Friday, March 25, 2022

DOs and DON’Ts when shopping in Viet Nam

No guide to shopping in Vietnam would be complete without a section on haggling. Aside from in supermarkets and Western-style shopping centres, prices in Vietnam are almost always negotiable, so it’s definitely worth asking if you feel like something is too expensive. Learning a few words in Vietnamese  will go a long way, even if it’s as simple as ‘chào’ (hi).

 1. Markets & Minimarts

DON’T miss the markets: among the most atmospheric in Southeast Asia and still the hub of commercial activity everywhere in Vietnam. Notable markets in clued floating ones in the Mekong Delta,  flower market in Da Lat and Cho Lon market in the district of Hochiminh City that bears the same name- the large fruit , any of the major markets in Hanoi, the colorful Sa Pa market and other ethnic minority markets in the mountainous north of the country.
DO go early when shopping at local markets. Goods are brought fresh everyday from the countryside and without refrigeration they will suffer from the heat as the day drags on. 

Shopping in Hochiminh City is now little different from shopping in Bangkok or any other Asian metropolis. Commercial complexes and supermarkets are also sprouting up in Hanoi and other sizeable towns.

DO check the expiry dates carefully on any imported produce you buy: many of the more obscure items in these shops have been quietly gathering dust (not to say rotting away) for years. In Hanoi, you may notice a baffling remnant of the city’s old ways. Tradesmen as part of Chinese-style commercial guilds were traditionally grouped together geographically (as many have remained in the Old Quarter), but a more modern breed of shopkeepers, such as those selling televisions or making photocopies, often elect to bunch together in a similar way. The practical upshot of this is simply impossible for the moment to obtain, say, a tennis racquet. Then, one day, you will turn a corner into an unexplored street and be confronted by an entire row of shops selling nothing but tennis racquets.

2. Fake goods 

Much of Southeast Asia is notorious as an earthly paradise for counterfeiters and Vietnam is no exception. 

DO consider your motives carefully if you purchase counterfeit goods: if you buy a Rolex wristwatch for $20, you know that there is no chance of it being anything like a real one, except for its superficial appearance. If this is all you want, that’s fine, but DON’T complain if you get searched at customs o your return home, have your fake Rolex confiscated and are made to pay a fine equivalent to the cost of a genuine one. Copies of expensive makes (especially good ones) pose a real threat to business and these luxury goods companies are determined to defend their interests – and have the means to do so.

Very good copies can be found in Vietnam, particularly items such as clothes, sports equipment and luggage. The Vietnamese are redoubtable and wily business operators, and both foreign and domestic companies often find it impossible to prevent know-how from leaking out. Even products made from materials imported exclusively find their way onto the local market at budget prices.

However, DO let the buyer beware that it’s possible to find excellent deals, but only if you really know what you are doing.
DO check the quality of what you’re buying, especially if there are safety concerns involved.

DON’T expect to get your money back if you change your mind after making a purchase, or even if you realize belatedly that the goods you have been sold are not as advertised… Check everything checkable yourself before you hand over your money. If it runs on electricity, get the assistant to plug it in and test it. 

3. Bargain, bargain, and bargain 

The idea of a fixed pricing system is still quite novel in most commercial contexts, which means that a little good natured haggling is an important habit to develop. Anywhere outside of supermarkets, restaurants and anything controlled by the state, bargaining is possible and usually essential.

DO be warned that, as you are always easily spotted from a distance as a foreigner, you will be asked to pay more than locals. Sometimes just a little more, but often outrageously more, even if this is not always immediately obvious to you, especially when relatively small sums are involved. It might seem like a snip, but you may be paying ten times the going rate.

If you feel mean haggling over such small sums or are tempted just to pay up for a quiet life, DON’T forget to think of other people who will pass this way after you. You should not be too afraid of offending local sensibilities: if you pay vastly over-inflated prices without a murmur, you’ll simply be seen as the sucker you’re letting yourself be taken for!

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 monied foreigners to the neighbourhood. 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 result is that Vietnam has actually been getting cheaper over the last few years.

4. What not to buy in Vietnam?

There are some products which you may find for sale here which you should avoid. These may be illegal in Vietnam or your home country, or simply may encourage destruction of the environment and harm to the local people. These include:

 Drugs - including marijuana are illegal and the sale or use of them can carry SEVERE penalties. 

 Coral and coral products. Buying these products encourages destruction to Vietnam's irreplaceable coral reefs.

 Sea Turtle products. You may find preserved sea turtles in shops - particularly sold in the open in Hanoi. This should be obvious--but sea turtles are endangered and all products made from them are illegal. 

Ivory, bone and tooth products. This animal product will be illegal in most home countries, regardless of which animal it came from. The only allowable products may be those made from farm animals--but this may be very difficult to distinguish.   

Rice wine containing whole animals or animal products. Wildlife populations have been decimated in Vietnam. Many of the animals and animal parts used as ingredients in rice wine are globally threatened and endangered - including the snakes. 

Alligator and crocodile leatherThis is illegal to transport between many countries. 

Prostitution is illegal and destroys not only yourself, the person you engage with, and your family. Aids and other serious STD's are VERY COMMON in Vietnam--even the countryside.

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