How to Haggle in Thailand

When you go shopping in Thailand, there will be times when you will be expected to haggle over the price. But there are some important things you need to keep in mind to help you get the best deal. Aggressive haggling might work in some countries, but it isn’t the best approach in Thailand.

Remember to smile

One of the most important things to remember when you are dealing with people in Thailand is to smile. Smiling establishes good intent and helps to put Thai people at ease. Haggling should be enjoyable and if you can make the person who owns the stall smile or laugh you are improving your chances of getting a good deal. Don’t be aggressive or confrontational. Of course you want to get a good price, but in Thailand it helps to be polite. Even if you can’t agree on a price, by doing things the right way nobody loses face.

Where and when to haggle

As a general rule, if you are shopping at an outdoor market or bazaar in Thailand and the price isn’t marked up on the item you are interested in, there will usually be plenty of room for negotiation. At some markets, prices will be clearly displayed and there is generally less scope for haggling although you can always politely ask for a discount especially if you are buying more than none item. Whilst owners of stalls at outdoor markets are often willing to do a deal, it doesn’t mean that everything can be haggled over.

shopping in Chiang Mai
Sunday Walking Street Market, Chiang Mai

Stores in shopping malls work on a fixed price and this isn’t the place to start haggling. If you are buying expensive goods at department stores or well-known shops, they will often help you fill out the required paperwork to claim back the tax paid so, in effect, you do receive a discount. This money is refunded at the airport when you depart Thailand.

Don’t haggle over the cost of food or drinks at a restaurant. That might seem an obvious statement to make, but I’ve seen it happen where tourists do try to haggle down the bill at the end of a meal. Whether you are ordering from a street vendor or a five-star restaurant, prices will be displayed either on menus or on boards. If you don’t like the price before ordering, go somewhere else. Trying to haggle at restaurants in Thailand is inappropriate.

market in Pai
Walking Street Market, Pai

Language barriers

Although speaking Thai isn’t essential when it comes to haggling, it does help. Learning at least a few words or phrases helps to establish good intent. Don’t take yourself too seriously and don’t worry about mispronouncing a few words. Be prepared for some laughter if you say things wrong, but this can also be used to your advantage because it helps to break the ice. You can ask the stall-holder how it should be said in Thai or compliment them on their English if they speak any. It all helps to build a rapport and enhances the sanuk (fun) element of any haggling that may follow.

Useful phrases:

  • Sawatdee kha (spoken by females to say hello or goodbye)
  • Sawatdee khap (spoken by males to say hello or goodbye)
  • Khop khun kha (spoken by females to say thank you)
  • Khop khun khap (spoken by males to say thank you)

Chiang Rai Night Bazaar
Night Bazaar, Chiang Rai

Getting a good deal

The aim of haggling is to reach a mutually agreeable price. There has to be some give and take from both sides, but you should have an idea of what is a fair price before you start trying to negotiate a discount. Find out how much other traders are charging for the same or similar items. It’s true that in some locations that are popular with tourists, there are people selling souvenirs who will try to use that to their advantage and quote you a higher than average price. But that isn’t the case everywhere so don’t assume everybody is trying to rip you off.

Not all stall holders in Thailand speak English, but the majority will know the words ‘how much?’ Once you ask that the fun begins. Whether you’re in Bangkok, Koh Samui or Phuket, just about every stall in Thailand that deals with tourists will have a large calculator close at hand. When the customer asks ‘how much?’ the trader will either quote you a price or key it into the calculator and show you. This will usually be a price above that which he is hoping to achieve. When he gives you a price, smile. If you say, ‘too much!’ he might counter by saying ‘how much you give me?’ in his best English. You should counter with an offer below that which you are expecting to pay. It might take a while, but eventually you should come to a price that you are both happy with.

Use your own judgement and keep things in perspective. Before you start haggling over every single baht, work out what it is costing you in you own currency. Nobody likes paying over the odds for something, but if you do end up paying a few baht more or a couple of dollars extra, put it down as a learning experience.

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