Top 8 tips for bargaining in Vietnam (must read)

Like many other Southeast Asian countries, Vietnam has many sellers saying prices higher than real prices when selling goods. This may come as a bit of a culture shock to some tourists when going shopping. In order to deal with this situation, you should know some bargaining tricks.

#1 – Start low and settle for around 40% of the original price

Carry out according to this rule of thumb for an estimate of the right price of an item. Of course, this will be different from stall to stall as well as depending on where you are, what time of day it is and the stall owner. Most big tourist markets such as Ben Thanh in Ho Chi Minh tend to mark up their prices for tourists. You should communicate with the locals to know real prices. Remember the 40% rule refers to tourist markets. Smaller markets in non-tourist areas may just offer fixed prices and these tend to be a lot lower than in tourist markets.

This is an example of an interaction I had:

200k VND was the original offer for one pair of elephant pants. After some bargaining, 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 isn’t a good enough agreement, say thanks, then walk away. The seller may call you and give a lower price. If there is not a good agreement again, find the exact same product in the same market.

#2 – Understand the currency and use Vietnamese Dong

$1 USD equates to about 23k VND. This big difference makes you feel quite difficult to change into your home currency in your mind. If maths is not your strong point, download a free currency converter app to your phone. This makes it easier to figure out how much the sellers are charging. Even though most sellers may offer a price in USD and will accept payment in USD, always try to use VND. Sellers will charge you more if you pay in foreign currency because they will plus foreign exchange fees.

Similar to that, prices tend to be rounded up. For instance, an item for 100k VND equates 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. $0.70 USD is not an amount of big money. However, after making 10 or so purchases, this amount will increase.

Another top tip is observing the number of each note. The 20k VND and 500k VND notes look quite similar. Be aware of which note you are handing over. Currency converters and ATMs will usually give you large notes. Break up large notes as soon as possible on arrival. Some sellers, taxi drivers and shop owners may not have change available. Therefore, you have to have many small notes on hand to use when necessary.

#3 – Scope out prices before purchasing

If you see something you like, of course, you will see the same item around. Whether it is elephant pants, embroidered purse, “Gucci” t-shirt, or Vietnamese coffee filter. I suggest you should watch what locals are paying, and listen to what prices other tourists are offered.

You can check out the 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 do not have to settle for prices much more than what is stated here – otherwise, you should find the product elsewhere.

#4 – Learn a few Vietnamese phrases

Before traveling to Vietnam, I learned a few Vietnamese phrases to better communicate with the locals. In hindsight, we never actually had trouble discussing prices. Surprisingly, almost Vietnamese people that we encountered could speak conversational English. If in the case they couldn’t speak English, they’d just type a number on their calculator and we’d bargain from there.

There are three simple and helpful phrases that you should learn:
– xin chào /sin ʧaʊ / : hello
– cảm ơn /ga:m ʌn / : thank you
– đắt quá /dæt kwa: /: too expensive

The seller will definitely appreciate your efforts in speaking their language. who knows, they may even give you a great price.

#5 – Shop at local markets for better deals

Local markets are out of the main tourist areas. They are great markets to begin off with and also great for people not comfortable with bartering. A typical example is Tan Dinh Market. This is located in District 1, HCM City, 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 like Ben Thanh Market. Tan Dinh Market majors for selling cloth, and it usually offers fixed and fair prices.

Begin 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. Whether how busy it is, you should also visit Ben Thanh Market. This huge one is a very popular tourist destination with every souvenir you can imagine. All sellers speak conversational English and like chatting.

#6 – Have fun with Bargaining

Bargaining is very interesting – don’t consider it too seriously. In my experience, Vietnamese people were very friendly and hospitable, and always want to know more about my home country. You do not need to bargain over 10k VND. This looks like a lot; really, this equates to only $0.43 USD. If you’re able to afford a holiday to Vietnam in the first place, it is likely this amount does not mean a lot to you. But for the Vietnamese seller trying to make a living, this might be the price of half a meal for them; open your hard. You shouldn’t waste your time bargaining over low amounts. Instead, use that extra time to enjoy your great holiday.

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