The Pasar Experience

It’s a feeling that everyone knows well in Bali—you’ve come all this way to the “island of the gods”, it’d be a shame to leave without taking home some local goodies for family, friends, and most importantly, yourself! Sure, you could just go to any store on a major tourist street to pick up several authentically-Balinese trinkets and souvenir bits, but why not get your shopping done the more exciting and local way? Pasar is the Indonesian word for market, and it is also the much cheaper option.

Pasar Ubud

Pasar Ubud is a two-story complex (actually three if you count the basement that is pictured above) of hundreds of small vendors selling a wide range of all things Balinese from sarongs, batik dresses, and hand woven baskets to the ubiquitous Bintang tank tops, hand painted kites, and lewdly shaped wooden bottle openers. The setting may be overwhelming at first: row after row of shops lining dangerously narrow hallways, each store stocked with items piled up so high to the ceiling that not much sunlight can come through. But in my experience, you can buy the same products at a lower price in these indoor shops than in the ones facing the courtyard where most buyers flock.

What you’ll find here is a typical market scene you would see in most developing countries. It is not an ideal place for window shoppers or casual strollers—there are only two reasons why people gather here: to buy or to sell. So if the vendors come off a little strong when they beckon you to come back after you’ve looked at something—or worse, touched anything—don’t be shocked. They’re simply trying to sell and make a living.

Because Ubud is now overpopulated by foreign tourists and the vendors at Pasar Ubud can get away with selling at a higher price, many locals and domestic tourists look elsewhere to do their shopping Bali in order to get a better bargain.

Pasar Seni Sukawati & Pasar Seni Guwang

These are the two markets that attract the most domestic tourists, mainly from Java who travel to Bali by crossing the ferry in big tour buses. They are usually the morning stopover destinations to or from Ubud because there is not much else to be seen in the surrounding area. Whereas in Ubud you may be able to bargain in English, I highly doubt that you can do the same in either Sukawati or Guwang, so bring a local friend who could help you make that final transaction.

Both Pasar Sukawati and Pasar Guwang are technically “art markets”, but sell the same range of products that Pasar Ubud does, which comprises practically everything and anything. I personally like Pasar Guwang better because it is cleaner and has less aggressive vendors than Pasar Sukawati. I’ve also heard from Ubud locals that the vendors at Pasar Guwang are more willing to settle with lower prices than at Pasar Sukawati, so all the more reason to go there.

Here are my recent purchases from Pasar Sukawati. I’m a pretty terrible negotiator, so I’m posting their price tags not because it was a bargain, but only to give you an idea of what kind of things you can find in these markets and what their price range is.

Cylinder “ate” (pronounced aa-tuh) purse $25, batik dress $5.50, rattan clutch $10

Here are bargaining tips I’ve heard time and time again from my family that you can put to practice while shopping (maybe better than I can do!):

  • Put on your game face. If they know that you really want it, they won’t be as willing to lower the price.
  • Never ask the price for something you don’t actually want, because by doing so you have initiated the bargaining game.
  • It’s not offensive to bargain for a third of the named starting price.
  • Walking away is your strongest bargaining power. But walk slowly, so it gives them enough time to calculate how much lower they can sell the item for.
  • Buy in bulk, so you can bargain even lower per item.
  • Enjoy it and have fun! Bargaining is much better when everyone is light hearted and able to smile.

First two photos via Flickr by avlxyz and by shirlhtan.

3 comments

  1. Natalia says:

    Bargaining tips are brilliant! I think this is something a lot of us struggle with… Especially love the last one — “Enjoy it and have fun! Bargaining is much better when everyone is light hearted and able to smile.” Thanks for a great post! :)

  2. Cindy says:

    Yeah, bargaining is definitely something that needs practice. You need to know when to do certain things. I can’t count how many times I’ve walked away, hoping that the seller would budge and say “okay fine, $___ (whatever price I named)” but it does NOT happen. And I continue to walk in silence all mopey because I actually really wanted whatever it is that I was negotiating for.

  3. Justine says:

    Haha, I know somewhere in our house we still have that obscene bottle opener. Lovely stuff you bought from the market! I especially like the cylinder ate purse.

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