Mastering the Art of Haggling

In bustling Kowloon, there is a market for everything, be it handcrafted jade trinkets, tourist tat, or exotic animals. Experiencing Hong Kong’s thriving street markets is a must; the atmosphere is mesmerising and haggling over cheap curios is rather addictive once you master the art of it.

On our fifth day in Hong Kong, the mercury hit 27-32°C, the humidity level was at a debilitating 93% and ominous clouds were on the horizon. Before walking the short stretch to central Sheung Shui for dim sum (fortunately involving no further encounters with questionable spring roll fillings), Laurence took me up to the rooftop for an aerial view of Sheung Shui Wai. Almost all of the houses have balconies or rooftop terraces, though by the looks of it most people preferred to stay inside in air-conditioned bliss!

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After demolishing a few plates of dim sum at Original Taste, Laurence and I took the MTR to Austin, in western Kowloon. A short walk in the blistering heat led us to the International Commerce Centre (ICC), the tallest building in Hong Kong. The 100th floor is home to sky100, an observation deck with 360° views across Kowloon and Victoria Harbour. Entry is HK$168 (£16.80) – a snip compared to a trip up The Shard.

The lift whizzed us up to the 100th floor at breakneck speed, and before we knew it we were 393m above the Pearl of the Orient. Across Victoria Harbour we could see Golden Bauhinia Square, the HSBC and Bank of China buildings and, underneath a particularly threatening cloud, the complex atop Victoria Peak where we’d spent the previous evening. Down below, a swathe of green in the form of Kowloon Park interrupted the seemingly interminable rows of skyscrapers.

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Every overcast day has a silver lining – and for us, that was having the entire observation deck near enough to ourselves. By the time a crowd of noisy schoolchildren arrived, we were preparing to leave.

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Upon leaving sky100, a thick mist descended and the heavens opened; we waited the worst of it out in the ICC before making our way to Jade Market. With the jade industry flourishing in the 1970s, Jade Market was established in 1984; some 400 stalls operate here, hawking jadeite jade gemstones, jewellery and trinkets. It was fairly quiet when we visited, so we felt a little pestered and swiftly moved on; if you want to make a purchase you’ll need to have an idea of the item’s value in order to haggle successfully, as there are no prices displayed.

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Lunchtime had been and gone, so Laurence picked up a skewer of fish balls and some stinky tofu – and if smells could kill, this would.

A short walk along Nathan Road, Mong Kok’s busy thoroughfare, took us to Ladies Market; contrary to what its name suggests, its wares are not limited to a female clientele. There were stalls selling everything from artwork to clothing and Chinese lucky cats to keyrings. After perusing the goods on offer, I decided to try and purchase a small jade tiger for my sister; she was born in the year of the tiger. I trawled through the trinkets: dragons; monkeys; dogs; pigs; every zodiac animal except a tiger was available. At HK$99 (£9.99) a pop, I wasn’t going to shell out for something that I wasn’t 110% sure was a tiger. The stallholder eventually claimed to have found a tiger, and after a lot of haggling (and a few shocked/ surprised faces) the price fell to HK$30 (£3) – but after thorough examination, it was a goat, not a tiger, so I walked away. At another stall, I successfully haggled for a little jade pig – the sort that go on charm bracelets – and managed to get the price down from HK$49 (£4.90) to HK$20 (£2). Side note: sorry dear sibling, you now know how much I paid for your present – but haggling is definitely half the fun when it comes to buying souvenirs from Ladies Market!

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Satisfied with our successful bargaining skills, we set off for Goldfish Market on Tung Choi Street North. Lining the street are dozens of stalls selling fish from all realms of the watery world from bog-standard goldfish to exotic tropical fish with a price tag to match. Besides the fish in their (rather unethical) plastic bags, there were boxes of frogs, snails and turtles stacked along the pavement.

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Our next stop was the Flower Market, which was brimming with exotic blooms. Pastel-coloured orchids, roses in rainbow colours and even small fruit trees spilled out onto the pavement.

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Guided by the squawks of feathered friends, we arrived at our final market of the day: Bird Market, also known as Yuen Po Bird Garden. This market was teeming with tropical songbirds in ornate cages and brightly-feathered parrots which relished the opportunity to screech “hello” and “bye bye” at us as we walked past them. If you’re looking for a thrifty way to spend half a day, a tour of Kowloon’s bustling markets should hit the mark.

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Tips:

  • Hong Kong’s tourist offices dish out numerous promotional leaflets, many of which offer discounted entry (usually in the region of 10-15%) to top attractions such as sky100. Alternatively, you can save 10% off regular admission to sky100 by booking online.
  • When it comes to haggling, don’t be afraid to offer half the advertised price (or less) – there’s a mark-up for tourists, and locals will never pay that much. If the stallholder refuses to come to an agreement, remember that you hold the trump card: many of these stalls sell exactly the same products, and you can just walk away.
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10 thoughts on “Mastering the Art of Haggling

  1. I used to absolutely despise haggling, thinking that people who did it were just being cheap. It pains me to think how much I have overpaid for things because I was too embarrassed to haggle. I’ve completely changed though and now I think I’m ok at it. Though it does bother me that statistically men can get a lower price than women. I find this especially true in Asian countries.
    I am a haggler for life now though! ❤

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think that’s common, especially among westerners, to think that haggling is equivalent to being stingy – it comes down to cultural differences, and once you see everyone else doing it it becomes less embarrassing to have a go yourself! If the context is right, like street markets, I have no problem giving it a go as I have nothing to lose 🙂 Perhaps men are a bit more persistent when it comes to haggling and that’s why they get lower prices?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re absolutely right about the cultural differences re: stingyness. I read somewhere that the reason men are more successful with haggling in Asian countries is because they tend to be more well-respected. Again it’s a culture thing. But I’ve tested the theory and it seems to be the case. I’ve tried haggling and even been allowed to walk away. Whereas when I’ve gone back with a male, they were able to get the price even lower to where I was trying to haggle to. Pretty annoying when you’re a solo female traveller, but then there are some perks too.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s true, there’s a thin line between persistence and arrogance when it comes to haggling… it’s not something I feel totally comfortable doing (mostly as it’s not really the done thing in the UK) but I had nothing to lose so it was worth a try! It depends on the item though as to whether it’s worth the time haggling – some stallholders can be very reluctant!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ah, haggling…it’s not uncommon in China, let alone Hong Kong! I remember my parents once haggled for TWO hours at a jade shop in Shanghai and I was totally put off by it. Looks like you held your ground pretty well!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, that’s dedication to the cause!! In Hong Kong, we found that if you pitched a bit lower, shook your head if they didn’t agree and made as if to walk away then they’d usually reduce the price; it was entertaining to try, but I don’t think I would have the patience to do it all the time!

      Liked by 2 people

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