Heading to Thailand? Do yourself a favor and learn these essential Thai phrases! Especially as a solo traveler, knowing these will go a long way when it comes to interacting with others on a day to day basis.
Before we begin … a few pointers about Thai language!
- Kha (kahw) and Khrab (krawb) not only define the speaker’s gender (kha for female and khrab for male), but they also add respect to sentences. The longer they’re drawn out, the more respectful your sentence is. Be sure to use them accordingly to social status! The higher a person’s status, the longer kha and khrab should be drawn out.
- Tones create ALL the difference in Thai language. You’ll find that many words are spelt the exact same, but are pronounced in a wide variety of tones. Even the slightest change can create a COMPLETELY different meaning. Don’t let this scare you! Just be mindful – this is a common cause of miscommunication.
- Don’t let the letter ‘H’ fool you! An ‘H’ adds airiness to words, unlike its usage in English. For instance, Koh Phi Phi and Phuket (two of Thailand’s most popular destinations) are commonly mispronounced as Koh Fee Fee and Foo-ket. They’re actually pronounced Koh-Pee-Pee and Poo-ket.
- However, there is an exception to the letter ‘H’! When paired with a ‘C’, it makes a “sh” sound. So if mentioning Chiang Mai, you’ll notice Thai’s pronounce it, “Shang Mai”.
- Roll your “R’s“! Just as you would in Spanish or Japanese, be sure to roll your “R’s” in the Thai language.
Basic phrases you’ll use everyday
- Sa-wat-dee (kha/khrab) – Hello (paired with a wai)
- Sa-bai dee mai – How are you?
- Ko tot – I’m sorry/Excuse me
- Khap khun (kha/khrab) – Thank you
- Chai (kha/khrab) – Yes
- Mai – No
- Yin dee – You’re welcome
- Mai khao jai – I don’t understand
- Mai pen rai – No worries/It’s okay
- Chan cheu (your name) – My name is
- Horng nam you tee nai – Where is the toilet? (you can also just say “toilet?” – they’ll know what you’re asking for)
Pro tip: they don’t use the term “bathroom”, so if you ask where the bathroom is, you’ll get a confused look in return.
Essential phrases for shopping
- Tow-rai – How much is this?
- Lot rah-kah dai mai – Can you lower the price?
- Paeng Maak – That’s too expensive!
- Mai ow ting – No plastic bag
Basic phrases when ordering food
- Mai Sai Prick – Without spice
- Mai Pet – No spice (some places may interpret this as “less spice”)
- Nit noi – Little bit
If you’re visiting the more “touristy” spots in Thailand, you’ll find that the food is toned down with less spice than it’d normally have (although it’s still pretty spicy!)
- Nam – Water (PLEASE DO NOT drink tap water!!)
- Check bin – May I have the check? (this phrase uses the actual English word “check” – are you paying attention to that tricky ‘H’?)
- Aroy – Delicious
Now that you’ve finished this list, start practicing! Practice often and you’ll have the Thai language mastered in no time!