Fighting for Each Dong- How to Bargain in Vietnam (for dummies)

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I, personally, hate bargaining. I’m a hopeless bargainer. I never had to do it before (a few times in China only) so I simply don’t know how to do it. I must admit I have a paranoid fear of buying something in Vietnam as I think everyone wants to rip me off (it happened way too many times) so buying even a bread or a coffee gives me a headache. Therefore, I leave it to Cez, who can call himself a master of bargains. He knows exactly how to play on locals’ emotions, when he can cross the line and when he can’t and what to do to get a great deals for a little money. Watching him being so confident when trying to put the price down I have learnt a lot. I noticed that this is more about playing with people’s emotions and feeling. There are 3 things you should know before getting into negotiation part:

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Vietnamese feel privileged and satisfied when foreigners want to bargain with them- the more you want your price to go down, the more they actually like it. The more confident you are, the more discounts you get and you will be respected by locals.

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The old generation (these who still remember the war) are less likely to bargain and they don’t like to bargain. If you don’t like their first price, then you can go and find what you want somewhere else. They feel to proud to sell you anything for the price locals buy their products.


You always need to smile when negotiating the price. The nicer you are, the more discount you can get. If you look grumpy they will not want to speak to you.

Here are some tricks and things I have learnt when bargaining in Vietnam assuming you have not had a previous experience like me:


— Learn some basic Vietnamese phrases such as “How much does it cost?” (Bao nhiêu?), “It’s too expensive” (quá đắt). Vietnamese are happy when they hear foreigners speak their language. The bargain will be more successful when talking a little Vietnamese.

 – Don’t be cocky but be confident. Vietnamese don’t like cocky attitude, but they like confident people.

– Always pay before you get the item as locals are likely to change the price at the last moment. So if you both agree for a 20.000 dong dinner, pay first before you start eating, it might turn out the price grew up while you were eating and you will be asked to pay 30.000 at the end.

– Always make sure they understand what you are saying, especially when it comes to the amount of money and the number of items you are trying to buy. Show them 3 fingers if you want 3 apples and show them a note of 20.000 dong if you want to pay this price for the apples.

– Give them the exact amount of money. They are likely to give you the wrong change. It is very easy to confuse 10.000 with 100.000 dong so make sure you know how much money you give them and how much they need to give you back. Check the  notes twice!

– Don’t argue if you don’t like the price. Walk away nicely if you think it is too much or be more patient with the seller.

– You can simply guess from seller’s face expression when you crossed the line and what price is too low for him. They you are sure you will not get anything cheaper than this.

– If you are being overcharged, the seller will most likely chase you down to lower the price or agree with your price.

– Always check how much locals pay. Just back off and observe locals. You can see how much money they pay and then you know how much money you should pay. In this case, most of sellers feel awkward and embarrassed so they might either give you the same or even lower price.

– Go to other shops around you and try your luck there. You can get a can of Redbull for 15.000 dong in one shop and 8.000 dong in a supermarket nearby.

– If you see two pretty much the same stands never go from one to another hoping to get lower price. Vietnamese sellers are very loyal so if one seller didn’t give you the price you expected, the other one probably won’t do it either (he or she was already informed about the price you wanted to pay and the price suggested by her/ his colleague).

To sum up, bargaining is a ritual for Vietnamese. If you don’t like bargaining you will be always paying much more than you should. Everything comes with time though. You can easily master the art of bargaining if you are very determined and practice a lot. You can learn more and more from everyday situations. If you still can’t handle it, just accept the reality of Vietnam and let it go (and let go of your money too).

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Agness Walewinder
Agness Walewinder
Travel freak, vagabond, photography passionate, blogger, life enthusiast, backpacker, adventure hunter and endless energy couchsurfer living by the rule "Pack lite, travel far and live long!"
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