The woman chased me down and grabbed me by the arm. “Hundred bhat!” she insisted, trying to shove a bracelet onto my arm. “Hundred bhat!”
I had never dreamed that shopping in Thailand would be a contact sport.
There were incredible bargains to be had. I picked up a gorgeous silk sarong for about $6, a magnificent tablecloth big enough for the Thanksgiving table for about $15, and beautiful bracelets made of shells or mother-of-pearl for about $1.50 each. Buying things wasn’t the hard part. It was trying to not buy things that was tough.
Not all Thai vendors were as aggressive as the bracelet woman. Many only called after me as I walked away. Most just quoted prices at me for everything I looked at and started naming lower prices for anything I turned my attention away from. The souvenir vendors were the most persistent, and the most variable in their prices.
The woman at the enormous cloth goods tent where I bought clothes, the sarong and the tablecloth was more like a western sales associate except for willingness to drop prices. She brought out scores of sarongs for my approval before I chose one. The prices were great and the silk goods amazingly durable. That sarong has been used as a beach towel, a skirt, a shawl, a tablecloth, an apron, a beach wrap, an arm sling, a belt and and a scarf, and has held up to spills and machine washings without losing its bright, vibrant hues.
If you shop in Thailand, you’ll need to haggle or you’re likely to get ripped off. I saw as much as a 10-fold differences between quoted first prices at one shop and the haggled price for an identical item elsewhere.
These vendors, though, were competing for the tourist trade. When I stepped away from tourist areas, typically to buy fruit, the experience was different entirely. The streets of Phuket (pronounced or Poo-KET) were lined with roadside vendors peddling ordinary, everyday things from food to gasoline — with the latter sold decanted into empty bottles, giving those stands the look of a Molotov cocktail bar.
I didn’t bother with haggling on the fruit, since it was already so cheap. I got entire bags of fruit for about 70 baht, or roughly 25 cents. I gorged myself on mangosteen, langan, and rambutan, with no regrets but a persistent longing for more.
A quick check online for current travel advisories and weather conditions, and a few vaccines if the doctor recommends them, are all a traveler needs to prepare for a Thai vacation. The most important things to bring are a sense of adventure, sun screen, bug spray, and plenty of shopping money.