Boating and Bartering

*This post was originally published on October 11th, 2011 on

…That is how my day began. At 6:30am, I departed on a bumpy van ride to the floating market at Damnoen Saduak, located in central Thailand in the province Ratchaburi. It is only about 62 miles southwest of Bangkok, but due to the heavy traffic and the cascading downpour, it took about two hours.

Crowds of tourists packed onto small canoe-shaped wooden boats to float amongst boat merchants selling items ranging from cantaloupe to coconut lamps and silk scarves. Several shops aligned the klong (canal), which connects to the nearby Tha Chin River. Fortunately, the downpour of the early morning cleared to a beautiful sunny 82 degree(f) day.

It is customary in Thailand (as well as many other Asian countries) to barter all items for sale in markets, although this does not hold true for department stores. Generally, one should begin the bartering process offering about 50% of the original asking price, and eventually meet in some varying price in the middle. I recall how difficult it was for me to barter the first time I traveled to China, because I feared being selfish and not giving enough. Bartering is an expected aspect of the east Asian market shopping culture, however. Often, the original asking price is considerably higher than the average sales price for the item  in their country, even if it seems low to us. Of course, it is important to be respectful while bartering, too, and not offer an insulting percentage of the asking price, either.
An experienced travel-savvy British couple shared a boat with me. They informed me that the merchants at the floating market do not usually barter as low as the street market vendors. The vendors are savvy businesspeople, too. My British companions informed me that the vendors are accustomed to foreigners from all over the world, and many can distinguish between an American accent versus British, etc., and that they often barter the highest with Americans. They very well may have been correct in claiming this, too. I have only been in Thailand for a week, and even I know that 1800 baht (which I was originally asked to pay) is an outrageous price for a set of place mats. My curious eyes cause me trouble in these markets. Just a glance in an item’s direction meant our boat was going to get “hooked” (literally..the merchants reached out with a big hook and dragged the boat to their stand). My boat companions teased that I need to just “well-shut my eyes for a while.”  Still, bartering is fun. The hardest part is remembering that I cannot do the same when I go home in December.

3 Responses to Boating and Bartering….
Laura Moran says:
October 12, 2011 at 1:10 am
Amy, this is a truly amazing adventure. I love your descriptions of bartering and wonder what it must be like to float and shop! Sometimes I feel like I’m floating while shopping in New York, but you bring it to a new level! Miss you, but happy to see you are soaking up Thailand. Look forward to more! XOXOX, L

Rab says:
October 13, 2011 at 11:34 am
The French-Canadian tourists bartered with me all weekend in Holiday. “No, no. Give me GOOD price.” Some of the stuff I could give some $ off, but some stuff I couldn’t. It was funny, because I thought this one group of women were getting frustrated with me- trying to barter me down on things, and I only ended up giving them 15% off the total – but then they came back 30 minutes later saying “You have been nicest to us. We thought you might tell us where your favorite restaurant is around here so we can go there. And we love your store.” So it’s just a cultural thing, but I was all tense bartering with them- mostly because I wasn’t expecting to do that!


3 thoughts on “Boating and Bartering

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