Photo: Wong's Bar, Bangkok.

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Dual pricing (in Thailand and elsewhere)

Posted by somtam2000 on 14/1/2013 at 18:53 admin

Here's a recent blog entry of a foreigner living in Thailand defending the practise of dual-pricing that I thought some may find interesting! I don't agree with it at all, but that's just me.


#1 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 7,943
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Posted by tyler on 14/1/2013 at 20:42

Somtam - You might have started something here...
When I am travelling I try to keep in mind what things would cost me at home. Try to keep it all in perspective. I don't care what other people pay (local or foreign) for certain items, food, drinks, taxi's, boats...ect. As long as I feel I am getting a fair price I will pay it, try to enjoy the experience and move along...slowly.
The author mentions keeping prices lower at many attractions so the locals can afford it - I agree that this is important. Should I have to pay 2 or 3 or 4 or 5 times as much because I am a white dude? Nope. It isn't right.
But at the end of the day the cost that I end up paying is most likely still a bargain compared to what I would shell out at home for the same meal, taxi or entrance fee. I get over it fast so I can spend my time enjoying the place I am in. And I don't get pulled into constantly thinking I am being ripped off.
That being said, I am only travelling 3-4 months per year. I don't live in Thailand or Indonesia (banyak uang anybody?) so I am interested to see what the other posters on this site feel...specifically the expats.

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Posted by exacto on 14/1/2013 at 21:03

I don't agree with the article either. I decided long ago not to let dual pricing in Thailand bother me, since I rarely choose to bargain on prices anyway. But the dual pricing in Thailand isn't just discrimination, it's racism. The writer says it is a function of economics, but wealthy Thais aren't expected to pay these higher prices and most of the time neither are asian tourists. It is just westerners. So, while you shouldn't let it ruin your day, but don't defend this racist practice either. The fact that many Thai merchants state with pride that they have one price for all underscores just how widespread the problem is. Cheers.

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Posted by DLuek on 14/1/2013 at 22:48 TF writer

I guess I've always spoken at least some Thai while traveling/living in Thailand, but I don't feel I've ever been charged extra at local food markets or street stalls, as the author of the post suggests (unlike in Vietnam for instance). Tuk tuks definitely try to charge more but as soon as they can tell I'm 'immersed' in the culture the price drops to close to the local level. I could certainly drop it the extra 10 or 20 baht to the exact local level by haggling, but I'm honestly happy to give a tuk tuk driver something extra. Clothing stalls try to start at a high price with both locals and foreigners -- both have to haggle down to a fair price -- and I've watched foreigners who speak absolutely no Thai be as tough of a bargain as any local. So while the post implies that the dual price system carries over the breadth of the Thai economy, I haven't found that to be true at all.

I do commend the author for rationalizing the dual price system in his own mind, simply because it makes his life in Thailand all the more content. I live in Thailand, and I've learned that constantly grumbling about this stuff only causes grief to the grumbler. It's not necessary to agree with the practice, but if you're going to live here, it's wise to learn how to not let it ruffle your feathers.

I actually agree with what the author says on some levels -- specifically, I agree that it would not be right to charge poor Thais the foreigner price, and at this point, so many attractions rely so heavily on the foreigner price that I don't believe they would even think it possible to change the foreigner price to the Thai price. If dual pricing were banned by law, they would have to make the price somewhere in the middle for everyone, which would upset a lot of local people but the vast majority of foreigners (mainly tourists) wouldn't even notice.

So I'm not against charging locals less than foreign visitors per se, but the first big problem I have -- and what so many Thai people seem totally unable to understand -- is that it's not about money but race. I feel like I have seen some improvement of late... I've noticed that attractions typically charge the foreigner price if the customer doesn't speak Thai. But there are still plenty that charge all Asians the local price and anyone with Caucasian/Indian/Arab/African appearances the foreigner price. In 2009 I traveled for 2 months in Thailand with a Vietnamese-American companion. She had lived in the US since the age of 1, is a US citizen, and actually had a much better paying job than I did. But 90% of the attractions we visited charged her the local price, simply because she looks Thai. We actually thought it was kind of funny at the time, especially because I was the one who spoke Thai, but it's not right.

The other big problem I have is the lack of transparency. Attractions deliberately attempt to disguise their dual price system by writing Thai prices in the Thai number characters, which are rarely used otherwise. It's telling that when a prominent foreign blogger living in Thailand recently asked Asiatique on its facebook page why they charge foreigners extra to go on their new ferris wheel, their incredibly stupid response was to ban him from posting on the page, as if to just sweep him under the rug. He has something like 30,000 Twitter followers so the move turned into a PR nightmare for Asiatique and ultimately resulted in them raising the Thai price to be equal to the foreigner price. But that was after they tried to cover their tracks by making up a story that it was foreigners in Holland who set the prices (total BS) in another attempt to cover their tracks. Asiatique lost face big time and many foreign expats refuse to go there now, only because of the deceptive way in which they handled the situation.

On the bright side, all Thai national parks have changed their policy so that foreigners who can produce a Thai work permit are charged the local price. And many attractions allow the local price for foreigners with a Thai drivers license. That's a definite olive branch and a step in the right direction.

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Posted by tezza on 14/1/2013 at 23:06

There is so much dopey logic in that article I take it as a satirical attempt to amuse us. Worked for me.

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Posted by MADMAC on 14/1/2013 at 23:12

I guess I am an outlier here. My Thai TKD intstructor charges me LESS than he charges Thais (I get a 200 baht discount every month). I don't use the skylabs (Tuk tuks) much, but I have a friend out here who drives one and when I occassionally use it he doesn't charge me (I pay him the going rate anyway to be fair). I have a Thai sponsor for my dance studio and she provides me a free place to teach dance and free beer and free food on Saturdays (she does have real money). I feel very fortunate in the economics of my surroundings here as the people here have been more generous with me than people anywhere. When I leave my home, of course, and go to Bangkok, its a different story. But I don't do that very often. When I ride around Issan I don't have a problem with dual pricing - but as stated above, I'm getting a room to sleep and food to eat, so dual pricing isn't much of an issue on those items.

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Posted by freiburger on 15/1/2013 at 06:01

Besides official museums and national parks I only discovered dual pricing in restaurants in touristy areas with english menues.

Most of this I have discovered in Krabi area and Bangkok because these are the placec I use to hang out with my thai friends. They usually go for the thai menu and sometimes they bring me the english menu. Corious is, that the dished are all in the same order, so you can compare the prices easily. Even at really small street side restaurants the dual price is 2 to 3 times the thai price.

Keeping in mind that alot of the thai folks around earn around 10.000 Baht a month, I don't care if thery charge me 80 Baht for a dish instead of 30.
I remember this happened long ago in Italy and Spain too and even in France prices in restauants drop out of season. Or order a cappucino for 3,50 € and a cafe au lait for 1,80 € and realize it is just the same :-)

Live and let live :-)

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Posted by DLuek on 15/1/2013 at 08:29 TF writer

I have seen some restaurants with slightly higher prices on the English menus, but foreigner charged 80 baht for a normal 30 baht street food meal? Never experienced that.

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Posted by freiburger on 15/1/2013 at 10:47

Try some of the restaurants btween Ao Nang and Tub Kaek and you will see. Don't want to mention any names of course, but things happen.

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Posted by travellingsarah on 16/1/2013 at 00:03 TF writer

Posted from within Vietnam.

There's no doubt that I pay more than most locals for some things in Hanoi but there is little blatant dual pricing i.e. a price list providing two prices. It's been a while since I checked out prices at tourist attractions, so maybe it does exist there, but they are so cheap anyway (usually about 10,000VND / 50 cents entry) that I haven't really thought about it before. I used to go to the wet market a lot and assumed I was overpaying a bit -- I rarely bargained on vegetables -- but then found out that the prices I was paying were pretty much what locals paid and that anyway, not all locals bargained either. I was also told that market stall holders would make an assessment of how much someone would pay - foreign or local -- and start there. I also usually overpay a bit for xe oms (motorbike taxis) but I don't take them very often. So it basically comes down to how hard you bargain. Apart from that -- and of course the biggies like housing -- I don't think I pay a foreigner tax very often.

Is it right or wrong? I do disagree with dual pricing at 'proper' restaurants / bars -- there are sufficient places at all price points for people to be able to go somewhere that fits their budget (rich locals go to the (often extremely expensive) bars and budget travellers go to the cheap street food - you pays your money and you takes your choice) and therefore why should a foreigner be charged more than a local? There are a couple of places I know of in Hanoi where this happens, or I've heard of it happening, and that frustrates me.

As for street food, goods in the market and so on, here it's all about bargaining: it's good business sense for the sellers to try to get as much money as they can for something (when it's not price marked) and it's up to the buyer to negotiate the price. It may not be an ideal system -- if you don't have a clue what you should be paying or don't like negotiating -- but it's the way it is. Acceptance is the best way to deal with it or it can ruin your visit and, if you live here, it's bloody tiring to be stressed about it all the time.

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Posted by sayadian on 16/1/2013 at 00:41

Imagine three tourist attractions.
The White House, Sydney Opera House, London Eye.
Imagine this sign.
Europeans *50, Asians *70.
How do you feel about dual pricing now?

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Posted by Twerto on 16/1/2013 at 04:34

From my trip around Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia.. I would say there is a Triple teir pricing, Locals, Westerners and then Chinese.. more often than not you would over hear the starting price offered to Chinese always higher than the starting price to myself and other westerners around.

As mentioned above I never let this bother me as what i paid was always a lot less than i would of paid back home, not that i think it is fair but from my experience this goes on all over the place and not just Asia.. Taxi drivers especially are always there to rip of a tourist at the first available moment where ever you go.

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Posted by daawgon on 16/1/2013 at 14:14

Dual pricing did bother me the first few trips I took to SE Asia, but lately I feel a lot like Tyler - as long as I feel good about a price, I don't let a few pennies spoil my trip.

Has anyone experienced getting change in Vietnam? It seems like many places just plain don't return any change when it's only a few Dong. I had this happen to me in quite a large Indian restaurant in Hanoi, and in a bakery there, I was given a few cookies instead of the few Dong I was expecting. I just scratched my head in amusement and went on my way!

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Posted by travellingsarah on 16/1/2013 at 19:27 TF writer

Posted from within Vietnam.

Taxi drivers occassionally hold off returning change if it's not a lot but will give it if pushed, but I've not had problems getting change generally. And never had cookies! Chewing gum instead of 500d yes - I think I'd rather have cookies!

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Posted by MADMAC on 16/1/2013 at 21:22

Am I seriously here the only one who has benefitted from dual pricing.

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Posted by travellingsarah on 16/1/2013 at 21:35 TF writer

Posted from within Vietnam.


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Posted by marcodepolo on 17/1/2013 at 01:15

In Cambodia I was quite shocked to find out dual pricing was used by the power company. Foreigners rates are officially about 20% more and landlords can be fined by the company for hiding that they are renting to a foreigner.

While I understand the small round the corner shop would try to overcharge a bit a wealthy tourist, I can't see how foreigners living (and earning their life) in Cambodia, while being bound to the same economic situation would be able to pay more than native Cambodians.

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Posted by travellingsarah on 17/1/2013 at 01:23 TF writer

Posted from within Vietnam.

Same in Vietnam. If you're renting an apartment and therefore the bills go via the landlord, you will be overcharged. We used to pay 3,500 a unit and now we've moved and are paying our bills direct the banded rate ranges from about 1,000 to 2,500 or something like that.

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Posted by ThomasRichards on 19/6/2015 at 07:02

Some great responses here. The writer of the article in question, which I've seen before needs to have his head examined - he is just an apologist. There are so many arguments that can be made as to why the practice of dual pricing is wrong (I'm talking about institutionalized dual pricing now where a tourist attraction has two prices, one for "locals" and another higher price for "foreigners") NOT about a street vendor who chooses to charge you more. In the latter case, you can always go to another vendor to get a lower price but in the former case even expats, who possess Thai driver's licences, long term visas, work permits and other documents showing they reside in Thailand often get gouged. This is possibly also true in other nearby countries where dual pricing is common, such as Myanmar and Cambodia, though I can't say because I have never lived in those countries.

It would be good if bloggers like Richard Barrow, who was the one who pointed out the racist policy employed by the Asiatique ferris wheel operators could make more noise about this practice outside of Thailand too so tourists who come to Thailand in the future will know about what to expect and how to collectively band against these practices (I mean come on, how much more ridiculous can it get trying to get away with charging foreigners 50 Baht more than locals for a ferris wheel ride; whoever justified the absurdity of that?) I mean, if they're going to try that kind of crap they might as well put up a sign saying: "no foreigners allowed". But at least one company lost face as it should.

As one other poster above correctly pointed out, imagine the outrage if we put up signs at tourist attractions back home: white people: $15, Asians: $45. Or just copy the same standards and apply the same logic as in Thailand, Myanmar and other Asian countries where dual pricing is practiced: if an Asian person comes they pay the foreigner price unless they come armed with a local citizen ID card or passport. That way we'd be even. LOL.

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