The more I travel the more I try to curtail my shopping habit for a number of reasons. I enjoy a bit of shopping when I travel but only to a certain point, beyond which I think it’s a waste of time. Why shop when you could be seeing or doing something incredible and memorable? If you want to bring home something special but don’t want to get caught up in shopping your way around Asia, bear the following in mind:
SE Asia is cheaper than western countries but prices have risen considerably so don’t be surprised if you spend much more than you imagined.
You can and should haggle but don’t expect them to slash prices in half. That rarely happened for me and I found the traders quite stubborn about their prices.
If you are truly wise, you won’t buy anything until the end of your trip. Otherwise, your luggage will get heavier every day and you’ll regret it.
Something may look beautiful its own context but will it really work in your home?
Silk – how much do you really know about silk? Do you know a silk mix when you see one? Or fake silk? When you see how many silk worms and labour go into silk-making you’ll see why the real thing needs to be expensive. If it’s very cheap it’s probably not great quality and may have frayed by the time you get home from your trip.
Do you really need to add weight to your backpack? Could you buy it back home in this age of globalisation? Or on Etsy?
You really should NOT buy from children. If they can make a profit on the streets they will stay out of school and never escape the poverty trap. Would you want that for your own kids?
I found Bangkok’s Asiatique riverfront market expensive and I bought nothing there.
The Binh Than market in HCMC is a hardcore shopping experience; not for the faint-hearted. Traders sell aggressively and I felt constantly harrassed every second. Some physically dragged me back when I tried to walk away – I couldn’t believe their strength! I was in and out super fast. I bought one knock-off Longchamp bag but the trader wanted me to buy three. The more you buy the more discount you get but I don’t really need three of anything.
The Central Market in Phnom Penh is pretty impressive. The traders are also pretty insistent but not as aggressive as the ones in Binh Thanh.
If you hate shopping but have to buy some souvenirs or gifts, why don’t you wait till the end and buy them all at once in Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport as you leave? It’s a little more expensive than the markets but the quality is very good.
Another one-stop-shop: the Post Office by Notre Dame in HCMC has a souvenir shop where you could buy a bunch of souvenirs all at once. Worth a look.
Hanoi really specialises in embroidery and I found it a bit cheaper than HCMC so it’s a good place for embroidered pictures, table runners and cushion covers. Also nice for theatrical masks.
Oh well, at least I contributed to the local economy.