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Bartering in South-East Asia

Travelling in Asia is a great way to experience new cultures, exotic foods, amazing scenery and beautiful people. Not only are they great attributes for a holiday destination, but they can be very cheap. Bartering is the norm and can get you great products at great prices, but new travelers may get tricked. Here’s a few things to remember when it comes to bartering.

Floating Markets. Bangkok, ThailandQuality. Whilst all the products do look great, they are not made to the same quality you would find in department stores at home, and if it’s a Tiffany & Co bracelet for $5, you better believe its fake. Keep this in mine when buying things like electronics especially, as some things are worth forking out a bit more for quality.

The more popular the destination, the harder it is to barter. Smaller, less tourist related towns will be cheaper without needing to barter. Popular places such as Bali and Phuket are more expensive and especially when in the popular tourist trap markets. Find local markets not over run by tourists instead.
One example of me spending way too much for something just because of the location of the markets was on my first ever trip to Bali in November 2012. In the main streets of Kuta, I asked a shop owner how much she wanted for two fairly plain singlet tops. “OK for you I will give you a really cheap price,” she said whilst handing me a calculator with 280,000 rupiah punched in. This is equivalent to around 28-30 Australian dollars. I was shocked.
Captured at a small village market near Bangkok, Thailand

Small village market near Bangkok, Thailand
PHOTO: Caitlyn Leggett

Having been to Thailand only a few months before this in August 2012, I knew how far I could go down with bartering and offered her the equivalent to $8 (which I thought was still too high). She refused, crying to us saying she had not sold anything all day and she was struggling to make any money. I left the shop having paid $18 for two singlets that would have cost her 30 cents. That was after a lot of commotion, and I still got her down $10 AUD.

Thailand is quickly becoming a popular tourist destination to rival Bali – especially Phuket – but it’s not quite as busy yet. So prices are lower and the people are a lot nicer to make it easier to negotiate with them. To be honest, shop owners in the main part of Kuta, Bali were very rude in comparison.

Know the products worth. Almost always they will ask for double what they will actually sell it for. An example I witnessed whilst lying on the beach one afternoon in Patong, Phuket was a man attempting to sell hammocks. A man lounging nearby was fairly interested in them and at first was told they were $30 AUD. He refused and offered $5 and ended up paying $6. Almost a sixth of the price originally asked!

Don’t look too interested. In places like these, every stall has the same type of thing, so if one shop keeper is asking way too much and won’t budge, walk away. You can either find it somewhere else or you can always come back and get it later. Most likely scenario? The shop keeper will chase after you accepting the price you offered.

If they’re rude, walk away. Thai people are some of the happiest and friendliest in the world, but shop owners can still get a temper if the bartering isn’t going their way. At the end of the day, you’re there on a holiday and you might even be able to pay a little more than it’s worth, that’s what the shop keeper is counting on. But give the business to the nice guys. When in Bali, my friends got ‘cursed’ as they walked out of one mans shop, simply for showing an interest in something then deciding it was too much. “I curse you, I curse you,” he yelled out after them. Or like when I was guilt tripped into buying those singlets because the shop owner was crying that her children needed food on the table tonight, it’s horrible but you don’t need that harassment whilst shopping. Give your hard earned cash to the nice one’s who may not necessarily give you the best price (by a dollar or two), but do it all with a smile.

Happy bartering!




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