Bartering and Bargaining in Sri Lanka

My family travelled to Sri Lanka & this site tells our first hand experiences.

Tell others about Sri Lanka

Read about our holiday experience in Sri Lanka, Egypt, China, New York and Niagara, Yellowstone and Montana, Turkey and Bosnia

Recommend this page on Google

Bartering and Bargaining in Sri Lanka

Back in the van we head out to our next stop – Polonnaruwa. The drive as normal is bumpy but we have a new perspective on the roads as we pass, having seen the extent of the jungle from Sygiria Rock. We now start to see past the greenery and recognise some of the trees that are growing. The children are particularly excited as they start to recognise banana trees alongside the road.

As we near Polonnaruwa we stop off at a wood carving shop. This is our first taste of shopping in Sri Lanka (more Lisa’s area that mine). I have to admit that stopping for shopping is my least favourite task on holiday. I love looking at the local trades and am happy to take home a small souvenir but secretly I dread spending all our holiday money on souvenirs that after the first 6 months will end up in some corner where no one will look at them again!

However the wood carving shop does make an interesting stop. We see the carving being made and have a short tour of the “factory” where the owner explains the various woods that are native to Sri Lanka and are used in these local carvings. There are some truly remarkable wood carvings, many far too large to take home with us (I thank my lucky stars and try to ignore the owner as he explains that all these can be shipped back to Blightly on our behalf!).

The main themes of the wood carvings are animals (lots of elephants), Buddhism (lots of statues of Buddha in different positions) and various forms of mask. Callum, who has a small but growing collection of masks immediately seeks out the mask section and after relatively short search selects a mask with several phoenixes (which we believe is for luck) and Tom decide on one topped with a full phalanx of cobra (which is apparently for protection). Lisa finds a much larger double mask (so big I don’t believe it would ever actually be worn) and Kate picks out a wooden turtle for a friend while I am left to try and strike a bargain with the owner.

Now I can’t say that I am particularly fond of bartering. There are people who really make it fun and in those cases it really is part of the experience of the holiday where as others clearly take it very seriously (after all its their livelihood). The owner is pretty friendly and I decide I’ll use Lisa as my stooge in this bargain.

The four items we’re purchasing are laid out on the table and the owner has already given us a price but keeps saying, “don’t worry, we’ll make a good bargain”. So I turn to Lisa and say, I don’t think we can afford this. She is pretty shocked and almost gives the game away. But it’s the beginning of the holiday and she doesn’t want to have a big argument so she turns and says “well I’ll leave it to you”. This technique seems to work as the owner immediately offers a new, lower price and after a tentative lower price from me we settle somewhere in between. I can’t say whether or not I got a good bargain but the overall price works out at less than £20 and I expect the money is more welcome to him than a burden to us. I take out my credit card and suddenly wish I hadn’t! This seems to be a problem – yes we take a card but there could be extra charges – note to self, if paying by card, make this clear up front! Still I manage to avoid additional charges and pay (using a very old fashioned, written credit card slip). I spend a few anxious minutes sitting in front of the shops accountant while he dials the credit card authority line, wondering if they’ll reject a foreign transaction but it all goes through fine.