Is it bad to like a bargain? On the one hand, when visiting a developing country, I know that I’m far richer than most of the people I meet, especially vendors selling a product or service. On the other hand, shouldn’t everyone, including me, pay something close to the market price? I struggle with this one, as I believe many travelers do as well. And never more so than when booking my trip for Halong Bay, Vietnam.

It’s 2005. My partner, Jen, and I are in a travel agency in Hanoi, scoping out the packages for Halong Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site about 100 miles out of town. The packages look like this:
1) Standard trip: transportation, 3 days, 2 nights, small boat, room and board — $19.
2) Deluxe trip: transportation, 3 days, 2 nights, small boat, room and board including kayak usage, guided hike and admission to a cave. $40.

Me: “We’re on a budget. I think we should choose the Standard package.”
Jen: “Dave, come on, the Deluxe is only $40! It’s so cheap, and look at all the extra stuff we get!”
Me: “Seems like they’re gouging us!”

In short, I’m negotiating with my partner over $20! But I don’t want to get gipped. I mean, $40 is a LOT in Vietnam. How much are the locals paying?!!

In the end, of course, we went for the Deluxe and had a great time. How could we not? Halong Bay is a beautiful place, a vast emerald bay in the Gulf of Tonkin dotted with temples, caves and karst limestone outcroppings. We *did* go caving. We *did* use the kayak. We *did* go for a hike to the top of a nearby cliff for a panoramic view. But my overwhelming memory of Halong Bay is just chilling on the deck as we sail around, enjoying the lovely scenery and the very slow pace. Vietnam is a hectic place; sometimes you just need a break from the hurly burly of the bigger cities. Halong Bay is the place to do that!

What are YOUR feelings about spending in developing countries? Do you bargain? Do you just say, “I’m rich” and pay whatever they’re asking? What’s the line?