Video: Amritsar Traffic…One Hectic Ride In India.
No matter how much we travel, there’s ONE particular part of it that we just can’t ever seem to master, no matter how hard we try.
That’s dealing with taxis, and taxi drivers in particular. It always seems that there’s something that these pros–who spend all day doing their thing–know that we still haven’t figured out yet. Even attempting to match wits with them is a lot like trying to heckle a professional comedian from the audience. They’ve simply done more of this stuff than you have, and they’re going to win at their game. Nevertheless, sometimes our ignorance gets us into uncertain or unsavory situations. Oftentimes it proves expensive. And it’s ALWAYS flat-out frustrating.
Now sure, we’ve dealt with our fair share of taxi drivers domestically who left us scratching our heads. There was “Obsessively Clean Guy” who demanded that we not drag our feet while getting into his cab and sprayed the car with Febreze after we left…this on top of about six air fresheners already hanging everywhere.
Then there was “Contentious Guy”. There was no use in striking any conversation whatsoever because he’d launch into a rant about how wrong you are and how right he is. The truly breathtaking part was that you could give in and he would still argue with himself on your behalf. “I bet you think Gregg Popovich is a great coach, right? Yeah, well you’re just a SHEEP like everyone else. They should fire him and bring back Bob Hill. You think that’s stupid, don’t you? Well, you would be wrong…” etc.
But without question, the most memorable taxi experiences have happened internationally. Here are our top ten:
1. Twitchy Guy
The #1 spot didn’t even have to be debated by Emily and I. It absolutely goes to the guy in Beijing who twitched so violently while driving that the car jerked or swerved every time.
To make matters even more troubling, the guy mumbled angrily under his breath quite often for no apparent reason. Then out of nowhere he would start yelling and gesturing wildly at other cars. It was all in Mandarin, natch, so perhaps we’re better off having had no idea what he was saying.
Worst of all, dude had a lead foot. We kissed the ground in front of our hotel upon arrival.
2. Fake Clueless Guy
When you go to Bangkok, Thailand you’re going to want to see Wat Arun, a super cool temple which happens to be one of the top three or four most famous tourist landmarks in town.
So we hopped in a cab and figured getting there would be no problem…right?
Over the course of the next fifty minutes, the guy attempted to drop us off at no fewer than four different places that were decidedly NOT Wat Arun.
Once he stopped to “ask directions” in Thai. That didn’t work out.
Another place looked A LOT like some sort of store or restaurant that probably paid him commission.
By now you’re probably wondering why we didn’t just get out of the taxi, especially since we were running out of daylight to see the actual place with. That’s actually a very intuitive question, but we’ve learned our lesson since.
3. Drunk Guy
He seemed nice enough, if a little slow and deliberate. And hey, we were just happy to stretch out in a nice Toyota Crown Comfort and enjoy the somewhat lengthy trek into Hong Kong from Chek Lap Kok airport.
That was not to be. Erratic throttle and braking combined with a distinct inability to “keep it between the paint” were our first major clues.
Then he didn’t want to talk much.
Finally, Emily blurted out the obvious. “Oh God. He’s drunk.” On the motorway by that point we were at the guy’s mercy all the way to the hotel.
More ground kissing upon hotel arrival.
4. Extreme Sport Tuk-Tuk Guy
If you go to India, Sri Lanka, parts of Central American and Southeast Asia you’re going to likely be riding in an autorickshaw or two, aka “tuk-tuks” for the sound they make when idling.
But make no mistake, hop into one in Bangkok and you’d better sit down, strap in, hold on and shut up. That’s because they don’t spend much time idling.
Drivers are known to race prep their motors, including full competition exhaust systems and the whole shooting match. The result is the kind of hair-raising high speed weave through unpredictable traffic and random pedestrians with baby carriages that would make “Popeye” Doyle jealous.
I sort of enjoyed the ride, actually. It was a rush.
5. The “Far” Guy
Let me be clear, here. We’ve gotten into taxis dozens of times, only to tell the guy where we wanted to go and have him begin the negotiations with “It’s far”. We know better than to stick around when that happens, no doubt.
But a cabbie in Manila wins the award hands-down for being the most audacious distance scammer ever.
We just knew we were somewhere near where we wanted to go because we were looking at a map. As such, when he said our destination was “very far” we jumped out of the car.
I then happened to look up and there was the entrance to the place right in front of me…about 20 yards away.
Shame on us for being blind as bats. But I mean, get real. What was this guy planning to do, drive us in a twenty or thirty minute circle?
6. Vietnam Scam Guy
Every travel guide and website told us to be sure to pick one of two major, respected taxi companies upon arrival to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
What still floors me to this day is that we DID that…or so we thought. As it turned out, we ended up in counterfeit cab. The guy had the right car, the right logos, even an “official” badge.
But the truth came out upon arrival at our hotel, where he proceeded to tack on enough “standard extra charges” that I questioned him pretty hard. After all, I had in hand how much the actual, real cab company was supposed to have charged.
I ended up waiting with the cab and the luggage while Emily went in to get a hotel manager to assist. As soon as the very shadow of two figures was seen approaching his cab, he quickly zeroed out the meter.
Caught red-handed, he agreed to the correct amount…and quickly fled.
7. Greedy, Whiny Guy
Fresh off our Saigon experience, I can proudly say we were fully prepared for the possibility of getting “Shanghai’ed in Shanghai”.
When you get off of the awesome MagLev train from the airport (more on that in a future post…with video) you’ve got to finish the journey to your hotel in a taxi. There’s a stand that gives you a slip with “directions” on it, which apparently includes a proper quote. Someone directed us to a line of cabs and we were told it’s, “All standard. All same. Pick any taxi.”
Where we screwed up is handing the slip of paper to the driver when he asked for it. The info on it was there to protect us, not him.
Sure enough, the meter started accruing Ruan at an alarming rate. Attempts to ask him about it en route were met with shrugs and head shakes to indicate he didn’t speak English.
When we arrived at our hotel the price was over four times what the guidebooks had consistently told us the price should be.
Perturbed, I told him I simply wouldn’t pay it and showed him the print out from the guidebook that I had brought with me.
He got very mad and started whining and yelling. “Aw, come on! Give me the money!” he shouted in pretty good English. He wouldn’t calm down or let up.
Finally, Emily stormed out of the cab, reprising the ritual of finding a hotel manager to help. Seconds later, two English speaking bystanders offered their assistance. They looked at my print out, then peered at the meter, thereby finding out how much the guy was attempting to extort from us for a ride from the MagLev.
To say they did all the “heavy lifting” for us from there is an understatement. They ripped the guy a new one in Mandarin, loudly. The hotel manager soon arrived and piled on.
Exasperated, the driver finally snatched the correct, fair amount from me and left the scene.
One guy who had helped assured us afterward, “Not good taxi. Very bad for tourist business.”
The manager added with a distinct chuckle, “Next time, must keep paper.”
Lesson chalked up.
8. “Burned Before By Westerners” Guy
A well-known strategy for day trips in developing countries is to hire a taxi driver for an entire day. You simply negotiate the price and voila…you get an instant tour guide, and usually an enthusiastic and knowledgeable one.
Having experience at this we approached a group of cab drivers at the airport in Pokhara, Nepal. The one who agreed to the best price was a somewhat sullen guy who we weren’t sure was particularly fond of Westerners.
Now, to divulge a secret here, I usually end up giving taxis I hire all day more than the originally agreed upon price. Finally, after a tense first fifteen minutes or so on the way to the first place we wanted to check out, I decided to communicate to him the best I could that we wanted to have fun, wanted to put him at ease since we’re actually nice people, and that yes…no worries, I’ll give him a nice tip at the end when all goes well.
I saw a bit of a smile and a nod.
From there we started including him in all of our conversation, and valued the opinions he began to offer.
By the time we got to the lake, he decided to row the boat across with us, and even climbed the mountain to the World Peace Pagoda with us.
After that it was time for a late lunch. We asked him to select where we should go…and paid his bill as well as ours.
By the end of the day we were indeed all laughing and having a good time. As it turns out, he was a great guy.
9. “Triplet Guy”
The last two guys on the list are also drivers we hired for the day, as it turns out. On a planned long layover in Panama City courtesy of having taken Copa Airlines, we hired someone who was absolutely amazing from the start.
After a busy day we (as usual) asked for his recommendation of somewhere reasonably priced but particularly good to grab dinner. Of course, I paid for all three of us.
Over dinner, it comes out that this guy’s wife had just given birth to TRIPLETS. Holy criminy…the guy hadn’t slept since they were born. Yet, here he was showing us around the town with decidedly boundless energy and a smile on his face.
I gave him way more than we had originally negotiated, telling him it was for the “triplet fund”.
10. “Disappearing Guy”
This one is proof that even the “highest recommendations” from locals can go awry. While in Guatemala City we had planned a day trip out to some Mayan sites and then to the awesome Giant Kite Festival that happened to be going on in relatively nearby Sumpango.
Contrary to how I usually like to plan, we had paid in advance for the taxi/guide through our hotel with the assurance that they knew him well and that he was a stone-cold lock to do a great job.
Sure enough, the guy was super nice, and helpful. The first several stops on the day-long tour went great.
Then we got to the big, crowded kite festival, where it was soon apparent that he’d have to park far away from the entrance. Logically, he dropped us off at the entrance and we agreed we’d come back to the entrance in thirty minutes’ time if he didn’t find us sooner.
Obviously, somewhere along the way the poor guy got abducted by aliens or something. He was never seen nor heard from again…not even a call back to the hotel explaining what may or may not have happened to him.
So how about it…can you relate to some of these? Have any taxi stories of your own to share? How about lessons learned that may have eluded us so far?
Tell us all about it in the comments section below.
Before we sign off, though, here is a random list of various tips and strategies for taxis that we’ve compiled over the years:
TAXI TIPS AND TRICKS:
- Research the best way to get from the airport to your hotel well in advance before leaving. Hint: It won’t be a cab from Tokyo Narita, Seoul Incheon, Oslo Gardermoen or any airport in London.
- Ask the hotel for the best way to get back to the airport, as it’s not always the same as for getting there. It’s usually not a good idea to have the hotel call a cab for you. They tend to have arrangements that will cost you in the end.
- Know whether or not there are prominent and respected cab companies in a particular city and stick to them.
- If you’ve arranged a ride from the airport ahead of time, make sure to have a backup plan (e.g. how to get a taxi) just in case there’s no guy with a sign waiting for you when you get there.
- Just because a taxi has a meter doesn’t mean you’re not going to get taken. Some cabs have hidden buttons that change how fast the meter runs.
- London cabs are EXPENSIVE, but you owe yourself a short ride in at least one of the iconic black Austins.
- You can often hire a cab for an entire day for less than you might think, especially in developing countries. You’ll often get a great tour guide in the process, as long as you make sure he or she speaks English.
- Always be sure a taxi takes credit cards before getting in.
- Never trust a cab driver who tells you something is “far away” when you suspect it isn’t.
- Beware of cab drivers impersonating more respected cab companies.
- If in India, be sure to ride in one of the famous Ambassador taxis. It’s a great experience.
- You absolutely can negotiate the price for a ride, meter or not.
- Never pay until you get to your destination. Pay all-day taxis at the end of the day.
- If it’s raining, some taxi drivers will turn off the meter and demand more money. Stand your ground if at all possible and demand the meter be turned back on.
- Taxi fare structures aren’t always the same for every cab in a particular locale. Caveat emptor.