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It can be intimidating to arrive to any major city in India and navigate the way from your arrival at the airport to your destination in town. What is good about the large population is that there are several options for people to move around. Taxi’s in Chennai are quite affordable by Western standards and we would really not recommend buses since the routes can be very confusing and they are not suitable for travelers with luggage of any kind.
The best way to take a taxi is to go with the prepaid option. We are describing here the scenario from the National Arrivals Terminal, international arrivals is a few blocks away. There is a free shuttle that runs between both terminals for transiting passengers, however you must go outside to take it.
To get a taxi into town you simply approach the counter with the clearly marked sign in the baggage claim. It is a good use of time, one of us waited for the bags while the other paid for the ride. The clerk in the office will quote you a price based on which zone of the city your hotel or destination lies in. Our ride was 20 minutes out and cost less than $5 USD. Once you pay the clerk will hand you a receipt and instruct you to go outside.
This is where the experience was not as clear for us. The taxi line is across the arrivals pickup lane, look over at the open air parking lot and you will find a tent marked with the sign for prepaid taxi. Immediately upon exiting a man with a shirt the same as the taxi company jumped to take our luggage and took advantage of our bewilderment. Once he tool the receipt from my hand and pointed the way I took it back and asked him to back off. Several others of these types were around helping people with their bags. They are somewhat unofficial valets who are looking for a tip, but by no means do you have to relinquish your bags or receipt to them.
The tent in the parking lot has some employees with a ledger who mark down the taxi plate numbers and they explain to your driver where you wish to go. The whole process was very agreeable and fair since no cash exchanged hands outside the airport. The service is recommendable for tourists to this beautiful yet chaotic city.