Getting Scammed Buying Batiks in Yogyakarta, or Not

Yogyakarta, Indonesia

She was desperately trying to get rid of the Indonesian guy who was following her footsteps. Harassment is too strong of a word, but the blond girl was visible annoyed. As they passed, I overheard the guy saying, ‘So, you already know about tonight-only batik exhibition?’

Not until the next day did I realise what that scene was all about.

Our turn to get approached

We were walking along Malioboro browsing the various t-shirts, souvenirs, keychains, and what not. Jack was a little ahead of me and I noticed he was carrying on a conversation with a guy with a very wide smile who seemed to be giving Jack some sort of a direction.

Being the pessimistic person that I can be, I was like ‘Uh-oh… an overly friendly local in a touristy place. That can’t be good.

The guy went on saying,

The batiks on Malioboro are low quality. Very expensive. You need to go to this place… it’s an art center where students learn to make batiks. Much cheaper and better quality batiks.’

A 'student' at 'Novi Art Studio'
A 'student' at 'Novi Art Studio'

Our scam alert went off the radar.

What threw us off was the fact that he didn’t insist on taking us to the place. He pulled out a map (how convenient that he happened to have a map with him) and drew us the direction to get to ‘Novi Art Center’.

Headfirst into the scam

Well, we didn’t have anything planned for the rest of the day so we decided to check out this so-called batik ‘Art Center’. It’s about 10 min walk from Malioboro and located off a small alley.

Inside was a very big collection of batik paintings of various qualities, each was given an ‘A’ to ‘ZZ’ rating with ‘ZZ’ being the most elaborate and thus most expensive.

I didn’t know much about batiks, but there were some very pretty and colorful batik paintings there. The patterns varied from traditional characters to abstract splashes of colour. When you held them against light from a window or an open door, the colors came alive.

Check out the video below to get an idea at how varied and colorful these paintings are:

I kept wanting to tell Jack to stop looking so interested (haggling lesson no:1), he was practically drooling. But that’s the hard thing about shopping in Indonesia: the merchants understand BOTH Indonesian and English (we have to come up with a third code language).

The guy was a pro and observed very quickly that Jack was the weaker point. He stopped talking to me altogether and was catering completely to Jack’s wishes.

You like the dragon on silk, Sir? How about this much-bigger one we have? Big dragon, Sir. Made by famous artist.

At this point Jack would like to intercept to say that:
It wasn’t drool — I just took a sip of water and some got on my chin. Stop exaggerating.’

Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t mind having some of these batiks on our walls. But I was wary of starting a negotiation without knowing a base price. The salesmen kept bringing more and more paintings out. Whenever he noticed we were interested in a particular style or color, he’d bring out the larger version of the painting.

After haggling back and forth for almost an hour, we ended up with 3 large paintings for $200.

Now, do we think that the guy with the map was being paid by the place?

Absolutely.

Are the batiks genuine?

I was told that a genuine batik doesn’t have a front or a back. The dye goes through the cloth making the pattern indistinguishable on both sides. A ‘fake’ batik is produced by a machine and the dye would only show up on one side. If you turn it over, it will be obvious that it’s the ‘wrong’ side.

The batiks that we got from the place look the same on both side. So maybe they’re real? Who knows.

Batik for sale at Novi Art Center
The 'Mahyar' we got is very similar to the bottom one

Were we scammed?

We were sure from the very beginning that we were walking into a crafted scenario. We were told that the shop was only open on Mondays and Tuesdays, and guess what day it was when were there? Tuesday. Subliminally they were saying, ‘You can’t come back tomorrow. Today is your last chance to buy.’

But we also wanted to buy the batiks. We bargained really hard and ended up paying 70% of the opening price. Later on in the day, we checked out other ‘exhibitions’ (also courtesy of other friendly locals) and we could happily say that both the selection and the quality of the batiks at ‘Novi’ was much better. If we had found similar types of paintings in these other stores for cheaper, we would feel really bad.

But we didn’t.

And thus we left Yogyakarta pretty happy with our purchases. I guess that’s all that matters.

Now we’ve just had to hold on to our batiks until after we came back from our RTW trip — whenever that happens to be.

Other notes:
– Sometime the person would claim that the shop is a government-sponsored shop and the price is fixed by the government. Don’t fall for it. Always negotiate the price.
– Beware of those saying today is your last chance to buy them because they’re either being shipped off somewhere or today is the exhibition’s last day.
– The two main batik paintings we bought were signed ‘Mahyar’ and ‘Novi’. A quick Google search revealed that they’re both, indeed, well-known Indonesian batik artists. Looking at the prices online it seemed that we did score a decent bargain after all.

34 Replies to “Getting Scammed Buying Batiks in Yogyakarta, or Not”

  1. Im pretty sure i just purchased three batiks from that store. I didn’t see a name on the front of the store though.. I’m second guessing whether or not mine are genuine too or just reproductions. I was told i would receive an email in a week with the story behind my art… (fingers crossed) can you please post the address for this place you purchased from.. thanks

  2. Hi,,

    im interested in your story about scam in Yogyakarta. im making thesis about scam in Yogyakarta. can you please reply my comment directly to my email? I really need your help my thesis and other traveler in the future. thanks

    1. That place is the only little scame in yogya. There are so many of them and even worst than “novi art center” in malioboro, sultan palace area…

  3. At the desk where we paid, we saw a lot of cards from former customers, so it looked reliable… And we found it not suited to bargain hard, because we were buying the work of students… Of course it's more important that we like our souvenirs and we now know that there is a geit gap in culture!

  4. We first got into exactly the same scam, paying €15 for just à small batik, but after that we talked with à local guard that showed us the place where the locals go and all the exhobitions buy them. Here the prices started for €2 up to €60. We got à nice mahyar for €15. It is called the batik art center yokyakarta and is located in an alley of letjend suprato street near malioboro. If you are in the street ask locals for directions they will know the place. You can see them working on the batiks and they give you an à to z price list starting from 30.000 irp to 1.000.000. So if you ever want to buy à batik, I advice you to pay that place à visit!

  5. Please do not understimate how hard it is to say no. In many places in Asia it is easy, but in Yoga it is ver difficult. You have to be really strong to say no. The people on Java are really nice and friendly. The might offer free Tea, talk with you about your travel and life. Find common topics. The Bartik are very beautiful (you will for sure find one you really like), You are relaxed and in an holiday environment….

    The big dilemma is that a tourist does not know the quality and therefore a reasonable price – so it is hard to negotiate. "We have already closed", "Last day of Exhibition", focus on your weak points are clear indication for potential scam.

    In China they do astronomical overpricing – discounts of 90% are possible => In Asia the percentage of discount cannot be used to figure out if you are doing a good deal.

    I recommend to sleep overnight before buy. In my case I had just to be unsure and wait half an hour and the price lowered more than 60% from the initial price without discussion.

    1. Hi Martin,

      can you share your experience about the scam to me? Im making thesis about scam now. i need some people's testimony. can you send me your experience to my email? Thanks

  6. I went on a business trip not too long ago to Yogyakarta with with my wife. We went on the sole purpose of finding business partners. Was definitely praying a lot. And God really blessed us. First of all, my wife, being native Indonesian knew when taxi drivers were trying to scam us. Right after getting off the train we were approached by a taxi driver. Afterwords a bacuk driver who had over-heard us with the taxi driver offered us a much lower and reasonable price. He also peddled us around as my wife reviewed the best and cheapest hotel/guest house. While waiting for her at one, I was greeted randomly by one of the other bacuk drivers just sitting around (I didn't know he was a bacuk driver at the time). We were just having a conversation and I ended up telling him why we were there. Wow! His name is Susilo, and he is probably the most honest, down to earth, and expert bacuk driver in Yogyakarta. He wasn't demanding, he waited for us, he went wherever we asked him to, gave us his expert opinion on where the best business partners would be, and even let us decide the price to pay him at the end of the day–twice 🙂 we paid him well for sure. He even introduced us to 'the man in the jacket' (lol, his brother) when he found out I had a curiosity for gemstones. His brother finds and cuts them, only cabochon, but he does a great job! Anyways, we found amazing contacts for silver jewelry and Batik paintings while we were there. I offer them on my website at amazing prices, but only in bulk. Bulk allows me to make a profit with shipping costs from Indonesia, and also, since I live in Jakarta I can't guarantee specific pieces, so bulk guarantees you will receive a large variety for business. However, if you are ok with receiving a non-specific, personal piece(s), I can consider drastically dropping the min. order. Probably in the larger sizes to help cover shipping cost. These are real batik by people who have been doing it for many years. To view samples and my business price list, please visit my website: http://www.LeoBeso.com.

    Have a great day!
    Elijah 🙂

  7. The scam is still going strong! Led there under almost the exact same circumstances. I got a batik by "Mayhar" as well and hopefully it real because it looks amazing. Googling him is actually how I found this post.

  8. omg that's exactly the shop that we went to! (weird, the person who asked me to check out the shop was a man working at the post office as we were there to send some postcards back home)

    anyhow, we did drool at the plethora of batik paintings, and i got a medium sized silk batik for around 30-40 dollars. scam or not, am sure the batik i got is authentic and not faked prints. i guess that's all matters.

  9. I just got back from Indonesia and went to that same place in Yogyakarta. Spent over 800USD in many of the paintings (big and small). I didn't bargain the price, but instead asked for quite a few free paintings. My friends each spent over 100USD each. We are extremely happy with our purchases. In fact, a decorator here in Spain offered me yesterday 700USD for the largest painting I brought over. So I guess it's not a scam.

  10. I have just bought a batik oil painting in a charity shop for £7. I didn't realise who the artist was until I googled his name (I don't think the elderly volunteers who work in the shop had a clue either!). It's signed Tulus Waritsu, Yogya, Indonesia and dated 1988. The painting is framed and it looks as if it could be that old. Does anyone know how much one of Waritsu's paintings sell for and how can I be sure this is genuine? It has the words: 'an original oil painting by an Indonesian artist. Do not expose to direct sunlight' on the back.

  11. This is how business is done in developing countries in SE Asia. Most of the galleries give 20 to 30% commission to these 'guides' because they need the customers when their galleries are not in a good location. I actually know the owner of Novi and know that all their paintings are genuine, done by the students of the many famous art universities in Yogya. They also purchase directly from all the famous artists at a fraction of the price. But their listed prices are also less than many other larger batik shops in yogya. So yes in this sense, bargaining is necessary but don't let that stress you out. This is the way of life in Indonesia and it is very different than western cultures.

  12. I was there last week an experienced the exact same thing. I smelled a scam as a lot of random people were trying to direct us to the government art centre. I didn't want to buy batik anyway, but art is one of those things that is difficult to value. If you're happy with the price, I think it's not a scam. But those guys certainly make you feel uncomfortable!

  13. Buying art always stressed me out because I never know if I am getting scammed. Finally I had to just relax and realize that if I was happy with the price it was the right price, and if I was happy with the art who cared if it was authentic.

    1. That's true. But at the same time whether or not I'm happy with the price depends on knowing that I paid what the item is worth for — which depends largely on whether or not it's a genuine artifact and not a made-in-china knockoff.

  14. Very likely the guy who led you there took some commission on your purchase, what you need to ask yourselves is "would you have bought it anyway?"
    I just got back from India, and after every tour there was to "mandatory" art-shopping-stop. Of course the guides took commission on everything I bought, but honestly I don't feel disturbed by this.
    I asked one of my guides if I could bargain and he replied "of course! You have to! You can go down 20% the initial price!" I had just gone down 70% (Chinese style bargain, I'm becoming an expert!) and felt horrible.
    I saw so much poverty in India that I'm totally ok thinking the guides made some money out of my purchases. I wanted to buy things anyway, they are good sellers, but I'm a very bad customer, nobody forced me, and next time I'll go to India I'm sure I'll still buy some local craft.
    Seems like you got authentic batiks, be happy with your purchase 🙂

  15. Ha! We were in that very same batik place about two years ago, having been sent there by the fellow who attached himself to us as our unsolicited 'guide' at the palace. We went out of curiosity, but with many reservations (we could smell a scam, but hey!). We ended up buying a batik each though, because they really were quite beautiful. It took a lot of hard bargaining though.

  16. Glad you didn't end up getting the $200. Ryan is typically harder at bargain than me, he likes the art of it. I'm probably the more gullible one, but in the end both of us are very cheap anyway, we just don't like to buy stuff that we don't need.
    I remember 4 years ago in Bunaken though, I bought bunch of seashell jewelry from little kids, the people there. They are already very cheap, but for sure I can bargain if I like. I didn't, those kids look like needing donation anyway. Well, in the end for a lot of stuff I only paid 3-5 dollars. I'm not talking about big $$ here. But yeah, if it's about rip-off price, we will definitely bargain hard.

  17. thanks for the tips! I can truly relate with the scams when I visited Bangkok and Tuktuk taxi drivers would tell us that temples are closed and that they will take us to others that were open. But we segued to jewelry and government-owned shops. Good thing they knew we were Filipinos and they didn't really resort to hardselling. We got out of the shop empty-handed.

    1. Trying to sell overpriced item to us, the tourists, is one thing – but blatant lies like temple closure (when they are indeed open) drive me crazy.

  18. A third code language, haha – that's handy. John speaks fluent Macedonian and has taught me a few phrases and words that come in very handy for situations like these since the language is not very common anywhere in the world. Nice tips for avoiding this scam.

  19. They look very nice, I love Indonesian art!

    I think you're completely right in your way of thinking: if you wanted the things, and you found that they were no cheaper or better elsewhere, then you didn't get scammed at all 🙂

    1. Me too 🙂 It took me leaving the country to actually grow an appreciation of how beautiful the Indonesian traditional motifs and crafts are.

  20. Spotting this kind of scams comes with practice. The more you travel the more aware you become of their existence. I guess it's always important to think twice when someone tells you they can give you better quality or price. Those guys are really good salesmen and can be very convincing if you let them.
    Another thing is that if you end up in a situation like that and if you really like product that is being offered you have to bargain really really hard. The prices they ask for are always ridiculously hight. I tend to start at 15-20% of the asking price and never ever pay more than 50%. If they are not willing to negotiate I just walk away.

    1. They can be very convincing indeed… which makes us very wary of any friendly approach, however genuine it seems. It bothers us to feel like we have to be suspicious of strangers all the time.

  21. Very nice batiks, not that I know anything about batiks, but the pictures look nice. Nice to see a practical example to your bargaining 101 lesson. I really liked that post too, it reminds me of border town Mexico.

    It's always nice to look back on a purchase and still feel good about it.

    1. That's true. We're happy with our batiks… we'll be happier once they're on a wall nicely framed. They'll have to wait until we get back though.

  22. Wow, those batiks look beautiful! I keep on reading stuff on Indonesia this week and I'm beginning to wonder if we are meant to go there on our upcoming trip!
    One thing that my husband and I do when we don't want people to understand us is we just borrow phrases from other languages. What ever words we know we just piece them together so we might say a few words of French, Spanish, Thai, Vietnamese. Sometimes even in the same sentence. Not many people can follow along with that!

    1. Take it as sign, Amy! You should 🙂
      Mixing different languages to make up your own is a great idea. Unfortunately we don't know that many languages between the two of us 🙂 Working on it though. We want to take a Russian course during our trip, now that would make a great code language 🙂

  23. As I said on FB, I really enjoyed this article. This line right here SLAYED me!

    At this point Jack would like to intercept to say that:
    ‘It wasn’t drool — I just took a sip of water and some got on my chin. Stop exaggerating.’

    I totally get that. Dario is often the butt of my jokes online (see the ComLuv link below 😉 and gives me a fake frowny face when he reads the posts. Cracks me up!

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