Is Haggling in Thailand Always Worth It?
You can’t take a trip to Thailand without needing to bargain for certain things. Here’s a brief guide for how it works:
Things You Should Haggle For:
- Market goods: Anything purchased at a market with independent vendors operating their own stands. This includes everything from clothing to electronics, but it does NOT apply to the food stands at these markets. Food will always have a set price.
- Taxis: Most will not operate using a meter, so you will have to tell them the destination and then ask for their price. Remember to always negotiate up front – don’t hop in a cab without any idea of what it will cost you.
- Tuk-tuks: While walking through the streets of Bangkok, you can’t go far without hearing the familiar phrase “tuk-tuk!” called out to you by the earnest tuk-tuk drivers lining the streets. Tell them where you are going, ask for the price, then make your negotiations.
- Tours: If you’re booking online, the prices will be set. But if you are booking in person or are approached by someone offering to take you on a tour somewhere, the price is absolutely negotiable.
- Smaller independently-operated hotels/hostels: If booking in person, you should also look up the place online and check their prices. If they try to charge you more than that, then either get them to honor their online price, bargain for an even lower price, or just book it online. Major hotel brands will have set prices.
Things You Should NOT Haggle For:
- Food: Food from restaurants AND street vendors will have prices posted on the menu.
- Store-bought items: Anything purchased from major supermarkets or other chain stores. A good rule of thumb is if there are barcodes, a real POS system at a check-out counter, and employees, then the prices are set and non-negotiable.
- Drinks: At bars and markets alike, prices on drinks will be set and marked on a menu or on the liquor bottles themselves.
Overall Rule of Thumb: If it’s food, drink, or from a major chain of any kind, prices are set. If it’s anything else, it’s probably negotiable.
Before we went to Thailand, we read online about the haggling. We tried to get an idea of what everything should cost us so we’d be able to determine when we were getting ripped off. There was definitely some good information on forums and other blogs, and I would encourage anyone considering a trip to Thailand to read up on it.
BUT – take it all with a grain of salt (or in some cases, a handful of salt). Lots of the people posting on the Thailand forums or writing about it in blogs are living there on a shoestring budget. People who choose to go live in Thailand for long periods of time, such as digital nomads, often do so because of how cheap everything is. So by natural selection, people writing about haggling are probably more budget-conscious than the average vacationer. If you enjoy the sport of bargaining, then by all means haggle away! But to many people, it can be uncomfortable. It’s why so many people hate the car-buying process in the US. If you are one of those people, then just remember you have the freedom to overpay.
I’m sure a lot of people will scoff at that idea (especially the expats in Thailand), but is it really that crazy? Just for the sake of argument, let’s forget about the concept of a “good deal” vs. a “bad deal” or “ripoff” and just consider the value of what you are paying, and the value of what you might haggle over. Take this example:
One night we were headed back from a late dinner in Bangkok. It was just before the BTS (one of the public metro lines) would close. We could rush to the station and maybe catch it, and we would pay about 90 baht combined for the two of us to get home. There was a tuk-tuk sitting nearby on the street. We asked him how much to take us straight home, and his first offer was 100 baht. Now of course it’s the cardinal sin of haggling to accept the first offer, right? But we were faced with a choice to pay 100 baht to hop in right then and there and get taken straight to our front door, or we could rush to the nearest BTS station, pay around 90 baht, wait for the train, take it to our stop, and then walk the rest of the way home. We decided to accept the man’s offer.
100 baht is $3.16
90 baht is $2.85
The added convenience of the tuk-tuk seemed like a good use of an extra 10 baht ($0.32). Sure, we could have bargained with the driver and gotten the price EVEN LOWER – but is it always worth it? Let’s say we got it down to 80 baht with our poor haggling skills. That would have saved 20 baht ($0.64). Let’s say we were really good at haggling and got it all the way down to 60 baht. That would save 40 baht ($1.28). And if you compare these hypothetical values to the alternative of paying 90 baht for the BTS (because either way we needed to get home), then really the savings are even less. So for us, who don’t particularly enjoy the process of haggling, the savings simply were not worth the trouble.
Did we get a “bad deal”? By Bangkok tuk-tuk standards, yes. Undoubtedly. If we were in the same situation today, would we haggle? No. Absolutely not. The notion of a “good deal” vs. a “bad deal” is solely based on our own perception. If you took that tuk-tuk for 100 baht and didn’t realize that it was negotiable in the first place, there’s a strong chance you would be rejoicing about what an amazing deal it was to get a ride home for barely over $3. But if someone then informed you that the driver had “ripped you off” and the ride should have cost less, your mentality would change – that exact same ride would no longer be an amazing deal, it would be a poor one.
But why should we care? I’d bet your couch has at least $0.32 in it that is serving you no purpose at all, so why should you feel bad about spending an extra $0.32 to avoid a haggling situation that would make you uncomfortable?
Here is our advice: before you bargain for something, decide what value would make it worth it for you. Is it $1? $2? $5? Then figure out what that value equates to in the local currency. If you don’t foresee yourself getting a discount of AT LEAST that amount, give yourself permission to skip the haggling. Forget about the “good deal” vs. “bad deal” and think about pure value. And if you feel bad “overpaying,” you can treat every premium you pay as a convenience fee for not having to bargain!
With all that said…