Bargaining and haggling for a better deal is all part of the experience when shopping at markets in Bangkok. The first price offered is rarely the true price, especially in overly tourist areas like Khao San Road, Silom, Chatuchak Market, or the stalls around Nana BTS Station. And be warned: shop owners will use any tactic in the book to bump up the price; emotional blackmail is common, ‘business not going well’, ‘it’s just a little money in your currency’ etc.
Here are a few tips to help level the playing field and hopefully score you a fair price for that cool T-shirt, embroidered bag or novelty handicraft. Please realise we are not trying to cheat the shop owners, just reach a price that is reasonable for both parties. Plus, bargaining can be fun!
Remember that while bargaining is common in markets, it is not accepted or possible in convenience stores like 7-Eleven or upscale shopping malls.
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Perhaps a little obvious, but important to remember: the first price is usually inflated to catch unsuspecting tourists out. This price could be just a little over what most people would call fair, or it could be vastly increased. The general rule of thumb in Bangkok is that the real price will be somewhere between 25 and 50 percent cheaper than what is first asked.
Before you start bargaining, work out in your native currency what you are willing to pay and use that as your benchmark. If you’re happy with what you get for the price then it’s a good deal. As a last resort, count out the amount of money you are willing to pay beforehand and keep it separate. Take the money out and show it to the shopkeeper. Tell them ‘that’s all I’ve got’ – often the sight of cold, hard cash is enough to tip them over the edge.
At many markets in and around Bangkok you will find several shops selling the same or similar products. Use this to your advantage by enquiring at more than one shop to see how much the price differs. It can be a little annoying for shop owners to spend 10 minutes bargaining for an item only to see the customer walk to the next shop and do it all over again, but imagine how annoying it is to find your new purchase on sale much cheaper at another stall when you had been promised ‘the best possible price’. If someone is buying an item you like the look of, try to get a sneaky view of how much they are paying, or you can even ask other people how much they paid for theirs, especially if they are locals. There’s a chance they won’t understand you, but for true bargain hunters it’s a chance worth taking.
If you run up to an item, pick it up and declare ‘I love it! How much?’ don’t be surprised when the shopkeeper asks for double or triple its true value. When you see the item you want, instead of heading straight for it, look around a little and even ask for the price of something else first. When the seller thinks you are only slightly keen, they might start their bargaining lower than they usually would.
Acting nonchalant does not mean acting in a rude or derogatory way. Making negative comments about items you are bargaining for is impolite and will only make the seller less open to affording you a ‘good deal’. A smile and a joke go a long way in Thailand.
‘The walk-away’ is the strongest weapon a tourist has when bargaining, but it is also a risky manoeuvre. If done well, then the shop owner will call you back and drop the price to meet your offer; if done poorly, you walk away but are unable to return for fear of losing face. When you are genuinely interested in an item, but the price is deadlocked and neither party giving in, you can say ‘thank you’ and slowly start to move away. If you can pull off the walk-away technique and grab yourself a great bargain, you can consider yourself a bargaining professional.
‘The walk-away’ also helps visitors gauge if the price was fair. Shop keepers who know you are keen but unwilling to pay rip-off prices might call you back and offer a realistic price, but if the price was already fair they will never call you back.
In many of the wholesale malls – especially those in the Pratunam district of Bangkok – the biggest discounts are reserved for those willing to buy multiple items. Buying things in batches of three or more will see prices automatically drop by at least 25%. But this shouldn’t be your only strategy. Start by bargaining for one item, and then suggest multiple purchases for the absolute best price you can get. It’s not uncommon to see tourists buy in bulk and then purchase a new suitcase to fit it all in!
Some Useful Thai Phrases for Bargaining
- How much?: Tauw rai?
- Too expensive!: Peng mak!
- Can you discount?: Lot dai mai?
- I don't want it: Mai auw kraap/kaa. (male/female)
- Please be kind. I have 5 kids to feed, I lost my job and my wife left me: Choui-noi chan mee rook tong leang ha kon. Chan tok ngan lae mear ting