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How to Haggle Like a Pro

From small-town Canada garage sales to big-city Asian markets: getting the most bang for your buck (or baht).

Growing up in a tight-knit neighbourhood in Kitchener, Ontario, our street would always get together to hold a collective annual garage sale. Driveways would transform into treasure troves of long-forgotten trinkets and I would begin the day with a stall of old Barbies, and finish with a pile of new (and much cooler) Groovy Girls.

For a young girl, I had bartering down to an art. When someone approached me to buy one of my toys with an offer below my stated price (which I strategically quoted to be higher than what I expected to get anyways), I quickly snapped back with a counter-offer and would engage in a spirited haggle if need-be. When I was looking to make a purchase of my own, I would carefully scout out the entire street before even seriously considering anything, and then would “hmmmm” and “hawwwwww” endlessly over each purchase. Since everyone was really just looking to get rid of their old dust-collecting knick-knacks, they’d almost always jump to a lower price, just to get rid of their stock.

Through the years, I slowly increased the scope of my garage sale-ing, but it wasn’t until a trip to Bangkok where I met my biggest trinket-hunting challenge to date.

I had heard about the city’s sprawling array of markets each with their own unique field. Some specialized the type of fare offered, with everything from flowers to tourist souvenirs to lottery tickets. Other markets only open at a certain time of day or day of the week. Then of course, there are the famous floating markets, where vendors set up shop not in stalls, but in boats along central rivers. Needless to say, I was raring to put my trinket-hunting skills to the next level, and see what treasures I could find hidden in the streets of Bangkok.

After a day of rummaging through seemingly endless racks and stalls, I walked away with a few new outfits, “Dr Dre” headphones, a collection of gifts and souvenirs, a delicious pad thai lunch and a purse to carry everything in.

If you ever find yourself in pursuit of a deal, try some of these tips:

1. Make a list. With all the bustling, brightly coloured stands, it’s easy to get distracted and end up buying things you’ll later realize you didn’t need instead of what you came for. If you really want a pair of Thai fisherman pants (which I would recommend, as they’re very comfortable for long train ride and keep you cool and covered for temple touring), make it a priority.

2. Look around especially in larger markets. Many vendors sell similar products, so don’t jump on the first thing you see, there could be an even more exuberant treasure at a more enticing price around the corner.

3. Combine purchases. If you’re looking for multiple items, or you and travel companion are seeking similar trinkets, making multiple purchases from one stall can leverage you more bartering power.

4. Don’t be afraid to ask. Prices aren’t always readily displayed, so always ask the shopkeeper how much something costs. (Upon doing this, I usually end up making a face, trying to compare it to prices from other stalls, which usually ends up prompting a decrease.)

5. Walk away. If you get locked in a price war you’re not going to win, just politely tell the vendor you’re not interested and leave. I’ve actually had a shopkeeper chase me down the street afterwards, offering a price at a fraction of the original after doing this.

6. Have fun. Markets are a social environment and haggling should always be kept friendly. The vendors make their living selling their goods, and an overly heated debate isn’t worth saving a couple of Thai baht (or Viet dong, or Canadian dollars, wherever your treasure hunting adventures take you).

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Judi Zienchuk

Judi Zienchuk has studied her way across Southeast Asia and boarded down volcanoes in Central America. When she's not gallivanting the globe, you can find her on a bike or consuming large amounts of caffeine. Check out her blog, Travvel Sized.

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