Knowing your mai khao jai from your sa wat dee was never going to be easy! But if you’re heading – like so many other backpackers - to the Land of Smiles this year, perhaps it’s finally time to get to grips with the tricks and twists of the Thai tongue. Not only will commanding a basic level of lingo put you in great stead when it comes to impressing the locals, but also be a helpful addition when you come to navigating through the beer bars of Khaosan Road, ordering up those frothy Chang beers, or finding out where the best beaches are in Phuket, Phi Phi and the other kohs of the south.
So, without further ado, here's LBW's humble attempt at helping you get to grips with the Thai language. It's got thank yous and excuse mes; polite introductions and even oodles of phrases to help get you out of those language-induced fixes. Get learning folks…
Phrases to help you make friends
Sa-wat-dee – Hello
'Hello' is the place to start with all language learning, surely? Thankfully there's nothing difficult about the phrase, but notice how the locals often include a pleasant little bow whenever they say it. Do that and you're in for some serious cultural immersion points!
Sa-baai dee mai - How are you?
You'll come to love the long drawn out sa-baai dee mai of Thailand; a phrase so often uttered by smiling locals who are nothing but happy to see you. And if you want that smile to last even longer, you can try your hand at saying it back to them. Okay, you're likely to get stuck there, with replies you won't be able to understand, but it's worth it just to show your trying…
Pom maa jaak XXX – I come from XXX
Thai locals are often super interested to learn about where you come from and what it's like. So prep this little beauty and you'll be able to tell them in their native tongue. Of course, you'll need to replace the capital Xs above with the name of where you were born – unless you want things to sound unnecessarily raunchy and nonsensical.
Phrases that are polite
Kòp kun - Thank you
Any veteran of the Thailand travel circuit will no doubt be familiar with the jovial kòp kun, and why not? You'll be using this little titbit all the time, from the moments you buy your street foods in the evening to the times you settle in for a cold Chang over the sun-kissed islands of the Andaman coast. Thai's love a bit of thank you too, so feel free to use it in excess!
Gin hâi a-ròi! - Bon appetite!
No matter if your heralding in a peanut-packed, chili-doused pad Thai between the wild bars of Khaosan Road, a coconut-infused masaman curry in the towns of the south, or one of those Vegan breakfasts (for some reason they are super popular, we can't guess why!) under the temples of hippy-flavored Chiang Mai, this universally useful phrase is bound to come in handy!
Chai-yoh - Cheers!
Any travellers who've been on LBW's Thailand tours will know the value of this one. Cheers, salut, prost, whatever it is you say in your homeland, in the Land of Smiles the people shout chai yoh when it's time for a drink. And when is it time for a drink? Well, whenever you fancy really!
Phrases to help you shopping
raa-kaa tâo rài? – How much does this cost?
Don't be defeated by the hawkers of Chatuchak Market or Pratu Nam bazaar. Instead, come prepared to haggle your way through the endless stalls of electronics and old Siamese trinkets that pop up in the capital. This phrase is a good start, helping you get to grips with the price the vendor thinks is fair. You know, before you start whittling the total away!
Phrases to help you learn Thai
paasăa tai XXX pôot wâa yàang-rai - how do you say XXX in Thai?
There's no question about it: one of the best ways to get to grips with a local language is to practice it with the natives on the ground. In Thailand that means striking up a conversation with all the street food vendors who serve you steaming pad Thais; it means chatting away on the beaches, and having a good old chin wag with your guesthouse receptionists. It also means having the lingo to learn: this phrase. It's the proverbial fishing rod, if you will.
Phrases to get you out of trouble
kor toht - Sorry
Hopefully you won't have to use this one. But then again, it's more than likely you will. Thai folk aren't a grumpy bunch by any stretch (this is called the Land of Smiles, after all), and given the booming crowds of visitors who pass through this corner of Southeast Asia, they are likely more than used to our western transgressions. Still, an inappropriate temple outfit, a scuff of the scooter, or a smashed Chang are all accidents that happen. And when they do, you can pull this bad boy out of the lexis. (Oh, and there's buy one get one free here too: kor toht also means 'excuse me'.)
Mee krai poot ang-grit daai mai – Do you speak English?
The fallback card every traveler needs in their arsenal of Thai phrases, this beauty is the parlez-vous anglais? of the Land of Smiles. Yep, literally meaning 'do you speak English?', it's bound to be a handy conservation catalyst if you stat struggling with all the helpful tips and tricks above. Try not to use it straight away though – after all, practice makes perfect in the world of language learning!
Phrases you shouldn't shout unless absolutely necessary
Riak tam-ruat maa! - Call the police forces!
Fai mai! - Fire!
Yea, you're unlikely to need either of these ones on the road, but we included them both just in case you happen to hear someone shouting them from afar. It wouldn't be the time to quietly stroll on unaffected you know!
If you think it's time you put your new Thai language skills to the test with a trip to the Land of Smiles, then be sure to check out LBW's offering of awesome, once-in-a-lifetime itineraries over on our Asia page. Or, can you think of any more useful phrases that travelers to Thailand should add to their to-learn list? Spotted a mistake? Want to clarify some pronunciation? No worries, contact us in the comments below…
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