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Bargaining in Southeast Asia: How to Get a Good Deal

Bargaining in Southeast Asia is part of the experience; at least it should be if you don’t want to get ripped off on a daily basis. Tourists rarely get quoted the real price for items, trips and sometimes even accommodation. If you go in with the right attitude and a few skills, the bargaining process can become an enjoyable aspect of travelling in Southeast Asia.

Do Your Research

In order to get the right price you should probably have an idea of what that price is. This especially applies to tuk-tuk rides and tours. When looking to get a tuk-tuk it’s a good idea to ask someone at the restaurant you just ate at, or the guesthouse you are staying at how much the trip should be. They usually won’t have any reason to cheat you so they’ll give you the real price, which you can then tell the driver. Easy!  When booking a tour you should either ask  other travellers to see how much they paid or have a look online, the word on the street is always the most up to date though.

Don’t ask questions

Showing any interest in anything pretty much means you’re going to buy it; at least that’s what a lot of sellers are thinking. They’ll be all over you if you show any interest, and get quite angry if you walk away from what they think is a deal in progress. A simple “just looking” should do, but as soon as you ask any questions, or especially a price, you’re going to have a tough time leaving empty handed.

A market in Burma, a great place for bargaining in Southeast Asia

Judge books by their covers

This is probably bad advice but I’ll put it anyway. If you are searching for something in a market in Southeast Asia chances are about a hundred stalls will have what you are looking for. Be completely shallow and go for people who look the most honest/interesting, speak the best English or don’t just trot out the same lines to every tourist walking by. Some people just look shifty, or give off a desperate vibe and I always try to avoid those ones. This applies to tuk-tuk drivers as well.

Don’t judge books by their covers

I’m talking about actual books here. You’ll see a lot of pirated books, in Vietnam and Cambodia particularly, which are in various states of readability. They are just cheap prints/photocopies which often have nice glossy covers. Look inside and see if all the pages are readable. One book I bought was obviously a bit long and by the end whatever printing device was being used had almost run out of ink. Make sure you can read the book before bargaining (I realise this contradicts my don’t ask questions/show no interest tip but not being able to read certain pages of a book is a good excuse not to buy it, so they shouldn’t get too angry).

Pick a fair price and don’t go over it (or too far under it)

I say a fair price, but really that price is whatever you are willing to pay. I’ve seen so many people bargaining in Southeast Asia who argue over that last  dollar on a pair of sunglasses, or even a few extra cents on a piece of fruit just because they can. I don’t want to get preachy or tell people how to act but it’s a bit weird to be arguing over such small amounts of money with someone who needs it far more than you. I guess there are a lot of poor travellers out there. By no means let yourself get ripped off, but a good transaction should leave both parties happy.

Have fun while bargaining in Southeast Asia!

I realise this probably isn’t something you can learn, some people are just miserable! I’ve seen people getting visibly upset when a transaction isn’t going their way. In reality, the seller is going to be far better at the game than you, so play along, have some fun and try and learn some skills for next time.

Further reading: Feel like you’ve mastered bargaining in Southeast Asia? Check out my other travel tips!

Bargaining in Southeast Asia with a Cambodian vendor

Further reading: Planning a trip to Southeast Asia? Check out my posts (and also Wikitravel for the finer details!)

Bargaining in Southeast Asia doesn’t have to be stressful or hard. Get a bit better at it every time and before long you’ll be paying what you should have been paying to start with! Let me know if you have any tips.

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Jon Algie

A travel blogger from New Zealand who hates talking about himself in the third person and has no imagination when it comes to naming websites.
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