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9 Thai Phrases to Make Your Thailand Trip More Enjoyable.

30 Aug 2010  Wish I'd known these few phrases when I first stepped off the plane!
4.5 of 5 stars based on 3 votes

These are some of the most basic Thai phrases foreigners when visiting Thailand. You'll find Thai people are enthusiastic toward any tourist who has taken the time to learn even these little bits of Thai!

Why 9 and not 10? In Thailand 9 is considered the luckiest number. People pay outrageous amounts of money for license plates with 9 in them!

  • Category: Other
  • Traveler type: Culture, Sightseeing, Shopping, Never been before, Repeat visitors
  • Appeals to: Business travellers , Couples/romantics, Honeymooners, Singles, Families with small children, Families with teenagers, Large groups, Seniors, Students, Budget travellers , Tourists
  • Seasons: Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall
  • 1. "Kop" & "Kaa"

    When speaking to people in Thailand who are not close friends you should always include the polite ending appropriate for your sex.

    Men end phrases politely with "kop" and ladies with "kaa". It is the equivalent of calling the person you are speaking to Sir or Madam, and it can never hurt for you to say it often. You'll notice at hotels and restaurants that the staff may use "kop" or "kaa" half a dozen times before you even have a chance to speak.

    Just remember, if you are a man you always use "kop" and if you are a woman you always use "kaa". The sex of the person you are speaking to doesn't matter.

  • 2. "Sawasdee"

    "Sawasdee" is an all-around greeting that is essentially a combination 'hello' and 'good day' and, depending on the situation, 'welcome'. "Sawasdee" is also the word for 'goodbye' much like the Hawaiian phrase "Aloha", so don't be surprised when you hear it when coming and going!

    You'll notice that when the word is spoken by most Thai people the second 's' is practically silent. You'll often see the word written as "Sawatdee", which is actually closer to the common pronunciation.

    In Thailand you'll be hearing "Sawasdee" quite often and should you desire the appropriate response is to say "Sawasdee" yourself.

    Don't forget to attach the polite ending appropriate to your sex. If you are a man you'd say "Sawasdee kop", while a woman would say "Sawasdee kaa".

    Be prepared however, if you show you know this much Thai you'll probably be confronted right away by the next most common phrase...

  • 3. "Sabaidee Mai"

    Usually following the "Sawasdee" greeting you will most likely hear the inquisitive phrase "Sabaidee Mai".

    Broken down to it's constituent parts "Sabaidee Mai" means 'happy-good, no?' or, in other words, 'how are you? happy?'

    Thai is a tonal language, so sometimes words will sound like questions (even though? they are? not?) while some questions will sound like flat statements (it can! be? confusing? don't you think!) Fortunately many questions end in 'Mai' which is, in effect 'no?'

    When someone asks you "Sabaidee Mai" the expected response is "Sabaidee" ('happy good') in return (even if it's only slightly true at the moment!)

    Don't forget to add your 'kop' or 'kaa' on the end!

  • 4. "Bai Nai"

    Once a Thai person feels comfortable with you - and this will happen quickly, Thai people tend to be naturally gregarious and will become friendly quite soon after meeting you - you can expect to get some of the same curious inquiries Thai people in a community ask of each other; "Bai Nai" being the most frequent.

    "Bai Nai" is simply 'go where' or 'where are you going?'

    Thai people tend to be friendly and helpful to an extent that some westerners may think of as nosy, but in reality it is just a mixture of curiosity and good manners that you may find takes some getting used to. When you're asked "Bai Nai" for the 6th or 7th time before your first cup of morning coffee you might find your "Sabai" is not as "Dee" as you'd hope.

    Relax and smile even though you feel the noodle soup seller on the corner has no right to know the details of your comings and goings, it's a sign you're well liked.

    You can reply, and if you prefer to keep your personal sense of privacy, you can do so in English. Better yet you can fall back on the universal traveler's sign language of a polite smile and a shrug that says "who knows?"

  • 5. "Hong Nahm"

    One place you'll definitely be headed at some point on your trip is to the "Hong Nahm" which means 'room water' or more directly 'the toilet'. A good phrase to have on the tip of your tongue in 'emergency' situations. You needn't worry about memorizing the whole sentence "Hong Nahm Yoo Tee Nai" (room water located where), as just the phrase "Hong Nahm" and a sufficiently desperate look in your eye will get the message across instantly.

  • 6. "Tao Rai"

    Though most toilets in Thailand will be offered up to you free of charge some of those facilities open to the public will require a small fee in which case "Tao Rai" can ease your way.

    "Tao Rai" means 'equal to what' or less confusingly, 'how much' and is applicable for all monetary transactions, whether it's three baht for a handful of toilet tissue or 3 billion baht for a seaside mansion.

    If you're a bargain hunter this is one phrase you don't want to forget putting "Kop" or "Kaa" on the end of!

  • 7. "Mai Kow Jai"

    Now you're in a pickle!

    Once you ask someone "Tao Rai" to find out the price of something they are sure to think you are a master linguist and will reply to you promptly - in Thai! This is when you may smile sheepishly and offer up "Mai Kow Jai".

    "Mai Kow Jai" can be broken down to 'not [to] enter [my] mind' or more directly 'I don't understand'. This phrase and an open smile can be your best friend as you begin to learn more Thai and meet more Thai people. It's the handiest way to lead yourself out of a confusing situation and you shouldn't hesitate to use it.

    As a matter of fact you'll probably be sick of hearing yourself say "Mai Kow Jai" the more and more you advance in learning Thai, but don't be discouraged! Thai people love when you make an effort, so keep it up!

  • 8. "Kop Khun"

    Now that you have stunned your Thai hosts with your diligence in learning a few Thai phrases and have "Kop"-ed or "Kaa"-ed your way into many peoples good graces you'll find yourself overwhelmd by the attention and special favors your new Thai acquaintances gladly bestow upon you. This is when you should whip out your "Kop Khun" or literally 'thank you'.

    This is a phrase you most certainly should affix your "Kop" or "Kaa" to in every instance, even amongst friends it is only proper to say it in the most polite fashion to show you really mean it.

  • 9. "Mai Pen Rai"

    After thanking all the wonderful Thai people who've made your trip as amazing as you ever dared imagine don't be surprised when humbly accept your thanks with a jolly "Mai Pen Rai".

    Literally 'no [to] be problem' or 'no problem', "Mai Pen Rai" is so much more than a simple dictionary explanation could ever express. Books have been written on the varying interpretations of this simple phrase that is, in many ways, not just a humble means of saying 'you're welcome', but is almost a national slogan and can also be used to define many of the over-riding principles of Thai culture!

    When a Thai person says "Mai Pen Rai" they are not just saying 'my pleasure' or 'it was easy for me to do, don't sweat it' they are embodying an idea that life is to be lived for the joy of it and as we are all here together we should all be happy to do for each other, and to do expecting nothing in return.

    One popular book on the subject of living in Thailand is called "Mai Pen Rai Means Never Mind", a definition which is one of the most apt.

    After all, wouldn't the world be a better place if we all did good deeds for each other without giving it a second thought? It's hard to imagine what a world like that would look like, but it sure would look a lot more like Thailand!

    Sawasdee Kop!