Randy Belham
Randy Belham

Feb 20. 2 mins

The Best Way to Shop Thailand’s Open Air Markets

Open air markets, found throughout Thailand and in profusion around Bangkok, are one of the country’s top attractions. They are fun, lively and loaded with bargains, but the chaotic jumble can seem overwhelming to visitors. Here are some tips to help you make the most of the experience.

Take Extra Cash

Take plenty of hard currency, because there aren’t always cash machines close by. Thailand is not an especially dangerous country, but crimes of opportunity are as common here as anywhere else, so keep your cash, bank cards and credit cards secure at all times.

Have a Plan

Different markets specialize in different types of merchandise. If there’s something particular you’re shopping for, find out which market will have the best selection. If you’re going to a very large market, such as the 10,000-stall Chatuchak Weekend Market, get a map of the market’s layout so you won’t miss the sections that interest you most.

Take a Smartphone

A calculator app lets you quickly convert Thai bahts to your home currency equivalents, and a phone is a must if you get separated from others in your group.

Compare Prices

If you’re looking for generic items, such as silk scarves, there are probably several vendors within shouting distance who sell them. Compare the prices, as vendors just a few steps from each other can have wildly different prices for the same item.

Be Realistic

If you spot a Rolex watch or Prada bag for an insanely low price, it’s no more genuine than it would be on the streets of New York. However, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a fun, convincing fake. Just pay accordingly.

If You Really Love an Item, Don’t Hesitate

If you see a one-of-a-kind item and love it, buy it. One-of-a-kinds are often gone when you make your way back to the stall. If it’s a large item that you don’t want to lug around with you, most vendors will gladly let you leave it with them until you’re ready to go home.

Food, Water and Rest

Thailand is hot and markets are crowded, so make sure you stay hydrated. Don’t eat before you go. Markets sell huge varieties of food, so take advantage of the opportunity to sample some of the world’s best street food. You should also take a break from the crowds and clamor at some point. Most markets offer foot, neck and shoulder massages. All are a great way to relax and get your energy back.

Expect to Bargain

Bargaining is the most important part of the market experience, and vendors expect it. In fact, they can become baffled or put off if your first offer is too close to the asking price. Remember that, in this mercantile country, buying and selling is a social activity as well as a commercial one. Smile, and be polite. It helps to know a few phrases in Thai, such as Please, Thank you and How much? You can negotiate without knowing the language, but you get extra points for taking the trouble to learn a few words.

After hearing the initial price, you can get the negotiations started by asking if there’s a discount. The vendor often counters this by asking how much you want to pay. A good place to start is with a price 35 to 50 percent less than the first price quoted, though experienced shoppers often go as low as 25 percent of the asking price. After this, move up by increments, aiming for a final price that’s 40 to 60 percent of the asking price. The more tourists that are around, and the more crowded the market is is, the harder it is to bargain successfully. Vendors don’t want other customers to know how far they’ll drop their prices, and they may be in a hurry to close the deal and make other sales, so use common sense and pay attention to the vendor’s demeanor.

Above all, keep the mood light, and you’ll soon discover why everyone loves a Thai market.

Tell us about your market experiences, whether in Thailand or anywhere else in the world, below in the comments section.


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