Bargaining with the Balinese

Ubud Market, Bali

I was hoping that my business experience would help me navigate the market vendors on Bali, but I have to admit that we are still novices when it comes to striking a fair deal.  Not once, but twice we overpaid for sarongs on Bali.   We keep our spirits intact by telling ourselves that the it’s only a few Euros and by reminding ourselves that the vendors are just trying to make a living (like so many of our travel experiences, attitude is everything). Still, bargaining is a hassle when you feel like you’re always being taken advantage of, so for what it’s worth here are some negotiating skills we’ve learned the hard way on Bali.

If you’re not interested, keep on walking– Just keep on walking and politely say “No, thank you’.  “No thanks” in the local language is ideal, but souvenir hawkers will generally understand “no” in any language and won’t waste their precious time on you once they know your true intentions.  Try not to make direct eye contact with the vendors, and definitely don’t browse unless you are really interested in buying something.  In Indonesia, saving face is an important part of the culture and any hint of interest is an invitation to put their selling skills to work, close the sale, and save face.

Sporting our Sarongs

Don’t touch or accept – For the vendors, this is akin to a fisherman sensing a fish nibbling at their bait.  The next step is landing the hook. We might think it’s polite to accept an item and show interest in what a vendor is offering, but once it’s in your hands, the vendors will literally not let you give it back.  Trust me, it is a really strange experience to try to hand back an item you haven’t bought and instead of the owner accepting it, they push it back to you.  The price negotiating starts here, so unless you’re ready to put your bargaining skills to work, avoid letting a vendor put something in your hands.

Bargaining is normal and expected – I remember as a child how embarrassed I felt when my mom would bargain over souvenirs on a trip we made out West.  We were well-off, the Native Americans were poor in

Josephine doing her best to fit in on Bali

comparison.  Weren’t we just taking advantage of those less fortunate than we?  My children feel the same way about bargaining here, but I assure you that we are the ones being taken advantage of.  What the guidebooks say is true, many vendors are not afraid to offer items at 6-10 times the going rate!  They expect to be bargained down, so if you really have to have that sarong (like we did as you cannot visit any temples without them), assume you are being charged 6-10 times the going rate.  Another hint: don’t assume the price they told you to get you to look at things is the price they’ll quote you once you’ve tried them all on and spent 20 minutes trying to find the one that’s perfect for you.  Suddenly the price will be 10 times as much for no apparent reason.  This is all normal, but for us Westerners who are used to prices being clearly labeled onto a barcode that magically reproduces the exact same price at checkout, the price mysteries of the East are uncharted waters.

So let’s just say that all of the above happened to us.  The second time around we paid about 112,000 IRP for sarongs that I later negotiated for 35,000 IRP from another vendor.  That was significantly better than our first purchase, but still 3 times the going rate.  Happily, only a few Euros, and all part of the experience of learning to travel in the East.


3 responses to “Bargaining with the Balinese

  1. Looks like fun. How very daring to bargain hunt for a hotel. Not sure I could ever do that – too much of a planner. Have fun, stay dry and hi to all.

  2. Love your Ubud experience! Vivian should be out of sight or at least hiding when bargaining, as prices do go up when you look Western 😉 Enjoy the island of the Gods! Greetings from Switzerland, Sue

    • Great tip. Of course, we would lose our best eye for looking fashionable, so Lillian and company will have to fill the gap.

      We’re now in Seminyak now and are really missing Swiss chocolate, along with milk, cheese and good German bread. But we’ll survive.


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