Bishkek airport taxi scams

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Christian77
Tajikistan expert
Tajikistan expert
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Bishkek airport taxi scams

Post by Christian77 »

I've flown into Bishkek Manas airport about 20 times (almost always dressed like a tourist and carrying a trekking bag), so I thought I would share my experiences.

It's not too bad compared to truly awful taxi scams in India, for example, but there are some things you should look out for.

Most of the time there is a taxi counter next to the baggage carousel, and they have fixed prices (600 Som to central Bishkek). But this does not solve your problem completely. Whoever is at the counter will walk you out to the arrival mob and hand you off to a driver on their list. If it's a common tourist accommodation, then the driver knows. But sometimes they don't, and you may need to direct your driver to make turns and head in certain directions. It's best to have the phone number of your hotel/hostel handy for you to give to the driver. Many of them are middle aged and don't use smart phone maps. It is best to sort it out with the person at the taxi stand, they seem able to look up the less common guesthouses and tell the driver what neighborhood it is in (addresses and numbers do not work like you think they will). Be prepared with an offline map app like MAPS.ME with Kyrgyzstan already downloaded and your hostel bookmarked.

But the "scam" starts in the parking lot. Your driver will put you in the car and say "Just a minute! I'll be right back." He is going back inside to find another passenger. You didn't agree to share a ride did you? You will end up with a local person or person getting in your taxi at a great discount. He'll charge you 600 and them 300 or even less. Personally, I like the drivers and I could not care less. I welcome meeting locals. But I'm not a solo female traveller. Do you want to be in a car full of local men asking why you aren't with your husband?

A few of the drivers have tried to increase the price. Some make feeble attempts, while one declared that the trip was now 1000 Som. Watch out for him, he's a Kyrgyz with unusual slightly red-ish light-brown hair. I always see him there going for the foreigners if they don't go to the taxi counter. I had to get into an angry confrontation, a very stressful way to begin a visit.

Another guy complained that the hostel was further than he was told, and he wanted more. But he took the 600.

You pay at the end of the trip. But I did pay one guy when he stopped half-way to fill up at a petrol station. These guys often really do not have the money to pay for the gas until you give it to them.

Note that all of these interactions were in Russian. But these guys can shout out the amount in English if need be (and no more English than that, except for the red-head Kyrgyz).

I assumed that I get targeted for scam attempts because I'm not physically intimidating, but the taxi drivers at the airport are apparently up for a challenge. Yesterday I pulled a very large and very angry and heavily-tattooed German tourist away from a taxi driver he was about to get into a fist-fight with. He was glad to share a ride with me, and was quite amused by the very small men who seemed up for a fight right next to airport security and law enforcement officers.

Alternatives? The marshrutka (mini-van/bus) that waits outside is a good option (but much slower). Search for instructions online for catching it. But you will have to end up walking a good distance from where it stops in Bishkek (50 Som, however, is a great deal). Arranging a pick-up through your accommodation is also a good option (but more expensive).

In general, those who have travelled in India, Bali and resort towns like Cancun will find the Bishkek airport taxi scams to be mostly harmless in comparison. I've met quite a few really interesting drivers and I have grabbed their phone numbers for future use (they seem enthusiastic to drive tourists to Ala Archa National Park).

Do not, however, be like the young foreign woman a taxi driver told me about. She attempted to pay with her credit card at the end of the journey. Som, Dollars, Euros and Rubles will be happily accepted, but these guys do not and will never have a credit card payment set up.
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