Samui Wining & Dining
The Art of ‘Bahter’

Getting the best price whilst shopping on Samui can be fun
– if you know the rules of the game!


68You’ve seen the perfect gift to take home for your mum. But there’s no price tag on it. You’ve got no idea how much you should pay for it and you’re too afraid to ask. So you leave the shop for the one next door. But the same problem still exists. No prices! There’s no way around it. You’ve just got to dive in and try your hand at haggling.


Bartering can be a complete nightmare for a novice. It’s a minefield full of unknown rules and etiquette and can be very off-putting for tourists not used to this type of retail experience. It’s embarrassing, cringe-worthy and just plain unnatural for us as we’re used to fixed prices. Sometimes it’s just easier to walk away empty handed. But this needn’t be the case. With a little practice, the acquired skill of attaining a bargain in Thailand can be mastered, and it might even become enjoyable! Thais love to barter, it’s a national pastime and once you know the rules, you can join in the fun.


In most circumstances, the vendor will have worked you out as soon as you walk in the door. He’ll probably have already determined how much cash he’ll attempt to extract from you. He’ll try to find out where you’re from as he probably has various price lists for different nationalities – the Japanese being the most likely race to pay over the odds, whereas the Dutch are commendably unlikely to pay anything above the true value.


But it needn’t be a battle. After all, you’re both after the same end result albeit with a different end figure. They want to sell, you want to buy. Bartering is a system whereby there can be two winners, so you just have to compromise somewhere in the middle at a price you’re both happy with. Easier said than done if you feel yourself getting all hot and bothered. The first step is to fix in place a pleasant but determined smile and to be as charming as possible. Your friendly vendor will have the same affixed to his face also and be as equally effable. As you browse amidst his wares, he’ll be hovering nearby with his calculator whilst he tells you that he has your size and many colours. Once you’ve selected your item, the dance begins.


The first price he suggests will undoubtedly be far too high. The vendor’s face may reflect this, the same smile still in place, but with a mix of opportunism and hope ever-so-slightly peeking through. A good rule-of-thumb with the first price is to halve it and then, still smiling, offer a sum a touch lower. Of course, he’ll laugh at you and say, “Cannot.” But these are the first few steps that you are both expected to participate in. Like a carefully choreographed dance, you then leap as gracefully as possible through the age-old routine until the final crescendo when a deal is struck. Somewhere in the mid-price range, there’ll be a meeting of minds, an agreement reached and both parties will be satisfied with the result. You can now heave a sigh of relief and head off to your next encounter with your purchase bagged and ready to go.


It all sounds quite easy, but there are some things to remember. A first price offered by the customer shouldn’t be too low as this can cause offence and will set the tone for the whole process. After all, the shop keeper is only trying to make a living, so he’s going to try and get the best price he can. If a customer offers him a ridiculously low price, he may take it in good humour but it is possible that he might not! He may find it rude and believe the customer is being advantageous and trying to ‘fleece’ him! In which case it’ll be difficult to reach an amicable conclusion with a good deal for both sides. Getting a bargain is the ultimate goal, but at a fair price. ‘Losing face’ in Thailand is a big no-no and it’s a good idea to try and avoid this cultural faux pas wherever possible, just by being pleasant and non-confrontational.


If it’s not going quite according to plan and your shopkeeper isn’t playing ball, you could always try the ‘walk away’. If he’s sticking to a price that’s too high for you, you can politely say no and just walk away – slowly. If he follows you to the door or even out of the shop, you know you’ve got him and that he’s still willing to barter. If he doesn’t, you know that he really has reached his rock-bottom price and he’s not going to budge. It’s up to you then if you feel the item is worth what he’s asking. Or you could always try next door!


And, in actual fact, trying a few different shops and getting an idea of the going rate for a particular item is always a good idea. With your best bartering smile still in place, find out the best price in the street and as you leave each shop, tell them that you may be back later. They’ll know that you’re price checking and as they want your business, they’ll offer you a competitive price. It’s the only way to do business and they love it!


Out of the shops, getting around can be a daunting experience too. But with your newly acquired bartering skills, you’ll get yourself a much better rate. With taxis, although they say ‘metered’ on Samui, their metres are mostly mysteriously not working! Similar rules apply as for shopping although you’ll be lucky to get a fare for half the asking price. Mastering a few Thai numbers is useful. Even though the taxi driver will probably laugh at your accent, he’ll still appreciate the effort and it might help in sealing the deal.


The local covered pick-ups ‘taxis’ are a good and cheap way to get about the island but you still have to be on your toes with these guys. Even though there is actually a price list (can you believe it!) in the back of most vehicles, they might try it on with you, so take a look and remember the fares. You could even take a digital photo so you can keep it with you for reference when negotiating.


All in all, once you’ve taken the plunge, bartering can actually be a good game. It’s a way of life here on Samui and just one of the many delightful customs that make a holiday here more interesting. So have fun and just remember the golden rule – keep smiling!


Kathryn Amberley


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