I get it, anybody who has traveled the world has ended up somewhere where they needed something (toilet, water, or medicine) and they did not know how to ask for it. Here we aim to provide you with just enough Basic Thai words, to get you by.
When I first came to Thailand, I was in my late 30s and I still thought I was cool. I went to a nightclub and was standing there with my buddy when we realized that we did not know how to ask any of the ladies, how to dance in Thai. So, there beautiful Thai ladies surrounded us, and we mimed dance moves and looked hopefully at potential dance partners. None of it was pretty and I certainly did not feel cool, during, or after that experience.
Here I have provided some basic Thai, along with the easiest way to say the words. I have stated the closest English equivalent sounds.
First, men and women end things differently
- Seriously, I kid you not, men in Thailand are supposed to end their sentences with crap. While women get a much softer ka sound that they use to end sentences.
- Man = poochai (poo-chai) (poo as in you are taking one and chai – sort of like saying shy, with a “c” instead of an s).
- Woman = pooying (again poo, just like you are taking one) and ying, just like in the yin (with a g) and yang of things.
- Children = dek ( as in deck chair) so a girl child is a dek pooying, and a boy child is a dek poochai.
- Polite forms for speaking in Thailand. Men end their sentances with a khrap, women with a ka. It is just a polite form of speaking, but you should get used to hearing it as it is very common.
- Man = khrap (literally crap like you sh_t your pants). That is the correct way to say it.
- Woman ka (it is a hard k sound, but a soft a sound).
The other thing about Thailand is Sanuk – Fun. Thais love things that are fun. They appreciate slapstick comedy on TV, and they like to enjoy life. Many things can be endured if it is sanuk. It is pronounced sa-nook. (nook as in a nook or cranny).
Polite form for a man
Polite form for a woman
Hello, Goodbye, how are you?
- Hello (man) – Sawatdi khrap (Sa-wat-di) say it just like it sounds (sa as in sarsaparilla) wat as in what’ cu’ doin, and di as in dee).
- Hello (woman) Sawatdi ka – exactly the same as above, but ka instead of khrap.
Note: Sawitdi khrap/ka is often said while holding your palms together as if praying, and with a slight bow. Though as a foreigner this is not expected of you.
In theory, La gon = goodbye in Thai – but almost nobody uses it anymore. Everyone just ends conversations with Sawatdi khrap and Sawatdi ka these days, or just bye, like westerners do. Often the end of a conversation is noticible, by everyone simply saying khrap, khrap, khrap, or ka, ka, ka, over and over.
How are you = Sabai dee mai? (Sa – by) dee (just like it is written) mai – is pronounced “my” with a slight rising tone).
The answer is as follows
- Sabai dee – Feeling great.
- Sabai, sabai – Feeling ok.
- Mai sabai – My sa-by – not feeling well.
- Yes – Dai – said like a single dice – die.
- No – Mai said like this is my room.
- Want (something) – Ow as in ow that hurts.
- I don’t want – Mai ow – My ow .
- Thank you (man) – Kor khun Khrap Kor said like Cor I could use one of those. Khun – is pronounced without the “h” so Kun Cor kun Crap.
- Thank you (woman) Kor khun ka.
Hello – man
Hello – woman
How are you?
Sabai dee mai?
I feel good
I feel ok
I feel sick
Thank you (man)
Kor Khun Khrap
Thank you (woman)
Kor Khun Ka
I need to go to…..
- The toilet – hong nam (literally room water).
- Hong = room Hong starts off like honkey tonk – but ends with a “g” – hon“g”.
- Nam = water – Nam as in Namaste – or namby pamby.
- The hotel – rong rem – (said like wrong – just drop any “w”- sound and rem as in rem sleep.
- The school – Rong rien. I am only including this one as it sounds similar to the hotel – rong rien (rien = study) rien shoud be said like reign as in the kings reign – but there is no “g” sound.
- The hospital – ron pya baan – Ron as in your buddy Ron. pya said like pie-ya, and baan as in you are banned.
- Doctor – maw – there are about 5 different ways to say maw and they each mean different things (Thais love accents and rising and falling tones) However, all you need to say is maw. As in I looked into the maw of the beast and I saw black.
- Embassy – Satantoot followed by your country. (Sa-tan- toot) drag out the saa-taan, then toot like you toot your horn.
- Passport – Nangsu duantnag – N-ang-su, do-an-tang (just like the orange drinkcrystals).
- American Embassy – Satantoot America Saa- taan-toot, America.
- Canadian Embassy – Satantoot Canada.
- English Embassy – Satantoot Angrit (yes Angrit (sort of like Angry) but with an “it” at the end, not an “ry”).Ang-rit.
- French Embassy – Satantoot Farangset (Farang Fa as in fa la la la rang as in you rang the bell. Set as in you set a place at the table). Fa-rang-set.
- Japanese Embassy – Satantoot Yipoon Yip as in coyotes yip and pun as in pun with an “o” added – Yip-poun.
- Chinese Embassy – Satantoot Jin – Jin is pronounced like Gin (my favorite drink).
- Train station – Satani rot fai – Saa-taan nee, Sa like Sasperella, Tan like you got a tan on the beach, nee as in your knee, then rot as in it is rotten – fai said like the first part of fight – leave off the “ght”.
- Subway – Satani rot tai din Saa-taan nee, tai, said like you would say Thai people, din said like…the din was so loud I shut the window.
- Bus station – Satani Rot mee – Saa-taan nee Rot – yes, just like rotten, mee, said like may I but with more of an “e” sound than an “a” sound.
- Police – Tham ruat Tam as in Tamborine, ru-at (roo as baby kangaroo, and at as in this is where it is at. Tam-roo-at.
- Tourist – Kohn – Nak Ton Tiew – Kohn (everybody is a Kohn (said like a con artist. Nak as in Nakatomi tower (thank you Die Hard). Ton said like ton in tonsil. Tiew -Ti-ew (Ti as in tea – and ew as in ow that hurts) Tea-ow…Nak-ton-tea-ow.
- Tourist police – Tham ruat nak ton tiew. – Note: Dial 1155 on any Thai phone for the tourist police 24-hours – They all speak English.
- Airport – Sanambin – Sa- nam – just like nam in namaste, bin as in rubbish bin – Sa-nam-bin.
- Market – Talat- Ta- like ta ta, and lat as in Latte. Talat
Ron pya baan
Satani rot fai
Rot fai tai din
Satani rot mae
Kohn Nak Ton Tiew
Thamruat Nak Ton Tiew
- Where – Tinay? – Here you are back to Tin -I? – yes just like you would say eye.
- There – Tinoon – This time the ti is is more like Tea – noon.
- Here – Tini – tin ee – Tin like the metal tin – ee just a drawn-out e – Tin-ee.
- What – Aray, a strong “A” followed by rye as in rye wheat. A-rye.
- Why – Thamai – Tam – like Tam your Irish friend, but say his name with a “th’ sound, followed by my. Tham-my.
- When – Muarai – Muu – like you are saying Mu mu – followed by “a” followed by rai – similar to wry above. Mu-a-wry.
- Go straight – Trong Pai – Tr-ong-pie. T followed by wrong (w silent) pie. T-(w)rong pie.
- Stop – Yuut – Spoken Yoot but with a “u instead of an o sound. Yuut.
- Go right – Leow – kwaa – Leo-kw-aa – k-waa – join the k and the w to kw and then say waa, like wa wa. kwaa
- Go left – Leow saii – This one is easy – Leo – sigh- just like in English the “g” is silent.
I am sick, Mai sabai
Mai Sabai = I am not feeling well. If you are sick, check out this post on Pharmacies, clinics, and hospitals.
- Note:- you can use jeb in front of all of the words listed below for body parts.
- jeb = pain or hurt “j” as in Jack then eb as in ebbing tide. j-eb
- Hua = head – hu, as in a hula hoop – then add an “a” – hu-a
- Jeb hua = headache
- Caw = throat – caw, just like a crow caw, caw
- Jeb caw = throat hurts
- Hoo = ear – said just like you expect an Owl to call Hoo, hoo
- Taa = eye – just like ta ta for now. just a slightly longer taa sound
- Kaa = leg – same a sound as above but with a “k” in front
- Tau = foot – T-ow as in ow I hurt myself
- Kaan = arm – said just like Can I do this?
- Muu = hand – an M followed by a low u sound (drag out the “u” M-uuu
- Tong = stomach – T-o-n-g The “T” followed by a longer o then ng like wrong, but with a “T”
- Tong sia (see-a) = diarrhea
- Toot = backside Toot is said just like you would toot your own horn.
- band-aid = pasteur – yep just like Louis Pasteur
- Medicine = Yaa – like Yaaa I get what you are saying
I feel sick
Summary of Basic Thai to get you by
Here I have included some basic Thai words to get you by when traveling. I have attempted to phonetically write the words so you can say them easily. It will take time before you get it right, and as a tourist, you will not likely ever get there. The Thai language is nuanced by rising, falling, even, and flat tones. Trying to get all of them into a basic Thai lesson is impossible, so I have not included accents in this lesson.
For a list of Basic Thai from Thammasat university, go here.
I used to practice my Thai words by listening to a cassette tape while circling the helideck offshore. It gave me a good pronunciation of many of the basic words. One result of that is many Thai people assume I speak better Thai than I actually do. I have to constantly remind them that while I have a good understanding of basic Thai, I am not fluent.
For anyone who has made it this far and still wants to know. Dance in Thai is tien, it is spoken just like the number ten. So to ask a woman to dance you would say Sawatdi khrap tien dia mai? Hello, would you like to dance?
Sa-what-dee crap, ten, die my?
I really hope these basic Thai phrases are of some assistance to travelers. If so please leave a comment, and or let me know what words you need to hear.