Bargaining in Bali – The Tourist’s Struggle to Get Fair Prices

First off, let me just say that Hang and I are both tourists here in Bali. However, many people within Indonesia still believed she was Indonesian, as long as she didn’t speak (so.. do all Asians really look alike? Just kidding girls!).

In this sense, I was the “only tourist” in our little group of three, and getting a fair price at the market was something I simply wasn’t going to be able to do on my own.

The first thing to keep in mind when shopping for merchandise, clothing, or souvenirs especially when in Indonesia is that these people are specifically targeting tourists (that means, they WANT YOU more than anybody else, to stop by their shops and say hello). They understand that foreigners, American’s especially, have much more money to spend on stuff in Bali than the locals do, and they capitalize on that knowledge by raising the prices to insane levels on us. The worst part about this is… you really don’t know they’re doing it as big as they are, until you see what locals are paying!

Take for example, one of the gifts I purchased: At the beginning, the woman said she wanted 120.000RP (120,000 Rupiah equals around $14USD). Now this item, for $14USD, actually seems like a pretty standard price if I look at it from the standpoint of buying an item similar to this in America. That’s exactly what they are counting on though, and with Ela’s help (an Indonesian friend from college, and the entire reason we came to Indonesia in the first place), I was able to walk out with it for around 50.000RP (50,000 Rupiah is just over $5USD). It was a fantastic day of bargaining, with prices getting lowered this way all across the board.

I found it quite humorous how every time a foreign person would walk up to a vendor (or get summoned and called over) they would always ask, in plain English of course, “How much?” or even worse, “How much in US Dollars?” – That is a HUGE “No, No!” What made it even more comical is how these people would always say back to them, “For you, I give special price… just [Insert Huge Number Here]” and more often then not, the people wouldn’t even try to bargain them down. It’s incredible!

Not everybody got suckered like that though. Some at least THOUGHT they were getting a good deal. They would try to bargain down a little bit, but not nearly enough. One woman wanted 100,000 Rupiah for this little wooden thing at her stand. After about two minutes, she Australian woman offered 70,000 Rupiah. The woman at the store IMMEDIATELY said “Okay” and put it in a bag. I had just purchased the same thing for 30,000 RP). You know how you can be certain you didn’t go far enough with your bargaining? – When getting a “Yes” on a lower price is easy.

I’m VERY grateful that we had Ela there with us. It’s amazing just how much people try to play the system, and rip you off in these countries. It’s smart business though, if you think about it. A smart business person sells for as high as they can… and they can sell much higher to us foreigners out on vacation, than they can to the local people.

Many of the vendors won’t budge low enough at times. A cool little trick that I picked up on was to try walking away. Just say something like “Nah, too much money for that” and walk away. Many times, they’ll call out to you and tell you something a bit lower, just to try to keep you around. When it looks like they don’t care if you walk away anymore, and it’s just not going to be any lower… you can probably be safe that that was their rock bottom price. If you still want it, go get it. Just remember to try all the tricks in the book to get as cheap as possible when dealing with street vendors, or large groups of sales people. Make them work for you to buy it, not the other way around.


(Sorry about the lack of photos… there are literally lots of pickpockets everywhere in crowded markets, so needless to say, I didn’t want anybody knowing I was wielding an iPhone 4 on me)

Charlie Pryor

Charlie is a media producer, writer, and a traveler. He grew up in Michigan, all of his life and attended Grand Valley State University for a B.S. in Film and Video Production. He's married to a wonderful woman named Hang, and simply hopes to one day turn himself into a man that many will remember long after he's gone.

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