Monday, February 14, 2011

Turning the Tables......

In the Thailand blogosphere many discussions focus on disproportionate pricing for farangs, whether it be higher prices at tourist destinations or inflated prices at markets/shops based on the colour of one’s skin or perceived ability to pay prices far above the Thai norm.

Let me start off by saying that, in principle, I have no objection to business owners seeking to maximize revenue returns. Savvy business operators across the globe do this on a regular basis, this is certainly not a trait confined to Thais. However, where does the line cross between good business practice versus blatant contempt for customers?

In Chinatown last week I popped into an open store which sold a variety of relatively inexpensive goods. My eye was caught by Thai style purses, in various colours, with elephant motifs on the front and back of each, packaged in sets of 12. These are the sort of purses you can find at any market throughout Thailand and border town markets in neighbouring countries. You know they are cheap and will not last long but they make good, inexpensive, give-away presents. A bonus point was that the price was clearly indicated on the packaging, 180 bht for 12, making each purse a very reasonable 15 baht.  As I was examining the set, the Thai owner of the shop approached me and said ‘Very good price, for set of 12 only 1000 baht!’ I looked again at the price sticker, which clearly said 180 baht, then I looked at the shop owner, looked back again at the price sticker, returned my gaze to shop owner and asked her to repeat the price: ‘One thousand baht’ she said. ‘One thousand baht’ I repeated. She nodded her head enthusiastically, the head nodding somehow indicating this was the deal of a lifetime. My gaze returned once more to the sticker price of 180 baht. Had I somehow misread this? Was there a missing ‘1’? In that case would the price not be 1,180 baht? I picked up a similar 12 pack, comprised of smaller purses, which had a price sticker of 150 baht. How much for these I asked? ‘1,150’. Oh, very crafty..... she had now added 1000 to the sticker price instead of just rounding up the sticker price to 1000. This made the smaller purses more expensive than the larger purses. Do I look stupid? Had I got drunk the night before and had a ‘I am a stupid, dumb farang’ tattoo etched onto my forehead? I smiled and politely thanked the lady....

Fortunately I was not alone in Chinatown that day. My dear friend, the irrepressibly happy Miss Pla, (who I am pleased to say neither looks nor smells like a fish) was eagerly inspecting counterfeit bags in a shop a few doors down. I explained the situation to her and pointed out the  offending shop. She, being a savvy shopper herself, laughed in outrage at the 1000 bht price tag I was quoted and happily trotted off to conduct counter espionage tactics on my behalf. She came back out of the shop a minute later and told me she had been quoted the Thai price of 180 baht. Ok, close the deal, I said (in my best Gordon Gekko accent), buy for 180 baht. Back into the  shop she went while I hovered outside, just out of sight of the shop owner. As soon as she handed over the money and had the purchase in her hand I walked up to the counter, took the bag from Pla’s hand, inspected the merchandise and said ‘Wow, you got a good deal for 180 baht’. The shop owner looked at me, then looked at Pla and said, in English, ‘You buy for him?’ ‘Yes’ said Pla, unable to avoid a cheeky grin creeping across her face. All credit to the shopkeeper, she maintained a stoically dignified expression and graciously thanked me and Pla. Presumably she was not out of pocket otherwise she would not be able to sell at that price, she just lost out on the extremely lucrative (500+%) “farang tax”. Pla thought the whole thing to be incredibly funny and could not believe I was quoted 1000 baht. She doubled up in laughter once outside the shop and for the next few hours constantly chuckled to herself repeating the phrase ‘1000 baht’ while shaking her head in disbelief.

This is all part of what makes travelling in Thailand so much fun.  Keep your wits about you, keep smiling, stay polite, never get offended, it’s just business, not personal. Mai pen rai.

The controversially priced purses!


  1. Peter I can imagine your initial bargaining being conducted with smiles from both you and the shopkeeper, but with a game of chess being played out behind two sets of teeth.

    Your second paragraph holds the truth, this sort of 'game' is played out everywhere in the world, not only in Thailand.

  2. I don't mind the farang price if it's above board so to speak. E.g. stated clearly at zoos and the like, but like you I do get a bit tired of the suddenly inflated prices. Particularly when a vendor tells a local that my 100 baht item is only 20 baht for them...within earshot, in Thai.

    Even worse in a sense are the way some tourists are treated in Australia, by their own tourist guides (fellow countrymen) who herd them into expensive souvenir shops (owned by more fellow countrymen) to purchase goods at ten times the usual price.

  3. Peter, that made me smile given my occasional rants about dual pricing.

    I think for me its the sneaky way it is sometimes done e.g. using Thai numerals rather than Arabic to give prices.

    Two best things I learned in Thai so far are being fully conversant with numbers when spoken and written.

    BTW nice to see you back in print.

  4. Martyn, indeed smiles were much in evidence, though the opposing smile bore a touch of frost when I made my reappearance in the shop after Pla had secured the Thai price.

    Snap, welcome to this blog and thanks for commenting. I agree I do not mind a farang price if it is transparent. Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai is a good example of this. They provide a notice, in English, explaining why foreigners pay an entry fee but Thais do not. It made good sense and I was more than happy to pay the fee.

    Mike, glad it made you smile. I agree if you are charging higher prices for foreigners it is only fair the dual prices should also be shown in Arabic numerals so the majority of those paying the higher prices can understand. It is part of the transparency Snap refers to. Thanks, good to be back in print!


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