If you’re like me, and you tend to move around a lot, having to hail a taxi and try to explain to them where you want to go, can be a struggle, even if your Chinese is pretty good. As I live in Chongqing myself, many of the taxi drivers speak a local dialect of Chinese, which I do not fully understand and in turn, they do not always understand my mandarin. Also, the Chinese traffic is, on occasion, a little rougher than what many westerners are used to. But fear not, there is a quick and efficient way to get around town in a hired car that is easy to use, efficient and of good quality. Uber didn’t really take off very well in China, but instead, another app called Didi has become hugely popular, and now their app can also be found in English.
Apart from being in English, one of the things I really enjoy about DiDi is that you select your pick-up location and destination ahead of the car arriving, meaning that the driver already knows where you are going. Usually, they will use their own GPS to take you to your destination, or you can ask the driver to use his own judgment.
From the DiDi app, you can call a regular taxi, an express car, premium or even a luxury car. The different categories have different prices, but an estimate of your trip will be displayed before the car is ordered. You can also order a car for the next day, for example, if you are going to the airport early the following morning, you can arrange the car now, and the driver will pick you up at the arranged time.
There are two little caveat’s to using DiDi though, that might be worthwhile to mention. While the English version of the DiDi app does support finding locations in English, generally you’ll see fewer results, but if you have the Chinese address of your destination, you can easily find it by searching. Another small obstacle is that even though the app is in English, the drivers in most cases may not speak English. After ordering a car, the driver will usually call you to confirm your pickup location. Thankfully, the GPS location on the map is generally pretty accurate, but knowing a little Chinese might help. Fortunately, a friend can order a car for you, in your name if you need the assistance. In some cases, if I cannot understand my driver, I’ll send them a picture of my current location and send it to the phone number they called from.
DiDi has also, very successfully, been integrated into both WeChat and Alipay, the predominant social media platform and payment apps. These mini-apps are only in Chinese but the primary function of the app is the same, and if you’ve already learned a bit of Chinese you should be able to pick up how the app works quite quickly.
Another great feature of DiDi is that, like in a taxi, you can ask for a receipt. When your driver has taken you to your destination, you can step out of the car and pay at your convenience. After the ride has ended, in the DiDi app you can then request a receipt (fapiao) to your email to use if your workplace will reimburse you for your trip.
Didi is very easy to use. You can find it in any app store under the name DiDi or (滴滴). Once open, you’ll be able to choose your service (the type of car), your pickup location, which is usually automatically filled in, and where you’d like to go.
After choosing your pick-up location and your destination, the app will search for a moment until a driver accepts the trip. This sometimes takes a few seconds and sometimes a minute or two depending on the time of day. Once that’s done, you’ll be greeted with a screen that shows the driver information, the make and model of the car (likely in Chinese) as well as the license plate number.
The driver will call you to confirm your current location, and when they approach they often have all their blinkers flashing. Keep an eye out for the license plate number.
This screenshot is one I took after a finished ride, but the information shown will be very similar. For this trip, I had a driver who already has a rating of 5 stars, and I can choose to call him or message him or review his trip. The drivers are very professional, some are wearing suits and gloves (premium service) and will have free water in the car for you. They are also quiet, they drive really well (smooth) and some even open the door for you when you arrive.
I tend to prefer renting these cars over taxis because of the overall better experience and convenience, and because they drive very well I can relax more while I am in the car, even take a little nap.
So, if you’re going somewhere, and you don’t want to be in a crowded subway or a bus the comfort of a nice car ride (of course subject to traffic) is right in the palm of your hand!
Enjoy your ride!