Haggling in Asia: Tales from the street vault

nzmuse bangkok haggling

It’s hard to believe that a year ago we were waving goodbye to Bangkok, hopping the Airtrain and winging our way to London. Suvarnabhumi was one heck of an airport, I’ll say. I’ll always remember it for the crazy fast travelators, our last fix of Mr Donut and oh, yeah, the fact I managed to lose my boarding pass somewhere between checkin and boarding.

One thing I wasn’t looking forward to about travelling in Asia was bargaining. I’m not used to negotiating, and even if it was expected of me, I just didn’t know how I’d cope.

As it turns out, we didn’t have much to worry about. We weren’t there for the shopping; we were there to eat and sightsee. We did buy a couple of things, though.

Our first haggle came courtesy of T, who took it upon himself to acquire a flip-knife he spotted amongst the treasures at a street stall. (Result: 50 baht off for a total of 300 baht. If I recall correctly. I don’t think that was hugely successful.)

There was also his tattoo, a totally out-of-the-blue purchase. While he’d been bugging me about getting inked in Thailand, I simply kept giving him The Look. Then, one night, we headed out to Khao San Rd for a drink run at about 10.30pm. (I think the hardest part about Cambodia and Vietnam, for him, was the absence of 7-11s and his beloved Big Gulp drinks.) We stopped so he could flip through yet another tattoo parlour’s lookbook. The owner ushered us inside and started doing his sales spiel. To say it was a tough sell would be an understatement – I totally stonewalled him. He threw out an initial quote of maybe 6000 and eventually came down to 5000 in an attempt to convince me… and since T was able to pull up his second family crest online to show the artist, and the price was way less than we’d pay here, I conceded.

And that’s how we ended up going out for a Coke and coming back many hours later with a tattoo.

The other occasion where we found ourselves forced to haggle was with drivers. You might find drivers unwilling to use the meter, for whatever dodgy reason, who quote you absolutely outrageous fares for a 5-minute ride when you KNOW it should cost, at the most, half of that number.

And yet … the sums involved are usually fairly small in the grand scheme of things. There’s the principle; you know what’s a fair price to pay, and you don’t want to get ripped off. At the same time, we may have been budget travellers , but a dollar or two would have meant a lot more to locals than it did to us.

Got any haggling stories to share?

3 thoughts on “Haggling in Asia: Tales from the street vault

  • Reply Liquid June 24, 2014 at 08:39

    I don’t like to haggle either. It seems like an unnecessary inconvenience for both buyer and seller and a waste of time. Haggling was necessary when people still used the bartering system. There was no “price” back then because the value of a good or service was what someone else would pay for it. But it’s not a fair or efficient system. Children, men, women, handicapped, and everyone else should pay the same price for a discretionary service regardless of their haggling prowess. I’m biased because I grew up in a country where it’s customary for consumers to tip for services like hair cuts, taxis, and restaurants, so it doesn’t feel right for me to negotiate and purposefully try to short change a small business owner. Maybe if I grew up in Thailand I’d have a different view today lol.

  • Reply Marie @ The Money Template June 24, 2014 at 13:35

    I think haggling is just ordinary to us “Asians”. 🙂 You wouldn’t believe that even if some people would only buy vegetables, they even do haggling. Btw, what is the tattoo design?

    • Reply eemusings June 24, 2014 at 14:45

      I’m an #asianfail – happy to talk money but when it comes to haggling? Nuh uh.

      Family crest. He already had one on one arm, this was the other side for the other arm.

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