Vietnam, like many other Southeast Asian countries, is home to the act of Bartering. This may come as a bit of a culture shock to some, making purchases difficult and even daunting. It may seem as everyone wants to rip you off, but bargaining in Vietnam for any type of goods is commonplace.
Bartering comes down to a fine art. Once you understand the rules, it’s easy and actually a lot of fun to participate. If you’re a lover of shopping with a bit of a competitive nature, you’ll quickly pick it up.
These tips will help you get used to bartering and bargaining in Vietnam. Be sure to read this post carefully before making your way over there. As soon as you set foot in Vietnam, you’ll be surrounded by markets and malls. Once there you’ll definitely want to have a few bartering tricks up your sleeve.
6 Tips for bartering and bargaining in Vietnam
1st – Start low and settle for around 40% of the original price
Follow this rule of thumb for an estimate of what you should pay for an item. Of course, this will differ from stall to stall depending on where you are, what time of day it is and the stall owner.
Big tourist markets such as Ben Thanh in Ho Chi Minh tend to mark up their prices for tourists. Just get ready to barter and communicate with the locals to get prices down. Bear in mind the 40% rule refers to tourist markets. Smaller markets in non-tourist areas may only offer fixed prices and these tend to be a lot lower than in tourist areas.
Some Southeast Asian cultures believe the first purchase of the day is said to bring luck and good fortune. In Bali for example, vendors will bless their goods with the money from the first purchase of each day. It is said that vendors tend to offer lower prices in the morning to bring them this fortune.
To get good deals on items, find the lowest price they would pay for one item. Then, offer a lower price per item for multiple items.
This is an example of an interaction I had:
200k VND was the original offer for one pair of elephant pants. After some haggling, the final price for one pair was reduced to 100k VND. The final settlement was 160k VND for two pairs (80k VND each), which is 40% of the original offer.
If it simply isn’t a good enough deal, just walk away. You may hear the vendor call after you with an even better deal. If they don’t, then you’ll easily find the exact same or very similar product in the same market.
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2nd – Understand the currency and use Vietnamese Dong
$1 USD equates to roughly 23k VND. This large difference makes it quite difficult to convert into your home currency in your head. If maths is not your strong suit, download a free currency converter app to your phone. This makes it super easy to figure out how much the vendors are charging.
Although most vendors may offer a price in USD and will accept payment in USD, always try to use Vietnamese Dong. Vendors will charge you more if you’re paying in foreign currency as they will be taking into account foreign exchange fees.
As well as this, prices tend to be rounded up. For example, an item for 100k VND is equivalent to around $4.30 USD. When paying in USD, it will usually be rounded up to the nearest dollar. Instead of paying $4.30 USD, you’d instead be expected to pay $5 USD.
Yes, $0.70 USD is not a lot of money. But, after making 10 or so purchases, this will add up.
Another top tip is to be observant of the amount of each note. The 10k VND and 200k VND notes do look quite similar. As well as the 20k VND and 500k VND. Be aware of which note you are handing over and what change is required.
ATMs and currency converters will usually give you large notes. Break up large notes as soon as possible on arrival. Some vendors, taxi drivers and shop owners may not have change available. So, it pays to have a lot of smaller notes on hand for those just-in-case moments.
3rd – Scope out prices before purchasing
If you see something you like, the chances are you’ll see the same item around the corner. Whether it be elephant pants, embroidered purse, “Gucci” t-shirt or Vietnamese coffee filter.
Scope out the prices vendors are charging to give you a good estimate of what the product may be worth and where to start bidding. Watch what locals are paying, listen to what prices other tourists are offered and ask a few vendors for their best price.
Check out this guide on the best things to buy in Vietnam. This covers the costs you should expect to pay for over 20 different products found in Vietnamese markets. You shouldn’t have to settle for prices much more than what is stated here – otherwise, find the product elsewhere. 40% of the original offer seems to work quite well as an estimate for a fair price.
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4th -Learn a few Vietnamese phrases
Before my trip, I made sure to learn a few Vietnamese phrases to better communicate with the locals. In hindsight, we never actually had trouble discussing prices. To our surprise, almost every Vietnamese we encountered spoke conversational English. If in the off-chance they didn’t speak English, they’d just type a number on their calculator and we’d bargain from there. Nevertheless, it is still incredibly handy to have a few common phrases up your sleeve.
Learning just a few words in Vietnamese will show respect towards their language and culture. Since you’re a guest in their country, they’ll appreciate you put in the effort to learn a few words in their native language.
There are three helpful (and simple) phrases you should learn:
- ‘xin chào’ (pronounced ‘sin chao’) means hello
- ‘cảm ơn’ (pronounced ‘gum un’) means thank you
- ‘dắt quá’ (pronounced ‘dah kwah’) means too expensive
The latter is a great one to get a laugh out of the locals. Imagine how many tourists the vendors have to deal with daily. Make their experience with you memorable – who knows, they may even give you a great price. They’ll definitely appreciate your efforts in speaking their language.
This tip is not only important for people traveling to Vietnam. If you are planning to go there for work or maybe teach English in Vietnam, you should learn a few words before arriving there.
5th – Shop at local markets for better deals
Local markets out of the main tourist areas are great markets to start off with and also great for those not comfortable with bartering.
A great example of this is Tan Dinh Market. This is located in District 1 and is only 3 km away from the ever-popular Ben Thanh Market. This is a great way to observe the locals who usually don’t bother with the ridiculously busy tourist-trap that is Ben Thanh. Tan Dinh Market is great for clothing deals and often offers fair, fixed prices.
Start off in Tan Dinh to get a feel for the bartering culture and then make your way to the bigger markets to test out your newly-acquired bargaining skills.
Regardless of how busy it is, Ben Thanh is a must-do in Ho Chi Minh City. This huge market is a very popular tourist destination with every souvenir you can imagine. All vendors speak conversational English and love to chat.
6th – Have fun with it
Bartering is a lot of fun – don’t take it too seriously. In my experience, the Vietnamese were very friendly and were very interested to find out more about my home country. They treat visitors well as tourism is very important for their economy.
Don’t bother negotiating over 10k VND. This may seem like a lot, but in reality, this equates to only $0.43 USD. If you’re able to afford a holiday in Vietnam in the first place, it is likely this amount does not mean a lot to you. But for the Vietnamese shop owners trying to make a living, this might be the price of half a meal for them.
Don’t waste your time bargaining over low amounts. Instead, use that extra time to enjoy your holiday.
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Delilah Hart is a traveler, blogger, and aspiring-photographer from Auckland, New Zealand. She writes in-depth guides to places she visits all around the world. You can follow her adventures here or on Instagram and Pinterest.