When it comes to bartering in South East Asia, every town and indeed country will be a little different, but there are some universal principles that I have found to be effective.
Know how much you’re willing to pay before you jump in –
Most shop owners are just looking to make a fair living and honest buck, however SCAMS on naïve tourists are not uncommon here and many salespeople test the waters at abnormally high prices. If you go in knowing that you’d only ever be prepared to part with 60 Baht ($2) for a simple pork pad Thai on the street, then you can have some fun trying to get it for less and simply move on if they won’t budge below 70 Baht.
Start low, but not too low –
When you’re honing your talents in the field of haggling it’s important to be mindful not to offend anyone. You should of course start at a price that you could more than sleep easy with, but if you’re offering a Tuk Tuk driver 50 pence for a 20 minute ride he’s bound to scoff and drive off.
If on the other hand the going tourist rate is $3 (90 Baht) and you chime in with “60 Baht?”, even though they may sometimes get much more, a bit of concession from both sides will usually result in a settled price of about 70/75 Baht. Everyone’s a winner!
The 3rd Party –
You could see a line of tourist t-shirt and souvenir shops as a trap, or alternatively, an opportunity. Always use their fellow competitors to your advantage. When bartering we’ve found that claiming that someone else is offering just below our desired price works a treat when trying to bring the price down. Then you can make it seem like you are making a concession by buying it with them for a slightly higher price than the Mysterious 3rd Party are offering. Although you will still crucuially be buying that desired pair of flip-flops for a fraction of what you could have paid if the vendor wasn’t made aware of the competition.
Many savvy sales professionals will settle at this reasonable price in an attempt to not lose custom to someone else on a product which they are already making a tidy margin on anyway.
Be Friendly, Smile and establish Body Contact –
Doing this will simply make the salesperson more comfortable with the proposed sale and create a trusted, playful exchange. I managed to acquire 6 bottles of water and 2 large beers for £2 in Koh Pha Ngan by just being very friendly and finishing the exchange with a high five with the lady over the counter.
The More the Merrier –
As with most places the more items you’re looking to buy, the better price you will invariably get per item. So if you’re friend is also browsing the night market stalls for that same type of audaciously patterned trousers, why not try and buy them at the same stall? Let’s be honest, most stalls seems to flog the same tat anyway!
If someone is asking for 200 Baht per pair of trousers, often if you are buying 2 they will settle for 350 or even 300 for both, depending on how convincing you are. This leaves you can your friend with potentially an extra 50 Baht each to waste on a deep-fried scorpion (tastes like burnt chicken).