How to haggle in Kota Kinabalu’s dried seafood market

I really shouldn’t be writing this… those guys rely on tourism dollars to stay afloat. But I guess if you’re searching for tips, you’d haggle anyway, so use this as a guide. But be kind, if you like the person, buy more from him/her, at least help them clear stock 🙂

And never be an asshole. They may be hungry sharks, but they need to earn a living too.

pasar-ikan-masin-kota-kinabalu-ivanhenaresDried seafood market in Kota Kinabalu (Pasar Ikan Masin). Image from

Stage 1 – Exploration

I would start by setting your mind to a number you want to pay, then start negotiations lower than that. In Kota Kinabalu (KK), the lowest price you can go, depending on supply/demand, is usually 30-50% of the listed price. So say, if it’s written RM200, you could probably get away with RM60-100.

My regular m/o is to walk around once, and see who’s most desperate (usually the middle lane group). Mildly entertain the sharks who come to you, taking note of who sells hard, and at what price. Ignore those who ignore you. Briefly ask the price for the things you’re interested in, as well as some high-value items like scallops or hoisum (sea cucumber). Then walk away. Entertain the next seller, taking note whether he’s eyed you from the first seller, and if he offers you the things you looked at earlier. Repeat the process down the lane, and mentally decide who you want to buy from (see how good is their stock – Fresh? Big? Smells good? They’re all from the same boss/es anyway – all employees). Walk around some more, or take a few mins break. The second round is where you go serious.

Stage 2 – Homing in

Say you’ve decided on the 3rd seller in the middle lane. The 2nd seller will be your “false move”. On your second round, casually walk through the lane again, pretending to be half interested. Let yourself be stopped by the 2nd seller (don’t aim for him), and start negotiating. Speak loudly so the 3rd seller can hear you. Let’s say you’re actually going for scallops and hoisum, 2 packs each. Start with whatever he offered you – say, scallops listed at RM250, he’ll open at 200 for one pack. You counter at 250/4=70. See how he looks at you – if he looks at you like you’re stupid, that’s probably too low. He’ll drop to 150. You say 70. He’ll open a calculator and show you 130. You say 80. You say you want 2 packets, ask if he can do 80. If he drops to 100, pause negotiations. Mentally decide if you wanna buy from him instead, or you still wanna go with the 3rd seller.

Stage 3 – Going in for the kill

If you decide to buy from this 2nd seller, pause scallop negotiations (don’t agree on any price) and repeat the above process for hoisum. Now’s when you go hard. Tell him, you want 2 packets of scallops at RM80, and 2 hoisums at RM100. He’ll stick with say, 100 and 140. You give in, inch by inch till you find middle ground. Congratulations, that’s your agreed price. Ask him to pack it up for the flight – don’t pay yet. Now you move on to the extras. (see below)

If you decide to stick to the 3rd buyer, wave off the 2nd seller and walk away. The 3rd seller will make his move – again, don’t aim for anyone – talk to your bf, let him interrupt you with “scallop? sotong? hoisum?” – only stop at the 3rd/4th item and pretend he “caught your interest”. Repeat negotiations as shown above – scallops first, then hoisum, then back to scallop, increase quantity, use previous seller’s price against him, push push push till he won’t budge. Congratulations, you’ve gotten the best price for the visit. Ask him to pack it up for the flight – don’t pay yet. Time for the extras.

Stage 4 – Extras

Time to negotiate the small items – dried sotong, sotong balls, dried fish, whatever. These are small budget items that you’d otherwise not be able to push to cost. Remember the first walkthrough? Use that as reference, they usually throw price on those. See some sotongs? Slice the price in half or more. Use your already-bought items as leverage. You know you have a good deal when you want a rm45 sotong at rm15 and he says no, no no, then you say you don’t want it anymore and tell him to put it back, then he crumbles and says aiyah oklah oklah. Repeat for other small budget items. The more you buy, the better your leverage. At the final number, try to round it down too, e.g. RM515, down to RM500, agree on RM510. Only after you’re absolutely happy, then you pay.

Congratulations, you are now a haggling expert. Go post your win on Facebook. Thank me with a share 😛

PS – If you want to buy frozen seafood for your trip home, check out my old blog Where to buy cheap/dried seafood in Kota Kinabalu.



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About Me

I’m the Head of Tech at Traworld, a travel startup in Bangsar South, Kuala Lumpur.

This is a place for me to pen my thoughts… and sometimes sell my second-hand stuff.

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