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A Visitor’s Guide to Saigon Taxis

By: Tim Russell Posted: July-07-2010 in
A Genuine Mai Linh - Beware of Imitations
Tim Russell

I wrote this piece a couple of years ago for the Duxton Hotel blog. If anything the taxi situation in the city has gone from bad to worse, so time to tweak & repost it!

A frequent complaint from foreign visitors is of being overcharged, ripped off and generally mistreated by the city’s taxi drivers, particularly those operating at Tan Son Nhat Airport. Indeed, a 2007 survey discovered that the number one reason cited by tourists as to why they would not return to Vietnam was being overcharged by taxi drivers.

So how can you ensure that your visit to Saigon isn’t blighted by taxi cheats? Here’s my guide, based on 7 ½ years as an expat in the city!

Which Taxi?
In my 7 years in the city, only one company has an unblemished record with regards to overcharging - Mai Linh. Their taxis are white & green. Be careful – there are several fake Mai Linh taxis around using very similar livery and logo. In recent months they have become outnumbered by the ubiquitous Vinasun taxis - they’re mostly OK but are less fussy about who they employ as drivers, and tend to employ country bumpkins with no knowledge of Saigon and with zero customer service skills.

All other taxi firms should be treated with extreme caution!

Arriving at Tan Son Nhat Airport
When exiting the arrivals hall at the airport, you will be greeted by a huge crowd of people waiting for arriving friends & relatives. You will also be hassled by numerous taxi touts. Even if you ignore them and push past them to the taxi rank, things don’t improve, as there IS no taxi rank – just a mass of rival taxis jockeying for space and customers. In short, it is absolute chaos, especially when compared to the orderly system at Hanoi’s Noi Bai Airport. So what do you do? Well, until the airport authorities take steps to install some sense of order, you have 4 choices:

1. Pre-book an airport transfer through your hotel or tour company. A more expensive option, but one that gives you peace of mind and eliminates hassle at the end of a long flight.

2. Book a taxi at the official taxi counter, which costs around $12 – again, more expensive than a metered taxi, but you get to avoid the chaos outside!

3. Fight your way past the taxi touts to the ‘taxi rank’, and flag down one of the reputable companies above. Have your hotel address written on a piece of paper to show the driver. Make sure he puts the meter on – if he refuses (he may try & offer you a “deal” or claim his meter is broken) get out and take another taxi. If he accepts, the fare into district 1 should be around 90,000-100,000VND. If it is substantially more, refuse to pay and get the porter at your hotel to sort it out for you. Also, if the driver asks you to pay any tolls en route, refuse – they are included in the fare.

4. A more crafty ‘insider’ option this one. On exiting the arrivals hall, turn right and take the stairs or lift up the departures area. It is much quieter there and you will be able to catch a taxi dropping off people at the airport, following the advice in point 3 of course!

Getting Around
Once you are settled into your hotel you’ll want to go out sightseeing or on business, and you may want to take taxis. Again, use the aforementioned companies, have your destinations written down, and make sure the driver uses the meter.

After recent petrol price hikes, many drivers are turning off their aircon to save fuel. Not a good idea in a city where temperatures constantly hover around the 30C mark. If your driver refuses to turn his aircon on, get out and take another taxi.

Personal Hygiene
To many of the city’s taxi drivers, soap and deodorant seem to be alien concepts. If I get into a particularly malodorous taxi, I have no qualms about saying “Hoi qua!” (”It stinks!”) and getting out again, in the hope that the message gets through!

Tipping is at your discretion and is not expected. If the driver has been polite, helpful or gone above & beyond what you would normally expect, feel free to offer a tip.

Beware of drivers “assuming” that you will tip them – e.g. the fare is 25,000VND, you give him 30,000VND, and he says “thank you” and pockets your money without giving you change. Or alternatively, he may claim he has no change. In this instance, insist on getting your change back and stay put in the taxi, or take your money back and get out. He will then miraculously find some change in his pocket.

All taxis have the driver’s number in the window. It’s worth noting this down. If he gives you bad service or tries to cheat you, you can ring the company to complain and give them the number; and if you leave your bag or camera in the back of the taxi by mistake, you’re more likely to get it back!


Don’t be scared by the above advice into thinking that every single taxi driver in Saigon is a crook, intent on preying on innocent tourists and business travellers! Sure, some of them are, but stick to the companies mentioned above and follow my advice, and you should have a hassle-free taxi experience during your visit. And if you have any other tips to add, please share them with me.

Tim Russell is Managing Director of Come & Go Vietnam. He can be contacted at tim [at] comeandgovietnam [dot] com

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"a 2007 survey discovered

"a 2007 survey discovered that the number one reason cited by tourists as to why they would not return to Vietnam was being overcharged by taxi drivers."

That's crazy? What's the demographic of the majority of one time only visitors to Vietnam? Clearly people who haven't travelled much outside of a western country and who don't know how to educate themselves on things that might cause them to have an unpleasant experience while in Vietnam (according to their criteria). Or they are just people who are so closed minded they can't let a bit of a rip off be put down as a learning experience.

Are they american? French? Italian? israeli? Definitely not Kiwis or Aussies, anyway!


Are you serious in that

Are you serious in that people wont return to vietnam beacause they have been over charged by taxi drivers?
Tell them to get you know what and to go elsewhere.
Is there any country in the world without cheating taxis?
At least in vietnam you dont lose much!

user avatar Anonymous

I agree that Mai Linh is

I agree that Mai Linh is better than VinaSun. However, their drivers are not all that clean. For the same distance I take every day, fares of same types of Mai Linh taxies somewhat different. Sometimes, their black limo charges even less than the regular white and green ones. I am not sure whether some of the taxi meters are tampered or not...

As for the taxi back from the airport, we recently found out that Saigon Airport Taxies (SGA logo, if I remember correctly), are reliable. Fare from the airport to close to the Reunification Palace is about 15,000 - 20,000VND cheaper than Mai Linh. Give it a try.


Saigon Taxis

Sound advice Tim!


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