So I’ve mentioned my obsession with markets before and I was lucky enough to finally fulfil my dream of visiting Chatuchak Market (also known as “JJ” Market) in Bangkok, Thailand. I’d heard from friends that it’s important to bargain with the Thai, it is humourous for them and they kind of expect this concept of fun or “sanook”! And because pretty much everyone goes to Thailand at some point, especially to shop, I did my research, learnt a few Thai phrases, do’s and don’ts and came up with a little summary that may help you if you’re planning a trip there anytime soon.
1. Visual Aesthetic – What You Are Wearing and Your Approach
Don’t look like you have money. The tiniest logo can give the mind an expensive semiotic connotation. In Layman’s terms; don’t wear branded clothing or shoes, and as much as you want to istagram the cute little stall, hide your fancy phone and SLR camera at least until you’ve purchased your bargain. While it still may seem cheap, vendors may make you an offer that's more double the actual selling price if you look like a “farang” (foreigner).
2. Learn Some Thai
This was the best part for me. Not only did I practice some useful phrases but I made sure I said them in my version of a Thai accent and a big smile, which was hilarious for both me and them. Many of them found it charming, thereby lowering the prices. You don’t have to understand Thai fully, but showing some casual confidence in a few phrases indicates that you’re possibly an expat living in Thailand, or at the very least that you’re not a naïve tourist.
At first I would decide how much I wanted to pay for an item (after getting to know how much it would be on average judging by most stalls, and calculating its value and worth in my two currencies; Qatari Riyals and South African Rands).
Many of the conversations went something like this:
Me: Sawadee Kaaaaaa! [hello], raka tao rai [how much is this?]
Vendor: [makes an offer in Thai that I do not understand at all, but I pretend to]
Me: Paeng bai [that’s a little too expensive], ja ma mai [I will come back later]
At this point I turn ever-so-slowly until the vendor calls a cheaper price back to me, to show him not to take advantage of the fact that I’m not a local. Now you have a bit more power. Phrases like “Tookgwar?” (cheaper?) and “[xxx] Baht dai mai?” (how about [xxx] baht?”) may help you confidently close the deal on a price you are happy with. Don’t forget to end of with “Khap khun khaa” (thank you).
3. Extra Tips
- If you have a Thai friend with you, do let them haggle on your behalf. They’ll get a much better price because they are local.
- Flattery will get you everywhere - Thai’s appreciate this and it builds good rapport between you and the vendor.
- There are quite a few young and very talented local designers trying to make a name for themselves in the industry who may not be willing to bargain at all. Do respect their craft, support them if it’s worth it and don’t be too offended if they won’t budge on their prices. Bare in mind that often their garments are the ones with the best quality.
- Never insult the king as the Thai’s are very patriotic. His face is on their currency, so handle your money with care.
- Don’t bargain with cab drivers, they will know your price is flexible and naturally try to get you to pay more (especially if they see you with tons of shopping bags). Only ask for your destination and insist on using the meter. The most it should cost you between any two points in central Bangkok shouldn’t be more than 80-100 baht.
Bargain-hunting as a means of exploring Thai people and culture was definitely one of my favourite parts of the trip. As you know I love to adopt local personas when I travel, so by the time I left Bangkok obviously I convinced myself I was Thai and fluent in the language! ;)
Have fun and happy haggling!