Kesenian tawar-menawar

Kesenian tawar-menawar memang kesenian yang unik dan penuh tradisi di Indonesia.

The Art of Bargaining is indeed an art which is unique and full of tradition in Indonesia.

Many friends ask me, before heading off on a holiday to Indonesia, what are my best tips and tricks for bargaining in Indonesia. This is not something that can be easily answered…as situations vary drastically from city to village and island to island in Indonesia. It can also depend on the goods and/or services available at that time and place. Lets take a look at bargaining in Indonesia!

Bargaining is a way of life for Indonesians and locals haggle for goods and services everywhere from street stalls and markets to hotels. There’s always a bargain to be found!

Through my eyes, bargaining is like a drama game (full of acting) and if you know the rules of this game then it can be lots of fun! *Think of an Indonesian Sinetron (soapie) and visualise the various over-dramatic facial expressions and body language that can be seen through one episode; these over dramatic characteristics can also be easily seen in a bargaining dialogue! So get your Sinetron acting skills ready for action!

Firstly, you must remember to always SMILE! A smile goes along way in any foreign country but in Indonesia it seems to be highly appreciated and goes along way in helping you bargain for a great deal. It’s also a great way to get friendly and have genuine interactions with locals.

Using your Indonesian language skills as much as possible, is also a sure bet to grabbing a bargain on an item. If you are lucky enough, you may even get ‘harga lokal‘!

One thing to consider before taking off on your big bargaining adventure, is where you may or may not be able to bargain. Of course, at markets and road side stalls, its acceptable and expected for you to bargain. However, don’t attempt bargaining at a department store or shopping malls where it’s obviously fixed price.

In some shops, especially in touristy areas, you will be offered a ‘diskon‘ or ‘harga spesial‘, either because you are the first or last customer for the day. Some people advise that shopping in the morning is the best time, in Bali you will often be offered ‘harga pagi‘, a discounted morning price if you are the first customer for the day. *Morning is also a good time to shop, as the weather is cooler than other times of the day!

It’s okay to look around at market stalls and shops, however it’s always a good idea to let the seller know that you are just looking by stating; ‘Lihat-lihat saja, ya, Bu/Pak!‘ and it’s also a good idea to eye off a few items and ask the prices of these various items. This gives you a gauge of the price ranges and it’s a way for you to divert your interest from the item you REALLY want to purchase, so that the seller doesn’t necessarily know which item you REALLY want.

Only approach the seller if you are really interested in buying an item. A good starting phrase to gauge whether it’s acceptable to bargain is; ‘Boleh minta disk on?‘ or ‘Boleh tawar-menawar?

You could also start the bargaining process, by asking the price of the item that you are interested in (Berapa harganya …?). Then ask if the price can be reduced (Boleh/Bisa kurang?). If the answer is “Ya” (boleh/bisa) then you can begin the negotiations.

As a general guideline, I tell friends that they should make an offer of at least half of the first asking price (this of course depends on how high that first price is). From here, you and the seller can make counter offers until a suitable price is reached for both parties.

If, after some bargaining, you consider the sellers price is still too high, you can walk away from the stall (we all know there will be another stall just down the road selling similar, if not exactly the same goods). The trick of walking away, is sometimes the perfect call, and the seller will give in and accept your final price rather than lose the sale totally. If by chance the seller doesn’t give in and doesn’t chase you down the road to negotiate the final deal, you will know that the price was too high and the seller would have possibly incurred a loss, which they were obviously not willing to incur (or perhaps simply not willing to sell at that price).

When you have both agreed on a final price, transactions should take place…there is no backing out of this bargain now!

Bargaining is a skill that takes practice and can be developed over time – the more you travel to Indonesia, the better your bargaining skills will become and you’ll get better deals each time you visit!


  • One of my favourite tips is; do your research first! What I mean by this is; research the items that you want to buy by surveying prices at fixed price stores such as; department stores and/or supermarkets. This will give you a guide of the actual price the item is selling for elsewhere and give you the leverage for the bargaining range.
  • If you purchase more than one item from the same stall or shop, you should be able to negotiate a better deal. So, look for stalls/shops that sell various items that you would like to purchase; what better way to buy souvenirs for all your friends and actually make a save on the purchase!
  • Decide on the maximum amount that you want to pay for an item, this will ensure you don’t get carried away and/or confused when bargaining and go over your limit. It’s also a good idea to put this amount of money aside (in your purse or in your pocket) and when the bargaining gets tough, you can always pull out this stash of cash and plead the case that this is REALLY the only money you have left! 😉
  • Be aware of local arts and crafts products that are hand made locally – kerajinan tangan lokal oleh-oleh yang paling menarik! Therefore consider the value of visiting local artisan villages and art studios, where you can buy directly from the craftsman, this will ensure a good deal and a more authentic souvenir that is less tainted by tourism. This also supports traditional arts in small villages and is a great way to give back directly to the people.
  • Traditional art forms in Indonesia, such as; batik and kain ikat, make wonderful personal souvenirs and/or gifts to bring back home. Generally with arts such as batik and ikat; there are various qualities or standards of the products e.g. batik tulis is a higher quality than batik cap thus the price will be more expensive. Sellers will be quite genuine about the quality and the differing prices for the items and it is acceptable for you to ask; ‘Berkualitasnya nomor berapa?

And…always remember patience, a good humour and a SMILE are key elements for successful bargaining.

AKHIRNYA: Selamat tawar-menawar di Indonesia, ya! 😉

Oleh-oleh Tana Toraja
Oleh-oleh Tana Toraja

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