Day In The Life: Negotiating Bangkok

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I’m on a bucket-list trip to Bangkok, Thailand, to learn about the Thai martial art of Muay Thai. In this action-packed day, I learn a few key tips and Thai phrases that will help me negotiate in a culture that is known to love bargaining. Let’s see where the day takes me:


6:45am – We’re up and stretching for a four mile jog through a suburb of Bangkok. I’m at Dejrat Muay Thai Academy – a famous gym run by Master Surat Sianglor. I’m traveling with my gym – the Austin Kickboxing Academy – to support my coach Tessa Simpson, who will fight in the upcoming tournament. Much like the skill of negotiation, Muay Thai requires practice to build strong muscle memory. Grit and technique can become winning instinct over time, but you have to put in the work.

Thailand has gorgeous shrines on nearly every corner, and they are beautiful reminders to take a moment to reflect on what is good and true in our lives.

11:05am – Breakfast is over, so I take a walk through the neighborhood before it gets too hot. Every corner and house has a beautiful shrine, and it’s clear that Thailand values honoring ancestors and a spiritual life. It gives me insight into how I might communicate respect, particularly to those older than me. Understanding cultural norms is critical to being able to successfully negotiate, and I hope my insights turn out to be right!

Taxis are convienient, but tuk-tuks - scooter taxis - are a famous and sometimes hair-raising method of getting around town.

1:30pm – Our group travels to downtown Bangkok. We’re headed to Chatuchak Market – a huge weekend open air market. Our trip guide and Muay Thai champion Kronphet Phetrachapat suggests we take a tuk-tuk to the Market, and starts to negotiate fares with the driver in rapid Thai. He gets a great fare for our large group. I’m excited to get to the market to try out my few Thai negotiating phrases. But first, I have to survive the tuk-tuk ride.

A colorful and crowded market stall in Chatuchak Market! My enthusiastic but broken Thai phrases prove to be useful negotiating tactics.

2:30pm – There are thousands of things for sale at this market. I practice my Thai with my friend Jasmine Bootdee, who is Thai and also guiding us on our trip. She helps me get the pronunciation right to ask “tow rai?” (how much?), and “suay” (beautiful). I decide to make polite conversation with vendors before asking about price, using formal language. Three of the vendors I talk to lower the price or add more items without my having to haggle! My success is due to Jasmine – she is a an amazing coach!

Thailand is world-renowned for it's amazing street food, and this street cafe in Chatuchak Market backs up that reputation! We had som tam and fried chicken!

6pm – We’re having dinner before heading over to National Stadium for the tournament ceremony. Our group stops at a street cafe serving east Thai cuisine like som tam, a spicy salad made from green papaya and pickled seafood. It isn’t customary to negotiate around food prices. The prices are very fair (only about 100 baht each, roughly $3 USD) and the food arrives fast and is amazing. I learn that tipping isn’t customary but leaving the change is appreciated.

We're finally at the Opening Ceremony for the 2nd International Thai Martial Arts Games and Festival, held by the World Muay Thai Organization, including amateur and professional athletes from around the world!

7:05pm – The sun is finally going down, and we’re sweating at the National Stadium near Mahboonkrong Center. This is the second International Thai Martial Arts Games and Festival, and we’re surrounded by practitioners from around the world. English is the common language, and it’s so fun to see athletes from different countries greet each other. Later, we’ll see some negotiating in the ring in a few exhibition matches. It’s been an amazing day.

Follow Tanya Tarr’s other Forbes stories to learn how women leaders from around the globe authentically win in negotiation. Send Tanya negotiation questions via Twitter.