The Do’s and Don’ts of Haggling in South East Asia

The Do’s and Don’ts of Haggling in South East Asia

21 July 2010

Backpacking Life, Featured

Haggling or Bargaining. For many of us in the West, it’s a cultural difference that is hard to get used to when we first arrive in Asia. Not only is it accepted here in the majority of places in South East Asia, it’s expected. It’s the way business is done, deals are struck and livings are made. From tuk tuk rides to shopping trips in the market, you’ll need to be armed with your skills pretty much everywhere you go. Nervous? Well lucky for you, we’re here to help with a few tips to get you bargaining with the best of ‘em in no time at all!

DO

1. Speak a little of the language, even just a little bit will show people that you’ve not just stepped off the plane (even if you have) and most importantly demonstrate you’re making an effort to understand the language and culture.

2. Relax and take your time. Haggling is fun. Smile and have a laugh while you negotiate and enjoy the new skill you have learnt! Most importantly always be polite.

3. Fake a walk off and feign disinterest. It’s often the way that you’re able to get really great prices for the things you had absolutely no interest in buying in the first place! But oh that price keeps on a coming down and you just can’t resist!

4. Throw an odd number in, like 497. They’ll think you’re a seasoned pro and give you some respect dude!

5. Don’t start your price too high. (- or too low for that matter – don’t take the piss!) Start bargaining at half of whatever they say, that gives you plenty of room for the price to creep up.

6. Ask for extras to be thrown in, if they’re adamant on the price, try a ‘how about give me this and this for this price’ or a ‘what if I buy three will you give me this price.’ Just make sure you actually want seven colourful hats with bells on before you start the bargaining.

7. Especially for journey’s, ask a local how much you should be paying. They will give you a rough idea of what’s a fair price in that particular area.

DON’T

1. Get too carried away. Bargaining for your goods from 7/11 will get you some funny looks. You can’t haggle everywhere!

2. Get angry! Remember you’re the foreigner here; whoever you are dealing with is just trying to make a living. They’re not trying to rip you off. (Most of the time)

3. Give in too easily. It’s just a game and people expect you to play. Don’t think you’re being really rude by not accepting the first price. The aim is to come to a fair agreement that you’re both happy with.

4. Bargain at the end of a journey or when you’re purchase is all wrapped up and in your bag. Get a price up front. Once you’ve made your decision you’re stumped.

5. Unlike other things, don’t attempt your bargaining skills in taxis. It is much more cost efficient to ask your driver politely to put the meter on.

6. Continue to use you’re newly found skills when you’ve returned home, no matter how exciting and impressive they may be out here.

Now let’s see how it works in practice…

The following is a common day to day experience for the backpacker in South East Asia. The scene is any Asian city. The temperature is of course scorching. Here’s how to play the haggling game and use the skills you have learnt on the street…

Mr Tuk Tuk: Tuk tuk, Tuk tuk, Tuk tuk, Tuk tuk, Tuk tuk, Tuk tuk. Tuk tuk, Tuk tuk, Tuk tuk, Tuk tuk, Tuk tuk, Tuk tuk. Tuk tuk, Tuk tuk, Tuk tuk.

Sweaty Backpacker: (Grows hotter, redder and sweatier the minute as he traipses the streets looking for guest houses)

Mr Tuk Tuk: Tuk tuk, Tuk tuk, Tuk tuk, Tuk tuk, Tuk tuk, Tuk tuk. Tuk tuk, Tuk tuk, Tuk tuk. Hello where you go my friend?

Sweaty Backpacker: (As his flip flop breaks and he nearly gets run over by a motorbike crossing the road, he is finally worn down by the persistent Mr Tuk tuk and the promise of a short and breezy journey) Okay. How much to town centre?

Mr Tuk Tuk: (Eying the farang up and down, assessing how much of a rookie he is) Okay 500, let’s go.

Sweaty Backpacker: (Feigning a complete look of shock, shaking his head) No way, 250.

Mr Tuk Tuk: Oh cannot, cannot. Ooooweeeeeeeeeeeee. Cannot. Okay okay cheap cheap for you. 400.

Sweaty Backpacker: (Firm, he’s done this before) 300. Good for you, good for me.

Mr Tuk Tuk: Ah, ooweeeeeeeeeeeee, My petrol very expensive cannot cannot.

Sweaty Backpacker: Okay never mind. (Pretending to walk off)

Mr Tuk Tuk: Okay, okay let’s go.

The two depart on a beautiful journey into the sunset and despite stopping off at three gem shops and two travel agencies, the ride works out jolly well for all involved.  Two joyful souls brought together by the wonderful concept that is bargaining.

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6 Comments For This Post We’d Love to Hear Yours!

  1. Adam says:

    Haha, great tips. This was something we got used to when traveling around the world. It seems that only western countries don’t do this, and it definitely takes some getting used to. The exchange with the tuk tuk driver is spot on. Exactly how it should be done.

  2. Elise says:

    Great Article! I was reading this and smiling all the way through – especially the scenario at the end! That has happened to us so many times! After 6 months in SEA I feel at least a little better at how to haggle!

  3. Danny says:

    Great senerio! I would add, if it goes like that, a tip at the end is totally unexpected, a great jesture of goodwill, and greatly appreciated.

  4. Ward says:

    Haha =D I’m going to Thailand for a year for the very first time in three weeks =D And that’s exactly how haggling sounds in my head! =D (the little story in the end I mean ;))

  5. made me smile! thank u! love the tuktuk story! cant wait to have mine! :)

  6. We loved this article!

    You forgot to mention not to start haggling over very little amounts. On our first big trip we were so much in “backpacker” mode that in China we were haggling with an old lady (who was probably 100 yrs old) over 15 pence! I shake my head as I write this. Oh the shame!

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