The Thai alphabet can take a long time to master. While there are English equivalents of its words and places, so much is lost in translation — leading to many places being mispronounced by visitors to the Land of Smiles. Discover how to pronounce like a local.
You’d be amazed at the number of people who butcher the pronunciation of the country itself, yet here we are. A popular mispronunciation for fellow Southeast Asians, the Filipinos, it’s not “Thigh-land” — despite what you might have heard about Pattaya — but “Tie-land”, with a silent “h”. The Thais themselves refer to their country as Prathet Thai, again with both words featuring a silent “h”.
Where better to head to next than the first place most people arrive at in Thailand — Bangkok’s huge Suvarnabhumi Airport. Whilst millions fly through it each year, only a small percentage actually nail how to say it. Rather than “Soo-var-na-boo-mee”, it’s instead said as “Su-wan-na-poom”. Though, however you pronounce it, there’s still a good chance the taxi drivers will understand and take you to the right place — unless you’re flying out of the other Bangkok airport, Don Muang, that is…
Koh Phi Phi
Arguably Thailand’s most famous island, with its stunning views, great parties and, of course, that beach, Koh Phi Phi has rightfully made its way into guidebooks and blog posts around the world for some time now. Yet despite its world-renowned status, there are still many who get its name hopelessly wrong. Whilst in English we pronounce a “ph” sound like “f”, in Thailand the “h” is dropped, making it Koh Pee Pee, not Koh Fee Fee.
We know it’s fun to say a swear word every once in a while, but when it comes to Phuket, the actual pronunciation is miles away from the “f**k it”-sounding name many travelers like to christen it. Like with Koh Phi Phi, the “ph” doesn’t sound like an “f” but rather a “p”, and so the actual pronunciation is “Poo-ket” or “Poo-get”, not “Foo-ket”. We know, it can get pretty confusing.
Wat Pho/Wat Phra Kaew
Two of Bangkok’s most famous temples, both Wat Pho and Wat Phra Kaew are subject to some pretty iffy pronunciation attempts. As we’ve learned above, neither should be attempted using anything resembling an “f”, which makes Wat Pho simply “Wat Po”, like the author Edgar Allan Poe. Wat Phra Kaew is a little trickier; kaew is pronounced closer to a “g” than a “k”, making it “Wat Pra Gaew”. Or, if we’ve lost you at this point, its English equivalent “the Temple of the Emerald Buddha” might be more up your street.
Home to some of the most beautiful beaches in Thailand, Krabi is a gorgeous province in the south of Thailand. While it’s tempting to simply call it “crabby”, the small amount of effort that it takes to learn the actual pronunciation will garner a huge amount of respect from the locals. The Thai word for Krabi starts with the letter gor gai, ก, that’s pronounced with a “g” sound rather than a “k”, making the province more “gra-bee” than “kra-bee”. A small change, but it’ll make a big difference.
Koh Pha Ngan
An island on the eastern side of Thailand that’s famed for its Full Moon Party, Koh Pha Ngan can be difficult to pronounce even after learning how to say it properly. For starters, it’s not “fa-nang” or “fang-yang”. The “Pha” part is easy — “Pa” — but the “Ngan” takes some mastering. The “ng” should be pronounced together, which will make you sound pretty silly trying to achieve the desired sound out loud, before adding an “arn” sound to the end. Lost? Check out this video for help, and hats off to you if you got it right first time.
Chiang Mai/Chiang Rai
Popular spots in the north of the country that are known for their rolling hills, cooler climate and abundance of elephants, whilst their mispronunciation is only slight, it makes a big difference. Despite people’s best efforts, it’s not pronounced “chang”, like the beer or the Thai word for elephant. “Chiang” is a word from the old Lanna kingdom that once ruled the north of Thailand which means “city”, and should be pronounced “Chee-ang”, holding the “ee” sound for just longer than a moment, making sure not to stress it too much. As for the “Mai” and “Rai” parts? They’re as you might expect — “my” and “rye”.
The birthplace of the world-famous hot sauce, many people over-complicate the pronunciation of the word, contorting their mouths in an effort to say “sri”. In actual fact, the “r” in “sri” is silent, which makes the pronunciation “see racha”, which is a whole lot easier than what you thought it was five minutes ago. As a bonus fact, “sri” or “see” means “blessing” in Thai, which explains why the hot sauce tastes like it’s come straight from the gods.
The longest road in Thailand, flanked on either side by luxury hotels and shopping complexes. Given it’s such a popular destination in Bangkok, it’s important to set the record straight on how to pronounce it for the millions that flock here each day. In the Thai language, there’s nothing close to a “v”; no letter that features the bottom lip touching the top set of teeth. With that in mind, the “v” is replaced with a “w”, making it “soo-koom-wit” instead of “soo-koom-vit”.
A popular seaside town not too far from Bangkok, Pattaya’s pronunciation is routinely butchered by the older, portly gentlemen who like to rent condos and have a beer for breakfast in its famous red light district. Rather than “Patty-er”, it’s “Pat-ta-yaa”.