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How And When To Haggle In Asia

pig fight

Haggling is like pigs fighting – at least it is when you don’t have a better picture

Haggling is any form of negotiating with a vendor in order to obtain a more favorable price. After two months in China, a month in Vietnam, and now Thailand – it’s safe to say Vicky and I have done our fair share of haggling. Here, it’s common place – but unfortunately, that doesn’t mean it isn’t confusing. In this article we discuss a few of our tips for haggling in Asia.

When To Haggle

The hardest thing about haggling is knowing when to haggle. Just because you’re in Asia, doesn’t mean you should haggle. We traveled through Japan for two weeks and never once haggled (or thought we should). Likewise for Korea. In China, however, it’s customary, but even after a month, Vicky and I still weren’t sure when it was appropriate. In fact, one day we rented bikes in Yangshuo for 20 Yuan ($3 each). Seemed like a good deal and a legitimate price…until our students told us that they get it for $1.

We asked our Couchsurfing hosts, in what situations they haggle? Their answer:

“It depends.”

Not much help. Still, there are some guidelines that are safe to follow, such as:

Haggle – Yes

  • Any market place where you are buying a souvenir
  • Street food where there is no menu, scale, or any standardized form of a price
  • Transportation, like taxis, where the price is discussed in advance
  • If you find yourself being scammed, such as quoted a ridiculous price for a service or handed an outrageous bill

**In general, whenever someone names you a price that is not written anywhere – you can haggle**

Haggle – No

  • Restaurants with prices on the menu
  • Ticket offices for things such as buses, trains, and attractions
  • Anything bought online, such as airfare
  • Fruit stands where they weight the fruit with a scale (careful though if they decide their own weighing price)
  • Supermarkets where the items you buy are rung up on a register
  • Transportation that has a meter (taxi) or is standard (local buses)

How To Haggle

Again, there is no set method here, but a few tips.

Aim for half the price AKA Be Crazy

Most people will tell you that if you’re being overcharged it’s upwards of double, so cut it in half. In all likelihood, you’ll end up somewhere in the middle, which isn’t a bad place to be.

If you want to take that to the extreme, we’ll, a funny thing someone once told me is you have to be crazy. Pretend like you don’t even know the proper exchange rate. If someone wants something for 200, offer them 10 – it will certainly knock them off their guard a bit.

Start lower than what you really want

If I know a cab should be 50 (maybe I asked the hotel beforehand) and they are charging me 100, then I’ll start with 30. In haggling, no one wants to appear to be the loser. It’s sort of dance between the buyer and the seller – you have to compromise, so start lower and then you have room to relax the price.

Walk Away

Walking away is the best weapon in your arsenal. It’s the final ultimatum – use it wisely and carefully, because not everyone will come running (but they often will). Similarly, if I was in a group of people (like taxi drivers) I might reject the first person outright so the others would see I don’t want to mess around – it’s about making a statement.

Appear To Know Things

One of my favorite things to do in Vietnam was to pretend I spoke Vietnamese. For example, I used to walk around and ask how much things cost (in Vietnamese). Whatever the person said I just told them too much (also in Vietnamese), whether or not I understood what they said at all, and then made my offer. To them, I knew Vietnamese in the sense that I asked a question, heard their number, and claimed it to be overpriced – perhaps I thought they’d be more likely to offer me the legitimate price (of course I still have no idea what their original offer was).

Avoiding Haggling/Is It Worth It?

Perhaps some people like haggling – I don’t. Frankly, it gets tiring, and often, doesn’t feel like it’s worth it. The best way to deal with it is simply to avoid it, here are some tips.

Get the price beforehand

If you accept a service, eat a meal, or do anything before negotiating the price, you’re opening yourself up to be ripped off. It’s difficult to argue against paying for a meal you’ve already eaten. Establish the price beforehand and judge for yourself if you feel it is merited.

Be careful about accepting favors

I hate to tell people to be wary of kindness but sometimes it boils down to just that. Recently, Vicky and I were out at a restaurant, where, at the end of the bill, the owner of the establishment insisted that one of her waitresses sing for us. I guess I thought it was harmless and didn’t want to be rude. Little did I know that after our serenade, we were expected to pay the waitress 10 Yuan ($1.50) for her services.

This is just the tip of the extortion iceberg. In China, there’s always a chance of someone trying to get something for nothing, just read these scams that are currently popular in Beijing. Unsuspecting tourists are being exploited daily – be vigilant and try not to be one of them.

Seek out places where the price is regulated

China, for example, has a million fruit stands. Some of them are going to quote you a price verbally, but many have a scale. Guess which ones we go to? For other items, sometimes a trip to the supermarket is your best bet and the safest way to assure quality. If a price is rung up, it’s generally pretty safe.

Stop Wanting Things

Ok, this one is kind of cheating, but the easiest way to avoid haggling is simply not to one things; souvenirs, water at expensive places, etc. The less things you have to buy the less you have to haggle for – it’s a pretty straight correlation.

Above all, consider whether or not it is even worth it

There’s nothing wrong with haggling – you’re not offending anyone (if you do it in appropriate places), but you might be unnecessarily tiring yourself out. Is 15 cents really worth pretending you aren’t interested, negotiating a price, and potentially walking away? Think about it. The most we’ve ever saved haggling was probably $4. In most cases it’s under a dollar. We’ve thrown away way more money pointlessly.

One more thing to note – if you really want to haggle, you have to ask yourself, are you prepared to walk away? If not, you’re potentially putting yourself in a difficult position.

What are your haggling stories/advice?

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5 Responses to How And When To Haggle In Asia

  1. I often use the walk away method when I think the seller is really trying to rip me off. It works wonders! Great tips guys!

    TammyOnTheMove January 17, 2013 at 11:38 PM Reply
    • The walk away method is the king of haggling – works 80% of the time.

      Dave and Vicky January 18, 2013 at 2:56 AM Reply
  2. I absolutely LOVE bartering its one of my favourite things to do in Asia…that is, apart from when I have a hangover and a really bad head and just want a set price.

    Imperative Travel January 24, 2013 at 7:40 AM Reply
    • It’s great until you’re not in the mood – then it’s awful lol

      Dave and Vicky January 24, 2013 at 9:12 AM Reply
  3. Haggle is something very interesting and joyful to do especially in Asia. I love to do it while shopping mostly. I like your post and thanks for sharing your experience and more tips.

    Peter Lee July 25, 2013 at 4:02 AM Reply

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