The bargaining process can be intimidating for first-timers. I remember the first time I gave it a go in Bali. I felt awkward, embarrassed and totally inadequate.
So here are a few tips to guide you through your haggling experience.
IS BARGAINING APPROPRIATE HERE?
When shopping, the first thing you need to determine is whether or not it is appropriate to bargain.
All too many ‘farangs’ (Westerners) travel to Thailand with the belief that fixed-prices don’t exist. They’re wrong.
In general, open-air market places are fine- haggle your little heart out. But department/ convenience stores are a different story because you aren’t dealing with the owner directly, and retail staff in Thailand have the same amount of power as their counterparts in Western nations- very little. So don’t bother.
In terms of accommodation, prices are fixed unless you are staying longer than a week, in which case you can try to get the price down a little.
WHERE TO START
My general rule of thumb is to halve the original asking price, and go from there. With practice you can get up to 40% off the vendors initial price.
Never buy the first thing you see- excluding original art- because I guarantee you’ll see the exact same item two or three stalls down. This way you’ll have a chance to shop around, and get a better gauge on what things are really worth.
The number one rule for successful bargaining is a good attitude. Remember that haggling is part of Thai life, so while you may feel embarrassed or out of your depth, it is expected. And it’s fun! A big smile, good sense of humour and a little bit of patience will get you a long way.
Another hot tip- don’t be an arrogant ‘Westerner’. When haggling on a price, don’t scream and yell, and don’t throw your money at the vendor (I’ve seen this happen before!).
Be respectful and don’t get caught up in the trivialities of bargaining. All too often an argument will erupt over a 10 THB discrepancy. Always put it back into perspective- 10 THB is about AU30c, and that 30 cents will probably be much more useful to them than to you.
Getting a firm handle on some of the basics will get you a long way. Here are some to practice:
Hello/goodbye: Male- Sawadee krap
Female- Sawadee kaa
How much: Gee Baht?
Yes/no: Chai/ Mai
Always begin with a Thai greeting. Not only is it polite, but vendors will take you a little more seriously and appreciate the gesture (even if they do have a little chuckle at your pronunciation).
It will also make you appear less gullible, meaning that their opening price will be more realistic. I’ve also heard of vendors offering ‘Thai-speaker prices,’ which are obviously cheaper than non-Thai-speaker prices, so learn as many phrases as you can!
BECOME FAMILIAR WITH THE MONEY
Always carry plenty of small change, and make sure you familiarize yourself with the aesthetics of the currency before you start shopping.
Thai money is colour coded, i.e. 20 THB is green, 50 THB is blue etc. It’s good to have plenty of these small notes for purchases such as water (approx. 10 THB per 1 L bottle). It’s very easy for a vendor to ‘accidentally’ give the wrong change when an unsuspecting ‘farang’ (Westerner) hands over a 1000 THB note for a 10 THB bottle of water. So, check your change!
THE UNWRITTEN RULE
Thailand is like eBay. If you make an offer, and the vendor accepts, you MUST buy it. I’ve never actually seen what happens in this situation, but I’ve heard stories, and in general, it’s just poor form. Don’t make an offer unless you are willing to see it through.
Good luck and bonza bargaining to you all!!