Saigon market shopping etiquette

Have fun and don't offend

What we say: 3.5 stars

Shopping and bargaining in markets is one of my favourite pastimes in Saigon. Here are my pointers for hunting down good deals and to make sure you don’t offend anyone.

The longer you wait, the longer this stuff sits out in the open.

First, if you are looking for good deals at markets, early morning may not be the best time to shop. Many proprietors believe that if they get a good sale from their first lucky customer that they will have a good day, meaning they may be more firm on price. The better time to shop is in the late morning, when the food is still fresh and hopefully the lucky customers have been found.

When you’re shopping in the market you will notice a lack of marked prices; generally there are no set prices on any of the goods for sale. The coat one man buys for 200,000 VND could very well be sold to another man that same day for 50,000 VND; this applies to tourists and locals alike.

But be careful: if you ask the price of an item then simply walk away, you may offend the seller. When you shop in Vietnam, asking for the price of an item means you want to buy it; so to avoid offence, only inquire about products you are actually interested in, and then enjoy your back and forth bargaining.

This kind of looks like the candy section...but it doesn't smell like it

When bargaining it is important to keep a few things in mind. Remember to bargain with a positive attitude and a good sense of humour. If an offer is too high, don’t get mad, just laugh it off and make a counter offer. Don’t take it personally, their job is to get the most money they can; if you pay more then it’s their lucky day.

Next, don’t be afraid to walk away if you really don’t think the price is fair. This can be your biggest bargaining tool; when you walk away, if you were asking for a fair price, the seller will usually call you back; if not, plenty of other stalls sell the same thing.

But the most important thing to remember when you bargain is to keep in mind what you are arguing over. If you’re fighting over 20,000 VND, stop. It’s probably not worth your time, or frustration, in fighting over the last dollar; you’re probably still getting whatever you are asking for much cheaper than you would back home.

Fixed price displays. Remember to check those zippers!

Lastly, some markets and shops are now becoming fixed priced. Here, prices will be clearly marked and bargaining is not accepted practice. While this is good for hassle-free shopping, these are usually not the best deals in town. Instead, I like to look at the fixed market prices, and use them as a basic idea of what the top end of prices should be when I shop in an area where bargaining is allowed. If you know you can get a particular bag for 200,000 VND in the fixed market, you can easily get it for less at another.

Last updated: 2nd October, 2014

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