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Taxi Drivers – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

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Our generally poor experiences with Malaysian taxi drivers, and Kuala Lumpur ones in particular, reached a zenith when we landed late at night after visiting Brunei.

Kuala Lumpur Taxis

Kuala Lumpur Taxis

It’s generally well known that it’s a bad idea to hire a random taxi that’s hanging about outside an airport so we queued at the official desk and paid up front for a fixed-fare cab to our hotel. As we were arriving late we’d opted to stay at the Sheraton Imperial Hotel, a well-known brand and more centrally located than our previous hotel so we knew we’d be there in under an hour, traffic permitting. We joined the taxi queue and passed our voucher to the next cab driver to arrive.

We set off whilst he fumbled with the sat-nav system…

…one hour later…

Drifting in and out of sleep we’d passed through Kuala Lumpur and seemed to be heading out the other side and back into the hills. When queried on this, it became apparent our driver didn’t speak English, just Cantonese which is different enough from Mandarin that we couldn’t fully be understood. After some pointing he silently shrugged, turned the sat-nav on again and drove back towards town.

…twenty minutes later…

We were in a built up area again, a seedy looking warehouse district. He looked at the name of the hotel on the voucher again, creased his brow and made a call on his mobile which resulted in increasingly erratic driving while he had an animated conversation with an unknown party, then jabbed at the sat-nav which at least now read ‘Hotel Imperial’…

…twenty minutes later…

Eventually we arrived somewhere I recognised: Jalan Alor (I’ve a good memory for foody things…) and he slowed to a crawl, peering left and right, eventually stopping outside the Imperial Hostel. Admittedly it’s got quite a similar name but it’s not a substitute for the Sheraton Imperial and judging by the chains and signs on the door appeared to have been condemned for safety reasons.

Pointing at the name on the card and the name on the hotel he eventually figured out they weren’t quite the same, but persisted that we should get out. Having pre-paid and not wanting to walk around in an unlit area of town this seemed like a bad suggestion so we pointed again at the word Sheraton and his phone. He called a number and handed the phone to me. This was a chap that could speak Mandarin and Cantonese, so we explained to him and he explained to the driver who exclaimed ‘Ah! Sheraton!’ Full of hope we once more set off for the Sheraton.

…thirty minutes later…

We pulled up outside the Shangri-La. Nice hotel, but beyond our budget. We pulled into the forecourt and asked the helpful bellboys to explain that we were at the wrong hotel. It then became clear that the driver didn’t speak Malay and neither we nor they had a map that could be pointed at, so he pulled out into the traffic and spoke to an Indian taxi driver that pulled alongside. He didn’t seem to understand Cantonese, and the word ‘Sheraton’ didn’t come up in the conversation, so he said something that sounded unimpressed, got bored and drove off.

At this point it would have probably been best to cut our losses, get out and find another taxi, but the combination of my lack and sleep and his increasingly aggressive speech and hand gestures made me determined to persist. I dug out my Chinese phone and called the taxi company number on the voucher. After a short while on hold I connected to a talkative lady who spoke English with a lilting Indian accent. The taxi driver couldn’t understand her so she offered to find someone who could speak Cantonese and then call back.

…twenty minutes of driving round aimlessly later…

We called her back. She’d found someone who spoke Cantonese, but had lost my number. They’d tried calling the owner of the cab, but he was at home in bed and we had his business partner. Passing the phone to the driver resulted in a lot of angry sounding shouting back and forth, of which we only caught snippets but he glared at us and pulled a U-turn, heading back in the direction of the Shangri-La.

…thirty minutes of retracing our twenty minute aimless drive later…

Just a few hundred meters past the Shangri-La lay the bright lights of the Sheraton. Unprompted, the sat-nav chose now to beep twice and suggest ‘Maybe you meant the Sheraton Imperial Hotel?’. Tired, bored, angry and thirsty we got out, but not before he said in reasonable English “…so, tomorrow you hire me for tour around city?”

A follow up about avoiding taxi scams in Kuala Lumpur, and elsewhere

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Author

Since leaving London in 2006 I’ve travelled, worked, volunteered and lived in over 90 countries. Highlights so far would be driving along the Silk Road from Beijing to Istanbul, a complete circuit of South America and volunteering with Habitat for Humanity in Costa Rica. I’m currently back in Beijing, as a base to visit more of Asia and attempt to learn Mandarin.

28 comments

  • Sounds like a really frustrating experience. When I am at airports I put my backpack on and actually hike out of there and then hail a cab once I am a couple blocks away. This is not always feasible if you have a lot of luggage, but if you can swing it you will save yourself twice the fare money and most times find a more honest cab driver. Of course you can also get screwed doing it this way too, but no method is fool proof.

    Reply
    • Definitely a good plan. Unfortunately Kuala Lumpur airport is in the middle of nowhere – had we arrived earlier in the day the train would a far more reliable option.

      Reply
      • Hi Steve,

        I sympathise with your bad experience on your visit to Malaysia. I am a lady taxi driver myself and have been driving for the past 2 1/2 years. I have seen taxi drivers racing against each other just to get one passenger when he/she hails a cab. I also hear from other passengers of their experiences but not all taxi drivers are that bad and sneaky.

        A small tip:
        Just avoid Indians, Bangladeshi( I dont know how the hell thay can get to drive the taxis), Singhs and Indonesians. If the drivers cannot speak Bahasa Malaysia or a slight of English language, then they are not Malaysians. Chinese and Malay older generations are the better ones so far.

        In future , it is better hail a cab alongside the road rather than wait in line at the taxi stand especially if you book a cab at the hotel counter. Firstly, your fare will cover the front desk, the bell boy and the valet who will hail their regular taxi drivers who gives them a tip for every trip that that they are given.

        Next time you are in Malaysia, if you do require a taxi service, please fee free to call me at my hp: 012-2085158

        Reply
        • Hi Jennifer!

          Just read your post above. Will you be in Kota Kinabalu this July? I’ll be in Sabah for a while diving, after which my girl friend will come and join me. We have a few trips back and forth to KK airport (some of them early in the morning/late at night) and I was wondering if it would be possible to arrange something with you in advance. Let me know! p.hallsmar@gmail.com

          Reply
          • Hello Phil,

            I am sorry I do not drive in Kota Kinabalu. But If ever you and your gf are in KL- Kuala Lumpur, do drop a text on my handphone. Have a god holiday.

            Reply
        • Hi Miss Low, I’ve read your observation on the horrible taxi ride experience of Mr. Steve in getting to his hotel. I want to avoid that if I can. Indeed, I will be visiting KL around the middle of July and would wish to charter/hire a safe and reliable taxi and driver for sightseeing in KL and nearby tourist spots on a daily hire basis. Ours is a family of 6. Can you email me your rates etc. Thanks. Stephen Chow.

          Reply
          • Hi Steve, I did not receive yr email. Could be a miscommunication on our telephone lines. Sure I will be happy to assist in any way I can, But you need to inform me in advance cos I need to plan my schedule as I have my regulars as well. My email: jlowmorais@gmail.com. Have a pleasant day!

            Reply
        • Hi Jennifer: I’ll be traveling with my son to KL in February or March. I’m from Malaysia so I do know the language but haven’t been back for many years and it’s changed alot. I do have family down in Malaysia but don’t want to trouble them for the time as they’re always busy. I would like to go to my old school and visit my old house. Was wondering if you’ll be able to take me around there. I’ll be there for a week or so and would like to know if you’ll be available or someone who’s trusthworthy enough. Please let me know. Thank you.

          Reply
          • Hi Preet,

            I will be happy to assist you. Do drop a text on my handphone cos sometimes I drive and it is illegal to answer when driving. If I cant make it, I can recommend a good taxi driver who usually helps me when possible.

            Reply
        • Hi,

          I will be off to Kuala Lumpur in a couple of months. Is there any nice driver I can book to stay with me the whole day for a duration of 8 days?
          Thanks

          Reply
        • Avoid Indians, Bangladeshi etc! You racist scumbag. I have lived in KL for 4 years. The taxi drivers can be really awful but in fairness to all, I have had terrible drivers from all the various nationalities that make up Malaysia.

          As for you, Steve on the road, and your response – I am saddened that a western traveller is so easily persuaded to accept racial stereotyping of the worst kind and describe it as excellent advice. Jesus the world can be a bad place…

          Reply
          • If you’d read a little more than this one page and knew my personal circumstances you’d know I was obviously responding to the advice about hailing of taxis, rather than the previous paragraph, but you’re right it was rather unclear to a passing reader so I’ve amended it.

            Reply
          • LOL – That’s funny I had the same advice when I had a Chinese driver. He told me to avoid the Indian-looking drivers because they are crooks. The Indian drivers I had WERE crooks so I couldn’t argue with him. The Chinese drivers I had all agreed to use the meter. To be fair though, the story in this blog is about a Chinese driver.

            Reply
            • Race doesn’t matter. Scumbag taxi drivers come in all shapes, sizes and races. You should’ve just shrugged off the Chinese driver’s “advice” as something an ignorant person would say.

              Reply
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  • If you use a smartphone, you can download the MyTeksi and taxiMonger apps to hopefully reduce the chances of being robbed by KL taxi drivers.

    Reply
  • Hi Jennifer,

    I would like to hire or charter a ladies driver for my daughter to sent and fetch from her college in Sunway,we re somewhere near Ampang and im looking for a safe n reasonable cost as well,time schedule frm 10 am to 4:30 pm.daily accept werkend.
    Thx!

    Reply
  • So true, this morning i paid 12 ringgit for only 2x gas pedal (less than 1 km). That’s actually only 3 ringgit. Kena tipu jer!

    Singapore taxi drivers are a lot better, as long as i visit both countries (SING and MALAY), Singapore taxi drivers are more communicative, i am not surprised because maybe they have no intention to scam and kinda “pay-the-meter” taxi driver.

    In Indonesia case, 95% of taxi drivers use ‘argo’ (read: equal to meter in malaysia), all passenger have to do is only pay as shown in argo and usually give a ‘few rupiahs’ for the driver.

    Reply
  • To Mike (above) It is not a racist slur but goverment and independent statistics have actually stated that mostly Indian and Bangladeshi taxi drivers are the usually the most corrupt in KL. I am sure there may be a few nice ones but I’d like to know where and how we are supposed to know.

    Even the local Malays in the centre of town have told me not to use the taxi drivers as are they are unregulated and can and do cheat.

    Kind of disturbing news for Malaysian Tourism

    Reply
  • Not surprised to read this story. I had a similar cab ride where the taxi driver took me to a random hotel and gauged me on the price. He didn’t even drop us at the door so we didn’t know it was the wrong hotel until we walked across the street and saw the sign. Needless to say we had to hire yet another taxi to get to the right hotel which was the opposite direction that the first driver took us. I’ll never go to KL again and I tell everyone I know to do the same. They have earned the reputation as the worst taxis in the world (although Prague couldn’t possibly be better could it?), and it is a well deserved title. I actually declined 3 other taxi rides in my stay because they refused to use the meter! Can you imagine?

    Reply
  • My two cents.

    I have had bad experiences with all races in KL.

    With Asians in New york.

    With polish and South Asians in London.

    And with Chinese drivers at the Maglev station in Shanghai.

    So, all in all. Get a smart phone and try to see that you are not too too too screwed. You will be screwed a little.

    Reply
  • ANYONE GOING TO MALAYSIA SHOULD BE VERY CAREFUL ESP IN KUALA LUMPUR BE CAREFULL WITH THE TAXI DRIVERS, THEY WILL ASK YOU TO PAY THAT MUCH ESP WHEN U ARE NEW TO THE PLACE

    Reply
  • Not surprised to read this story. I had a similar cab ride where the taxi driver took me to a random hotel and gauged me on the price. He didn’t even drop us at the door so we didn’t know it was the wrong hotel until we walked across the street and saw the sign. Needless to say we had to hire yet another taxi to get to the right hotel which was the opposite direction that the first driver took us. I’ll never go to KL again and I tell everyone I know to do the same. They have earned the reputation as the worst taxis in the world (although Prague couldn’t possibly be better could it?), and it is a well deserved title. I actually declined 3 other taxi rides in my stay because they refused to use the meter! Can you imagine?

    Reply
  • That was a lot of bad luck. Usually I had good experiences in KL with the pre-paid voucher taxis. My bad experiences came usually with taxis waiting outside the hotels and not wanting to use their meter.
    But all those bad experiences were nothing compared to Jakarta where I feared for my life and almost ended up in a brothrel 🙁

    Nowadays I usually take the very fast train to downtown KL and then monorail to my final destination in KL.

    Reply
  • I am sorry about the Race card used by the Chinese lady-Chinese, Malay or Indonesian.
    Most of them are good people but there are corrupt elements in All races -you do not play Race card. The lady who played the Race card may is ignorant, grow up , human beings are all the same- But I tell Malaysia has lot corrupt Taxi drivers. There are lot Indian drivers who are good, please do not use card to say one Race is better than others.
    Take care and book a Voucher at the airport and know your way.
    Joseph

    Reply
  • I could honestly say, malaysian taxi,taxi drivers,chauffeurs, bus drivers…public transport in nature is the worst in the world. Absolutely no value for money. Drivers rule, they don’t have a schedule. They like to pick up at their own time,their own destination. It’s a shame to call malaysia truly asia.
    Their rude,arrogant,threatening behaviour make it worst for malaysia as a recognise tourist destination.
    I am here now for 2 weeks, and not a single taxi wants to use the meter, whatever race they maybe, I don’t care, they are malaysian. Whe I took the bus, it’s so filthy, I could barely breath on my 20 mins journey.
    I use to be a malaysian, 35 years ago, and these services before is 100% better than now. Please don’t visit malaysia, you get ripe off. Visit thailand, all taxi use meter….ALL

    Reply

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