Negotiating the transportation maze in Asia can be a challenge. Here is what you need to know about taxis:
Determine if Fare is Metered or Flat Rate
Rates according to the meter are self-explanatory; get in and watch the meter tick as you close on your destination. If it’s a flat rate make sure you get the fare amount beforehand. All negotiating needs to be done at this time as well since you will not have any bargaining power when you arrive at to your destination. If language is a barrier in determining tariff type, point to the meter or draw a box in mid-air by the dashboard and hold up your hands in question. The driver will get the point.
This is an annoying trend developing in countries like India and Thailand. When hiring a driver ensure there are no unscheduled stops. Drivers supplement their income by stopping at shops that compensate them for bringing tourists. You are not forced to buy anything, however these shopkeepers’ sales tactics are top notch. You might leave with full bags and empty pockets. It’s actually good practice with any private transportation hire to ensure there are “no-stops” along the way. If somehow you end up at a commission stop, it’s not the end of the world, just browse the store for a few minutes and return to your ride.
Fraud seems to be an issue in certain places which makes taxis drivers cautious of imperfect currency. Drivers will closely examine notes and not accept ones that are damaged or appear suspicious. On a trip to India I was surprised when a cabbie would not accept my slightly torn bill. He flat out refused to take it. That was all the rupee’s I had but thankfully digging through my bag I found US currency and based on an agreed upon exchange rate we settled.
Address in Local Language
I recently learned this lesson the tough way in Beijing, China. On the way from the airport I discovered the cab driver could not read the hotels address in English. Since he had already started the route, consulting with someone in the terminal was not an option. Fifteen minutes on the side of the highway and an expensive hotel call later (thank goodness my mobile worked) we were once again on the way. Save yourself a headache by having the address written in the local language. Naturally this only applies to countries that do not use the Latin alphabet.
Multiple destinations in a day? If so, hiring a driver for the entire day might be the best option. To get a sense for the going rate complete a quick online search. Another option is to ask your hotel/lodging, or consult with a local driver. In some regions of Asia a car for a full day can be as little as $20US. Remember that even though the quoted price may seem affordable to you, there may be better bargains in the area. Shop around.
Alternative Modes of Transportation
Don’t rely exclusively on taxis. There is a throng of alternatives and as many reasons to use them. In Japan, for example, taxis are exuberantly expensive. When visiting Japan, opt for the bus, train, or metro; only utilizing taxis as a last resort. In places like India, Vietnam, and Cambodia, save up to half the fare by using a tuk-tuk (rikshaw). Don’t forget to consider the time of day. On a trip to Thailand I opted for an airport taxi expecting it would be a quick and convenient way to arrive at the hotels doorstep. An hour later I was still sitting in rush hour traffic. At that point walking to the hotel from the train station did not sound like such a bad idea, not to mention the money it would have saved.
Adventurous Tip: Get through rush hour traffic in a breeze by hiring a motorcycle taxi. Not for the faint of heart, these taxis will weave through any traffic to get you promptly to your destination.