How To Bargain With Your Pearly-Whites in Chiang Mai

Nightlife, Things to Do, Travel Tips, What's New — By A on September 18, 2010 at 2:29 am

Bargaining is not the norm in every part of the world.  However, if you are coming to Thailand, it’s all part of the fun.

Here are some short and simple rules for bargaining or haggling at the night market (particularly the night bazaar in Chiang Mai).

Rule #1: Don’t lose your cool when you are bargaining.  If possible, keep showing your pearly-whites 90% of the time. See, like this!  :-) This will take you far in the bargaining process.  Besides, the vendors expect it from tourists.  They may be surprised if you don’t bargain or haggle so don’t ruin it for the next tourist or traveler.  Keep things interesting, yeah?

Rule #2: Be mentally prepared to bargain.  When I first came to Asia many years ago, I dared not to bargain.  Instead, I watched my family do it.  I suppose you could say I was in training.  Fast forward a few years, and now, I enjoy bargaining!   Be ready!  Make it fun for you and the vendor.  Tell yourself that if you do not get the asking price,  you are willing to walk away from the item swiftly without looking back.

Rule #3: Appearance matters.  You probably should not have on your most expensive outfit, nicest jewelry, etc., when you are out shopping for a bargain.  The vendors will take one look at you and know you can pay their asking price and you are done!  Be sure to have your money in a couple of places—seriously!  Don’t have a wad of bahts in thousands when you get ready to pay for your 90B t-shirt.  Separate your money and only have small bills so that you’re ready when you want to pay.  Only take out what you need.  In other words, don’t act “rich.”

Rule #4:  Know your budget. You need to know in your mind how much you are willing to pay for an item prior to the bargaining engagement.   This way, you’re able to walk away without hesitation.  Remember, you must be able to walk away.  Trust me, you’ll likely find the same thing at a few stalls down!

That's me bargaining for my daughter's outfit.

So you’re ready now, yeah?  Let’s rehearse:

Here you are at the night markets or night bazaar!  🙂

You walk-up and start with “Sawatdee Kha” or “Kurp” (female/male) which is a simple “Hello” in Thai.  Follow that up with “Sabaidee Mai?” which means “how are you?”  Don’t forget to say this with a BIG BIG SMILE.

Now, you can point at the item and say “Aneet, ghee baht?”  which is “How many bahts is this?” or similar to “How much is this?”  The vendor might come back to you with a price of 300B in Thai for example. You might come back with “Ooooooooo.. hmmmmm” and “paeng marg” which simply means “too expensive.”  At this point, the vendor might grab a calculator after s/he notices that you can only utter “Oooo and hmmmm” thus far! If not, have your phone ready on calculator mode.  (Tip:  I used to carry a tiny calculator when I was traveling and did not have a phone).  You could also say “lot noi dai mai” which means “can you make it cheaper?” Now you can give a number back to the vendor on the calculator– maybe about 20-30B lower than what you are willing to pay.  Make your offer about 60% of the original cost.  If you end up between 65-75% of the original cost, you’re probably in good shape.  You will undoubtedly be in a back and forth dance of spewing out numbers on that calculator.  Hopefully there will be a happy medium and able to come to an agreement. Don’t forget to say “thank you” which is “khorp koon kha/kurp.”

It’s good to know your numbers in Thai.  I often carry a written translation of numbers with me so I can refer to it very quickly.  Now that I am living here, it is easier for me as I am more familiar with the numbers.

Here are the Thai numbers:

1 = Neung                                           11 = Sip-et

2 = Song                                              12 = Sip Song

3 = Sam                                               20 = Yee Sip

4 = See                                                30 = Sam Sip

5 = Haa                                               100 = Neung Roi (Song Roi for 200 etc.)

6 = Hok                                               1000 = Neung Phan

7 = Jet

8 = Paet

9 = Kaow

10 = Sip

Chiang Mai Night Bazaar

Now you could also consider bargaining in Burmese.  That’s what I do.    Remember that most vendors in the Night Bazaar are Burmese.  You will shock them by speaking Burmese to them.

Same drill as you would bargain your way to a good deal in Thai.  Start with a big smile!

Nay Kawn Lar?                                      Burmese version of “How are you?”

Deee pyit see bae laut lae?                 How much is this item?

Nae Nae shawt bar ohn lar?                 Could you lower the price a little?

Tut shawt loo ma ya buu lar?              Are you able to lower it some more?

Kyae zoo tin bar tae!                             Thank You!

Here’s hoping you find many bargains and gems while in Thailand.  You could use the above in Bangkok and Chiang Mai.  Maybe even in Mae Sai and Mae Sot as there are many, many Burmese vendors in those cities as well.

Have fun!  Be sure to come back and tell me how you did!

Tags: Bargaining, Night bazaar, Night Markets, Shopping


  • G @ Operation Backpack Asia says:

    Great article, A! I wish I’d read this before we went! Thanks for all the detail and the tips – we’ll be sure to try to use some of your tips elsewhere too. 🙂

  • A says:

    Thanks G. Glad you liked it. Next time you’re back in CM, I will take you shopping personally! 🙂 Have a great time in China. Let me know if you’re going to Shanghai! We have family there. Cheers!

  • Lisa says:

    Hi – i am traveling to Chaing mai, Bangkok and Phuket in July of 2011.
    Do you have any tips for me and my family ?

  • Kevin says:

    I like the detail and use of Thai phrases in the article, knowing the local language is always good for knocking a few dollars off the price.


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