Thailand: More Bangkok for your Buck

Street markets in the Chinatown district of Bangkok, Thailand. Photo / Martin Sykes
Street markets in the Chinatown district of Bangkok, Thailand. Photo / Martin Sykes

Getting more Bangkok for your buck is fraught with pitfalls for rookie westerners.

Forget the cliches, the friendly people of Thailand are not desperately starving for your money and have their limits on how far they'll be pushed.

Haggle too hard on a much desired item and you'll get turned away, perhaps forcing you to crawl back with your tail between your legs; only to discover the price has gone up.

Push too soft on a common item however, and you'll get taken for a ride.

While losing the odd dollar here and there might not bother you, if you're a stingy backpacker looking to string your money out as long as possible, then every dollar counts.

So here are the top tips to getting a steal in Bangkok without offending the locals, or ending up in jail.

1. Early bird catches the worm.

Not only will stock be most plentiful at the start of the day, but traders generally like to make a "first sale" for the day as early as possible. The reason being, they consider an early sale a lucky omen for the rest of the day's trading.

This means traders will be much more willing to bend to your will in the morning. Later in the day - if their lucky omen has paid dividends - prices won't be so flexible.

2. The hidden door bookshelf.

Always ask if they have "other stock", a special store room, or special wholesale warehouse somewhere other than the stand.

Like a hidden door bookshelf, the entrance to the "other shop" is usually carefully camouflaged behind stock, but can also be located out the back, around the corner or upstairs.

Often traders have the good copies hidden from sight so they won't have it confiscated by authorities during raids. If they don't have a hidden store, they'll most definitely have a friend round the corner that they can bargain with on your behalf.

3. Supersize it.

A word of warning: clothing in Bangkok is about two sizes smaller than it is in Australia. I found this out the hard way after bulk buying a year's worth of fake designer underpants without testing out a pair first. A big waste of Baht. Oh, make sure you wash them first too. Itchiness is not a good look after a tour to Thailand.

4. Recovery time is discount prime time.

Fortunately, the protests between the Bangkok red-shirts and the government have now subsided and the country is keen to get the tourist stream flowing again.

This means there are some massive bargains in the country right now - and not just in the markets.

Stays in exclusive luxury hotels such as the Pullman Bangkok King Power and Vie Hotel by MGallery cost from $85 per night at the moment. Both hotels are also currently running a 'cash back' deal where they'll give you $17 to spend in the hotel each day - which goes a long way in Thailand.

Even better, Vie Hotel is throwing in a third night's accommodation for free (If you do the maths, that means it costs $40 net per night). Both hotels are located in the heart of Bangkok and both run several dining venues and a day spa which are simply to die for; not to mention currently heavily discounted. Live like a king on the income of a pleb.

5. Cash is king.

Have plenty of cash on hand, as cash reigns supreme in the markets in particular. Traders will often add on a few per cent for credit card purchases. But while cash is king, make sure you don't have it all in the one place.

If a tradesman sees a big, fat wad, word will spread through the invisible bush telegraph and there will be no more bargains for you. The less money you appear to have, the less you'll have to pay. It is also much safer this way.

6. Smile, be pleasant.

Being a westerner accustomed to fixed prices, your patience for haggling will wear thin a lot quicker than the locals. But hold strong, stamina is your friend.

Stay polite, smile, and have a joke. Be pleasant but firm in what your bottom line is. Rudeness and frustration will only result in higher prices.

Also avoid insulting shopkeepers by referring to their stock as "fakes". To borrow the words of one trader-cum-spindoctor when I had to be corrected: "No! Not fake. Genuine!... Genuine copies!"

7. Don't get sucked in by distracting conversation.

Taking foreigners' money for a living, market traders can pinpoint a sucker a mile off. Allow me to be a case in point. Walking through the Chatuchak markets one night, a friendly local shouted out "hey banana bender". I couldn't believe it. Not only did he pinpoint my country, but he knew the slang term for my home state.

Eager to find out what had given me away as a (bogan) Queenslander, I engaged in conversation with the man. Before I knew it, his friendly nature compelled me to oblige him with the purchase of an overpriced Rubik's Cube that now torments me daily on my desk.

8. Avoid audiences.

Haggling in earshot of other tourists is a big no-no. Traders will generally not reduce their prices too low if there is someone else nearby for fear that it will set a benchmark price. If someone is in the store, wait until they leave, or do it where they can't hear you.

9. Be prepared to walk away.

Finally, unless what you're bidding for looks extremely rare, be prepared to walk away. More often than not the locals will watch you walk off into the sunset.

However there are those glorious occasions where they will yell back out at you midway through your fourth or fifth stride. So if you are not happy with the price, simply give a polite thank you, and walk away. In Bangkok, the chances are you'll find the same thing just around the corner anyway.

IF YOU GO:

Visit www.accorhotels.com for the latest and best accommodation deals.

The writer was a guest of Accor Hotels

- AAP

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n6 at 19 Apr 2014 19:54:30 Processing Time: 744ms