Greetings and Essentials
Sa Wat Dee (sa-wat–dee) / Hello
Greet anyone and everyone who crosses your path. You will most likely butcher the word initially, but Thais will readily assist you with pronunciation, and this simple greeting will certainly help you as you continue your travels.
Kawp Koon (kop-koon) / Thank You
The more polite you are, the better your experience will be. If you can, learn to perform the “wai” (deep bow) when using this helpful phrase.
Chai / Mai Chai (chai / my–chai) — Yes / No
Learning the basics is always a good idea. Even if you do not understand everything that is being said to you, you’ll be surprised how often you can use a simple “chai” or “mai chai”.
Kor Tot (kor-tot) / Excuse Me
Thailand is a crowded place. Whether riding the sky train or island hopping by boat, you are going to step on some toes – both literally and figuratively. Be prepared for these scenarios: learn how to say, “excuse me”.
Mai Khao Jai (my–cow-jai) / I Don’t Understand
Do not get frustrated when you do not understand something (or everything). Instead, just repeat this phrase over and over until someone can (hopefully) translate.
Lah Gorn (la-gon) / Goodbye
Parting ways and unsure what to say? A simple “lah gorn” and/or a “wai” will suffice.
Haawng Naam Yuu Thee Nai? (hong-nam-you–tee–nye) / Where Is The Bathroom?
Bathrooms are hard to come by in Thailand, and oftentimes you won’t be able to find one until it might be too late. Spare yourself the desperate search with this simple phrase (and be prepared for the squat toilets and bum guns).
Leo Sai / Leo Kwaa (lee-yo-sigh/lee-yo-kwa) — Turn Left / Turn Right
When it comes to getting ripped off, taxi drivers are the biggest offenders. Arm yourself with a map and the knowledge of how to give some basic directions in Thai, and you will be less likely to arrive at the wrong destination.
Yut / Bai (yut / bye) — Stop / Go
Hai Chah Long (high–cha-lom) / Slow Down
This phrase is particularly handy if your tuk tuk driver is hooning along at top speeds and you would like them to slow down. Alternatively, if you are trying to direct someone this phrase can be very useful.
At The Restaurant/Bar
Hiu (hee-yoo) / I’m Hungry
Thailand has some of the most delicious dishes in the world. Learn how to communicate that you are hungry in a way that does not involve rubbing your stomach.
Mai Sai Nam Tam (my–sigh-nam-tam) / No Sugar
Sugar is to Thailand what salt is to the Western world. Sugar and condensed milk make appearances in everything from noodle soup to black coffee. If you like your coffee stiff or simply do not want the extra calories, know this simple phrase.
Chawp Pet Noi (chop–pet-noy) / I Like It A Little Bit Spicy
Thai people love spicy food. Sometimes, a restaurant will intentionally make the dish mildly spicy, knowing that a foreigner cannot handle the heat. To reduce your chances of having your mouth set aflame, learn this simple phrase.
Nam (nam) / Water
Likely one of the most important words to learn in the Thai language especially if you’re wandering around in the heat of the day and feeling parched.
Aroi (a-roy) / Delicious
Want to show some appreciation for the delicious food you just inhaled? While a gratuity is always appreciated, express to your cook that the food was delicious, and you will be sure to receive a smile in return.
At The Market
A Nee Tao Rai? (a-nee–tow–rye) / How Much Is This?
Thais are extremely friendly, but in Thailand as elsewhere, foreigners must be wary of scams. Reduce your chances of paying double what a Thai would pay for the same item by learning to ask “how much” in the native tongue.
Phaeng Mark Pai (feng-mak-pie) / Too Expensive
Someone charging you a little too much baht for your souvenirs? Speak your mind with this marketplace soundbite.
Sun (sun) / 0
Nung (nung) / 1
Song (song) / 2
Sam (sam) / 3
See (see) / 4
Da (da) / 5
Hok (hawk) / 6
Jed (jed) / 7
Baed (bed) / 8
Gao (gow) / 9
Sib (sib) / 10
Gin Khao Lou Mai? (gin-cow–lou–mye) / Have You Eaten Yet?
In Thailand, this phrase is used in more ways than it’s literal meaning and can even be used as a form of “hello”. It’s a conversation filler and a way to check in to see how someone is faring.
Suay / Lo Mak (soo–way / low-mak) — Very Beautiful / Handsome
The power of a compliment cannot be underestimated, especially when traveling in a foreign country.
For Everything Else…
Ron Mak (ron-mak) / I Am Very Hot
Thailand reaches scorching temperatures in the hot season and can be a little confronting at times. Learn this phrase to interact and commiserate with your local hosts or to explain why your red, dripping with sweat and in need of assistance.
Mai Bpen Rai (my-pen-rye) / No Problem
Missed a flight? Mai bpen rai. Food poisoning taking its toll on your bowels? Mai bpen rai. Thais hate losing face, so the more you can brush off any unpleasant experience, the better you will fare among locals.
This article was originally written by Kelly Iverson and has since been updated.