One of the greatest gems of the East, Thailand is a place everyone should visit at least once in their life. It’s a country of great cultural and geographical diversity that is sure to take your breath away twice over, especially so when you try Som Tum (Spicy Papaya Salad) for the first time. You have been warned.
But Thailand is not just a haven for lovers of set-your-tongue-on-fire flaming South-East Asian cuisine, there is something for absolutely everyone here. From lavish island all-inclusive resorts to simple seaside huts, serene mountain landscapes to the never ceasing hum of Bangkok city life, Michelin-star restaurants to 1 dollar pad-thai fresh from the street vender’s wok, there are views, meals, and accommodations to impress every taste and every price range.
Having said all that the real magic of Thailand, like in most countries, lies in the people. It’s a challenge to find a country whose people smile as much and as genuinely as in Thailand. Thais are some of the kindest, most generous, and most welcoming people I’ve ever met while living around the world, and despite the challenge of the English-Thai language barrier, I felt a type of warmness from Thai friends and strangers alike that was unique to anywhere else I’ve lived in Europe and the States.
No different than many non-Thai travellers to Thailand, before arriving in Bangkok I knew nothing of the language. With the help of friends, locals, and the internet (of course) I learned enough Thai in a few months to help me communicate in every-day life. The effect of speaking a bit of Thai with locals was amazingly positive.
People deeply appreciate when foreigners make an effort to respect and coexist with local culture, and knowing a few words of the local language without a doubt breaks down the bridge dividing the traveller and the tourist.
These are the 10+ most essential Thai phrases to use during your travels to Thailand!
*Disclaimer: The expressions below are written in what I consider to be the easiest way to read phonetically. They are not necessarily the correct spellings for these words!*
Hello / Sa Wat Dee Kha(Krap)
Sawatdee is an invaluable phrase that you can and should use everywhere! If you identify as a woman kha is the typical ending for most expressions, whereas a man would say krap. Sa wat dee is often accompanied by the nonverbal greeting in Thailand which is called the wai. The wai is a small bow with the hands pressed together that is used very often to greet people when you enter a home, to say thank you, and to apologize. The higher the hands are held in relation to your body symbolizes respect, the highest respect being from a bow with the hands at forehead level and is reserved for the king. To greet a friend or acquaintance, a bow with the hands at chest level is usually acceptable. If you receive a wai from someone it is expected and customary to give one back.
Thank You / Kop Koon Kha(Krap)
Arguably the most important phrase in every language!
How Are You? / Koon Sabai Dee Mai Ka(Krap)
How are you might not be the most essential phrase, but it’s an easy one to practice and makes a big impression on locals. They’ll be surprised when your simple hello at 7-11 is followed up by a more advanced expression, and you’ll receive lots of appreciation and smiles.
the responses are as follows:
Very Good / Sabai Dee – Not So Good / Mai Sabai
Yes and No / Chai + Mai Chai
Knowing how to say yes and no is essential, and even without a lot of other vocabulary words these can get you quite far.
I Don’t Understand / Mai Kow Jai
Sometimes you won’t understand and that is okay :).
How Much Is This? / A Nee Tow Rai?
Prices are not usually displayed at the markets, and if they are they might be in Thai so this is a super important expression to know!
Numbers / 1 – Sun, 2 – Song, 3 – Sam, 4 – See, 5 – Da, 6 – Hok, 7 – Jed, 8 – Bed, 9 – Gow, 10 – Sib
For bigger numbers or if you don’t understand what is being said back to you it can be helpful to use your phone calculator to punch in numbers.
Too Much / Feng Mak Pai
Bartering is key in Thailand, especially when you know a price is a little excessive. Farangs (foreigners) are usually targeted for these types of scams so make sure you know this expression to get the fair price.
Delicious / Aroi (A-roy)
This is important because that fresh, steaming Pad Thai will certainly be mouthwateringly aroi.
Beautiful / Suu-ay
While travelling you will probably see babies, be invited into someone’s home, have family photos shared with you, and more. All these things are beautiful so don’t be afraid to give compliments!
Spicy / Pet – Not Spicy / Mai Pet – A Little Bit Spicy / Pet Nit Noy
Thai food is spicy! You either love it, or you don’t. If you fall into the latter category make sure you ask for your food to come a little less hot lest you lose all your taste buds to the flames. But if singed taste-buds are your jam, go crazy!
Those are all my essential Thai phrases! Practice, practice, practice and you are sure to have an amazing trip. Wanna learn even more Thai?
Omniglot has even more phrases for every situation you might find yourself in, and useful audio clips to help learn pronunciation. Learn Thai here!
Published 18/02/2019 from Belgium