We remember how excited we were to speak a little Thai on our very first trip to Thailand. A few weeks before our flight, we taught ourselves a few simple but useful Thai phrases to practice with our tuk-tuk drivers, servers, and tour guides. And you know what? They were genuinely excited and intrigued to talk with us!
Even though there are a lot of Thai people who speak English in major cities such as Bangkok, Phuket, Pattaya, and Chiang Mai, learning just a few essential Thai phrases while traveling in Thailand can really change your experience, especially if you venture into smaller towns or the countryside. It did for us.
Not sure what you should learn? We’ve put together a solid list of Thai phrases and words you’ll be glad to have while traveling around Thailand.
Thai Pronunciations and Phonetic Spelling
Since we didn’t include voice recordings (and because the Thai language has its own script ภาษาไทยมีลักษณะเช่นนี้, we’ve put together a little blurb on the pronunciations.
Mind you, there are at least three official phonetic transcription styles plus dozens of various spelling on different websites and YouTube channels.
In our American English phonetic transcription throughout the post, here’s how to pronounce the vowels and consonants using letter combinations you should already be familiar with:
|aw like raw||eh like get||oh like toe|
|ah like stop||i like kid||ao like now|
|ai like eye||ee like need||uh like what|
|ae like air||oo like you|
|g like go||k like kite||th like tan|
|j like jam||ch like charm||ph like pet|
Secondly, the stress often falls on the last syllable. For example, my name, Angela (AEN-jeh-la in American English), is pronounced un-ji-llAAaah in Tinglish.
Lastly, the end consonant (the ‘t’ in cat, the ‘k’ in book) in all Thai words is rarely enunciated. Although your lips and tongue form the ‘t,’ ‘p,’ or ‘k’ at the end of the word, you stop short of exhaling any air. It helps to imagine the letter being really tiny at the end of the word.
Oh yeah, and when we spell a word with more than one syllable, we use a hyphen between the syllables. If there is no hyphen, then it’s a new word.
Using Polite Endings
In Thailand, it’s customary to finish a sentence or complete thought with the words ka or krup. These polite participles are used to show respect and politeness and make the sentence ‘sound nicer’ to Thai ears.
Women always say ka and men always say krup. It doesn’t matter who you’re speaking to, just who you are.
For example, the word ‘hello’ is written sawatdee or sawasdee. It’s pronounced suh-waht-dee. However,
A woman says suh-waht-dee ka.
A man says suh-waht-dee krup. Even more casually, drop the ‘r’ and say suh-waht-dee kup.
Ok, here’s our mini guide to essential Thai phrases and words. Plus, now you’ll know how to pronounce them!
Hello | suh-waht-dee
This is one of the most basic Thai phrases you can learn. It’s the general greeting to say hello and it often replaces good morning and good afternoon, too.
Thank you | kawp-koon
As a whole, Thailand is a very polite society. It’s customary to say ‘Thank you’ after buying something or enjoying a good meal.
You’re welcome. | yin-dee
We don’t hear this too often, but you might be inclined to say it after someone has thanked you.
Excuse me. / Sorry. | kaw-tohd
This used whether you want to say ‘excuse me’ (for example, to get your server’s attention or if you need someone to move out the of the way in a market) or ‘I’m sorry’ (if you bump into someone).
Yes / No | chai / mai chai
For simplicity sake, say chai for ‘yes’ and mai chai for ‘no.’ Although more advanced speakers use different words, Thai vendors will understand your intentions.
Can you speak English? | koon poot pah-sah un-grit dai mai
This is one of those really useful Thai phrases. If a Thai person can’t speak English, they will usually answer mai dai (cannot) or nit noy/nit dee-ao (a little).
I can’t speak Thai. | poot pah-sah tai mai dai
This is another good phrase to memorize.
Can you speak slowly? | koon poot cha-cha dai mai
Use this phrase to get a Thai person to repeat what they’ve said and slower so that you can understand better.
I don’t understand. | mai kao-jai
Sometimes it’s better to say this then to stand there in silence (or make a funny face like I usually do).
See you later. | jer-gun
Goodnight | rah-dtree-suh-waht
We don’t hear this often, but it’s not bad to know.
|TIP: For visual learners, seeing and hearing the words at the same time will help you learn basic Thai phrases. By far our favorite beginner Thai book is Complete Thai (book + CD). It taught us truly useful vocabulary, broke down the phrases into simple ideas, and included mini-conversations that we could easily practice and use right away.|
It’s [number 1-12] o’clock. | [number 1-24] nah-li-gah
Might as well throw this in there while we’re talking about numbers. There are two ways to tell time in Thai language. However, the easier way revolves around a 24-hour clock, so as long as you know your numbers 1-24, you’ll be ok.
What time is it? | gee mohng laew
You can point to your wrist or say this phrase if you need to ask what time it is.
What is your name? | koon cheu ah-rai
My name is [name]. | pohm cheu [name] / chan cheu [name]
Men say pohm for ‘I’ and women say chan for ‘I.’
How are you? | koon suh-bai-dee mai
You are literally asking, “Are you fine?” This is a more formal phrase and is usually used if you haven’t seen each other for a long time.
I am fine/not fine. | suh-bai dee / mai sah-bai
What’s up? | bpen yung-ngai bahng
This casual greeting is used if you see someone regularly. It’s difficult to pronounce because there are a lot of ‘ng’s.
Where are you from? | koon mah jahk prah-teht ah-rai
Thai people are usually curious to know where you’re from.
I’m from ______. | mah jahk prah-tet ____
Learn to say what country you’re from:
How old are you? | ah-yoo tao-rai
It’s not uncommon to be asked how old you are. Don’t be shy, it’s not considered nosey in Thai culture. Thai people are just establishing who is older as a way to determine hierarchy.
Where is ____? | ____ yoo tee-nai
This will come in handy if you are looking for a landmark or (if you’re like me) a bathroom. Some common words for places are:
Do you have Wifi? | mee wifi mai
Almost any cafe, restaurant, or hotel has Wifi. It’s free, so use it! If you ask this phrase, the Thai person who is working will almost always direct you to the Wifi passport (printed on a menu, taped on the wall, etc).
Can you go to ____? | bai ____ dai mai
This is one of the most useful Thai phrases you can learn. Chances are you’ll need to talk to your taxi, tuk-tuk, or songthaew driver during your trip.
Go straight. / Turn left. / Turn right. | drohng bai / lee-oh sai / lee-oh kwah
Stop here. / Park there. | yoot tee-nee / jawt tee-nun
Slow down, please. | cha-cha noy
Use this phrase (with a polite voice) for fast-driving tuk-tuk or van drivers.
Can I use the bathroom? | kao hawng-nahm dai mai
|TIP: I fine-tuned my pronunciation by listening to Pimsleur’s Thai. I got hooked listening to the CD version during my morning commute. Later, I bought the audio file on and listened to it on my iPad. I still use it from time to time to refresh my vocabulary and make sure I’m saying the words correctly.|
I want this. / I want that. | ao uhn nee / ao uhn nun
Rather than point to something, gesture with an open hand.
How much is this? / How much is that? | uhn nee tao-rai / uhn nun tao-rai
Can you lower the price? | loht noy dai mai
While you’re shopping at Thai markets and walking streets, have fun bartering using this phrase.
It’s too small. / It’s too big. | lek gern bai / yai gern bai
That’s cheap. / That’s expensive. | took / paeng
I like it. / I don’t like it. | chawp / mai chawp
I don’t want a plastic bag. | mai ao toong
This will come in handy. Convenience stores are notorious for handing out plastic bags, even if you buy one small item!
Just a moment, please. | baep dee-ao nah
This is a very helpful phrase to use when a street vendor is haggling with you or if a server is hovering over you waiting for your decision. This will give you some time to make a choice.
Are you hungry? | hee-yoo mai
Try to say hee-yoo in one smooth syllable.
Have you eaten yet? | gin reu yung
Remember, it’s a hard ‘g’ like ‘go’. Don’t pronounce gin like the alcohol.
I’ve ordered already. / I haven’t ordered yet. | suhng lae-ao / yuhng mai suhng
I can eat spicy. / I can’t eat spicy. | gin pet dai / git pet mai dai
Thai people assume that most foreigners can’t eat spicy food. If you can, be sure to tell them gin pet dai to get the real deal.
I’m vegan. | gin jay
Don’t add [food], please. | mai sai [food] noy
I’m allergic to [food]. | pae [food]
pae sounds like the word pair but without saying the ‘r’
|TIP: If you have serious food allergies, bring these allergy flashcards with you on your upcoming trip to Thailand. They’ll come in handy when ordering food from Thai street stalls or in restaurants where Thai people might not understand English. The allergy information and warnings are professionally translated, so they’ll give you peace of mind when you’re eating.
Waiter! | nawg (general) / noo (someone who is younger) / pee (someone who is older)
May I have [thing]? | kaw [thing or action] noy
Can I have this to go? / Takeaway, please. | glahp bahn dai mai
Delicious. / Not that delicious. | ah-roy / mai ah-roy
Check please. | check bin / gehp dtung
Resources for Useful Thai Phrases
The good news is that you don’t have to be in Thailand or know how to read or write Thai to start learning how to speak the language.
We learned many of our useful Thai phrases from Pimsleur’s Thai (conversational CD) and Complete Thai (book + CD). We felt waaay more confident talking to Thais in their own language after building a solid base using those two resources (plus a really awesome grammar book that might be too dry for most people). You can read our full review of what we used to teach ourselves Thai here.
Sure, you’ll make some mistakes and get some funny looks, but it’s all part of the fun. Maybe we’ll follow up this post with a video on pronunciations with a Thai friend. Until then, happy learning!
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