How to Haggle in Asia

By Jessica Dawdy, Tue, Jan 28, 2014

There was a point when I preferred to overpay for absolutely everything rather than face the stress of haggling. After a few false starts and meek attempts to get a bargain, I’ve come to see that haggling is an enjoyable way to interact with the locals, and part of experiencing the market culture in many Asian countries. Here are a few tips on how to get the best deal from a self-professed recovering haggle-o-phobe.




My biggest problem with haggling was that it felt like a confrontation. I projected my own discomfort onto the vendors, assuming that when they smiled or laughed it was because they felt as embarrassed as I did. Haggling gets easier once you shift your perspective, and realize that vendors expect to haggle – in fact, most even think it’s fun. Don’t be shy, but don’t take things to the opposite extreme and be aggressive either. I’ve heard far too many puffed up tourists arguing with vendors as though the possibility of being slightly overcharged for some Birkenstock knock-offs is a huge personal offence. Be firm, but don’t take the whole dance too seriously. If you’re not having a good time, then it’s time to just walk away.




Set Your Price


The ideal approach to haggling is to spend some time shopping around, checking out a few stalls before attempting to buy anything. You’ll probably notice quite quickly that a lot of stalls are stocked with identical items. Not only does this strategy give you an idea of the average price (even if it’s inflated) of the item you want, but you’ll be more willing to walk away from one stall if you know that dozens of other stalls carry the same thing.

Decide how much you want to pay before approaching the vendor, and stick to it. It’s also a smart idea to only carry a small amount of cash. That way, you can tell the vendor that you only have 500 baht to spend, for example, and mean it. As you might expect, a vendor is less likely to lower their price if they see you have a wallet overflowing with bills. A good rule of thumb is to start haggling at half the vendor’s initial offer. This creates some leeway for the vendor to bump the price back up a little, and for you to still end up with a good deal.



Learn A Few Words of the Local Language


The quickest way to get taken advantage of in Asia is to act like you just stepped off the plane that morning. Knowing a few words of the local language helps to establish the friendly banter you’re trying to cultivate with the vendor, and shows respect for their language and culture. Even learning a few phrases like “how much?” “that’s too expensive”, and “can you give me a discount?”, indicates that this isn’t your first time haggling and you know what you’re doing.




Don’t Act Too Interested


The best deals I’ve ever been offered have been on items that I didn’t really want. Once the vendor knows that you’re intent on buying a particular item, you’ve pretty much lost all of your negotiating power. However, if you can feign indecision and disinterest, then vendors are pushed to offer you more and more enticing prices if they really want to make the sale. Haggle a little, and then casually move over to the next stall if you can’t get the price you want. In most cases, the vendor will follow you and offer a better price. 



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