Think on your feet and learn the rules quickly
Be prepared for cultural differences
When I was 22 me and a friend embarked on a backpacking tour of the world. Like many people’s first backpacking trip, our first stop was south-east Asia, where I was wholly unprepared for a lot of the cultural differences I encountered. One such difference was the practice of bartering, which you simply don’t get in the UK. As such, I had to think on my feet and learn the rules pretty quickly to avoid a) getting ripped off and more importantly b) causing offence.
Bartering for goods
Take it as a bit of fun
Bartering for goods is the norm in south-east Asian countries like Thailand. First and foremost it is important to point out that it is supposed to be a bit of fun, and undertaken in a friendly manner. The worst thing you can possibly do when haggling is get stressed or take it too seriously – if you don’t want what’s being offered, smile, make a joke about it and walk away.
While bartering for goods is considered normal, it is confined to smaller shops and street traders. Don’t try bartering in the larger stores of the MBK Shopping Mall in Bangkok for example – the clerks don’t have the authority there to start lowering prices.
Bartering for transport
Agree a price before you set off
When haggling of the price of transport – specifically tuk tuks – make sure you agree a price BEFORE you set off. Trying to haggle the price once you’ve arrived is likely to get you involved in an argument, which is the last thing you want. Also note that you can’t barter for things like bus or train tickets, and if you try to barter for metered taxis it is likely to get you nowhere.
Similarly, do not try to barter for food and drink in restaurants – the prices here are fixed and non-negotiable.
4 easy steps to bartering
There are 4 easy steps to bartering – it goes like this:
1. You ask how much the item costs.
2. The vendor will offer you a vastly inflated price.
3. You offer a far lower price than it is worth.
4. You haggle and meet somewhere in the middle.
Of course, when you first start this you are at a huge disadvantage compared to the vendor, as you don’t know how much anything is really worth. There’s a chance you may end up paying above the odds in the beginning, but don’t get too stressed about it – the difference will be the matter of a few pounds, which is relatively insignificant to you but could make a poor street vendors day, so don’t begrudge them it too much
The early bird...
Advantages of shopping early
Thai people can be somewhat superstitious, and many traders believe there first sale of the day is a lucky one. If you arrive early in the morning and can shake off your jet lag, you can get some great prices by being their first customer.
Finally, the key to happy haggling is to be happy with what you’ve brought once you’ve paid. There’s no point buying an item, then hunting around and realising you could have got it cheaper elsewhere. Just be happy with what you’ve got and leave it at that.
Now you're schooled in the art of bartering, you're all ready to try your new tricks of the trade. Advice: Book your flights early to avoid a price hike, search carefully online to find the right worldwide policy for you, and choose your accommodation after checking reviews from the likes of TripAdvisor.