College Connect: Bargaining in Thailand

Posted By David Wilhite

By Gabriel Sandler

“Two paintings for 1200 baht”

“I can’t do 1200, you have to go lower than that.”

In a small art booth in Chiang Mai, Thailand, as it rained outside and my friends wandered away down the market street, I decided to stay and haggle. This is how I started. I wanted two paintings: one blue and black, an ethereal river town at night, the other black and orange and yellow, silhouetting a fisherman in a small boat, floating in front of a tree line. It was July 2012, I was 18 on a cultural immersion/community service trip. I wanted souvenirs.

“It’s 1200 for two, this is a fair price.”

“I told you I can’t do 1200, help me out. I want the paintings, they’re great, but that’s too much.

“Ok, maybe 1000.”

The vendor, a lean man in a loose-fitting shirt, probably close to my age, looked agitated but eager to sell. Getting him to drop the price first, I figured, would trigger a momentum of discounts against his better judgement. If haggling is a staring contest, he blinked before I did.

“I don’t know.”

“1000 is fair, you’re an American, you can afford 1000.”

A lot of the vendors made this point, and I had a default response.

“I’m an American but I’m a student, I don’t have a lot of money, I don’t have that much cash. You can do better than 1000.”

Then, a backhanded compliment.

“I really want these paintings, but I can’t stay long, I’ll leave without them.”

My dad taught me this trick, most useful against car salesmen. To get a good price, he told me, be willing to walk away.

“Ok, 950.”


“No, can’t do 600, that’s too low.”

“Why? I’m trying.”

“It’s too low.”

“650 then, that’s better.”

I don’t mind budging from a lowball offer. At this point, I thought creating a back-and-forth would loosen everyone up.

“You pay 900 for two, I dropped from 1200.”

“I’ll pay 700.”


“I can pay 700. If you can’t do 700, I have to go, I have to meet my friends.”

Staying without my friends was a little reckless, but I love haggling. Vendors overvalue and I try to bring value down. 1200 to 700 Thai Baht is only $36 to $21, but it’s exciting to negotiate. No matter where I travel, everyone knows numbers and everyone speaks money.

“If you want 700, I have to call the artist, can’t do 700 without her permission.”

“Alright, call the artist.”

He pulled out a small flip phone, dialed and turned away from me. I heard him speaking quickly in Thai, quicker than Thai already sounded to me.

“Tell her I really like the paintings.”

He turned back to me.

“Can you do 750?”

I set my price and I stuck to my price.

“I can do 700.”

Back to the phone, he spoke quietly, as if I could eaves drop. A minute passed, then he hung up. Turning back toward me, he grabbed some tissue paper, wrapped each painting individually, then together, then put them both in a plastic bag.


I gave the village scene to a good friend, but I kept the fisherman illuminated by sunset colors. It hangs in my mom’s office in our Scottsdale home, a prize and a memory, where I can see it every day.

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