Everything I read about Hanoi taxis before arriving filled me with dread. They were all out to get me. The meter would run fast, and then the driver would drop me off at his mate’s grimy hotel before running off with my bags and using his ill gotten gains to buy a sack of kittens to eat. This hasn’t yet happened. But taking a taxi in Hanoi is – in some ways – a little more complicated than taking a taxi in London or New York. So here’s a brief guide to what taxis round here are really like. I use the pronoun “he” liberally in this article. I’ve seen only one female taxi driver in Hanoi.
There are tens of different taxi companies in Hanoi, and all have different prices. In general, getting into a taxi (and travelling the first few hundred metres) will cost around 10,000 VND, whilst travelling a kilometre will be anything from about 11-15,000 VND.
TaxiGroup, with their distinctive white cars, are perhaps the most highly regarded company in Hanoi. Their vehicles are fitted with excess-speed alarms, they encourage drivers not to jump red lights, and the cars and drivers tend to be clean and well presented. Unsurprisingly, they’re also one of the most expensive, at around 14,400 VND/km – more for their larger people carriers. They’ve a good reputation for not ripping passengers off.
Mai Linh are another well-known company, with green cars, and coming somewhere in the middle of the market. They’ve got outposts throughout the country, although we’ve had mixed experiences with them.
And here are a pair of small, cheap taxis. Air conditioning might not work, the driver might not speak a word of English, and seatbelts are often considered an optional extra, but they do have the lowest published prices, perhaps 9,000 VND for getting in and 11,000 VND/km (the tiny one on the right may even be 9,000 VND/km)
Hailing a Cab
If you’re not too fussed about which taxi you get, hailing a cab is as simple as standing on the pavement looking like a lost tourist. A taxi will usually spot you within 30 seconds and honk its horn, at which point you can either wave at it, or ignore it. If you’re after a specific taxi, then it’s best to find a busy road, and wave at taxis you like the look of. Don’t be afraid to be rude. If you don’t fancy that taxi, it’s okay to wave it off and get another one.
Most trips in town should be around 30-50,000 VND. A trip from the centre to Tay Ho or to the huge shopping centre out at Royal City is unlikely to cost more than 100,000 VND even in the more expensive taxis.
Most taxi drivers are honest enough, but there are a few who are not. The first thing to bear in mind though is that the worst that’s likely to happen, especially taking a taxi in town, is that you end up paying a couple of dollars more than you should. It’s not a big deal and it’s not worth worrying excessively about. Locals are hit just as much as tourists. We’ve decided though that certainly on in-town runs, that the risk of a dodgy meter, or a roundabout route on one of the little taxis is offset by the lower fares they offer, and we’ll be happy to take them.
You can start by keeping an eye on the meter. Does it start at the flag-fall fare of 10-13000 VND? The meter will also have a speed and a distance on it. The distance is usually easy to spot as it starts at 0.00 and generally goes up in 10m ticks (although some taxis only have 100m ticks – so it’ll start at 0.0). At an average Hanoi traffic speed of 36km/h, it should be ticking up at 10m per second (the taxi will be able to go faster than this in bursts, but if it’s going up at more than 20m per second in the city, either the driver is speeding, or the meter is dodgy).
Figuring out whether you’re being taken the scenic route is tougher. Have a rough idea of how far it is you’re going (most places have wifi, look up directions), and make noises if you seem to be going a bit far. If you do think you’re being scammed, then if you’ve nothing in the boot of the car, the easiest option is probably just to get out. If not, then pointing at the meter or re-iterating where you want to go, and making it look like you know something’s up is the best option.
The final trick is to have no change – especially if it’s only a few thousand Dong – pennies or cents. Maybe not worth worrying about, but sitting and looking expectant might help. Of course the driver may actually have no change (those small notes are hard to come by). Trying to give as close the exact amount as you can is usually a good idea.
Don’t get angry (it won’t help), but pretend you live here, that you’ve seen it all before, and that you know that he’s being a bit naughty. Make a note of his number (usually in the top right of the windscreen) if he’s with a well known company, perhaps obviously. The bigger companies do care – they justify their prices on the premise that they are honest and the other guys aren’t, so they do have an incentive to keep it that way.
Airport and City Taxis
Airport taxis are usually identified by the word “Airport” underneath or above the taxi light, and normally have some suitable “Airport” or “Noi Bai” branding. These are the only taxis allowed to pick up at the airport, but they are usually around the same price as non-airport taxis and sometimes slightly cheaper. Of course, they also get to speed down 20km of new highway and rack up 250,000 VND of fees really quickly, so it’s still a cushy number.
Although the internet and guidebooks talk of fixed price taxis, these don’t exist any more. You pay what’s on the meter (and if the driver tries to get you to accept a fixed price, he’s probably charging you a little more than he should). It should cost around 350-370,000 VND for most places in the Old Quarter or around Hoan Kiem, and perhaps a shade under 300,000 VND for the centre of Tay Ho.
Airport taxis are often a good deal when heading back to the airport. In order to save themselves an empty seat, many companies will offer a fixed price deal from town. I’ve had a taxi as cheap as 220,000 VND from Hoan Kiem back to the airport, and I think ADC charge even less. You’ll have to either be lucky on the street or call up – Taxigroup Airport, charging 250,000 VND for a standard car are on +84 4 38 51 51 51 and speak enough English to make it work.
Journey from the Airport
From the International Terminal, head outside and turn left to the taxi rank. There are usually many taxis, and no punters. You should in theory take the first cab, but locals seem to get away with picking one of the first two or three. If you’d like to pay with credit card, show the driver a credit card and see if he’ll take it. Taxigroup, ADC and Mai Linh should all take credit cards. If he says no, move on to the next taxi (you could also use this as an excuse to take a particular taxi). If you’re going to pay cash, make sure you’ve got four 100,000 VND notes, and preferably some smaller notes too – don’t take a round figure out of an ATM if possible.
You’ll get in, the taxi will ask where you’re going, so have the name of the hotel and its address written down, and the driver will hopefully pull off!
Check that the meter is running, and is set correctly. Sometimes drivers will say the meter is broken, in which case you should be offering and paying 350,000 VND to the Old Quarter. The French Quarter or Hoan Kiem are perhaps a shade more, but definitely less than 400,000, and it should be 300,000 or so to Tay Ho. The driver may also start the meter but then make an offer – $20 is common – right now that’s about a 25% premium, so if you don’t feel like haggling you’re not paying too much, but I’d say no and point at the meter (several times if necessary).
Your driver should then head down the ramp and swing left back up and over the highway. You’ll end up having done a 180 degree turn by the time you reach the toll booths – the airport should now be on your left – but he won’t have to pay a toll. From the international terminal to the toll booths the meter should read about 0.6-0.7km. Sometimes a taxi will head straight on from the taxi rank and out onto the highway. Repeat your destination, and they’ll turn around at the next gap in the highway. It’ll only be 500m or so extra, about 6000VND, not worth worrying about but do keep an eye on the meter and on the route later on.
Assuming everything is correct, you’ll pass the domestic terminal after about 2km, and the cargo terminal a few hundred metres further on. The taxi should be able to get up to 80km/h on the highway, so you’ll see the distance tick over just over twice a second (i.e. a little over 20 metres / second).
At about 20km you’ll reach the suspension bridge over the Red River and into town. Usually, and definitely if you’re heading towards Tay Ho, the driver should take the exit curving right at the end of the bridge, do a big loop to some traffic lights, and turn right again back under the bridge.
Sometimes the driver will carry straight on at the end of the bridge. This isn’t necessarily a bad way to go to the north-western side of the city centre (although not the Old Quarter or French Quarter). A common trick though is to head on for a couple of km and then to turn left and then left again and end up back at the bridge, adding a few kilometres to the meter. This is very worthy of your best gesticulation of “you’re taking me a round-about route” (ignore nonsense about roads being closed for taxis, some roads are but the off-ramp from the bridge isn’t one of them).
Assuming everything is good and you turned off, you’ll head down on an increasingly busy two-lane road raised above the level of the streets either side – it’s a flood barrier. To the Old Quarter you’ll keep on going as it becomes a much wider dual carriageway, past the Sofitel Plaza and probably down past the bus station before veering right. To the French Quarter you’ll often carry on a little further before taking a sharper right turn. For Hoan Kiem you might get taken either of these ways, or you might get to turn right at the Sofitel or even earlier, on a causeway between two lakes. This gets you a free view of Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum and although it can feel like a long way around, in truth it’s about the same distance as the route through the Old Quarter and generally much quicker.
At your destination you get to pay what’s on the meter (it might get turned off sharpish and $20 demanded so keep an eye on it). If the driver claims not to have change, pay him less and gesticulate that you’ll get change from your hotel (although if it’s only a few thousand VND then I’d not usually bother). He’ll usually find some change. If you think he’s taken you for a ride, offer 350,000 or 400,000. Tip if you want – I would round up to the 10,000 if he’s driven safely and hasn’t tried to rip me off, maybe more if the service was excellent, but don’t go overboard. Tips aren’t expected here.
In six journeys from the airport, two have been wholly uneventful, but none has been awful.
One driver we thought was taking us a round-about way (heading straight on from the bridge), but he eventually pulled a map out, showed us where we were and which route we were going, and it worked out a little cheaper than normal, so even though it seemed a bit more wiggly and slow, it turned out for the best. Moral of the story – they’re not all out to get you!
One driver had a “broken meter”, and asked for 400,000, so a little over – we offered 350,000 which was accepted without much fuss.
One driver took us a bit of a round-about route, heading the wrong way out of the airport then doubling back after the bridge. Pointing at the meter, showing him a map on my phone and convincing him that I had been here before was enough to make the rest of the journey okay. Ended up overpaying by about 30,000 VND – less than a pound. It could also have been that he got lost.
And one driver offered us a $20 flat fare which we said no to, turned the meter off sharpish when we arrived and claimed to have no change. He got a bit annoyed when I started counting out 1000 and 2000 VND notes!
So in all, that’s 30,000 VND overpaid in total, which averages out at 5,000 VND a journey. We do know people who’ve been done for more, but it’s certainly not as bad or as common as the guidebooks suggest.