I’m not that avid of a shopper. Most of my clothes are hand-me-downs from my sister. I hate trying on clothes, and shopping for extended periods of time gives me a headache. Shopaholics, I know– I’m weird.
But when I went to Vietnam, I experienced none of the above. That’s because shopping in Vietnam is a whole different kind of experience. Whether this is a better or worse experience depends on your personality.
For example, if you’re my sister…
…you thrive on the constant shouting, yelling, and bartering of the Vietnamese marketplace. It’s unavoidable. People will try to scam you, and you’ll have to fight to get the correct price.
So, if you’re me…
…you hate confronting people and will flee at the first sign of conflict.
That’s how I was when I visited my first Vietnamese market, the famous Bến Thành Market in downtown Saigon. Bến Thành is actually one of the more tourist-friendly markets out there. The place sells all sorts of little souvenir magnets, handicrafts, and trinkets.
Sellers actually have a good handle on English. Tourists, then, tend to swarm the place. Myself included.
It doesn’t help that Bến Thành, and most Vietnamese markets, are very claustrophobic places. The stands are packed together and the aisles narrow. Walking through is a squeeze.
I had trouble just adjusting to the chaotic atmosphere of the marketplace– it’s overwhelming, especially when people selling all sorts of products are yelling at you from all directions. Thus I proceeded to buy nothing at all.
The Bến Thành Market is quite overpriced. That’s what I told myself when I walked out empty-handed, anyway. And what would I do with all those little trinkets?
But food is a little harder to resist.
I love fruit. Vietnam is chock-full of all sorts of exotic, tropical fruits, sold daily on the street.
Half these fruits, I’ve never even tried!
Yes, I would have to do it. I would have to confront a seller, bargain with them, and buy some fruit!
So my fear of buying things continued. It got worse when my family ventured into An Dong Market, a wholesale clothing market in Saigon. We wanted to get some custom-fitted áo dài, the Vietnamese traditional dress.
But finally, I encountered the greatest and most spectacular type of Vietnamese market yet.
The night market!
Many cities in Vietnam have a night market. Unlike the functional produce or wholesale markets, night markets are usually designed for pleasure shopping. Stalls will be devoted to selling trendy purses, or the latest coats, or sparkling jewelry. Teens will hang out, eating Vietnamese snack food sold by various old ladies.
These night markets are fun. My sister and I enjoyed wandering through them together, whether it be in Ho Chi Minh City, Hội An, Hà Nội, or wherever else we could find one. And then, while visiting the night market in Đà Lạt, I saw it.
A lady had a whole tray full of the most adorable crocheted Totoros. I have never seen a crocheted Totoro before. Perhaps I would only ever see them in Vietnam. Now was my chance!
There’s a strategy to bartering in Vietnam. First is to speak Vietnamese if you can. English pegs you as a tourist immediately. Tourists have money.
Second is to demand half of the selling price.
This will almost always elicit the same reaction from the buyer, no matter how reasonable your price is. Items, especially in tourist markets, can be severely overpriced. The sellers might be making a huge profit margin even at your demanded discount. Regardless, I would always hear next:
Third is, if the seller doesn’t accept your price, to walk away.
Often, the seller will be willing to meet you halfway.
Fourth is to repeat until you get the price you want.
And then… success! I finally made my first bargained purchase!
Now, I could face the Vietnamese markets without fear! Though, depending on the seller, this strategy doesn’t always work. Sometimes they’re unwilling to lower the price. And bargaining can be quite stressful after a while. Still, now I could venture out, knowing that I could stop myself from getting scammed!
And for the first time in forever, I actually enjoyed shopping!
…though I probably would’ve saved a lot of money had I not gotten over my fear.