It’s a sweltering day in Hoi An so i’ve retreated to my hotel room for some reflection and more importantly.. air-conditioning! I’ve realised throughout my stay in this ancient town that I have made some rookie errors, nothing fatal but certainly disruptive to my holiday and mental well-being! So let me explain what the heck I’m talking about. Of course when you’re a “tourist” locals will inevitably try to rip you off, and hey, why not! If i was struggling to make ends meat I too would mark-up my merchandise by 75% as this probably amounts to an extra dollar or two to the person buying (peanuts right?!). I would pester, stalk, annoy and try to charm my way to a sale if possible. And boy oh boy do they try here “hello miss you are so beautiful, come buy from my shop” is a classic line, I also get “take picture me” says a woman with her carrying pole and conical hat with a follow up of “now you take, now you” then there’s also “come buy ‘xyz’ from me, i give you chip price” and the succinct “motorbike?” but anyway you get the general gist. And it’s all good except when this is repeated to you about 50-60 times a day. It gets, how do I put this gently… exasperating!
So today, as I mentioned, is incredibly hot and I thought heck let me get a rickshaw back to my hotel. I remembered that yesterday as I was walking a man offered to take me around the river for half an hour at a price of VND2000 (AUD 12 cents) and I thought “woah that’s crazy cheap!”. So this afternoon I asked a gentleman how much it would cost to take me my hotel, which is a 5 minute rickshaw ride, he replied “VND 100,000” and I was flawed. A one-hour bus from Da Nang airport to Hoi An city cost VND 110,000 so how could a 5 minute rickshaw ride cost the same? I countered with VND 5,000 (more than the offer I received yesterday), although he said no at first as soon as I walked away he accepted, so now I know the real price. By this stage the heat had gotten to me as well my little bout of food poisoning which is causing stabbing pains in my stomach (still) and my painful feet which for some reason I am struggling to walk on so I said “no forget it”. I kept walking and found two more drivers in front of a shoe shop, I asked them the same question to which they replied with the same price VND 100,000. I countered again with VND 5,000. The shop owner came outside and said that what I was offering is a very unfair price, out of curiosity I asked him whether he would pay such a price, he replied “no of course not but I would negotiate”. Fair enough. So that’s what I did. Then came the question “where are you from” and I replied “Australia” to which the shop owner said “well, see, you have lots of money so you can afford this”. Firstly, I was frustrated that he was relating my nationality to my level of income – I have not lived in Australia for almost 7 months now so I’m not making any money at the moment and am using my savings to explore the world and educate myself about different cultures, customs and ways of life. Secondly, what I choose to spend money on is my decision – I would rather save on transport by bartering and spend it on food or custom-made clothing as in the case of Hoi An. I understand he was trying to be helpful (was he?) but I’ve heard many stories about how certain sectors here including local transport and tailoring are notorious for price-fixing and over-charging tourists. So on principal I will try to come to fairer agreement both for me and the other party. I just gave up and walked back to my hotel. I decided to speak to the receptionist about this and she said that the rickshaws in Hoi An are terrible and always overcharge people, she recommended I instead take a motorbike as they are fairer. She also mentioned that if you find a “good man” he will not overcharge you but it seems like the good men are few and far between.
So what I have I learnt? Well firstly I ask whether I have the right, as someone who by all means come from a privileged country, to barter in a place where the median income is incredibly low. Then I think well the prices should be fair for both myself and the seller, they should of course make a good profit but I don’t want to be ripped off (on principal people!). At the end of the day this is probably a “first world problem” but it’s good to think about especially if you plan on sticking to some sort of budget whilst here. Many people come to Vietnam because it IS cheap, they can have a wonderful holiday on a BUDGET. When you are overcharged for everything it’s annoying and defeats the purpose of having an affordable getaway. I know now that I need to ask around before I commit to any price, so I’m informed about what the going rate is and especially before I offend anyone with my low counter-offers. Perhaps I misheard the first man when he offered it to me for VND 2,000 perhaps he meant VND 200,000 but in any case feel free to rip off everyone but I’m not down for it! Cảm Ơn