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The market at Tan Thanh border gate in Lang Son province attracts shoppers from all across Northern Vietnam even though most people there seem unsure about the price and the quality of the products.
“No one goes home without buying something. Our passenger Car is often stuffed full of shopping bags when we come back from Lang Son,” says Ngo Quang Vinh, a tour guide with Indochina Venture. Just 30 kilometres from Lang Son you can find a shopper’s paradise with thousands of booths at the Tan Thanh Market, a gateway into southern China.
“However, you should know how to bargain and be able to verify the quality of your goods,” says one trader before heading off to the market. “Tan Thanh is awash with imitation goods.” There are five trading centres: Huu Nghi and Tan Thanh markets, Vietnam – China Trading Centre, the Fresh Fruits and Vegetable market and The Gioi Phu Nu (A Woman’s World), covering an area of 120 hectares at the border gate.
Everything can be found here in ample abundance and if you’ve brought your haggling-boots it’s said you can get a cheap price. At stalls stacked with all kinds of clothes, footwear and electronic items, you can find trade marks such as Bossini, Louis Vuitton, Nokia by way of China. Nguyen Trung Kien, a middle-aged man, who has come all the way from Hai phong on a day tour, says the price of all commodities in Lang Son is cheaper than in his hometown.
He shows me an electric fan and a pair of shoes he bought after fishing for the best price for an hour or so. “At one booth the fan was $23 and at another it was $12! My shoes cost VND140,000 which was half the initial asking price,” says Kien. For Nguyen Thi Nguyet, a fashionable young woman from Ha Dong in Ha tay province, it’s less about the price and all about finding the latest global fashions. “I bought two leather bags for myself which you can’t get in Ha Dong or even in Hanoi ” she says happily.
Nguyen Thanh Thuy, a middle-aged woman from northern Vinh Phuc province, who’s also here on a day tour organised by her company, comes shopping in Lang Son once a year to stock up. “I write a list of what I want to buy then check the price at my local markets before going on the trip,” says Thuy, who is also a mean haggler.
“In order to get items at a low price, you definitely have to bargain, as all traders here quote high prices at first.” She shows me an electric cooker which she bought for VND350,000, down from the initial price of VND500,000. Often people assume that merchants always double the actual price they’re looking for, but as merchants know this, Thuy says some traders will ask for more straight away, so it seems like you’re getting more of a bargain when you half their grossly inflated price.
“I bought this 1 gigabyte Kingston memory stick for VND150,000 but the initial price I was quoted was VND450,000!” said Thuy. Tran Duy Tri from the central province of Nghe An, who’s here for work, puts it all down to experience. “The more shopping and haggling you have done, the more chance you have of getting a surprisingly low price,” says Tri, showing me a 4 gigabyte Kingston storage card which he managed to get for VND150,000, despite the trader asking for VND500,000. One trader Nguyen Thi Huong admits she bumps up the price, but only because that’s part of the game.
“I can’t say the real price as customers immediately refuse to pay more than half or even one third of what I say! We are happy to haggle as we just wait until we hear a reasonable price and sell,” says Huong. “Of course plenty of people end up buying products at a high price.” Besides getting a decent price, another concern for those shopping is quality.
“The last time I was here I bought a nicely-designed suitcase with a famous trade mark but the lock soon broke,” says Nguyet, who checked her handbags carefully this time around. Another shopper warns me that you can find Sony batteries four times cheaper than the normal price but they will be dead within a month. But despite all of the pitfalls, most people I speak to are return visitors. It seems that the possibility of finding a bargain outweighs the risk of ending up with a lemon.
Tag: Vietnam, Tour, Hanoi, Ha Tay, Lang Son
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