Authored by Delilah Hart
Vietnam is home to hundreds of markets, and bartering is common practice when shopping almost anywhere in the country.
At first, this can seem daunting for travellers who aren’t used to negotiating for every purchase they make. But bartering and visiting markets in Vietnam is a great way to immerse yourself in the culture.
It’s also a fantastic way to score a few bargains – and one of the best ways to avoid getting ripped off! Follow these tips and you’ll be a pro at bartering before even setting foot in Vietnam!
Tips for Bargaining and Bartering in Vietnam
#1 Start Low
Store owners in Vietnam will always start high – it’s part of the ‘game’. If they can see you’re a tourist, these prices will typically be extortionately high.
Use their price as a starting point and counter with an equally ridiculous price, perhaps around 30% of their starting figure. If your counter is too high, you’ll get a bad deal. If it’s too low, you can always raise it.
#2 Learn Some Vietnamese
Basic Vietnamese isn’t hard to learn, and a few words will take you a long way. Greet store owners with a friendly ‘xin chào’ (pronounced ‘sin chao’) and thank them with ‘cảm ơn’ (pronounced ‘gum un’).
When they quote a price that is outrageously high, say ‘dắt quá’ (pronounced ‘dah kwah’) which means ‘too high!’. They’ll usually smile, laugh and appreciate your effort.
At this point, you’re well on your way to a better price.
#3 Try to Settle Around 40% of the Price
This isn’t a hard rule as every store owner and market is different, but 40% of the starting price is usually a good place to settle.
Some markets, such as Ben Thanh in Ho Chi Minh City, are notorious for setting high prices. If you suspect they are trying to rip you off, then you may want to negotiate even lower.
#4 Scope Out Prices
The 40% rule above is a good tip if you aren’t sure what something is worth, but if you have the time it pays to scope out the entire market.
Chat to a few shopkeepers and get an idea of how much a product is worth as you make your way around the market. This way you’ll be in a great position to negotiate a fair price.
This guide to the best things to buy in Vietnam outlines the typical prices for some of the most popular items you buy on your trip. Read up before you go, and reference it when you’re at the markets so you can save time and avoid getting a bad deal!
#5 Watch What Others Do
Take your time and watch the locals barter. Note their body language and listen to the prices. You’ll find that for most people, bartering is like a game. It’s an opportunity to interact with other people and it’s worth doing it with a smile.
This is also a great way to get an idea of what something is worth, as there are often different prices for locals as opposed to tourists … and you’ll definitely want to pay what the locals are paying!
#6 Use Vietnamese Dong
Store owners in Vietnam will go out of their way to make a sale. They will negotiate hard, follow you around and they will usually accept any currency you offer them.
This is helpful if you don’t have any Vietnamese Dong on you, but if you do, then you will always want to use the local currency.
Paying in foreign currencies will result in higher prices, almost certainly worse than the foreign exchange fees.
#7 Understand the Currency
And it’s important to understand the currency. Fumbling with the cash is a rookie move and will show everyone how susceptible you are to getting ripped off.
Unfortunately, some of the Vietnamese Dong notes look very similar. For instance, the 10,000 VND and 200,000 VND notes look similar, as well as the 500,000 VND and the 20,000 VND.
You definitely don’t want to mix these notes up!
Be careful, as you could easily spend 20 times more than you had originally planned to. Locals will only tell you if you give them the smaller note, not the other way around!
#8 Shop at Local Markets (Instead of Tourist-Traps)
There are many, many markets in Vietnam, and a lot of them look very similar and sell the same wares.
Markets such as Ben Thanh market in District 1 of Ho Chi Minh City are particularly popular with tourists, leading to jacked up prices. These markets are also more likely to contain unsavoury folk who prey on tourists – such as bag-snatchers and scam-artists.
Although we love these markets, consider exploring further afield. Look out for markets frequented only by locals. You will find you get hassled less and treated with a bit more respect.
#9 Don’t be Afraid to Walk Away
Unless you’re in a hurry, don’t buy what you’re after at the first vendor you visit. Explore a little and get a feel for the price. When you do start negotiating, if the price seems to high just walk away.
You’ll most likely find someone selling the exact same product just a few shops down.
#10 Buy Multiple Items to Negotiate a Discount
Store owners are often willing to reduce the price when you purchase two or more things at once. They understand that their profit instantly doubles when they can get you to buy a second item.
This is a great way to get souvenirs for friends and family, so consider getting that second pair of elephant pants!
When you’re considering multiple items start negotiating with just one. When you reach a low price, THEN ask how much for two (or three, etc).
#11 Don’t Take it Too Seriously
In the end, these are all just tips to help you avoid getting ripped off. The point of this article is not to learn how to take advantage of low-income, local, Vietnamese shop owners, so please don’t feel the need to argue over a couple of dollars.
Understand that you can go too far with bartering in Vietnam. Arguing over 10,000VND (or about $0.43 USD) could have a genuine impact on their lives, and their ability to provide food for their families.
Enjoy yourself and try to experience the culture, but consider being generous when shopkeepers are nice to you. Remember, we’re visiting their country, so it’s our obligation to be respectful.