He set on getting to know me where I was from, what I was doing here and then offering several exciting trips for me to take: to Genting Highlands and back? RM250. National Zoo? RM100 (S$40).

“In England, people have a lot of money, uh?”

“There's a recession,” I replied.

“When you in Malaysia, your money very big!”

We drove for a bit longer and after a minute, I asked innocently: “What's this sign on your window aren't you supposed to use the meter?”

Only the cabs at a taxi stand use the meter, he explained patiently, “but you walk very far one”.

We covered approximately 2km in about five minutes. The fee was RM25.

A quick check on the Malaysia Taxi Auto Fare website tells me the trip should have cost RM8.

I asked for a receipt, and he tore out a slip from his pink receipt book, handing it to me blank, with a knowing smile.

In all, I took five cabs, and surveyed six more, trying to get a fare comparison.

Not a single one used the meter, and all had an ingenious excuse: Friday prayers, very bad traffic jam, hard to find customers, the machine is broken.

Fares for the same location varied; another cabbie who took me back to where I started, for example, charged RM15.

Out of five cabbies I asked to take me to Muzium Negara, about 4.5km away, one wanted RM15, another RM20, still another RM25 and the other two RM30.

If this is how they treat a supposed backpacker, how much would they charge me if I was staying at a five-star hotel?

“How much to Le Meridien?” I asked one driver parked outside Pavilion shopping mall. “RM45” came the prompt answer.

Malaysia Taxi Auto Fare has that journey down to RM10, for a 10-minute, 4.5km drive.

The cab interiors varied most were well kept, and the drivers were friendly or indifferent.

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