As the saying goes, it’s also about the journey, not just the destination. When traveling around in China in a taxi without your Chinese girlfriend (actually, even when she’s with you), the journey, indeed, can end up being the most interesting part of your day, or your entire trip!
If you’re in Beijing, Shanghai, or any other highly westernized city in China, modern taxis are everywhere. Just like most other densely populated urban areas, of course, getting a cab can be quite a challenge, especially in certain areas and during certain hours.
Perhaps the most important thing you have to remember when traveling locally without your Chinese girlfriend is to have the name of your destination/s written on a piece of paper in Chinese characters to avoid any confusion when you let the driver know where you want to go. If the driver still seems unsure where the place is even after you show him the written address, you’d be better off waiting for another taxi whose driver is more knowledgeable about the place and the route to get there.
Especially in China’s first-tier cities, it is now rare for foreign passengers to get taken on long rides by cheating, but legit, taxi drivers. If you’re already familiar with how much the fare usually is to go to and from certain places, even if you’re still not very familiar with the route, and the meter of the taxi you’re in exceeds this amount, you can point it out to the driver to let him know you’re not as clueless as he thought you were. Usually, the driver would agree to just charge you the regular price.
Many big city taxi drivers are very pleasant and can communicate in English pretty well; but there are also many others who are less “professional” and have a habit of eating foods with strong, and often unpleasant, smells, and/or coughing up big globs of sticky spit.
Always get and keep the taxi receipts. In case you forget something in the cab, having the receipt will make it easier for you to track down the cab company and the specific taxi, and, hopefully, get your belongings back. If you have a complaint against a driver, the receipt will also help in locating and identifying him, if you’re unable to take down his taxi ID number and hotline which should be displayed on the passenger seat dashboard.
If you’re in a small Chinese town or village, taxis are more loosely used to describe any short-distance form of public transport. The taxi may be a motorbike or a three-wheeled vehicle. Indeed, in certain cities and towns where alleyways are often used as alternate routes, taxi-motorbikes are common. A helmet may or may not be provided. You should not be surprised when your taxi takes on additional passengers, transfers you to another vehicle in the middle of your trip, or takes off-road alternate routes.
Unless you’re in areas where modern taxis are numerous, most unconventional cab rides are not metered. In certain places, the fares are fixed regardless of the destination or for certain minimum and maximum distances; in other places, you will have to negotiate the price with the driver. If it’s the latter, always ask for the price upfront, even before you get on/into the taxi. If the cost of the trip seems to high, ask for a lower price or simply take a different taxi.
It would be best if your Chinese girlfriend can accompany you when you want to go around the city or town and have to ride taxis. But if you’ll be on your own, make sure you have the name and address of the place where you’re staying at written in Chinese characters on a piece of paper safely tucked inside your wallet at all times. Of course, enjoy the ride!
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