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Roaming around street markets in Southeast Asia is one of the most interesting and thrilling things to do during your trip. It can also be quite intense and overwhelming if you haven’t prepared yourself properly.
Here’s a guide on how to survive street markets in Southeast Asia like a pro:
1. Leave your shy side at home
If you’re going to shop in the street markets, then you need to roll up your sleeves and get ready to negotiate like you’ve never negotiated before. The first price any vendor will give you is extremely inflated, so here’s a technique that works for me: reply by saying you’ll pay 1/4 of the price and the answer you will likely get is “no way!” followed by an “OK I’ll give you a 30% discount”. Say no and leave the stand and watch how the vendor will be calling you as you walk away and agreeing to give you 50% off. This technique isn’t fool-proof, but it works like magic most of the time.
2. Divide your cash
Take only the cash you want to spend and divide it into 2 different places. When you want to pay for something only show a small amount of cash and not the full amount that you’re carrying. First, this helps you negotiate, and second, in the case where you encounter pickpockets (and there are a lot of them in street markets), you won’t lose all your money.
3. Don’t carry or wear any valuables
With one quick scan vendors can tell the value of everything you’re wearing. Avoid dressing up in designer clothes and remove your jewelry or watch. Also, make sure to always have visibility on your wallet or bag, because pickpockets feed off of tourists in these areas. If you’re wearing a backpack, wear it from the front (yes it looks totally dorky, but it’s better to be safe than sorry) and put your wallet in this inside zipper.
4. Don’t be afraid to try the food
Get ready to try some of the best and weirdest food you’ve ever had. In some cities, the street food isn’t very clean, so try to stay away from meat or chicken to avoid getting an upset stomach. Noodles, rice and sweets are always a good option. If you’re not sure what a certain food is exactly and how you eat it, ask the vendor to explain it to you. In some parts of Asia, the locals eat foods that we’re not used to, so it’s better to ask before you eat! I’ve tried some of the most amazing and strangest desserts after seeing a bunch of locals stand in line to grab them and I kept coming back for more every day.
5. You’re going to buy a bunch of things you don’t need
But that’s OK! You can find such great deals in the street markets that you’re going to be tempted to buy things you never knew you even wanted. Add to that the pressure of the vendors trying to sell you stuff with every step that you take and you might end up buying a whole new suitcase to fit all your new purchases! The best thing to do is to weigh your suitcase beforehand and know your weight limit on the flight, so that you limit yourself to buying only what you can carry.
6. Avoid the taxi scams
The street markets are so overcrowded that there’s a high demand for taxis. Taxi drivers take advantage of this and try to charge tourists an over-inflated fixed fee instead of turning on the meter. Here are 2 things you can do: 1) walk 2 blocks and find a taxi on the street 2) order an Uber or even an Uber Bike in some cities.
7. Enjoy the cheap and cheerful services
It’s not every day you can get a one-hour massage or a manicure for under $10, so sit back and enjoy them!
8. Don’t wear flip-flops or sandals
There’s a lot of waste, dirty water and even some creepy crawlies on these streets, so it’s best to wear trainers to avoid getting your feet dirty.