Buying in Vietnam or Why I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Haggle

Street food seller

A woman sells delicious street food in Vietnam.

Woman selling fruit on the street sees an Asian-American. “5,000 Dong! 5,000 Dong!” Girl passes by uninterested. She then sees me (white American). “25,000 Dong! $1! Special price!” That covers most of the interactions I’ve had with sellers in Vietnam.

Stories like that lead many a Westerner to leave and never want to come back. Personally, both Liz and I have loved the country despite (maybe partly because of) those experiences. True, you have to be on your guard. And true, you might end up ripped off on occasion. But by and large, the money and issues in question were insignificant in the grand scheme of things – the other parts of our trip mattered so much more. Here’s how we handled it.

The problems we encountered

Yes, you have to haggle. That’s how people set prices. Yes, you stand the chance of getting ripped off. There are many creative ways people use to get you to cough up more cash. Here were some of the more common ones I saw:

  • Higher prices for Westerners
  • Returning incorrect change
  • Changing the price at the end
  • What you see isn’t what you get
  • Move fast to make the sale
  • Good ole guilt
  • “Price same-same for Vietnamese”

How we avoided them

The first and simplest was: Buyer Beware. If we sensed a scam or shoddy quality, we ran. If we liked something, Liz went first. Many people mistook her for being Vietnamese, so she got lower prices. If the price was outlandish, I just shook my head and said “No! Too expensive!” Once it became more reasonable, we started the haggle. Taking our time, pushing a price, and waiting usually did the trick.

Then, after we had the item/ate the dinner, we showed the cash and waited for the correct change. If that didn’t work, I just stood my ground and stubbornly insisted until they relented.

Yes, we got overcharged. Here’s why we didn’t mind.

First off, it happened much less than anticipated. Many restaurant owners seem to offer the same, or at least comparable, prices to what they charge Vietnamese.

That being said, Westerners are (reasonably) viewed as rich. As a result, Vietnamese touts, cyclos, tour guides, and other sellers quote higher prices for their wares. It’s not personal, it’s just their perception of what people are willing to pay.

As for the haggling: yes, it was annoying. But, after a while, I even started to enjoy the bargaining. Even when I got cheated or overcharged, the amounts were often pocket change (50¢ or less) to me – amounts I wouldn’t think twice about in the States. To the sellers, that extra cash meant a lot.

Beyond that, we only bargained over the smallest things. The big ticket items that made the biggest difference – the hotels and tours – were carefully chosen. Not once were we shortchanged there.

Ultimately, we have loved traveling through Vietnam. The constant haggling was at times frustrating, but it was inconsequential to us in the grand scheme of things.

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