Haggling in South East Asia: A guide

So a few of you might be wondering, why are you still doing posts about Asia when you’re in Australia… The reason behind this is that in Brisbane, Australia, we are currently just working. So my posts would consist of;

5.30am: Woke up and had breakfast

6.45am: Left for work

4.06pm: Finished work

Etc, etc, etc… I know, its exciting stuff, but i’ll save you THAT much excitement for another time! Instead, I’m going to help you make the already cheap south east Asia even cheaper!


I started with that quote as this is something thats very true and as equally important when it comes to trying to haggle! It’s been a while since we left our last destination in south east Asia, Bali and that means it’s been a while since we had to negotiate at price on anything.

I thought, haggling doesn’t come naturally to me or many others so let me explain to the world how it works… in south east Asia anyway! Haggling in south east Asia is a common as seeing a stray dog on the street. Being from the UK we don’t have the notion of haggling a price down, if someone says an item costs a certain price, we pay that price. Not in S.E.A, the price for nearly everything here is up for negotiation, from food to transport to trainers.

Now, before we start, I want to make one thing clear, the prices in restaurants and ACTUAL shops are a set price, however, anything being sold at a stall, from a cart or from a persons head is a chance to get your haggle on! Our first experience came in Thailand when we tried to use a tuk tuk. We knew the distance of where we heading and therefore knew a rough length of time it should take to get there, so when we were quoted a price, we knew it was too high. 2 minutes later we were off at half the original price quoted. In Thailand we found that we could pay half of what we were quoted. However, whilst in Bali we found that we could paying anything from a quarter to a third of what we were quoted. So below are my top ten tips to haggling in south east Asia;

  1. Smile – This is the golden rule! A warm smile is the universal language of kindness. If you try to haggle a price with a raised voice you will not get anywhere. Remember, these people are trying to make a living!
  2. When and when not to – One of the first things you have to understand is that not EVERYTHING is up for negotiation! If its at a stall, from someones bag, off someones head or beach rentals and activities then fine, Even most forms of transport can be negotiated! However, an actual shop with set prices will not stand for it and may even become offended if you try, so be careful!
  3. Be polite – Manners go a very long way in the world… and they’re free! So try to be as nice as you can, this will often set the tone for the rest of the transaction. If you can even learn a few words or phrases, such as “Hello” “excuse me” “How much is this” and “Thank you”, it will help a lot!
  4. Keep Calm – It is completely counter productive to start shouting! You will look and feel very stupid when you realise you have just spent 20 minutes arguing over £1.80, and the vendor is much more likely to refuse to budge on the price.
  5. Act shocked – Always seem surprised, as if it’s ludicrous, when they first give you a price! Even if you realise you are being offered a t shirt for 50p! This will let them know that you are not willing to pay this price straight from the beginning.
  6. Negotiate first, pick up later – I say this to save you a lot of embarrassment and even the feeling of guilt. If you have an item in your hand, spend 15 minutes trying to haggle the price and fail. You then have to try to hand it back to the seller, when realistically you could have bought 40 of the item with the money in your wallet! You will also find that most of the street vendors will try to put things in to your hands, so try to avoid that!
  7. Pick a price and stick to it – This is often the first hurdle that people fall at. Once you decide on how much you want to pay for an item, stick to it. You have to argue with the vendor, let alone with the little voice in your head. On a side note, a lot of people say that it’s not worth haggling over a pound or two. If you let a pound or two go on a few taxis and a few purchases, you could spend £10 a day more than you should. In Thailand, £10 a day, times 30 days in a month was £300… that was a whole months accommodation budget!! If they don’t meet your price…
  8. Walk away – This works on two different occasions. Either they are being stubborn, not even willing to get close to your price, in which this case you say bye and walk out. Nine times out of ten they will follow you out of the shop agreeing to match your price or at least be much closer to it. Or if you feel that their original price is very high and they won’t listen to your offers then…
  9. Shop around – If you’re in a market or a walking street, I guarantee you that there are at least 3 other stalls selling what you are trying to buy. As long as you are not being unreasonable with your offers, I promise you will be able to buy that item at the price you want!
  10. Be Humble – Once you’ve bought the item, you don’t need to remind them that you won or that you got it at a third of what they wanted. Just say Thank you and walk away! Let them “save face”

Transport can be a little bit trickier to negotiate so here are some extra guidelines to help you get around at a good price!

  • Know where you are going. I don’t mean every turn, just google map it or have a rough idea of the time it is going to take to get there. That way, when you get quoted £20 for a 5 minute journey, you know the price is wrong!
  • If you want to jump in a taxi then the golden rule for this is to ask “Can you turn the meter on please”. Most taxis have signs saying “metered taxi” or just “meter”. Most taxis will even have fake meters in the car, the rule is, if they don’t turn it on the second you ask, wave him on!! We once waved on 6 taxis because they didn’t have a meter on. Once we finally got into one with a meter we paid a third of the cheapest price quoted!
Famous walking night market in China town, Singapore

Famous walking night market in China town, Singapore

So now you’re feeling pumped up and excited to go out in the world and try these new found skills! GO FOR IT!! Just remember the tricks and tips above and you will be haggling like a pro in no time!

Whats the most you’ve managed to get an item reduced by?

Let us know via Facebook and twitter. We will retweet some of the best on twitter and share on Facebook!!

See you soon!!


2 thoughts on “Haggling in South East Asia: A guide

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