I look up from Ubud market’s maze of handmade soaps, silk dresses, and wooden keychains to see a man with a wild-eyed expression. I’ve just finished negotiating with a woman to buy a silver anklet, and we are laughing and joking with one another as she wraps it up for me. His overwhelmed expression betrays his situation; he is brand new to the Ubud market.
“I don’t know how you do it,” he says, referring to my recent negotiation.
“You gotta have fun with it. It’s a game!” I reply.
Lucky for me, I learned the art of negotiation early on in my travels, and although I was a bit rusty when I set foot in Ubud market in Bali, I pulled it together pretty quickly and embraced the experience.
Where is Ubud Market? (and Market Negotiation Tip #1)
Ubud Central Market – also known as Ubud Bali Art Market – is opposite the Royal Palace, basically at the corner of Jalan Raya Ubud and Jalan Monkey Forest (though it’s important to note it isn’t actually near the Ubud monkey forest itself). Here’s a map to confuse you some more.
But rest assured, accessing the Ubud market place isn’t terribly difficult; it’s on every local map, and anybody in the area can point you in the right direction.
Ubud market opening hours are from 8am-5pm, though Balinese holidays (which are frequent) can wreak a bit of havoc with that. Again, ask around for the best day to go, and you’ll get all the info you need.
As with many markets in Asia, the best time to go is in the morning. Not only do you stand a chance of beating some of the rush, but one of the key tricks to bargaining in Bali comes into play at the start of the day; the first sale of the day is considered an omen of coming good luck for the vendor, and thus they may be willing to discount prices a bit deeper than they will at other times of the day.
Shopping in Ubud Art Market – Tips
Like many street markets (and perhaps even more so with this one), the Bali Ubud Market is chaotic, crowded, and it sprawls. I regularly turned a corner, thinking surely I’d come to a perimeter, only to discover yet another avenue packed with vendors. I wandered aimlessly for a few hours, and I suspect I only covered a fraction of this crazy market.
Though it might not seem apparent at first glance, it’s loosely organized into a few different markets in Ubud; one for art and handicrafts, an Ubud silver market with silver and other jewelry, and a food market with spices and various forms of produce. To keep things interesting (and disorienting!), there’s some spillover betwixt these sections.
How do you barter in Bali? My advice in a market like this, is to go more than once. The first time, just wander. Get a lay of the land. Figure out what’s for sale, and where, and how much of it there is (there’s a lot of the same stuff for sale at different stalls).
It’s also good to get a basic idea of how much things cost. Ubud market prices are moving targets – at best.
The problem is, when you ask for a price, that’s a cue to the vendor to launch into a full negotiation. So the trick is to ask for the price – as non-committally as possible, acting very disinterested in the item! Then, walk away. Don’t engage. They’ll likely drop their price right away and/or ask you to give your price. Say you don’t have any money right now and keep walking. Your first trip into this Balinese market is for reconnaissance.
Perfect example: when I was shopping at Ubud market, there were so many sarongs. And they were all beautiful! Towards the beginning of my market excursion, I bought one at what I thought was a great price after employing my best tips for how to barter in Bali…..only to turn a corner with my new sarong in hand and have another vendor open with a price lower than what I had just paid. (Here’s another bargaining tip: once you’ve bought your thing, stop looking at similar items and asking for prices; it only leads to heartache)!
Had I just wandered through the market to learn Ubud market prices first, I would have been able to establish a reasonable cost for a sarong and gotten a better deal.
How to Bargain in Bali
One of the things I appreciate the most about the Ubud market (and shopping/negotiating in Bali in general), is the humour and fun with which business is conducted. Negotiating is truly a game. It goes kind of like this:
- “How much is this?” I ask.
- “X” they reply.
- My eyes widen and I feign some sort of comical exaggerated pain.
- They ask me to suggest a price.
- “My price is so low, I can’t tell you. You will be upset with me.”
- They laugh and urge me again to name my price.
- Depending on the item and what I think it’s worth (or am willing to pay), I name a ridiculously low price, usually about 25% of the asking price.
- Now it’s the vendor’s chance to widen their eyes and feign exaggerated pain.
With this, we both smile and laugh, and the game is on.
Back and forth we go, each stating our case. The vendor explains why it’s worth so much more than my offer. I explain why I simply can’t pay what they’re asking. Every time they inch down in price, I thank them for the wonderful deal they are giving me, but say that it is still too expensive for me. Every time I inch up in my offer they continue to tell me it’s not enough, but they respond with a further discount.
The trick is to express interest in the item at hand, but not to actually be too attached. Before the negotiations begin, set a price in your mind for what it’s worth to you. Start with a price well below that, and work your way up to your final price. If you both can’t agree on it, walk away. If the vendor chases after you with another “final” price, you’ll know they had more wiggle room. If they let you walk away, you know that your price was simply too low. You can decide if you’re willing to return later with a higher offer.
And remember, in a place like Ubud market, there’s probably another half a dozen stores where you can buy that exact same trinket. So if your negotiations fail the first time around, find another vendor with the same item and try again. It’s fun, and a cultural expectation.
An ethical note about negotiation:
In many cultures and societies, negotiation is part of the fabric of commerce. In places like Bali, just about everything is negotiable; negotiation is expected, and vendors inflate their asking prices accordingly.
If you, with your western sensibilities, come into a market and pay the asking prices (because it’s still a steal for you, or because you think you’re helping somebody by knowingly paying more), believe it or not, you could be playing a part in crippling that country’s entire economy. You might think you’re helping that person, but in fact, I believe you’re hurting the bigger picture.
Read this article for more on this idea: How Tourists Unwittingly Cripple Local Economies.
Watch the Ubud Markets in Action (and How to Haggle in Bali)
The central market in Ubud is near the Royal Palace and is a maze of vendors selling everything from keychains to clothes, sarongs to statues, carvings to kites.
Watch this video to get in on the action, including a nail-biting negotiation with one of the vendors, and lots of penises. Seriously. You gotta watch.
Click here to watch on YouTube.