Reflections on Myanmar – Taxi Practice

[In June 2013 I visited Myanmar as part of the World Economic Forum Annual Summit for Young Global Leaders – YGLs. At the time I wrote up some reflections but sadly neglected to share them until now]

Natpwitaw cabs – in the distant capital, when the hotel offers you their own car, it cost $20 (our hotel was north of the convention center, a good 25 minutes drive away). If a local driver was called it would cost $20 if the guy at the hotel arranged it, or $10 if you sorted it with the driver directly.

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The cab drivers get extra income, and help more people out, by taking additional passengers. These extras sneak in magically. On two occasions I had no idea at all there was anyone else in the cab. On one case, I was chatting to two friends in the back, and only realized the passenger in the front was not with us when the cab driver asked for $5 instead of $3, changing his price at the hotel lobby. I gave him the choice of discussing with the security guard or accepting my money, nodding to his additional guest (his ‘brother’). In the end I gave him his original demand of 3,500 ($3.50) as I am nice, and I had enough spare cash.

The other occasion was more random. We were four friends squeezed into a cab. The cab pulled into a gas station and was stuck in a non-moving queue for ten minutes. Just before we bailed and left, the driver got out, opened the trunk… and let out a guy stuck in the back. I guess it helps to lower the cost of everyday life for the locals, and adds some extra money in cab drivers’ pockets.

Cab drivers are not brilliant at reading maps and there is no feasible GPS for tourists, so the safest way to take a cab is from a hotel with the concierge’s help. Also there are a few places you want to get to that seem really far away. It is a good idea to look at a map, get an idea of driving distance, and confirm driving time with the driver. It is not a case of getting screwed over – more a sense of setting your own expectations.

You can and probably should negotiate trips, especially after a couple of days. If you get a super good price you can always leave a tip if you want.

And as long as you are fine with no seat belts, barely any rules of the road, no way of communicating with the driver, and no personal sense of direction where you are, you’ll be fine. You’ll be fine in any case, however, and… when it rains… it’s the best option by a million miles.

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