A cab driver shook his head when a passenger gave the address of the First Hotel on Hoang Viet Street, just two kilometers away from Tan Son Nhat International Airport.
"[The trip] is too short," the driver said.
Another cabbie said he would only make the trip if the passenger agreed to pay VND80,000 (US$4.58). If the meter was on, the trip would cost about VND30,000 ($1.72).
Phuong, who had just flown into Ho Chi Minh City from central Da Nang City, was offered a VND120,000 ($6.88) fare to her place in District 10 by a Saigontourist taxi driver. The meter fee is usually between VND80,000 to VND90,000.
"If you want to go to Vung Tau [Town], I would switch on the meter," the cabbie told Phuong. "If you just want go to somewhere around the city, you have to pay unmetered fares."
When asked why the fare was not metered, the driver said: "You accept that fare or find another cab."
Such practices are common at the airport, passenger Son told Thanh Nien.
"Just ask any cabbie in the airport, they all would say you have to pay unmetered fares," Son said.
"This has happened for a long time at the airport but authorities have taken no action," he added.
Arriving at Tan Son Nhat Airport Monday, Thanh Nien found many taxi drivers were badgering passengers.
At Hanoi's Noi Bai International Airport, the situation is similar.
In 2007, Thanh Nien had exposed the taxi monopoly at Tan Son Nhat Airport where only a select few taxi operators were allowed to pick up - and fleece - customers.
Before 2007, only Airport and Sasco taxis from Saigon Airport Shareholding Company - half owned by the Southern Airport Authority, a state agency monitoring air traffic in southern Vietnam - had access to the airport.
Taxis belonging to other firms had to be content with waiting far from the exit door. If they wandered into the "forbidden" zone, they were immediately chased away by Sasco and Airport drivers.
After the Thanh Nien articles, other taxi operators were allowed to go to the airport to pick up passengers.
But the end of the monopoly has apparently created more headaches for those arriving at the airport.
Practice illegal, say authorities
Le Hong Viet, deputy director of the HCMC Transport Department, said only one VIP taxi operator was allowed to negotiate fares with passengers.
Other taxis at public places like the Tan Son Nhat Airport would have to charge customers whatever was on the taxi meter, Viet said.
He said all unmetered fares were illegal. But Viet said the department had to seek approval from airport authorities to inspect taxis waiting at the airport.
Ta Long Hy, director of Vinasun taxi operator, said his firm would punish drivers found carrying passengers without the meter on.
Dang Hoang Son, general director of Sai Gon Hoang Long taxi firm, said any driver overcharging customers would be fired.
He asked customers to report any problem to the company hotline on (08) 38336868.
ADDRESSING THE TAXI RIP-OFF
Make sure you get a metered taxi.
If your destination is somewhere other than the airport or a major hotel, it might help to write the name and/or address on paper beforehand.
Carry small change and bills for paying fares, since drivers often pretend to be short of change.
If you get stung by a dodgy taxi driver, meter or not, you can refuse to pay. This might lead to a heated situation, but eventually he has to take what you offer.
Make sure you get the taxi number and report it to its operator or the police if you think you have been fleeced.
Ask hotels for recommendation of creditable taxis.
Hotels also provide city maps with the names of company taxis on the back. They are distinguishable from private taxis by the phone number on the side which is much longer.