The Problem with Dual Pricing in Thailand

dual pricing in thailand

“Adults – 180 baht, Children under 120 cm – 120 baht”

Thailand is a tropical country blessed with much natural beauty, but there are more than a few long-term foreign residents and regular visitors who refuse to go to any of the national parks.

Why?

It’s because they feel discriminated against when they’re charged 4 to 5 times more than a Thai person for entry. Many attractions in Thailand operate under a dual pricing policy, where Thai people will be charged a modest entrance fee and anyone who doesn’t look Thai will be charged at a much higher rate. For example, in the case of Koh Lanta National Park, the entrance is 40 baht for Thais and 200 baht for foreigners. Call me a cheap charlie if you will, but the fee was enough to dissuade me from going inside the park. Instead, I turned around and spent the morning at the very nice and mostly deserted public beach at Bamboo Bay—free of charge. Had the park been charging 40 baht to everyone without discrimination they would have had my money.


Would lowering the entrance fee for foreigners attract enough extra visitors to make it more profitable for the park than the current pricing? I’m guessing not. And the reason is because there are still enough foreigners visiting the park who either don’t care or don’t even know about the higher fee they pay. This is because they only ever see one price—or more precisely, they only notice one price—the one written in English with Arabic numerals. The price for Thais anywhere with dual pricing is almost always written in Thai script with Thai numerals as well, which just looks like a bunch of random squiggly lines to most foreigners. They purposely use the Thai numerals to try to hide the fact that they have dual pricing to foreigners. In most other facets of life in Thailand, Arabic numerals have become the norm. Even in the picture of the ticket booth above, they use “120” for the child height limit, but “๑๒๐” for the child price in the part written in Thai. Why use the special set of Thai numerals for one part of the sign if for no other reason than to hide the price Thais are paying behind a veil of language.

dual pricing noodle soup in thailand

“Thai people fifty baht”

In the past, simply being able to read the writing on the sign has been enough to get me the Thai entrance price at some places. This was the case at Chiang Dao Cave. There the guy collecting the entrance fees must have figured I was Thai enough since I could read their secret code.

Others have said that producing a Thai driving license at the ticket booth has been sufficient proof that they are thoroughly Thai enough to get into some attraction at the Thai price. I’ll have to try it out the next time I want to visit a national park, but there are other places with a dual pricing policy that I’d rather not visit simply on principle.

With national parks and other publicly owned attractions such as Sukhothai Historical Park, you can make the argument that Thai citizens pay taxes that support the facility, so it’s fair to charge them less to allow everyone a chance to visit, while charging foreigners more to subsidize the park’s operating costs. Thailand is not the only country that does this. In India, for example, foreigners pay 750 rupies (about $12) to see the Taj Mahal while Indian citizens pay a mere 20 rupies. But at least the price for Indians is clearly displayed in English—there is no attempt to dupe foreigners by writing something only in Hindi.

art in paradise chiang mai

One Chiang Mai museum you won’t find me in

The much bigger problem, however, is when a double pricing policy is implemented at privately owned attractions. For example, at the Art in Paradise interactive museum in Chiang Mai, Thais are charged 180 baht and non-Thais 300 baht. The sign doesn’t actually say that Thais pay one price and foreigners pay another—it simply gives one price in Thai and a conflicting price in English. I asked the lady behind the ticket window if I could pay the lower price since I was able to read it. And she said that if I had a Thai driver’s license then I could get in for the price written in Thai. But I was just asking to see what she would say—I’m not going to go inside the museum because, as a private enterprise, their only justification for charging non-Thais more money is to rip us off.

asiatique ferris wheelAn interesting thing happened not too long ago at the opening of “Asiatique The Riverfront,” an upscale outdoor mall in Bangkok. This new commercial property located on the riverside is supposed to evoke a European trading port, and it’s very much a place for upper class Thais to dine and shop. Foreigners who come are much more likely to be residents of Bangkok—it’s not really geared towards foreign tourists so much. But that didn’t stop the owners of Asiatique from charging foreigners more to ride on their Ferris wheel. On opening day, the price for a ride on the Ferris wheel was 200 baht for Thais and 250 baht for non-Thais.

Maybe Asiatique’s owners thought non-Thais would not know or not care, but many people knew about it largely in part to local blogger Richard Barrow and his legion of Twitter followers. Many called for a boycott after Asiatique banned Mr. Barrow from their Facebook page. Asiatique soon relented…sort of. They decided they would be fair and charge all people the same price—so naturally they bumped up the price for Thai people to 250 baht to match the non-Thai price. I’m not sure who was the winner in this case.

Another disturbing new trend is Buddhist temples charging entry fees for foreigners. As a Buddhist, I always want to give a donation to any temple I visit as a way to make merit. But I don’t appreciate being singled out at the entrance to the temple based on my race. Why should a Thai Christian or Thai Muslim be able to enter a temple for free while an American or Indian Buddhist has to pay a fee? It’s as if they forget that Buddhism came to Thailand from another country. There were caucasian Buddhists in Central Asia a thousand years before Thai people even established their first kingdom. Actually, temples should never charge an entrance fee to anybody—it goes against the spirit of the Buddha’s teaching. Although, Thailand is not alone here either—many Buddhist temples in Kyoto also charge an entrance fee, but at least they rip off the local Japanese tourists equally.

If you want to avoid dual pricing in Thailand, you first have to be aware of it. And the best way to do that is by learning how to read Thai. Of course there will always be some sellers in the markets and taxi drivers who will try to rip you off by charging more than a fair price, but when that happens you almost always have another option. You can buy from a different seller or take another taxi. But it’s the institutional dual pricing of entry fees that makes foreign residents feel unwelcome at times.

Learn Thai with ThaiPod101.com


Comments

The Problem with Dual Pricing in Thailand — 16 Comments

  1. While I empathize with our international visitors to Thailand on the dual pricing issue, as a Thai I’ve also felt an increasing sense of alienation visiting various places in my own country. Those destinations such as the coutless towns and islands in the South , various areas of Bangkok and my beloved Lanna town of Chiangmai itself has seemed irreversibly transformed. An average Thai would be confounded entering places like Koh Samui , Phuket or Pattaya these days. Thoughout the kingdom, countless gated communities and ” exclusive” establishments have sprung up everywhere, the only thing “Thai” about them may well only be their sevice staff. From a native’s perspective, such sense of loss and discrimination is inevitable. I myself have had to deal with such unfortunate issue more than a few times as a Thai tourist finding my way through this very ” Farang-ised Thailand ” .

      • I am fed up of this ‘Thai Thai’ thing. You do not refuse the money from foreigners do you? And why should price per head be related, what is the logic on that!? It is greed, xenophobia and arrogance. If you want all the cash there IS a price to pay. I have lived here 14 years but am leaving now I think, my Thai wife is happy to go. Thailand is looking more ridiculous by the day, it is getting worse not better. ASEAN will only contribute to Thailand’s embarrassment. Only today I have declined a trip to Siam Park due to the double pricing, it is just stupidity to alienate people in this way, but it is a stupid place. I have usually found with my Thai tax ID or driving licence I do get in for Thai prices, or the Thai child price. I went to Dusit Zoo last week and without asking I got the Thai child’s price which was less that the farang price. But why not just give me the Thai price? Funny story here: went to Mini Siam in Pattaya years ago. I requested the Thai price with my tax ID. They refused so I stood my ground. Eventually after about 5 phone calls to the manager from the desk staff I was given a price half way between the Thai and farang price. Problem was, in all their ludicrous posturing on the subject, they forgot to ask for the money and I went round free LOL

  2. Great article, but I object to the logic about taxes and publicly funded parks: as a foreigner working here, I also pay tax (and more than most Thais). That foreign residents with a work permit, retirement visa or even permanent residencey are treated in this regard as tourists is ridiculous.

  3. “countless gated communities and ” exclusive” establishments have sprung up everywhere”

    I can assure you there are many, many, many Thai people living in these places. Of course, it’s better for some people to believe or to pretend it’s just rich farang.

    • I think the commenter’s point was just that these places are springing up (with many Thai residents in them) due to wealthy Thais being exposed to the idea from other cultures and wanting to imitate.

  4. i never go to any national park because they do not serve food and drinks in many parks since they made the dual pricing ,i live hear in ranong for 25 years 10 years ago many thais go picknicking in the parks that is over now they go to terrible mc donald and kfc …. give back the good old days with free entrance to NATURE… that is what we all need the parks fill up there pockets {the chiefs]and the people are NOT working there… but they will NEVER change because this is THAILAND>>>>>

  5. Hi Ryan
    I am loving your blog! I found this article quite interesting as I live in South Africa – a land of exceptionally beautiful and widespread nature and wildlife, with countless national parks. I am a working class individual and I would love to be able to afford to enter our national parks, but the pricing is prohibitive. I would find it awesome should I be giving a discounted rate as a South African, after all, once I have experienced these places, word of mouth advertising could begin! I believe there has to be a happy medium, with locals definitely getting a better entry price, and the tourists not being ripped off either. I’ve only ever visited Thailand once, a year ago, and I left a little piece of my heart there!! Loved it.

  6. When I lived in Thailand I was able to get into national parks for the Thai price, as long as I showed my Thai license. Have you ever tried this?

    • Haven’t yet tried at any national parks. They would not accept a Thai license to get the Thai price at Phuping Palace on top of Doi Suthep.

  7. You should stick to teaching English.. a lot of dual priced attractions, especially the privately owned ones, have high fixed costs and low marginal costs. (With parks, scarcity is the source of high cost). In the seaworld underneath Siam square for instance, the fixed cost of operation is very high, but the additional cost of letting each new customer come in is very low.

    That means that in order to pay for the cost of operation, attractions need to be charging high fees to some customers, but would still benefit by charging a very low price to customers that couldn’t pay the higher price– as long as the higher price was still being paid by some.

    Make no mistake, despite you feeling ‘ripped-off’ these attractions are all competing fiercely for tourist time and $. If not for price discrimination, the alternative isn’t that everyone pays Thai price- the alternative is that Thais pay higher prices. (I think either you or someone in the comments mentioned that very thing happening with the 250B ferris wheel.)

    Price discrimination (dual pricing) allows sellers to run a maximally profitable business, while opening their attraction to as many people as possible. It isn’t limited to farang v thai, examples of this are age discounts, special sales, student discounts, and airline bookings.

    But glad to know that you feel like a victim for being from a wealthier place.

    • Thanks for expressing your opinion on this topic, and by the way, I’m an app developer not an English teacher.

  8. To take it a step further- you may even benefit from dual pricing. Take the example of ocean world under Siam square.

    Say the fixed cost of operation is 10,000,000 B over period x. The marginal cost of each customer they let in the door is 200B (for the labor cost of the cashier, security, maintenance etc.) I went their recently, and they charge Farang 1500 B, and Thais 500 B for admission. (!! whoa totally unfair!).

    They wouldn’t be profitable if they charged everyone 500B, (10,000,000 of fixed cost is a lot to pay for), but if they didn’t have a lower Thai price, there would probably be very few Thai people who bought tickets.

    What does this mean? Instead of 2000 Thais customers paying 500B and 2000 farang customers paying 1500B every week to cover costs, you’d be left with only the Farang and a few Thais. That could mean that the farang price actually gets higher- not lower- because there are fewer customers overall covering the same fixed cost.

    Once you realized you were facing a 2000B admission, instead of 1500, I’m sure you’d be willing to split costs with a few (poorer) Thais to bring your admission price back down.

    • It’s interesting that you bring up Ocean World as an example. My parents were visiting from the states recently, and we considered going to see it.
      I didn’t even realize there were two different prices, but when we saw the entrance was 1500 per person, we decided to go do something else. For 3 people that’s $138 just to see some fish. Meh!

  9. Meh those ignorant apologists who think that foreigners need to subsidize tourist attractions, particularly privately run ones that 1) are clearly made with middle and upper class Thai tourists in mind 2) foreigners can’t be taken for granted; most tourist attractions always attract more Thais anyway 3) western foreigners do not represent the majority of visitors to Thailand, not sure if they ever did but they certainly don’t (or haven’t) for many years now – at least 2/3 of all visitors to Thailand are Asians, and they generally don’t have to put up with this because they’re assumed to be Thai as dual pricing decisions are usually made based on racial profiling as we all know. How many Chinese, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Lao, Cambodian etc. visitors have to “prove” their credentials in terms of Thai driver’s licence, ability to speak Thai? Well, very few because generally all they need to do is be themselves, which is to look Asian (i.e. look Thai) and don’t speak.

    Thai tourist attractions don’t need foreigners paying more. They should charge a reasonable price so Thais can afford to enter and that same price should be charged to foreign visitors to encourage them to come and to welcome them. Dual pricing is basically a slightly more polite way of saying: “hey foreigner, we don’t really want you here but if you want to come then instead of putting up a sign saying no foreigners let us rip you off and profit from you.”

    And BTW 1500 Baht is a hell of a price to pay for looking at some fish. I think of any number of aquariums back home in the west that are not only BETTER than Siam Ocean World but CHEAPER too. Yes, cheaper!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *