I am bad at haggling. I’ll start with that. That being said, Cambodia really makes it easy. They want your money so desperately that every single interaction with someone there involves them trying to get money out of you in one way or another. Taxi drivers, street vendors, tuk tuk drivers, hotel staff, you name it. But that’s another sad story for another post.
Thailand, on the other hand, has a growing economy, a booming tourism industry, and quite frankly don’t need your money as badly. Every single market vendor at the Pub Street Night Market in Siem Reap will try to get you to buy something, whether you’re looking at the merch or not. In Bangkok, for the most part, they let you come to them.
Here are my best tips for haggling:
- Walk around the market and scope out the vendors before you buy. A lot of the merchandise is the same and you can see a price difference between different vendors for the exact same items. One guy tried to charge me $13 for a pair of pants, the other offered the same for $5. Vendors at the beginning of the market path can charge more because they are the first vendor you see and you don’t know any better. This brings me to the next point.
- Play the vendors against each other. In the example above, I really wanted the pants from the $13 vendor (they were a pretty plum color I hadn’t seen, but in the same style as all the others in the market). I told him that the guy down the street was offering them for $5, and he dropped the price to $4.50 from $13.
- Start the haggling at a lower cost than your max. If you will pay $6 for a pair of pants, tell them $3 or $4. This way you have room to go up.
- Check for flaws! I am a professional seamstress, so I guess this comes a bit more naturally to me, but checking for merchandise flaws helps put you in a better bargaining position. Look for stray threads, inconsistencies in stitching, sloppy serging, accidental asymmetry. Even if you have no idea what you’re looking for, pretend! Turn the garment inside out and look at the seams with mild disapproval.
- Bulk discount. If you buy more than one thing, you can get the price to go lower. I would probably recommend using the first steps to get the price as low as you can before saying you’ll buy more. In the above example, I also wanted a tank top from the pants vendor. He told me $5. I got him down to $3 and then told him I would buy the pants and tank for $6. Sold.
- Don’t give a @#$%. Walk away if you want to. You can always find a vendor that sells the same thing somewhere else. Worst case scenario, you can go back and they probably won’t even remember you, anyway.
BUYER BEWARE. In Cambodia, especially, do not buy jewelry that claims to be authentic. If you buy a gem stone it’s probably fake. If it’s not fake, it’s probably going to be a bad time going through customs. Antiques: same thing. Based on my research, a lot of the “antiques” are recently made and aged to look like antiques. The silver isn’t really 92.7% silver, either. Trust me.
Here’s a real conversation from the night market in Siem Reap.
Vendor Woman: You like this bracelet? it’s 92.7% silver.
Me: No, that’s too heavy for me.
Vendor Woman: No, it’s very light. *hands me the bracelet*
Me: Yup. It’s light.
Husband: If it’s 92.7% silver, it shouldn’t be.
Anyway. Bring your small bills and have fun. Remember: even if you pay more than the lowest they’re willing to part with it for, you’re still paying far less for the item than you would in the US. Happy Shopping!