Haggling in Asia

Asia haggle tips (with videos)

How to haggle when you travelHaggling, or bartering if you’re attempting to swap seashells for seafood on the seafront, or something of the like, is a worldwide method of exchange that perhaps occurs more prominently in Asia.

Whilst these tips were compiled after a visit to this colourful continent, they could be put into practice around the globe.

Shop Around

When you’re new to a city or country and first pass by a little stall with cool little Buddha models or some delicately designed animals on it, it is very easy to think to yourself “Oh my God, mum would LOVE that, it’s so unique and beautiful!”.

Now, your mum may very well like it, and it may well be beautiful, but items which tick these two boxes do not always check the ‘unique’ one.

Have a look around before spending your daily Baht allowance on something that is half the price and twice as common as first thought.

Start Low

Most items don’t have a price attached to them, which of course is all part of the game. Sometimes, rather than the shopkeeper or salesperson telling you how much they want Haggling in asiafor something, they’ll ask you how much you’d pay.

Sounds obvious but start low, even stupidly low, you never know how much the other person is expecting. The worst you’ll get is a wry smile and a fairer price.

As an aside, when it comes to travel in terms of Tuk Tuks, bikes or taxis, there is no harm in just offering a low price straight up, I was surprised how many times in Bangkok the driver would just shrug his shoulders and nod for us to get in to go across the city at a price you couldn’t travel four miles for back home.

Don’t Want What You Want

Haggling in AsiaAn important thing to consider is that sellers thrive on interest, just like anywhere in the world. As soon as they know you want something, they know they can sell you it.

Act indifferent and show as little interest in the item as possible. I got my best prices simply by walking away from the shop and the guy just kept calling after me lowering his price.

To a much more realistic one I might add – I wasn’t just being awkward.

I believe it’s a buyer’s market – so long as you know how to play it.

Ask For More

By this I don’t mean be greedy or ridiculous in your demands, but most shops are more than happy to do three for two deals or buy one get one half price. Like the prices, these are not advertised, but they mean the shops are getting rid of stock and receiving money – this goes back to my point about items not being unique, most are mass-produced – and you’re getting a souvenir of your time there or a gift for somebody back home. It’s win – win.

Don’t Be Intimidated

Haggling in ChinaFrom what I can gather, and I may be wrong here, China has the most aggressive sellers. Laos and Cambodia will play on your emotions more with but in terms of getting embroiled in a situation where a sale is being forced on you, don’t panic and buy something just to end the scenario or escape.

They’re (hopefully) not going to rob you, and you’ll feel much better for walking away and parting with your Yuan at a more pleasant stall. You may get dirty looks or shouted at once you turn your back, but you’ll never see these people again and if you do you can bypass them at the first hurdle rather than falling at the last.

Having written out these points I feel it’s important to end add one last thing. This isn’t a guide on how to pick up gifts for all your family and friends for less than £1, or feed yourself on the change from your beers the night before. It’s about paying what something is worth, not ten times as much.

Remember they’re providing goods or services though, and without them you’d be going hungry or left stranded in the middle of nowhere. It’s a mutual relationship that benefits both parties – at the right price. If someone is nice enough to take you to a lovely skyscraper miles away on your last night in Mumbai for the price of a Happy Meal, the least you can do is give them a tip.

Transportation options in the Philippines

By Arienne Parzei 

Probably the most difficulty you’ll encounter while traveling through the Philippines is transportation. You know where you need to go but what’s the best (and possibly cheapest) way to do it? And more importantly, how do you do it?

It can be a little overwhelming trying to figure out how you’re going to get from point A to point B, how much it will (and should) cost, and what kind of schedule things run on.

Here is a summary of the most common forms of transportation you’ll come across while traveling through the country.

Flying

Transportation in the Philippines

The Philippines has quite an extensive domestic air system and it’s growing. With so many islands it’s no wonder they do.  There are three major carriers; Cebu Pacific Air, Air Philippines Express, and Zest Air.  Prices are very affordable, sometimes costing less than the price of a one-way ferry ride.  Most flights are no longer than an hour (gate to gate) unless you’re traveling from the far north to the far south.

Because these are budget airlines there are a few things to keep in mind. Firstly, baggage limits are lower. Cebu Pacific Air only allows 15kgs (30lbs) and only 10kgs (20lbs) for flights to and from Caticlan (Boracay) due to smaller planes and a shorter runway.  Overages can add up quickly, making your flight much more expensive then you originally thought. Secondly, food is only available for purchase on longer flights.

Pack a snack and buy a bottle of water before you get on the plane to tied you over. Thirdly, the airlines can be very strict about check in times.

Most counters close 45 minutes before departure time, so make sure you’re at the check in line with time to spare. You’ll also have to go through a security check just to walk into the airport. So give yourself some extra time because these lines can sometimes move slowly.

When you’re flying out of a city you’ll have to pay a departure tax in cash at the airport. Prices range from P40 for smaller cities to P200 in Manila and Cebu. And if you’re flying internationally out of Manila or Cebu, the departure tax climbs to P750 and P550 respectively.

Flying is a great option for getting around the country in a shorter amount of time, however delays are common. Out of the 5 flights I had on my trip, 3 of them were delayed. So give yourself a “travel day” when flying between cities and at least 3-4 hrs if you’re going to be connecting to another flight.

Ferries

Philippines transportation

If time is not an issue and you like the feeling of being on the water, the ferry system in the Philippines is another good option.  There are a number of companies offering various routes connecting the many islands. Fastcraft boats include SuperCat, OceanJet , and Weesam Express. Slower and cheaper boats include SuperFerry, Cokaliong Shipping, and Negros Navigation to name a few.

Food is usually available for purchase and to help pass the time a movie will be played if the boat has the ability for it. If you’re prone to seasickness pack some medication, as the waters can be rough. Now, unfortunately there have been many reports of ferry accidents in the Philippines over the years.

The larger companies are better at only allowing the maximum capacity on board, but smaller more independent companies may try to get the best bang for their buck.  If you feel at all uncomfortable or it seems like there’s more people then there should be just get off the boat and grab the next one.  Always trust your gut feelings.

Philippines transportBankas

Bankas are smaller boats you’ll encounter for short trips between islands or if you go on a day excursion of island hoping.  A small motor at the back of the boat powers them.

Seating arrangements vary from boat to boat with either two benches facing each other or rows seating four people across.

You’re likely to get splashed so if you’re carrying your luggage with you make sure you’re got your stuff protected from the water.

Taxis

You’ll mainly encounter taxis in the larger cities. There are two types of taxis, flat rate and metered.  Flat-rate taxis are best if you’re traveling a long distance. For metered taxis the pick up rate is P30 and then increases by P4 every 300-400 meters.

The airports are now trying to streamline the taxi service, so head to the taxi stand at the departures gate, tell the person on duty where you plan to go and wait for the next available taxi. If you’re grabbing a taxi from the airport the pick up rate is P70.

Although I didn’t have any issues with drivers trying to make a couple extra pesos off me, just be sure that the meter is turned on once you get going to avoid arguing with a made up price. And as with most land travel, ask the person in charge at your hotel or hostel how much the trip should roughly cost.

 

Jeepneys

Jeepneys are modified trucks into bus-like passenger vehicles.  Many are basic looking, but in Manila you’d think some of them where featured on a Pimp My Ride episode.

They don’t follow any schedule but do have planned out routes.  There are no “Jeepney Stops”, so flag one down and ask if it’s going in your direction.

Sometimes their routes are written on the side of the vehicle. The convenient part is that they will drop you off wherever you want, provided it’s along the route it’s traveling.

Jeepney rides cost a flat rate, usually P25. You can either pay once you get on or when you’re getting off.  Drivers like to pick up as many people as they can and it’s not an uncommon sight to see people sitting up on the roofs!

Tricycles

Philippines tricyclesThe most common form of transportation your mainly likely to use is the tricycle.  Similar to tuk tuks in Thailand, tricycles are modified motorbikes with a side compartment for passengers. Think of yourself as Harrison Ford in Indian Jones and the Last Crusade, minus the high-speed chase.

There are so many around, especially in the smaller cities and towns. The styles vary depending on the island. On Bohol Island you can really only fit two people with a small compartment on the back for your pack. The tricycles on Bohol also have different religious sayings written on the back like “don’t leave your wallet in church because one man may see it as the answers to his prayers”.

On the island of Palawan the tricycles are designed to pick up people along the way, similar to Jeepneys. You can have upwards of 5 passengers in one tricycle!  And instead of religious sayings on the back the tricycles have names written on the front like “Queen Brian” and “Bessie”.

The prices vary depending on distance traveled so negotiate a price with the driver beforehand. In Puerto Princesa, on Palawan, you’ll actually pay per person if your driver is picking up people along the way.

The standard price for the locals is P7 for the first 2 kms and an additional P1 for each km after that. But keep in mind this is the system for the locals. As travelers, you’re likely to pay a little bit more. P10 per person worked while I was there. Again, ask someone at your hotel/hostel how much it should roughly cost to avoid getting overcharged.

Motorcycles

It seems almost anyone who owns one can offer rides for a fee.  Tell the guy where you’re going and he’ll give you a price. If you don’t like it negotiate with the driver.  While I was there my boyfriend and I found ourselves in a remote beach with no regular transportation to get back to our accommodation. Much to my objections the two of us squeezed onto the back on the motorcycle and off we went.

Images of us crashing and ending up in the hospital flashed in my head. This stranger literally had our lives in his hands. But about 10 minutes into the ride I couldn’t help but laugh. Here we are, three grown people practically sitting on top of each other, zooming through the back roads of the Philippines waving back at people along the way.  It’s not my ideal form of transportation but an enjoyable one if you find yourself off the beaten path with no other transportation option.

You can also rent motorbikes for whatever length of time you’d like.  Prices start at about P500-600 per day but haggle a lower price, especially if you want it for more than a day.

Arienne Parzei is a travel writer, videographer, and photographer from Toronto, Canada. Her insatiable curiosity for learning about different cultures first-hand has led her to some amazing destinations and experiences, including climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, living in South Korea for two years, and backpacking for eight months through China, Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand. She shares her travel experiences on her website www.seeyousoon.ca and hopes to inspire you in the process.

suitcase or backpack

Backpack or suitcase Luggage? Which is best?

One of the most common debates I see amongst the travel forums is the argument over whether its best to travel with a backpack or a suitcase.

It seems to be quite a heated debate too and one which I’ve finally resolved my own personal dilemma over.

So I’ve decided to look into which is best. Lets see if you agree.

Backpack or luggage?

suitcase or backpackBoth methods have their own pros and cons – some of which will be of importance to you, some of which are mere after thoughts.

Backpacks are seen as the icon of travelling – after all it is also called backpacking! For a lot of people having a backpack visually and mentally separates them from holidaymakers, who for the most part use suitcases. For me this is simply a by-product of marketing, a stereotype that has come about and to some extent a lot of travellers are judged upon. In my opinion it’s also a rubbish way for people to determine your motivation and style of travelling!

But if your worried about the stigma attached to your method of lugging things around this will be of importance to you – and by all means go with it if that’s your motivation!

Backpacks

Backpack or suitcase?Backpacks or Rucksacks do offer a lot of pros on a practical level though. In far-flung places being able to have everything on your back means you can literally take it everywhere.

Better still it leaves your hands free to deal with maps and all manner or things you might need them free for – like holding on to precariously attached poles on buses as you hurtle through mountain roads!

Luggage

On the flip side though luggage these days is more well built – especially if you do your homework – and a lot of places you may wish to travel wont be dirt tracked and pot-, allowing you to easily wheel everything around behind you, particularly if your heading to Australia, New Zealand or America.

Size matters

Suitcase size mattersSize is also a massive determining factor in this argument too. If your travelling light then a backpack is a no brainer. If however you’re taking your whole life and the kitchen sink it becomes a different matter. You can get backpacks of all shapes and sizes, most of this is measured in litres. For example I took a medium sized bag with a detachable day sack which came in at 70+20.

This was absolutely fine for my initial pack and I fitted everything in with a bit of room to spare (although admirably I could’ve done with the extra 10 litres in the main bag). All fully packed this weighed in around 15kg.

As a fairly fit, 6 foot male carrying this around airports was no problem. Over longer periods this did take its toll though – and despite fitting it correctly and balancing out the weight I did find it taking its toll on longer walks or on transport.

It would’ve been even more of a problem if it weighed anymore or I wasn’t as fit.

Luggage on the other hand more often than not comes with wheels, allowing you to pack it as heavy as you need to with minimal exertion when transporting it from place to place – great for those travelling with half a wardrobe with them!

Packing

With rucksacks you have 2 options; the toploader and the suitcase style.

backpack top loaderThe toploader is great for those cramming in heaps of stuff and who are pretty organised, but it’s a nightmare for those who want everything easily accessible. The suitcase style is a great mid waypoint but still has limitations as rolling is the order of the day and things can still get pretty messy when reaching capacity!

Luggage can be a dream when packing on the other hand. Many have dividing compartments which allow you to organise everything into easily found pockets – main clothes in one, electrical in another and beach stuff in another.

Great for when you need to get at things quickly and without hassle. The fact that these sections are usually self contained means that you wont be turfing half of your kit on the floor in your mad rush to the beach and that you don’t have to open it in a certain way to avoid everything exploding out into the dorm room!

The main restriction with a lot of luggage is capacity though. A lot of luggage can come in a hard rigid casing – the first disadvantage to this is the overall weight of it even without being loaded. The second is the fact these cases leave little or no room for expansion – meaning it’ll fit or it won’t!

The best way to overcome these problems is fairly simple though – if you think either will be an issue you can simply buy softcase luggage – which is much lighter in comparison and much more forgiving with cramming things in!

The cost of backpacks and luggage

A lot of people also bring price into this argument.

Some argue luggage can be bought cheaper. But in my experience “you buy cheap you buy twice“. Budget is down to personal preference – if you want a top of the range rucksack it can easily set you back over £100 ($160 US). If you want designer luggage it can go even higher.

With both though you do have a good range to suit every budget and of course, taste.

A handy video on backpacks Vs suitcases

Why I chose luggage

packing a suitcaseAfter taking all these into account and having travelled for a year out of a rucksack I have decided to swap camps and from now on I am opting for luggage. I found that in Australia at least I didn’t use my rucksack on my back enough to warrant the disorganisation and hassle of taking it on and off. And when I did use it properly the weight of everything made me realise why people go for wheels!

Sure you can get free wheeling rucksacks – but with most things when something tries to implement too many features it usually fails at being great at any of them! So after a lot of shopping around I have purchased a Dakine 110 litre split loader.

My final decision over which brand and size to go for were influenced by a number of things.

Shop assistant

I know him reasonably well and he actually directed me to the cheaper of a couple options. Advise from those that deal with a range of luggage on a daily basis is often worth listening to.

Warranty

After the slightly disappointing result of my rucksack this was important (I’ll blog about that later). Dakine came through with a 2-year world-wide warranty – and the shop told me they hadn’t had any issues yet with any sales.

Features

The dakine bag open into two section – the left-hand side is a large section whilst the right is 3 – two small and one central medium sized compartments.

In my head this equates to clothes on the left, electrical in one small section, shoes/flip flops in the other small section and the medium part will easily store my summer wetsuit/boardies/towel! It also has heaps of smaller pockets inside and out – perfect for storing travel documents and random bits and bobs.

As you may realise surf was the main motivator for most of my travel and purchasing decisions.

Build quality

It feels strong yet light. And the materials all seem up to the challenge – as do the seams and zips.

Overall looks

It came in a range of styles, so I got to pick the one that suited me best – not a major thing but an added bonus!

The debate rages on

Here’s another great video on which to choose a backpack or a suitcase? Have your say in the comments below too.

Where to go in Chiang Mai, Thailand

chiang maiOur travel plans to Chiang Mai did not go quite to plan. After forgetting to get money from an ATM we arrived at the border with no money to buy our overnight train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai.

We foolishly thought we could buy a ticket that evening but after a 5 hour bus journey and a hectic taxi ride to Bangkok Station we soon found out every train that day was sold out. Indeed every train the next day was sold out so we had to get the overnight train in seated class rather than sleeper.

This meant an impromptu stay in a hotel along the famous Ko Sahn road. A few quiet drinks were soon chiang mai-25followed by a chat with some Australian girls, from there on things get a little hazy! Some surreal running about from bar to club to hotel room to bar again.

We wasted the next day recovering from the mother of all hangovers then set off on our train journey which was surprisingly OK for 12 hours in a bouncing train seat.

We arrived in Chiang Mai in the morning and grabbed a tuk tuk to the Spicy Thai Backpackers. A much recommended and homely hostel with a spacious double room for us and comfortable surroundings.

For the first time since leaving home we had a normal breakfast of cereal and toast! A luxury in South East Asia it seems.

We wandered the streets of Chiang Mai for a couple of days, taking in the sights and sounds as the city prepared itself for the water festival known as Lao Krathong.

One evening the hostel organised making our own Krathong which is a floating gift to the water god to apologise for any abuse of water over the years. Wasting too much, peeing in the sea, etc. Or so chiang mai-11our guide told us.

It was fun to make and was followed by a slightly disorganised trip to the riverside where thousands of people were setting off fireworks in all directions as well as attempting to set off their Krathongs floating along the river. It was fun for a while but scary for the most part as we witnessed fireworks shooting into the crowds, Chinese balloon lanterns getting stuck in trees and catching alight.

chiang mai-18 A visit to Tiger Kingdom is a must when visiting Chiang Mai. We had heard good reports on how the tigers were looked after there compared to similar Tiger sanctuaries in Thailand.

We were wary at first that they may have been drugged but a chat with an English volunteer soon assured us they are treated very well.

We got to sit in an enclosure with 4 month old tigers who spend most of the day sleeping and getting used to human contact. We also go to sit in with 3 huge 18 month old Tigers who were snoozing in the midday sun.

It was an amazing experience and they were very alert whenever the wardens played games with them. Making them chase a huge bamboo toy as if it were a playful kitten. You can even have lunch there overlooking the enclosure and watch them splash about in the pool to cool off.

chiang mai-51 We booked ourselves on a 3 day trek to the north of Chiang Mai. A fantastic fun packed 3 days of riding elephants, meeting the long neck women in their village, treking through beautiful Thai jungle with massive rubber trees and spiders the size of your hand. We also swam in waterfalls which is a first for me.

Something i’ve always wanted to do and although it was freezing it was an exhilarating and fun experience with others from our trekking group.

We slept in bamboo lodges, the first night on the side of the mountain overlooking villages on other mountains chiang mai-69 with towns and cities far off in the distance.

Our second night was in the heart of the jungle which was fun sitting around a fire while our quirky guide who called himself “Happy Hippy” recited the only 4 songs he knew on his badly tuned guitar.

Our last day was another first, white water rafting. It was great fun and I’d definitely look into doing more in the future. We also got to do “bamboo rafting” which our white water rafting captain liked to chiang mai-77call “bamboo sinking”. He wasn’t wrong. once 8 of us boarded a raft of bamboo the whole thing submerged by about 12 inches.

Trekking outside Chiang Mai is easily accessible and great fun. Considering it was a trekking tour we managed to fit a lot in besides just walking which is always great. The scenery is always stunning and our group were friendly. The occasional Chang Beer in the evening always helps too!

Our last night in Chiang Mai saw us eating at the Buffet BBQ similar to the one we did in Battambang. It was great fun and it’s amazing to see thousands of people all eating under one roof with dodgy cabaret on a stage and awful Thai soap operas on TV projectors.

We capped the night off with some hilarious rounds chiang mai-79of bowling with hostel friends which saw us trying all sorts of techniques to get strikes, followed by a visit to the Warm Up Cafe which needed no warming up at all.

3 rooms of loud music with around 900 or so people cramming every available space. Hot but great fun.

Chiang Mai was a culture shock to us. Coming from Cambodia where our last days were spent with clear itineraries and busy days, our time in Chiang Mai was confusing at first.

Attempting to slow down chiang mai-3 a bit mixed with feeling guilty for not doing enough. Our hostel was great except for one gripe which was a TV in the lounge.

People watched pirated DVDs all day and in the evening which meant no one could sit in the lounge and chat. Meeting people wasn’t easy at first and I don’t see why people would come all this way just to watch a movie or two. Never the less we had fun in Chiang Mai. Now it’s time to head back to Bangkok.

Check out our short video of a tiger playing at the Tiger Kingdom.