In a Western society this is not something one has to learn how to master and therefore can be a bit daunting when arriving in Asia for the first time. However with a bit of practice and confidence you can achieve very low prices in Asia and avoid being ripped off once you learn two things: how to negotiate to a reasonable price with the seller, and learning what the reasonable prices are for each respective country.
Bartering skills are only really necessary where market stalls, open air establishments and ‘hawkers’ (sellers often found scouting the beach selling jewellery and souvenirs) are concerned. If buying something in a shop, or if you see a price tag, the price is almost always fixed and non-negotiable.
Generally speaking, Asian prices are low by Western standards. In many parts of countries such as Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, tourism is one of, if not, the biggest economy, so they do aim to make as much as possible out of you when you visit. The average wages in many parts of Asia are very low and they get very little support from their government if business is not going so well. For this reason, touts and the market people will naturally talk to you, sometimes walk after you, to try and make a sale.
For some travelers, while an exciting part of the experience, this can become tiring. Some days you want to be left alone and other days it can feel nice to stop and chat and have a bit of banter with the locals, maybe even practice some of the language. If the seller is confident and you seem to be getting nowhere with your negotiating skills, the etiquette is usually to thank them for their offer, walk away and advise that you know of a cheaper deal elsewhere. Most of the time they will call after you with a ‘final offer’, which can often be a reasonable price. If you are not so lucky, there are usually plenty of other sellers to compare prices with.
In order to be sure of whether or not you are being ripped off, well, it comes as a learning curve, and we all get stung at first. But one of the most magical things about travelling is that we get to meet other experienced travelers who can share information on deals that they have found, and people often sit together in hostels and run prices by each other to compare who has paid what.
Many locals that I have met have personally told me that it is very difficult for them to travel outside of their own country, mainly due to financial reasons. They have said that they see Western tourists as “very rich”. This idea can feel strange at first when you are backpacking and you can be feeling pretty poor or on a very tight budget at the time. This can also make you feel quite pressured at times when you are in a local village with people who may have never met a foreigner before and it can make you start to think about the cultural differences and your perspective of money.