Thailand's markets have great bargains — and they can get better.


Bargaining over goods with women from the hill tribes of northern Thailand

Above: Bargaining skills are handy both in remote areas (such as the hill tribes, above), and in the city markets. Ray never paid a baht than he had to!

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In the U.S., stores post their prices and you pay that price, otherwise you don't get the item. (Or you shoplift, but that's a different web page.) That system makes sense here in the U.S.: It would never work for a $6.00-an-hour clerk to have the authority to lower prices at whim.

In Thailand's markets, you're often buying right from the owner of the goods, an entrepreneurial merchant with a rental stall. Bargaining is expected, and the merchant is eager to close a sale while still making money.

This bargaining process may intimidate first-time visitors, with memories of haggling over prices with a used-car dealer and coming away feeling burned. No worries. Here's what to do.

First, figure out if bargaining is appropriate here:

  • In an open-air market, with no prices posted, you bargain. In a department store with marked prices, you do not.
  • If you're dealing with the owner, it's probably appropriate to bargain. If you're dealing with a salaried clerk, it's probably not appropriate.
  • It should be worth everyone's while. Farangs (westerners) have been known to try to bargain over the price of a 10-baht (25-cent) bottle of water. Thatís bad form.
  • When in doubt, merely note what others are doing.

Once you've determined that bargaining is expected, you need a sense of how much you can expect to drive down the price. Make a counter-offer too low, and you look bad. Too high, and you'll pay more than you need to.

Typically, at an outdoor market you can expect to get the price down by 10-30%. However, if youíve been pegged as a rich farang, a merchant might have raised the price by a factor of 2 or 3. Donít buy the first thing you see. Look around. Get prices from a few merchants. Youíll soon get a sense of whatís reasonable.

Some other tips:

  • You'll do better if you learn the Thai language for the numbers needed to name a price.
  • If you don't know Thai numbers, be alert to one potential confusion: The Thai-accented pronunciations of twenty and seventy  — tsventy — are easily mistaken.
  • It's never appropriate to get overly emotional about bargaining, nor to insult the merchandise or seller.
  • Donít let it become a point of pride to get the lowest possible price. This is business; perhaps it's a game; it's certainly not a war.
  • If you make an offer and the merchant accepts it, the unwritten rules require that you make the purchase at that price. Same as — but Thailand had the system first.

This site is provided by Alyson Adventures, a gay and lesbian tour operator, as a service for individuals traveling with us. We hope it will also be useful to others planning a tour or researching Thailand. We offer active gay travel in Australia, New Zealand, and other holiday destinations.

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