The bargaining in Thailand and southeast Asia : How to

Bargaining is something that is not in our habits, and for which you will soon understand that you’re gonna have to use in Asia if you don’t want to get “scammed” like a dumb tourist.

At the beginning, this was not a reflex yet, and I didn’t really care either as a matter of fact. I was asking a price, I was answered back and if the price seemed reasonable to me, I would just agree with it. Why not ? After all, Thai people are charming and honest people right ? so why would they swindle me, the nice little tourist ?
When I look back now, I think they owned me more than once in a way where I was paying more than the actual value, even if it was not so much expensive though.

Local market, Pak Chong province, Thailand

Local market, Pak Chong province, Thailand

You can bargain many thing, including :

  • The price of a tuk tuk ride (always agree on a price BEFORE getting in)
  • The price of food in local markets and street vendors (if it’s not displayed like in 90% of the cases)
  • The price of an accommodation, as long as you stay many nights
  • The price of clothes in the markets (and even in some small stores)
  • The price of souvenirs in the markets
  • The price of a motorbike rental, if it is for many days as well

What you cannot bargain :

  • The prices in the restaurants
  • The price of items in 7-eleven
  • The price of transportation (bus, train, boat)
  • The price of bananas already tagged 5 bahts
  • Pretty much everything in Laos

So, after a while, and after certain encounters, I started to develop the bargaining “reflex”. And it was actually a lot of fun. You are defining goals and try to “win the battle” against the tuk tuk drivers! (they are probably the biggest scammers). It really feels nice to see the departure price lowered to half or less x)

Ease of bargaining, per country

  • Thailand : Easy
    Bargaining here is quiet common and overall well accepted, as long as you do it with respect and within reasonable boundaries.
  • Laos : Not so easy
    In Laos, all the prices seem the same all over the place (a chicken sandwich is 10000 kips, a Beerlao is 10000 kips, and a bottle of water of 1.5l is 5000 kips, period), the tourist is considered wealthy. The vendors won’t let it go if you try to negotiate below the “regular price”.
  • Cambodia: Pretty easy
    It is a lot easier than in Laos, but there is a trick though. The prices are artificially inflated for tourists. The Cambodian people are often trying to take advantage of the “silly tourists” and don’t hide. So you can bargain, but the price you will get will be the “regular” price.
    Example with a mototaxi : I needed to go to the airport form downtown Phnom Penh and I was proposed a $10 ride! Well aware of the “real” price, I cut down the price to $2.5, which is 75% less than the initial price!

So you have got to be careful because tourists are easy preys, and learn how to bargain in any situation. Become a “challenging” tourist ;-)
Over time, you will know what a “normal” price is and you won’t have any reason to get scammed again.

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