Hit the streets of Hoi An for anything from a tailored suit through to a banh mi and you will be thrown into a state of confusion over what really is a fair price. With very few traders working to a fixed price it’s not too uncommon to sometimes feel like you’ve been had. Ask any expat and they will grumble on about a three-tiered price system: locals, expats and tourists. Multiply each tier by two and you’ll pretty much get the gist of pricing in tourist hot spots within the city. So how can you become a savvy shopper in Hoi An?
The first thing you need to understand is that Hoi An is a market town and prices can fluctuate on certain items daily. Think of it as being a bit like the stockmarket – when things are bountiful they are cheap, but the second stocks start to dry up prices skyrocket. Then there are commissions to consider; cut out a middleman, and by that we mean hotel receptionist, tour guide or helpful lady on the street, and you’ll be knocking around 30 percent off the total bill without muttering a word.
For tailoring and art, take yourself out of the real tourist zones of the old town to where shop overheads are cheaper, and you will find exactly the same items at a third of the price – a step over the other side of the Japanese Bridge you’ll find prices so low that the need to haggle can go straight out the window. We picked up a handpainted silk lantern for a fifth of the price offered in the town centre.
Cutting out the mystery price tag on street food while still getting an authentic dish has been made super easy with the opening of the relatively new Central Market food hall, where some of the best mobile food stalls in the town have assembled under one roof. Everything here is retailed at fixed, advertised prices. A huge bowl of cao lau, for instance, will set you back just 25,000 VND and will be one of the best you taste in town.
For essentials like shampoo, water and the odd pack of Pringles, A-Mart on Hai Ba Trung is the nearest thing you’ll find to a fixed price supermarket, but if you really want local prices head to 24/24 on Ly Thuong Kiet, where you can pick up a bottle of Dalat Wine for 40,000 VND. For medical supplies the big pharmacy towards the traffic lights on the same road stocks the best quality and largest range of over-the-counter prescription drugs, vitamins and band aids without a silly mark up.
For camera, laptop repair and phone shops, venture down the far end of Ly Thuong Kiet towards Ly Thai To and you’ll find everything you are looking for at cheap-as-chips prices. You can pick up a decent secondhand phone for as little as $8 and the staff are exceptionally good at mending pretty much any hardware problem. For new technology you are better off heading for the bright lights of Da Nang where the Big C shopping mall houses big wigs like authorised Apple dealers and electrical counters stocked with all the latest gadgetry. If you can wait, however, do as Vietnam is not known for being the cheapest country on earth to buy them.
An Hoi night market still wins hands down as the cheapest market to pick up a souvenir, although here a bit of good humoured haggling goes a long way. Learning to count to 10 in Vietnamese is relatively easy and the Vietnamese are always hugely impressed that you have made the effort to try to get to grips with the lingo, and will normally reward you with a better price.
The best advice we can give you however is to work out how much that silk scarf is worth to you before negotiations commence. Shop around a little firstto get to grips with the pricing structure and if you do go in for the haggle, do it with a smile and don’t be one of those people that push the price down so far as to upset shop owners. If a local has to chase you down the street after you have refused to pay $1 more then she is losing face in front of her peers and is so desperately in need of making a sale that she is trading at a loss. Sometimes it’s not just the foreigner who
gets a bad deal.
By Caroline Mills
Last updated on 13th November, 2014.