Some good buys in Vietnam
Lacquer ware Ceramics Painting, Woodblock prints Silk, Clothes in general, Embroidery, Carvings (stone and wood), Precious or semi-precious stones (such as jade), Jeweler, Rugs
Ten tips to savvy shopping
DO always ask around to get an idea of basic prices: a ride on a motorbike, a plate of fried noodles, a packet of cigarettes, a kilo of mangoes, etc. For more important purchases, try and get a local friend to go along with you, or better still, let him do the buying without you: prices are often lower when foreigners aren’t around.
DON’T feel awkward or rude about bargaining: everyone bargains in Vietnam and you’ll look like a green tourist if you don’t. DO insist on
being quoted a price as soon as you start showing interest in a commodity or requesting a service. It’s too late to ask once the silk shirt has been wrapped or after your bike has been fixed. This first price is your starting point and it’s quite probably too expensive, so DON’T look happy or resigned to paying what you’re asked: always begin by showing your gentle disapproval tut tutting or saying something like: Dat qua! (Too expensive).
DO consider various bargaining options, not just a straight fight over figures. If you buy several, the price should come down. Ask them to throw in some small extra you would like, for the same price. If you are quoted a price in US dollars, ask how much that is in Vietnamese b dong and try rounding it down. Be forewarned, though, that the concept of the special offer is still in its infancy here (like 1 percent off if you buy a truckload)…
DON’T hesitate to walk away if you cannot agree on a price: either they’ll come after you or you’ll find the same thing on sale somewhere else. DO stay Zen… Shopping can be quite a rodeo when you’re surrounded by eager stallholders all shouting, smiling, waving and pointing at their wares.
DON’T buy antiques to take home unless you’re confident you can get them out of the country. The law prohibits their export, but remains vague as to what exactly constitutes an antique.
DO buy ethnic minority products directly from ethnic minority people, if at all possible, rather than from shops run by ethnic majority merchants, who often exploit their suppliers ruthlessly.
DON’T expect to get the better of any deal:Vietnamese have boundless reserves of experience and patience in doing business. You stand little chance of matching them!
The dual pricing system
As in several other developing countries, particularly (ex-) communist ones, a dual pricing system has been in operation for some time. The good news is this is changing. Trains which only a few years ago were as expensive for foreigner: as flying, should now be the same price for all passengers. Inevitably, to meet the ensuing shortfall in revenue, the very modest prices charged previously to Vietnamese have risen steeply since everybody else began paying them, too. Air travel still costs more for foreigners, but the gap between foreigner and Vietnamese prices is narrowing. The government has given all private and state-owned enterprises a few years to eventually wipe out the dual pricing system, including entrance fees to all heritage sites and other places of interest. This new regulation is gradually being introduced throughout Vietnam and should be universally observed within a couple of years.
A thornier problem for foreigners who elect to settle down and rent somewhere to live in Vietnam is that of utilities, namely electricity and water. Here, too, a dual pricing system has long been in operation, with hefty charges and inflated estimates of foreigner’s rates of consumption.
There is no longer any need to pay these extortionate prices; landlords no longer have to obtain an expensive permit previously necessary to have foreigners inhabit their property (they only have to register your presence at the local police station, equipped with copies of your passport and visa). You can always pay the local price for electricity and water, as long as the bills are in the Vietnamese house owner’s name.
However, many landlords see no reason why they should cease to profit from these lucrative extras (which of course have consequently become even more lucrative). DO negotiate firmly if you want to rent a place: as a foreigner, you are a good prospect, since you will almost certainly pay more than a local, you won’t start worshipping your ancestors in the house and refuse to ever move out – and you may even attract other monies foreigners to the neighborhood.
However, you should also be aware that there is no legal protection for people renting accommodation: if you have a problem, you must solve it with your landlord – again, through negotiation. The pleasant – and unusual- result of all this is that, in many respects, Vietnam has actually been getting cheaper (only for foreigners, though) over the last few years: not many other countries in the world could say the same!