Have you heard of the app called Grab? Grab is the app you have to download before heading to Southeast Asia. Why? One of the most annoying things while traveling is to depend on taxis. At least this is how we feel about it. In particular when getting from the airport to the city or to our accommodation. In Southeast Asia usually the only means of transport from an airport, train station or long distance bus station to the Hotel are sleazy, pushy taxi drivers who constantly overcharge. On top of everything you are easy prey. Usually exhausted and confused you are in no position to make sound decisions not to speak of calculating exchange rates of the new currency you will need to use to pay the hyenas in taxi driver costumes. But there is help use the Grab app and have peace.
We traveled for 6 months in Southeast Asia and have a serious crush on the Grab app. No joke. We love it and it is probably the most useful discovery made during our travels to save money and nerves.
We started our trip in Bali and of course we needed transport from Denpasar Airport to the Bukit Peninsula, the southernmost tip of Bali. A friend recommended us a driver she was using during her travels in Bali. We contacted him and arranged everything. Peace of mind. Rather wishful thinking. We couldn’t find him at first and naturally he wanted twice of what we agreed up on beforehand. We made clear that we only pay what was agreed on (later we found out that even this was a ridiculous price). At least we were quite sure he would not call some corrupt police friends to rob/kidnap/etc. us.
ABOUT THE GRAB APP
Everything changed with the (re)discovery of the app Uber and even better the Southeast Asian competitor called Grab. Uber just recently left the Southeast Asian market due to Grab’s success. Uber users will have to use the Grab app from now on and Uber holds a 10% stake in Grab (Or something like that).
I will tell you a bit more about using the Grab app in different countries and few things to look out for.
First, the benefits are straightforward Grab is easy to handle (if you used Uber before you will know all about it), safe, cheap and most importantly comfortable. Plus you can collect reward points and use promo codes along the way. Long story short it is every nasty, greedy taxi drivers’ nightmare. And all you need is Internet and the app on your phone.
HOW TO GET THE GRAB APP & HOW TO USE IT
Go to your phone’s App Store and download the Grab app for free. Sign up/create an account and start having the time of your life. Once downloaded you chose pick-up and drop-off. The app uses Google Maps so you can simply put your hotel’s name there and don’t need to figure out how the hell you gonna explain the taxi driver what street you need to go to. Same holds true for museums, airports, or other points of interest. Drivers will know where you want to go before they accept your ride. This is why most drivers preferred the Grab app over Uber. You can also use it to order food in some places.
HOW TO PAY WITH THE GRAB APP?
Do you like to pay taxi drivers in cash? We don’t! Either his taxi meter travelled light years and ran out of digits to cover the amount that accumulated on your 15 minutes ride or his dollar eyeballs discover your wallet when you scramble for the bills and he sees your entire travel budget. Don’t ever get that much money at the airport, though. Jokes aside. It is the most unpleasant thing when riding a taxi. With the Grab app prices are not only fixed beforehand but you can also chose to pay cash or even more comfortable add your credit card. No one needs to know that you are a rupiah multi zillionaire.
REWARDS, PROMO & DISCOUNT CODES
One thing that really was fun about using the Grab app was that we could collect points with rides which helped us to achieve Platinum status. There are different levels in between. More and more benefits are added the higher you get. For instance preferred booking. If there is high demand you are still more likely to get a driver than people on lower levels. Furthermore, you can use those points to get rewards like discounts in shops, movie theaters or simply on your next Grab ride. The other possibility is to use Promo codes. In certain cities or at certain times Grab will communicate codes to get a discount. We took advantage of quiet often.
If you register using our code GRABBEACH1234 you can get a discounted ride with Grab. Alternatively, you can use https://r.grab.com/grabbeach1234.
SAFETY AND THINGS TO LOOK OUT FOR
I have been hating on taxi drivers quite intensely. Many of you will agree some might not. However, it is a fact that many taxi companies are under major pressure due to Grab’s success.
TAXI DRIVERS IN SOME COUNTRIES HATE GRAB
Instead of revising their own strategy, prices and services to become more competitive they tend to react rather aggressive towards drivers they know are driving for Grab. In some countries more in some less (details in the next paragraphs). So don’t get angry at drivers who are not willing to pick you up right at the arrivals or at the bus terminal.
It happened several times to us. We had all our crap on us and struggled to find our driver. We had no clue why the driver didn’t come closer. Until I couldn’t take it anymore and, for the first and last time, lost my cool with one of them. This poor little devil had no idea what just happened and figured to use Google Translator to explain. Taxi drivers would possibly damage his car or share his license plate with other taxi drivers to cause more harm if he would enter the arrivals area in the airport. Finally, we understood and were at the same time incredibly sorry for our ignorance. Screw them taxis.
NOT ALL TAXI DRIVERS ARE BAD
Don’t be scared if a taxi shows up, though. They are not some rogue drivers who will take revenge on you for using Grab. In some countries taxi companies cooperate with Grab and use the platform as well. You can chose what service to use. At times also in countries where Grab is not accepted by the majority of taxi drivers single taxi driver will use it. Well, it makes their jobs easier and maybe not all of them want to be blood-sucking vampire.
PLAN YOUR JOURNEY AHEAD WITH THE GRAB APP
The most important information is that you have to be careful with depending on Grab when you need to be at a certain place at a certain time (ever missed a flight?). As genius as Grab is, it is not (yet) omnipresent. At times there will be no driver available or a driver picks up your request and is somewhere completely else and will need some time to get to your location. If you plan with enough leeway you will have no problems. You can still ask the reception for help if there is one.
I consider myself a last minute idiot and someone who wants to organize things myself. Still we haven’t missed a flight, bus or boat because of Grab. The one time it happened it was all AirAsia’s fault. We hate them so much. But that’s a different topic…back to Grab. Grab might also fix this short-coming soon. Similar to Uber there is a “set a pick-up” function. However, during our trip it was at no location supported.
WHERE DID WE USE THE GRAB APP
Grab is expanding quickly and more and more drivers will offer rides. So it’s likely that at the time you will travel in Southeast Asia there will be even more drivers around and more places will be served. There was not a single bad experience. Most were actually delightful and with one driver we are still in contact. Those are the countries and cities where we used Grab. I will outline our experiences and things to consider in the specific countries below.
Indonesia – Jakarta, Yogyakarta (including Borobudur temple), Bali
Here, we started using the Grab app and never looked back. Actually we started out with a few Uber rides. Funny thing is while we had no problems with Grab ever with Uber there were few things not working out. This is actually why we gave Grab a shot.
We returned from our wonderful trip to Flores (read about it HERE). It felt like Christmas to me because I knew, finally, we are not going to get ripped off by some taxi leech. After one hour witnessing that 2 or 3 Uber drivers kept accepting and canceling our ride back to Bukit I almost lost my mind. I am not sure what went wrong. At the very moment this happened I didn’t know yet that they cannot make money like this. At the beginning I was paranoid of all possible loopholes that drivers could use to exploit customers. I was sure this was one of them.
Luckily, I was wrong. And guess who saved us from crawling back to the taxi drivers already circling us smelling desperation and fear. Mr. Grab. A true working class hero who took us in for a lousy reward. There was so much traffic that it took us almost 30 minutes to just leave the airport. It didn’t get any better and he only made a fraction of what a dull taxi driver would have made for the same ride. Yet, he was polite and grateful and delivered us safely to our destination. What he doesn’t know is that thanks to him Grab gained 2 incredibly loyal customers.
Malaysia – KL, Langkawi, Khota Baru, Georgetown, Kuching, Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan
In Malaysia the Grab network is extensive. You will find drivers in most places. Furthermore, they can openly operate as Grab drivers (at least in Kuala Lumpur). Thus, you will be able to use Grab on the Kuala Lumpur International Airport without any troubles. There is even an official pick-up point and counters were Grab employees help you order a driver. So even if you don’t have a SIM card yet you can use Grab (just not with your own account). Still I recommend to get a SIM card right at the airport. We were without a SIM card in KL and had troubles finding our drivers at times once we lost our Wifi access.
As always it is really affordable. We barely had to use taxis but guess what Grab, if available, would have been cheaper. One of the few times we had to use a taxi was in Kuala Lumpur and it could have gone terribly wrong. We left in the morning via plane (back to Indonesia with AirAsia). So I asked the receptionist to order us a taxi for the next morning. That is one of the moments in which you cannot risk to have no Grab driver available.
With Grab you can control where you go.
I knew there are two Terminals KLIA 1 and 2 and that they are not particularly close. What I didn’t know was that, officially, KLIA 1 is the international terminal and KLIA 2 the budget airline terminal. I felt like KLIA 2 is almost exclusively for AirAsia (as it is a Malaysian company). Since I wasn’t sure I told the receptionist everything she needed to know to decide where the taxi should take us. I tried to make sure that she’ll communicate accordingly. Well, the taxi took us to the wrong terminal. I am pretty sure he just didn’t listen or care to the receptionist. Maybe the receptionist did a bad job who knows. All I knew in that moment was that with Grab that never would have happened. Once it’s possible to pre-arrange a ride you won’t have to worry anymore.
Everything in Singapore is smooth. Some people say it’s to smooth. If you travel long-term in Southeast Asia it can be an oasis so don’t listen to the haters. Not surprisingly Grab is headquartered in Singapore. We used it only little and had no issues. We rather used the public transport which is amazing. Just once I got confused with the buses and we had to be somewhere on time. I didn’t panic because I had a plan B. Or might I say plan G. Never mind. Our Grab driver made sure we arrived on time. Prices are still fair if you consider where you are.
Vietnam – Hanoi, Saigon/Ho Chinh Mi City, Nha Trang, Hoi An
In Vietnam we used Grab extensively in Saigon/Ho Chinh Mi City without any problems. In Hanoi and Hoi An we also used it a few times. Again no problems. In Nha Trang it was a very fresh thing which was unfortunate.
We stayed only half a day (the beach is miserable but there is an airport to speed up slow travellers with 1-month Visas) and therefore we booked a hotel close to the airport. The airport, however, is far away from Nha Trang itself. We arrived by Futabus in the outskirts and tried to convince the Minibus driver who took people to their central hotels to take us all the way to the Airport. He refused of course and asked for an incredible amount of money. Funny thing if you don’t speak Vietnamese and he doesn’t speak English. We were stranded in a hotel which served coffee in cups that still had lipstick on it and put all our hopes in Grab.
The bus terminal with buses to the airport (our plan A) was non-existent. I kept checking my Grab App but there was no driver around. I lost hope. In the end we found a taxi driver who pretended to know where the bus stop would be. Just that he didn’t know. I was close to ask him to take us but I wouldn’t give up and he clearly was a nutcase. He kept following us so we decided to enter the next best hotel and miraculously found us a Grab driver. Once our Grab driver arrived, our stalking taxi driver verbally assaulted him, but Grab driver didn’t care. Our (former taxi) driver was a true pioneer and one of the first Grab drivers in Nha Trang. At least that’s what he explained us in broken English. And who would’t believe a true hero.
Cambodia – Phnom Penh
Cambodia was the country farthest behind regarding the network of drivers. We could only use it in Phnom Penh. Yet, it was cheap and all drivers reliable.
Our first driver was a taxi driver using Grab. At this time we weren’t sure if that’s good or bad. He made several phone calls and all we understood was that he mentioned our hotel very often. Slightly suspicious I got my knife ready, but looking back he was just making sure if he is one the right way. We noticed that drivers in Cambodia do not know how to read the maps. He dropped us and nothing happened. No robbery, kidnapping or other unpleasant things occurred during our stay at this hotel. For all travellers going to Sihanoukville by plane I hope there is by now Grab operating. We paid an ridiculous 20$ to a “taxi” driver we had to tell how to get to Sihanoukville. Reckless.
Thailand – Bangkok, Chiang Mai
We explored in Thailand mostly islands which were not served by Grab. However, we used it extensively in Bangkok and Chiang Mai. In Thailand you can chose between taxis (called GrabTaxi) and “normal” drivers (GrabCar). The difference is that prices for GrabTaxi lie in a range (similar to Uber’s approach) whereas GrabCar prices are fixed beforehand. Grab drivers had no problems picking us up or dropping us in taxi driver strongholds like bus stops and airports. A peaceful coexistence. It is also possible to order a scooter (GrabBike) which can be quite useful during rush hour in Bangkok. Ask beforehand if 2 passengers are ok. We also used regular taxis in Bangkok (no other choice during new year’s eve) and found the prices were comparable to Grab.
Myanmar – Yangon, Mandalay (only Grab Bike)
Only the former capital has Grab drivers available and all of them are taxi drivers. 99% also drive the same type of car. People in Myanmar are wonderful and so are the drivers. Once on our way to the airport we had to turn around halfway since we forgot something in our luggage that we stored in a hotel. Our driver spoke English well enough to understand quickly that we had to return. He also made sure that we still made it to our flight on time. Although the drivers are also taxi drivers they are cheaper than their counterparts who don’t use the Grab app and you don’t even have to haggle to get the better price. In Mandalay you can currently only use GrabBike. They usually provide helmets. At least for one passenger.
Philippines – Cebu, Manila
On the Philippines we didn’t have to many chances to use Grab. On Siargao, Bohol and Palawan Grab was not available. In Cebu City and in Manila we used it exclusively and were glad to have it. We had no issues and all drivers were capable of navigating smoothly through horrible traffic. No taxis, what a bliss. If you had the pleasure of dealing with tricycle drivers on the Philippines you will know what I mean.
So go grap the app Grab! I am sure you will find it super useful. Hope you enjoy the article and if you have any question about the Grap app, just let us know in the comments below.
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