Tourist Experience #2 Shopping And Tourist Products
During the 7 weeks stay in Thailand I was in Bangkok for about 6 weeks, Pattaya for 5 days and Chang Mai/Golden triangle for 3 days. About half of the time I was shopping. I have visited most popular shopping areas in Bangkok.
First of all I would like to make some comparisons between Bangkok, Pattaya, and Chang Mai / Golden triangle. If you are looking for general tourist stuff you can get them anywhere in Thailand. If you know where to shop, the most selection and the best price is in Bangkok. Find a store that is both wholesale and retail and buy at the wholesale price. Those stores have the best selections and the best prices. Depending on what you buy, wholesale quantity is between 3 to 12. Most of the time 6 is enough to get the wholesale price. Also for most items the wholesale price is 60% of retail price. If you are only shopping retail (quantity of 1 or 2) the Golden triangle area is the cheapest. Their asking price is also not that much higher then their bottom price. (Imitation polo shirt is about 130b for 1 and 120b each when I bought 6. I was a sucker in the beginning and bought 6 in MBK for 190b each.) The night market prices are about the same between Chang Mai and Bangkok. The hotels and entertainment establishments in Pattaya are lower in price then Bangkok. But the price in shopping centers and street vendors are about the same as in Bangkok.
Secondly I would like to talk about quality. They varied by a big margin. You cannot compare prices unless you have the same quality. Imitation Rolex watch is a good example. They can vary drastically. If you know the dealer and are buying from them in wholesale quantity, a typical model will go for 500b to 2500b depending on the quality. The lowest price (simple woman's model) of a very high quality one goes for 1500b. The most expensive one I bought is for 2200b. The asking price for them is usually between 1500b to 7500b. As you can see the asking price could be as much as 4 to 5 times the lowest price you can buy it from the vendor. I advice people only buy the best quality imitation watches and purses. The best imitation Rolex watch is about 95% accurate compare to the real one. If you are not familiar with that particular Rolex model, you will not be able to tell the imitation one from the real one. The vendor I bought some imitation Rolex watches actually held my hand up and looked at my old Rolex for a few seconds before he declared mine as real.
Thirdly how do you bargain with the vendors? Well, very difficult if you do not know how much it should cost. In the beginning I paid too much for everything. The vendors are very smart. They are the pro and we are the fish. Especially for tourist who come from countries where prices are much higher then Thailand. In the USA a baseball cap with embroiled patterns usually sell for about $5 to $20. I have never seen any lower then $5 except in clearance. So when the vendor asks for 180b and I say 100b. The vendor asks me how many do I want and I say 3. He then says for 3 he will sell it to me at a bargain price of 150b each. We finally agreed at a price of 140b. That was my first purchase of caps. By the end of my trip I could buy those caps at 70b each for a quantity of 12 and no more then 95b for a quantity of 3. You notice even my first price of 100b is too much but they get even more from me.
I have found a few big secrets from my shopping experience. If you have no idea how much the price of the item should be, ask for the wholesale price. I have found that every time when I asked for the wholesale price I was given the lowest price they would sell the item for. Here is a typical sequence. I am shopping for some small wallet made out of denim. I ask the vendor what the wholesale quantity is. He said 3 (usually 3 to 12). Then I ask him what the whole sale price is. He said 60b. I have seen the same item in the weekend market for 100b. So I know this is a good wholesale price. I have done this more then 10 times and it seems to work all the time. But be careful about the quantity. You cannot expect to get the wholesale price if the quantity is too low and is not acceptable to the vendor. One time I want to buy a very special cap with the Ferrari logo and a white stripe at the tip (this is the newest fashion cap). I found out the wholesale price is 120b for a quantity of 12. The price for one is 200b. The vendor will not come down in price from 200b even if I buy 2. This is a shop that is more for wholesale then retail. Eventually, a few days later, I bought 6 at the price of 120b.
Another method I used that was very successful required that you know how much other vendors are willing to sell the item. There is one Nike cap again with a different color strip at the tip which we have bought a few at 150b each. They are at the time very difficult to find. I saw one available at a street vendor. Instead of asking him how much the cap sells for, I offer him 140b for that cap. He mumbles something in Thai and reluctantly sells it to me. By not asking him for the price but offering him a low and realistic price tell him I know how much the item should sell for and they usually will sell it if they think it is fair. I think the wholesale price for the cap is 120b. Please do not offer an unrealistic low price when you use this tactic of not asking them the price.
What if you have absolutely no idea how much the item cost and is obvious that you are not buying wholesale (like luggage)? This is a very difficult situation. Sometimes the asking price could be 5 times the low price for the item and sometimes it is already the low price. (It could be even worst if the item is fake like a gem stone) This is not a situation you want to deal with. I have bought one 30 inch hard cover 4 wheel luggage list prices 4900b for 1600b. The same luggage was selling at list price in a department store. One way to handle this is find one vendor and low ball him and wait for him to give you the best price. Then go to another vendor and offer him 10% less than what the first vendor willing to offer you. Do this only if you have a lot of time.
Tour guides told me that if the vendors post a price usually local Thais will not bargain. I am not sure if this is true for places where there are a lot of tourists. The imitation Polo shirt was posted as 199b in MBK and I paid 190b which later I bought more somewhere else for 120b. Never ask a tour guide if the price is good. They cannot say anything negative when you shop in stores they take you to shop. Most of their income is from your tips and commissions on stuff you purchase.
If a tour guide takes you to a shop the tour guide and the tour operator both get a commission. For gem stone and expensive items it is about 25%. On top of this they get a refund of ½ day worth of the car plus driver. A Toyota van and a driver is about 1400b a day. If they take you to the gem stone store for shopping they will get 700b right off the top. Then anything you buy 25% of the list price are free to be distributed anyway they choose. Most of the time if the item is expensive they will give you 10% discount. Then the tour operator takes 10% and the tour guide 5%. If you are purchasing expensive items, you should be able to get close to 25% off when you visit the store without a tour guide. Remember a taxi or tuk tuk driver that takes you over there is a tour guide. This in general is true no matter what product or service you purchase. What I do not know for sure is the commission rate for other items like tailor suits. I know I can get 10% off some spa service if I do not go there with a tour guide and never any discount or use any coupon when a tour guide take me there.
This is getting too long. I’ll give a summary of locations and repost with details some other time.
Pak Khlong Talat – Best place for flowers, fruit and vegetables.
Chinatown market – Best place for wholesale/retail miscellaneous items.
Khao San – Best place for traveling service.
Pratunam market – Best place for wholesale/retail clothing items.
Silom/Patpong night market – Best for Imitation watches and purses. Good retail miscellaneous items.
Chatuchak weekend market – Best for retail items. Good wholesale for hard to find items.
MBK – Best retail shopping center. This shopping center has the most variety of items for retail sale. It has great retail price but higher then wholesale price. Largest food court.
Pantip Plaza – Best place for PC games, software, video. Hardware prices are too high for me.
World trade center (central world plaza) – Expensive stuff. Good place to spend you money fast.
Siam Center and Siam Discovery center – Expensive stuff.
Emporium – My favorite place. Expensive. Has the best clean food court.
Some good advice, but for a fellow with a Rolex and who claims to be a big tipper, you sure are tight when it come to purchasing other things.