Chatuchak, The weekend market in Bangkok Thailand.... you're pushing your way through narrow walkways crowded by throngs of other shoppers, your senses are reeling from stimuli assaulting you from all directions, a parrot squawks blaringly near your head as you duck below its cage, a visible cloud of hot vapor wafts into your face from a giant, hissing wok making your eyes sting and water up, there are piles of colorful silk and cotton fabrics to either side of you, bright sarongs and knock-off designer jeans and bags hang from above, a vendor is also squawking in your ears about their discounted tee-shirts and shoes, you're dehydrated from the 100% humidity and 95 degree climate, the air feels heavy and thick enough to chew instead of breathe... despite all the movement your attention is drawn to a small dark figure, a hand-carved statue of a seated Buddha. It's simple and beautiful. Amidst the swirling chaos it seems to be peacefully awaiting a buyer. You know you must have it...

The only thing between you and buying the statue is the issue of determining the price. Many people regard bargaining as intimidating and annoying, however, I believe it is merely another aspect of local culture and can even be fun and highly entertaining given the proper approach. I have come up with a few hints to making the most of bargaining and getting the best price at the same time.


1. Have fun! You're on vacation; so think of it as a challenge to get a good price. The vendors will actually respect you as a local if don't just pull out the traveler’s checks and sign 'em over.

2. Get them to like you. No matter what you're doing if it involves another person it's always a good idea to create a positive connection. The vendors are working but they want to have fun too, so crack some jokes and lighten things up. If you just move in, pick up an object and say, "how much?", though that is the norm, you might see how that could sound rude.

Also, that is what everyone else is doing so consider a different approach like asking them where they grew up or inquiring how business is going for them that day--if it's rocking for them you can say, "Great! Then you can give me your lowest price since you've had so many sales" and if it's dead slow you can say, "Excellent, then you can give me your lowest price 'cause you've got to sell something today!" Either way they'll probably laugh and then you'll laugh... the ice is broken. I've had vendors just give me things because we had fun talking and getting along.

3. Know your price, what's it worth to you? Cheap Bastard vs. Bigu Spendah

Look at the object and come up with a price in your head that you would be happy to pay. I prefer to offer my price first, "I'll give you $3 for this, is that okay?"

No matter what, don't insult them for quoting a high price. You may react insulted if you're certain it is high, they will likely recognize their mistaken read on you and ask, "How much you pay?" But you don't want them to get defensive for quoting high. Worse case scenario, a good friend of mine once received an impressively smart smack upside the back of his head after laughing at a price and turning his back on a uniquely spirited vendor. Remember it's their country, their rules.

In some cases it's quite possible they will be going "home" to a cardboard box at the end of their 15-hour day. Whether you want to be a Cheap Bastard and haggle each other into the ground or be the Bigu Spendah and immediately fork over top dollar is up to you. I suggest a compromise so everyone feels satisfied.

4. Know their price, what's it selling for 2 stalls away?

Get a feel for what things cost. If you can do your shopping and info gathering throughout your stay and then save your actual buying for the end of your trip you will be well informed on what is a good deal or not.

5. Aim for your "walk away price".

When I'm fully in cheap bastard mode this is always my goal. It's just my ego saying, "I'm going for the lowest price I can get."

Okay, you've picked your item, they like you, but they're not quite meeting your price. Tell them thank you very much, its a great deal and you'll give it some thought as you continue shopping... they know that 90% of the time if you leave the sale is dead and you'll find it elsewhere or spend your cashola on something else. As you turn your back and begin to leave they'll often call your bluff and say, perhaps resentfully, "Okay!". You can console them by saying you won't tell anyone else how cheap you got it. They'll say, "I lose money!" Yet they'll sell at that price all day. I love that one.

6. No regrets, everyone wins, see suggestion #1.

Don't feel bad if you end up paying a little more for something that you actually want. You're helping the local economy and hopefully acquiring something that will bring fond memories for years to come.

Chances are you'll be kicking yourself you didn't buy more of an item to give away as gifts when you get home and your friends see something so unique and exotic that you got for the cost of a latte. Haggling over whether you pay $4.00 or $4.50 will appear pretty silly. So just have fun already!

Happy Shopping!


© Melt Magazine 2004