Tag - Southeast Asia

How to Bargain in Thailand

Charming tourist shop in Thailand displaying Thai products such as fisherman's pants, hats, and t-shirts.

The exotic act of bargaining

“Traveling to Thailand? You better polish those bargaining skills”. Isn’t that what we read or hear before our first trip to the East? First time travelers to Thailand come with the mind-set of being ready to put on their tough bargaining face, ready to seem unimpressed and walk away from any seller who doesn’t give a discount on the initial price.

Tourist t-shirts in Thailand from Khao San Road showing a tuk-tuk and an I love Bangkok print.

Be prepared to bargain for these t-shirts on Khao San Road in Bangkok

Although it may be a big part of the dominant discourse on traveling in Thailand, the idea that everything must be bargained for is exaggerated. In fact, the hard bargaining in Thailand is mostly confined to the most touristy areas.  You may think that this is about sellers trying to take advantage of tourists with no idea about price levels and the currency value of the Thai Bath. This is often the case with tuk-tuk drivers offering “good prices for you my friend”, but otherwise we argue that this is more about tourists insisting that a price not bargained for is not a good price. In turn sellers have had to start a little higher on their prices to satisfy the exotic hunger of the tourists to get the honour and personal travel story of a successful bargain.

If you walk around a market, there is much less bargaining going on between Thais compared to what you might expect. This is because the parties have a pretty clear understanding of what a mango, a bottle of water, and a pair of socks should cost, so there is not a lot of room for bargaining. The lack of price tags in these places may have led foreigners to think that bargaining is necessary, and therefore tourists may insist on lower prices regardless of what the initial price given by the seller.

Thai street vendor selling chicken and beef satay.

You would not get much out of bargaining with this Thai street vendor

Discount clothing in a Thai shopping mall with customers looking for good bargains.

You are not expected to bargain here either

I used to think bargaining was mandatory at every market and that every transaction was an opportunity to slice the price and flex some bargaining muscles. However, I slowly started to realize that in the vast majority of cases the prices given to me were the same as those given to Thais. Often I would even walk away with a price a few Bath lower than my Thai counterparts due to my insistence on a lower price.

At the same time, there has been a noticeable change in the way shops and market stalls deal with bargaining in Thailand over the last 10-15 years. Price tags have become a lot more common, and increasingly the sellers insist on fixed prices. This could both be a way of not wasting too much time haggling over prices with tourists, and it could be a trend towards shops and marketers professionalizing their operations. For travelers who don’t like to argue about prices and feel insecure about the price level of products, this is a welcome change. For travelers who have looked forward to the exotic act of bargaining, they may walk away disappointed that the sellers don’t move an inch. If you really want a successful bargaining experience, you have the best chances if you buy several items. This method works nearly every time.

A quick summary on how to bargain in Thailand

The idea that you have to bargain for everything in Thailand is exaggerated and based on exotic imagery.

Bargaining is most important in touristy areas since sellers have become used to the insistence on price haggling from tourists.

In less touristy areas of Thailand, taxi drivers, shop owners, and market sellers give you reasonable prices identical to the ones given to local residents.

The absence of price tags doesn’t necessarily mean that bargaining is expected . It could mean that the common buyer and seller know the price level already.

It has become harder to bargain in Thailand and more items are now with price tags.

Bargaining is much easier if you buy more than one item. 

Two small tips on bargaining in Thailand

Before you start bargaining, make up your mind on what you think is a fair price for the item of interest. If you don’t know the price level, have a look around and ask a few different shops about their prices on similar items. You will quickly find out whether you can agree on a price.

Teach yourself how to properly say hello in Thai. If your pronunciation is good, the seller will instantly know that you are not new to Thailand and thus know what things cost. Sawadee kha/khrap is the formal way of saying hello in Thai if you are a woman or a man, respectively. Even better, skip the ‘sa‘ and go for the more casual wadee kha/khrap.

More on bargaining in Thailand and Southeast Asia

We will not walk through the other bargaining do’s and don’ts such as smiling, having fun, walking away etc. but leave you with a list of tips from other websites.

Should I bargain for everything I want to buy in Thailand?
by Travelfish.

Bargaining in Thailand
by The Farang.

Our top 10 hot tips on how to barter your way to the best price in Thailand
by Travelling King.

Bargaining in Bangkok
by I Am Wannee.

How to Haggle
by One Eyebrow Raised.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Haggling in South East Asia
by South East Asia Backpacker Magazine.

Why Travelers Shouldn’t be Afraid of Tourist Scams

Tourist scams in Thailand with excerpt from Lonely Planets Thailand's Islands & Beaches

Walking down Khao San Road in Bangkok, Jalan Jaksa in Jakarta, or the Old Quarter in Hanoi the same thing always happens…

One, you see local residents approaching travelers and trying to engage in conversation, and two, you see the travelers closing up like a clam and either completely ignoring them or simply shaking their head saying “no” regardless of what is being said to them. You know what we are talking about, right?

Tourist Scam Phobia

They have become immune to approachers from being stopped every 2 seconds, and/or they have been bitten by the “I am NOT gonna be scammed, NEVER, EVER!” bug. It is sort of like a vicious circle. Tourists attract scammers, pickpockets, and gold diggers. These people try to take advantage of the insecurity, the naivety, and the good hearts of travelers. Once being aware of the dangers, in turn the travelers put up an impenetrable invisible wall to all local residents, unless it’s the cashier at the convenience store. This is perhaps a good strategy in the most touristy areas, but if the traveler brings this mindset along to less touristy areas, it can hurt the ability to experience the unexpected and find the meaningful in traveling.

So as a consequence, travelers risk cheating themselves of one of the biggest travel treats in the world – engaging with local residents, making new friends, and learning about the country they visit from insiders.

Tourist Scam Websites and Warnings

There are travel destinations where you will quickly learn to fend for yourself if you didn’t know how to already. But if you have done a little research, you have probably stumbled upon forums, guidebooks, websites, and blogposts that warn about the different scams you should be aware of as a tourist. Here are a few examples:
Buyer Beware: 10 Common Travel Scams by Lonely Planet
21 Most Common Scams in Thailand by TravelScams
10 Travel Scams to Avoid in South East Asia by South East Asia Backpacker Magazine
– 15 Common Scams of Southeast Asia (And How to Avoid Them) by Livin Pura Vida
40 Tourist Scams to Avoid This Summer by Just The Flight, an entire website dedicated to share and inform about tourist scams

Tourist scammer at Bangkok's Grand Palace working with tuk-tuk driver to scam tourists

“Grand Palace is closed today my friend” – classic tourist scam in Bangkok

Photo credits:

These resources offer good advice, but also present the danger of occupying your mind into thinking your holiday is more about not being outwitted by scammers than by enjoying your destination with an open mind.

Being afraid of tourist scams is a bit like being afraid of leaving your home:

The odds that you will not be scammed are pretty good, and so are the odds of you being safe in your home, respectively. The problem is that you miss out. This chart shows the relationship between meaningful interactions with local residents and exploring the destination you are visiting in relation to the tourist scam phobia. Basically, they don’t go together.

Figure chart showing the relationship between tourist scam phobia and meaningful travel with exploration of local life

Our point is, you should be aware but not afraid of tourist scams. Be a heady traveler, don’t walk around drunk on the street, don’t put your wallet in the back pocket, be sceptical if an offer is too good to be true (then it probably is too good to be true), and so on. These are completely basic rules that not only apply to any travel destination, but presumably also to your home town. By using common sense, you will avoid the majority of scams, and should it happen that someone fools you one way or the other, at least you have a story to tell. But don’t let the tourist scam phobia rob you of engaging with your chosen travel destination.

Not recommended: All-inclusive resorts in Southeast Asia

All-Inclusive resort from Southeast Asia with a big pool, sun umbrellas, sun chairs, palm trees, and a pool bar

You may associate all-inclusive holidays with Caribbean holiday packages, but the concept has slowly gained it’s share in Southeast Asia.

All-inclusive resorts
offer package deals where 3 daily buffet meals, unlimited snacks and soft drinks, and sometimes certain alcohol types and brands are included in the price. Some resorts offer free activities and kids’ clubs on top of that.
The concept of all-inclusive holidays was first developed by Club Med more than 60 years ago. The idea was – and still is – to give customers a worry-free and convenient holiday, where the total price of the entire holiday experience is pretty much known. There is no need to bargain for prices, no need to carry money anywhere inside the resort premises, and no need to worry about where and what to eat. There are plenty of water sports, games, and activities for the kids, and professional staff to watch over them.

In other words, the scene is set for you to treat yourself and your loved ones to some massive indulging. If you like to know more about the benefits of all-inclusive holidays, you can check out this article by Jenni from the magazine Travel+Leisure Southeast Asia. In case we didn’t manage to portray the benefits of all-inclusive holidays, we decided to make an advertisement… but something went wrong half-way:

Benefits of all-inclusive holidays or “no thanks”?Benefits of all-inclusive holidays and reasons not to buy all-inclusive holiday packages

More and more resorts in Southeast Asia are offering all-inclusive packages, but in most cases, we don’t recommend buying an all-inclusive holiday. Southeast Asia is such a joy to experience. It’s easy, convenient, fun, and safe compared to many other travel destinations. There are exciting sights, beautiful nature, spiritual and historic monuments, great and varied food options, and lots of impressions waiting for you to explore right around the corner. So why would you spend your holiday in this exciting setting by staying within resort walls and alienating yourself from the culturally rich society you are visiting?

Collage showing local life in Southeast Asia with a quirky restaurant, dried seafood on sale at the market, a small street shop selling snacks, local nightlife with SangSom and soda, and local musician playing traditional instrument.

Would you miss out on these great experiences by staying within resort boundaries?

On top of that, there is the problem of what tourism researchers call “leakage”. For an in-depth exploration of tourism leakage, see our post “Tourism Leakage – This is how little your money contributes locally!”

In short, leakage refers to the phenomenon that none of the tourism dollars you spend are benefiting the society around you. Your flight, your travel agent, and your resort are most likely foreign or non-local companies that extract their profits from the destination. None of your tourism dollars stay locally – thus the term leakage. Why is this a problem? Your host society has to pay for the extra stress you put on water, infrastructure, nature, and energy resources, food prices rise, and that old favorite picnic spot at the beach might very well be reserved for resort guests. Bummer.

There are good reasons, especially for families, to stay at all-inclusive resorts, and of course all-inclusive hotel operations who contribute to society and run with sustainability in mind do exist. But the mentioned benefits of all-inclusive holidays are less relevant in Southeast Asia, since this area serves as an ideal region for individual travelers to collect  unique memories.

If you like to read more about the issues concerning all-inclusive holidays, have a look at this great article from Should all inclusive resorts be banned?