Shop: Survival Tips for Bargaining

I love going to the market, and wandering through the lanes crammed full of little stores bulging with their wares. I love perusing the assortment of products; seeing what hidden gems I can find.

There's just one small problem. I hate bargaining. I love price tags. I miss being able to look at a product and find the price, all without the assistance of someone else, and then, having identified the price, not constantly wondering if it really is the price. On my first visit to Asia my travel buddy and I had a great time trying to haggle and get the best price. But now that its part of my daily life, its not so much fun any more.

But in my time in Cambodia I've figured out how to make bargaining as painless as possible and (mostly) avoid the horrible feeling of being ripped off.  These tips should help even the shyest bargain hunter.

  1. Always ask
    If buying something at the market (except for fresh food), I always ask if they can discount. You'll soon get a feel for how much movement there is in the price, and 9 times out of 10 you will get a discount of some sort. Another great question is 'Is that the right price?' - sounds strange but it works. Only last week I was buying ice-cube trays (at Central Market, of course) the seller quoted me $1.75, when I asked “Is that the right price?”, she answered “Oh, the right price is $1.25”. Easy.

  2. Be friendly and smile
    When you ask, always, always smile. You'd be more likely to give a discount to someone who was friendly and smiling, wouldn't you?

  3. If its not right, don't get annoyed, just walk away
    If you don't think the seller is giving you the right price, then walk away. The same item will usually be available at dozens of other stalls, so you've got nothing to loose. You'll soon see whether or not they are willing to negotiate, and its a lot more effective than getting mad.

  4. If you're not sure you want it don't show too much interest
    If just want to know the price, ask quickly and without showing too much interest in the product. The longer you look and the more time the seller spends with you, the more insistent they'll be that you buy something.
While most sellers will bargain on the price, you will find that the discounts are modest compared to other countries where bargaining is common, so don't expect to pay half the quoted price. Also, not all sellers will bargain, and some do quote the correct price from the outset, particularly if they know you.

A final word, even if you enjoy bargaining don't make a sport of it. The sellers are working long days to make what is often a modest living, and get, understandably, frustrated if they feel that you've been wasting their time.

Happy shopping!

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Do: Bamboo Train in Battambang

I love Battambang.  It's pretty; it's peaceful.  Life just seems to move at a slower pace there.  It's a nice change from Phnom Penh.

And my favourite thing to do in Battambang is the Bamboo Train, or Norry, as it's referred to locally.  If you haven't experienced the Bamboo Train, it's kind of like a antiquated roller-coaster, without any dips.

You'll find it about 5km from the centre of Battambang, at a disused railway station.

The tourist police will be waiting to charge you an exorbitant (by Cambodian prices) amount to take a ride (last time we went we were asked for $5 per head). You can try bargaining, if you like. If you succeed, give yourself a pat on the back, because they're usually pretty adamant about the price.

They'll then call your driver, who will set up your norry (i.e., bamboo platform on wheels) and away you go.

The train heads in pretty much a straight line.  Most of the way, the tracks are lined with bushes, where cows graze, seemingly unperturbed by the clattering trains. Every so often you'll get a glimpse of the surrounding rice paddies, which are quite picturesque. I'm not sure how fast the train actually goes, but as it clatters along, it feels pretty fast.  A word from the wise, if you decide to take off your shoes, keep tight hold of them.  I lost one, which was very kindly retrieved by the next carriage.  

But the real experience happens when you meet a carriage coming the opposite way.  As there is only one track, someone must dismantle their norry to allow the other to pass.  Generally the side with the least norries/passengers is the side that must dismantle, with some help from the other drivers.

Eventually the train stops at a small village that has a brick factory, that I haven't yet explored.  A number of small stalls are set up selling drinks and snacks.  You're free to roam for as long as you like as your driver waits for you. Although the drivers will often call their passengers at the same time in an attempt to travel in a convoy and thus avoiding having to dismantle their norries.

On the way back, you may find yourself with extra company as some locals hitch a ride back.

At the end of the day, the train is a bit of tourist trap, and it's also overpriced.  But it's also, in my opinion, a lot of fun. And should be experienced once, if not more often.

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