How to Bargain in Asia

Be friendly, smile, and laugh – the best way to get the best prices in Asia

Very often, when roaming in any Chinese city or South East Asian night market, you encounter a funny white tall animal, commonly known as “the Tourist”. Some of them tend to group in numbers and like to party (Kao San Road in Bangkok or Vang Vieng in Laos might be two good examples of these tourist herds). Others are more suited to moving around alone, losing themselves in some very adventurous projects such as trekking for several weeks on the Tibetan Plateau with just a backpack and a mule for company.

But whether the tourist belongs to the loner or to the gregarious type, they will always need to eat, drink, and buy souvenirs to survive. Most of the time, to get souvenirs, the tourist will step in a shop, ask for the price, make a funny face and finally step out without buying the item he desired. Why does this phenomenon happen? What makes the tourist have this strange attitude? Why can’t he get the basic supplies – souvenirs – he needs to survive?

If you pay close attention, many of them don’t really act as if they want to buy. Or at the very least, they act in the wrong way and are therefore given prohibitively high prices because of this attitude. So, if you belong to the tourist class and you want to be able to fly back home with a few nice (but cheap) ornaments and souvenirs to decorate your living room, here are a few hints that could come in very handy!

The first trick is the smile. Have you noticed that in many Asian cultures, smiling is at the basis of the resolution of all problems? So bear this in mind – the smile is something that creates a positive relationship right from the start, and that will give you the first advantage in the fight for a fair price. Even if the price you’re given in first place sounds way too expensive, keep on smiling and react kindly.

The second trick is exactly this – a kind reaction and attitude. Making people laugh and creating a friendly atmosphere is always helpful in many situations. It is worth trying to bargain as well, this is most definitely proven to work!

The last “deathblow” to be used is to try out a few words in the local language. A simple “hello” in Thai or in Chinese will raise respect and amusement in your interlocutor, and will break the ice of the customer / salesman relationship. If you can even count or say a few more words, you will definitely get the cheapest price! But obviously, bear in mind that for most of the countries you will visit, you will be richer than the local people, and most of the prices you will be offered in first hand will already be fair (for your Western pocket anyway). Just play the game – because this is a kind of game in the end, don’t get too involve in your negotiations, and try to get to a win / win situation so everyone is happy!

Date posted: 25th May, 2011

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