We are very much aware that being foreigners means that when taxi drivers see us little Rouble or Yuan signs light up in their eyes as they scheme how much they can rip us off for. This is a little tale of situations we have encountered so far…
We arrived at around 10 at night, we knew the hostel was reasonably far from the station and didn’t fancy trying to navigate a city we didn’t know with our backpacks in the dark.
We took the decision to walk past all the taxi drivers hassling you literally at the top of the steps inside the station figuring we could get someone more reputable outside who didn’t feel the need to employ such tactics.
The taxi driver we found seemed ok, we walked towards his nice shiny new Fiat car and felt confident he was going to be ok. Then we walked past the Fiat… I saw another car up ahead that resembled a dodgem from all the bumps and scrapes it had on it. Uh oh. We put our bags in the back, got in and then realised there was no meter. Not a good sign. He starts driving and we then notice the massive crack on his windscreen. This car was a wreck, I didn’t feel safe at all. But it was too late.
A few minutes later he pulls over. He then pulls out a map! He had sounded so confident that he knew where we were staying! We offered him our Google map we had printed of the location, he refused as his eyesight was too poor to read the font!!
Finally we arrived, my nerves completely shattered but we are thankfully in one piece. He charged us 500 Roubles for this chaotic and dangerous ride in his taxi.
On the way back to the station we had an early start so asked our hostel to book us a taxi. He started driving and then after a bit I realised we were heading the wrong way. I whipped my iPad out of my bag, opened Google maps and with horror realised we were nearly at the airport!! A quick u-turn later and we are back en-route to the train station. This taxi driver charged us 275 Roubles which just goes to show how much we were scammed by the first driver on our way into the city.
A similar scenario to Irkutsk in that we arrived late and didn’t fancy walking in the dark to our hotel.
This taxi driver understood perfectly when I said in Mandarin please take us to this address and flashed him our hotel address written also in Mandarin.
He then started fluttering lots of notes at us to imply the price. Well, after Irkutsk I wasn’t wanting to be scammed again. So I told him in Mandarin please use the meter, “Qing dabiao.” Suddenly his language skills failed him. Funny that. Not to be put off I got out the phrase book and pointed at the same phrase written in Mandarin. Nope, he couldn’t read anymore either.
At this point we should have walked away, but it was late and chucking it down with rain. Who was to say the next taxi driver was going to be any better? In the end Alan got him to agree a price of 40 Yuan.
On the way back we again had an early start so got our hotel to book us a taxi. This one used the meter and at 5am in the morning our fare was 15 Yuan, again showing how much the first taxi driver scammed us.
We weren’t supposed to be using any taxis here. Our departure train was at a nice and sociable time of 10.13am and we were within walking distance of the train station. We left our hotel early to allow time to get through the airport style security that is at all train stations in China.
At the train station I handed my ticket to the security man and he looked horrified! We were at the wrong station!! At least, that’s what we were guessing from his expression and hand gestures. He took us over to the information booth. The woman there also looked equally horrified and started doing gestures too. Neither of them could speak any English, but bless them they tried very hard to help us. This made me very glad this was happening in China and not Russia where we would have been flicked away with a dismissive hand gesture.
Between the two of them they started trying to find anyone who could speak English in the station. They found a man, explained it to him and then he told us to follow him. He walked us over to his vehicle and we realised he must be a taxi driver. He turfed out an elderly couple into the rain who were already sitting waiting for him. This horrified me slightly, but given the circumstances we were in danger of missing our train and being stuck in Pingyao.
Once in the taxi he made a money gesture at us. Fair enough. I asked in Mandarin how much and he waved a 100 Yuan note whilst holding up two fingers. 200 Yuan!! We had hired a driver through our hotel the previous day, for the whole day, to drive us to two sites far out of town for 300 Yuan. He was taking the piss and exploiting our somewhat desperate situation. Alan managed to negotiate him down to 70 Yuan, which was still far too much but we weren’t really in a position to haggle too hard.
It turns out this other train station was brand new and way out of town. It was so new they haven’t finished building the road to it! We bumped away along the dirt track skirting our way around construction vehicles which were still putting the finishing touches to the station and surrounding environment. No wonder this station wasn’t mentioned in our book even though it was only published last year! We made it in the end though which is what matters.
Lessons we have learnt
– We are most probably going to get scammed every time we get in a taxi that’s not pre-arranged through our accommodation.
– The sums of money fortunately aren’t too great (less than £10), even though it is irksome to know you are being scammed.
– Haggle when there is no meter.
– If there is a meter we need to start being firm and insisting it is used or walk away. If they aren’t prepared to use the meter then they are probably going to act dishonestly with you.
– Plan in advance. I think if we have any more situations where we arrive late at night then I’m going to contact where we are staying to see if they can arrange for someone to meet us. Or even better, try to arrive at places during the day when we can walk or look for a bus.
Positive taxi experience
To end this piece on a more positive note, taxis in Warsaw were fantastic! We used them a few times without pre-booking and had no issues. This seems to be because they are regulated, I don’t know if it is state or self regulation, but what they have is a sticker on their back window showing what the initial flag fall cost is and the price by km after that. Without fail every time we got in a taxi the meter was on and the price on the sticker matched the price we would pay. Well done Warsaw!