KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - It didn't take much a backpack slung over my shoulders, an empty camera bag around the neck, some baggy trousers and voila, I looked every bit the Mat Salleh tourist.
Thanks to my British-Malaysian Chinese parentage, I was assigned to go “undercover” to check out how a typical tourist would fare with our KL cabbies, who had earned the city the reputation of having the worst taxi drivers in the world, according to LondonCabs.co.uk.
Popular website Tripadvisor also warns travellers about KL's errant taxi drivers who “refuse to use the meter, quoting a fare often with the view of ripping you off”.
“This quoted' fare is generally akin to daylight robbery, and sometimes when haggling takes place, it is reciprocated with rude gestures or abusive language ...” adds Tripadvisor.
On Virtualtourist.com, a visitor posted: “I have travelled the world and from Bombay to Boston I can tell you the taxi drivers in KL are the biggest pack of thieving lying dirtbags you will ever come across.”
Another responded: “Agreed! They are notorious and globally infamous for fleecing customers!”
So masquerading as a tourist, I quickly learnt that when you look lost and Caucasian, you're never short of a “friend” in Jalan Bukit Bintang.
“Hello, how are you?”
“Where you want to go, Miss?”
My first test case was a bespectacled man who leapt out from a line of cabs with the words “Metered Taxi” plastered across each side.
“Puduraya?” I asked cluelessly.
“No problem,” he said.
The cab was fairly well kept, and we joined in the line of moving traffic in front of Lot 10 along Jalan Sultan Ismail in downtown Kuala Lumpur.
The driver was polite and friendly.