In Thailand, haggling, bartering or bargaining over the price is part of the experience of buying. But if you’ve never bartered before, where do you start? And how do you know whether you have got a bargain or been taken for a ride?
Picture the scene. You have your heart set on that pot ugly (sorry, we mean uniquely designed) painted elephant. Using your past life experience, you check the price, hand over your cash and everyone is happy, right?
Well, if you follow this approach in Thailand, the seller will be happy at least. You might be less so when you get back home and find that your next-door neighbour got the exact same elephant for half the price (what, really, both of you wanted it?).
In the markets of Thailand, if you accept the first price you are offered, you will not only be paying way over the odds, but you will probably be greeted with a confused (and slightly pitying) expression.
To help you feel more like a local, here is our step-by-step guide to bartering in Thailand.
10 Steps to Successful Bartering in Thailand
Step 1: Ask for the price
Step 2: Wait for a calculator to be thrust at you with a number on it
Step 3: Give a half laugh at the number displayed. Then offer something considerably lower – and less than you are expecting to pay at the end. If you have no idea what to offer, just go for about 50-75% of the opening price
Step 4: Expect an outraged laugh back, and a slightly lowered price offer
Step 5: Smile and go up on your original offer a little
Steps 6 & 7: Repeat a few times – possibly with a few sob stories thrown in on the side of the vendor (show sympathy, but don’t give in. These tales rarely have much link to reality)
Step 8: Agree on a price somewhere in between the one you and the seller each originally gave. If you have got 25%-50% off the opening price, you have done well. Even if you have just got a small reduction, you can congratulate yourself on taking your first steps to becoming a top barterer
Step 9: Go away with your goods, feeling happy that both you and the vendor have got a good deal
Step 10: Place your new elephant in pride of place. Look condescendingly at your neighbour when you find out he paid more than you.
Top 10 Tips for Bartering in Thailand
1. Always start with a smile. And keep on smiling throughout the negotiation. Thais react much better to friendliness than aggression. Come to think of it, don’t we all?
2. If you plan to buy something specific, do your research online first. Find out what you can expect to pay – and then offer less than this as your opening bid, so you leave room for maneouvre
3. If it is a spur-off-the-moment purchase, check prices on similar items at other stalls nearby. This will give you rough idea of the price, plus a chance to brush up on your bartering skills before going in for real
4. Act uninterested. If you head straight to the object of your choice and declare, “I love it!” you probably won’t get offered a great deal. However, if you look around – perhaps ask the price of another product or two first – then the vendor may work harder to get your trade
5. Learn how to say a few numbers in Thai – or even simply how to ask “how much” (“thao rai”) and “too expensive!” (“pang mak”). Whilst you are unlikely to be taken for a local, you might get a few bhat knocked off for effort
6. Consider walking away if you are being asked for more than you are willing to pay. If your offer is reasonable, you may well find the vendor chasing after you, suddenly able to drop their price.
Note: Only take this step if you really are ready to leave the item behind – if it is just a ploy and you return a few minutes later the vendor will know that he has “won” and is unlikely to concede much more
7. Look uncertain. If you are with a friend, try comments like “I’m sure I saw this cheaper somewhere else” or “I really don’t know”
8. If you want to buy several items, get them from the same vendor. You are more likely to get a good discount if you are buying more
9. Keep small notes in a separate place in your purse or wallet. Taking out a few notes and saying “This is all I have got” is often enough to clinch a deal. Just make sure the vendor does not then see you putting your purchase away beside a big pot of money!
10. Always remember what you are bartering over. At the end of the day, if you love an item, is it really worth walking away simply for a few bhat?