On my first trip to Thailand a few years ago, my parents spent much of the holiday laughing at me as, when it came to haggling with Thai stall keepers, I didn’t. I handed over the price they asked (which still seemed cheap to me!) and happily went on my way clutching my new purchase. Fast forward almost a decade and I now haggle with the best.
Living in Thailand, or spending any amount of time here, you have to haggle. It makes things so much cheaper, you have a fun shopping experience and, honestly, the stall owners expect it. So, if you, like I was, are a little nervous of haggling while on a trip to Thailand, take heart. Follow these quick tips on how to bargain on a shopping trip in Thailand, and you’ll soon be haggling with the best.
Preparing for Haggling – Before you even set off on your shopping trip bargaining in Thailand, you need to prepare. Make sure your money is in several places on your body and in your purse or wallet. That way, when you access your money to pay, it won’t look like you’re holding a king’s ransom. The less money you appear to have, the less price you’ll ultimately pay.
Also, make sure you are dressed neat and clean, but not too expensively. Thais value appearance and are more likely to give you a good price when you haggle, if you look like you’re a respectable person. But, don’t make the mistake of wearing too much flashy jewelry or expensive clothes as any Thai seller knows what you’ve paid for them, and your advantage in haggling will immediately be gone.
Decide on a Price You Will Pay – Once you’ve found something you really want to buy, first set in your head how much you are willing to pay for it. When you know how much it’s worth to you, it’s easier to haggle and if you cannot get the price below what you are willing to pay, it’s also easier to walk away from it.
Starting the Haggle – Now, once you’ve found something you might want to buy at a stall or small shop in Thailand, it’s time to haggle. First of all, ask the price. When the stall keeper has told you the price, counter offer a price that is around 65-70% of the price asked. You’ll see some people say 50% or below, but that’s not acceptable in Thailand and will immediately set the stall keeper against you. Start at 65%, the seller will probably fire back with 90%, go up to 70% and wait to see what they say next.
With two or three backwards and forwards hagglings, you should be able to agree on a price that will make you both happy. Normally, I find with most Thai sellers, I cannot usually get them below 75-80% of the original price, and that’s what my Thai friends say too.
Speaking Thai Helps With Haggling – Thais joke that Thailand has four price levels and it’s actually true. The lowest price is ‘Thai price’, something a foreigner will never get, unless they’re with a Thai friend who bargains for them. The second lowest price is “Farang who speaks Thai price”. A farang is the Thai name for ‘westerner’ and, if you speak Thai, you’ll get the lowest price any westerner will ever get.
I speak enough Thai that I pay close to what a Thai person pays for almost everything I buy, but not quite. The second-to-highest price is ‘Farang price’ and that’s reserved for westerners who don’t speak Thai. And, of course, the highest price of all in Thailand is ‘Japanese price’, which means most Japanese might as well not waste their time bargaining. Thais think the Japanese have a lot of money, and want as much of it as they can get.
Don’t Offend the Shopkeeper – Being an Asian country, haggling in Thailand is all about saving face. If you bargain with a smile, don’t try to drop the price too low, and aren’t rude or loud, you should get a good price. But, if you’re rude, start shouting or take it too seriously, you’ll find the back of the shopkeeper turning towards you and they’re done with you. So, be polite and smile a lot – it will pay off in spades when you get a cheap price.
Have Fun Haggling – Thais love to haggle as do Thai shopkeepers. Bargaining in Thailand when shopping is like a game and, if you play it well, you can have a lot of fun. Enjoy yourself, have fun from the experience, and you’ll be thrilled when you go home with bargains you really didn’t expect.
Learning how to haggle in Thailand is easy. Start out small, try your luck, and you’ll soon be bargaining with the pros. And remember, you can haggle at market stalls, street side stalls and small shops in Thailand, but not at department stores, malls or brand name stores. Some westerners do try it, and make themselves look like fools. Don’t you do it too.
Photo – Sidewalk market in Bangkok.