There are two kinds of people in the world: those who love to haggle and those who would rather be ripped off and saved the embarrassment of a little playful banter. For those who would rather not be taken for a ride on their trip to Bangkok, you’ll be pleased to know haggling is expected and enjoyed by street vendors (the exception is food).
Markets are always the prime place to flex your haggling skills. Almost all vendors will immediately offer you a ‘special price’ the moment you show any kind of interest in the merchandise. Sorry to break the news, but unfortunately it wasn’t your dazzling smile or charm that made the seller go soft and knock that 20 baht off. If you’re interested in buying, you will probably have to be the one to instigate the haggling war, as few vendors will follow you down the street yelling lower and lower numbers at you. It does happen here, but not with nearly the same regularity you get in other countries in Southeast Asia, so be bold and name your price.
Most market vendors in the more touristy parts of the country (Bangkok, the islands, Chiang Mai and so on) will usually speak enough English to haggle with you – or they’ll use a calculator to punch in their asking price before handing it to you to press in a more pocket-friendly price. However, if you want to show off your worldliness, ask ‘Lot noi, dai mai?’ (Can you discount?)
A good rule of thumb is to offer half of what the vendor is asking and take it from there. They’ll laugh at you, then most likely offer you a few baht off the original price. At some point, you’ll meet at a figure, or not, as the case may be. In the touristy areas of Khao San Road, Nana and Chatuchak in particular, you’ll do well to haggle hard, as prices tend to be bumped up substantially in these spots.
There are a few occasions when there isn’t a discount to be had. If there isn’t, they’ll make it clear it’s a set price and generally stick to their guns though, if you’re bulk-buying, they will probably make an exception. Locals and tourists tend to be offered the same price, though there are always some rogue vendors who’ll try and sting you. Haggle hard to get the best deal you can.
As well as markets, Thailand has plenty of malls, which welcome a little bit of haggling when they are not set price (that is, no price tags are on the items — if there are price tags, the game’s over). Those malls with booths, such as Terminal 21 and Platinum Mall, are prime haggling territory.
Don’t forget you should also haggle with tuk tuk drivers before you agree to get in, as they often try and get away with hugely inflated prices. As with any un-metered transport, agree the price prior to travelling.
Whatever your precise haggling style, do remember that it’s supposed to be an enjoyable experience, and you’re expected to maintain a good humour about it all. It’s better to walk away than to get angry; and do you really want to lose your cool over a dollar or two anyway?