to some of the tactics employed by the land’s more creative taxi drivers.

Paying attention to it recouped around half the price of the guide within a minute of setting foot outside the airport doors by having read the book’s warning implicit to shun offers of a $25 cab ride into town.

Thinking we had it all worked out, We approached a cabbie and offered we thought was a fair fee, which was immediately accepted once he saw the hotel address. And all was swell until we checked into our hotel, only to find they hadn’t taken down our reservation. After checking and checking again, the manager realized we were after the Thang Long Hotel (another LP tip), not the Thanh Long Hotel, which was another hotel entirely and were we had been dumped.

The hotel manager then took us out the front to set us off the right way. Waiting for us of course was the taxi driver who took us to the wrong hotel, and after the conversation between the two locals played out and the hotel manager disappeared back inside, the cabbie asked for another $4 to take us to the right hotel. We however thought this failure merited no further reward, however we settled on $2 and the lesson they’ll always have one more way to squeeze an extra dollar or two out of you than you, or the LP, or anyone else who is not a dodgy cabbie, can conjure up and you’d be far better off thinking on how little you’ve actually lost rather than the principal.

Not that I ever consciously seek to make this anything other than a bland and highly unmemorable transaction. And this I also follow one of the other tips taught by guidebooks about Vietnam which is  put in both the travel guide and has been drummed in by expats and try to use MaiLinh or Vinasun only. Perhaps the bet endorsement of this is that there are a number of taxi companies which play off the names of these two reputable companies.

Yet, some of their own employees to also getting mileage playing off the names. While I have never had trouble with either Vinasun or MaiLinh during daylight hours, they’ve let at least a couple of wronguns get behind the wheel of their cars at night.  Indeed, some of my most “greatest hits” in this area have been provided by the men behind the wheel of a Vinasun or MaiLinh taxi.

One slightly bizarre experience came when I left a bar in an area of the city not all that far from where I was staying but far enough to be not entirely sure where I was. I soon came across a parked Vinasun taxi, I woke the driver up, hopped in and asked him to drive me back to my hotel.

However, he said, and gestured, that he didn’t know where my hotel was, this hotel mind you was The Grand Hotel, one of the older more famous hotels on one of the more famous streets. But put off by the taxi brand, I showed him the hotel’s card, then told him probably two even more famous hotels, situated nearby, the Caravelle, and the Continental. No, didn’t know where they were either. Now refusing to believe this I didn’t leave until he gave in and drove me there or thereabouts.

Soon enough he did start off, but pulled up just 50 metres down the road at the next intersection. He then got out and started speaking to a guy on a motorcycle, who rather than give the cabbie instructions, offered to take me back to the Grand. At this point, I said fine and negotiated a price, but he then asked me to give the other guy $1 for his labours. I turned and looked at the point where he had started the journey and gestured as such. Yet he wouldn’t break solidarity, until I handed a buck over. I looked around for the Lotus Building lights, which could have guided me home. But unable to see them, my uncertainty trumped my reluctance to fund lazy crooks.

A good crook I don’t mind as much. And the best of them all was a MaiLinh driver one evening in Hue, who I ended up having no qualms at all about handing over my cash, despite knowing full well I’d been scammed.

One of the oldest tricks in the book is to take the “scenic” route to the destination. However, this guy took it to a new level by driving very quickly and took an area that was very quiet and not well lit at all, just so the possibility of mugging couldn’t be completely ruled out. To top it off was the complete, and unnerving, silence when the first protests came. A three minute journey had just taken ten, yet by the time he eventually took us back to the hotel, we were relieved we weren’t the victims of a mugging attempt and wanted out asap. I can’t even remember how much over the odds I paid.

.I still only use these companies on trips to HCMC, yet once the sun goes down I don’t regard them as reputable, rather not as disreputable as the rest.

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