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Basic Thai language: the only 12 words and phrases you need


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The number one reason that discourages a traveler from going to a new exotic city half way across the world is most likely to do with language barrier. It just does not seem like a good idea to find yourself in the middle of Bangkok and realize that you don’t speak a word of Thai language. Don’t worry, you don’t need to learn all the words in Thai Language to have a great experience while you are here. In fact, you actually only need these 12 words.

* Tips 1: at the end of the word or a sentence, don’t forget to add ‘Krub’ if you are a man and ‘Ka’ if you are a woman. That goes for all the words here.

* Tips 2: Thai People are friendly and are smiling 95% of the time, so don’t forget to have a big smile while you are talking. It is pretty much a none-verbal custom to be smiling in Thai Language.

These are basic Thai language that will make your life in Bangkok (and Thailand) easier

1. Sawasdee (สวัสดี) | Hello/greetings

This is the only word you need to start off a conversation.’Sawasdee’ is probably one of the first words you need to learn in Thai language, since you can use it for all occasions. The best thing about it, is the fact that you can exchange for ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ as well. So whether you are on the phone, in the club or in a cab, you can say ‘Sawasdee’ to anyone.

2. Chai/mai (ใช่/ไม่) | Yes/no

Chai=Yes and Mai=No. In some occasions these two terms get complicated and you have to say them together eg. To say ‘not’ you have to say ‘Mai Chai’ (no and yes). Just remember that if someone says ‘Mai Chai’ together they are not trying to confuse you, they are trying to say ‘not’.

3. Mai kao jai, kao jai (ไม่เข้าใจ, เข้าใจ) | dont understand, understand

Since you learned that ‘mai’ means ‘no’, Mai kao jai simply means ‘don’t understand’. So whether you are reading an instruction, or talking to a Thai person who is clearly speaking too fast. Just put on your best confused look and repeatedly say ‘Mai Kao Jai’.

4. Korb khun (ขอบคุณ) | thank you

You should be saying this everywhere, from buying food to asking for directions. Thai culture put a lot of emphasis on politeness and humility, so it would make sense that in Thai language, you should learn to smile and say ‘Thank you’ in all occasions.

5. Tao Rai? (เท่าไหร่?) | how much?

This comes in handy when asking for price. Most shopping malls would understand ‘How much’, but if you find yourself in a suburban areas, this is how you ask for price. In some occasions, you can bargain. You will read more into situations where you can do that in another article.

6. Kor Tode (ขอโทษ) | Sorry

As strange as it may sound, you should be smiling when you are saying sorry. While in the western world, smiling while you are apologizing conveys that you are not serious and deserves to be smacked across the face. In Thailand Language however, smiling can and will diffuse any tension in a relatively stressful situation.

* Tips: Kor Tode can be used interchangeably as ‘Excuse me’

7. Yu Tee nai? (อยู่ที่ไหน?) | Where is…?

Put a place or a location in front of the phrase ‘Yu Tee Nai’ to get where you want to go eg. ‘BTS Yu Tee nai?’ It is of course better if you have the name of the place written down in Thai or English. In Bangkok, places such as hotels and shopping malls are not hard to find. Taxi drivers know the city like the back of their hands and they are trained to talk to foreigners on a daily basis.

8. Chuay Duay (ช่วยด้วย) | Help

Remember the earlier tips about smiling being an integral part of Thai language? Well that doesn’t apply here, even Thai people don’t smile when they have their wallets stolen from them for obvious reasons and you shouldn’t either.

9. Mai Phed (ไม่เผ็ด) | not spicy

Knowing the word ‘Help’ is as important, if not more important than learning how to say ‘Not spicy’. I’m not even kidding, if you have never tried authentic Thai food before, you will find yourself gasping for air after a few bites. Your stomach is simply not conditioned for the overwhelming flavors and spice, hence there is no reasons not to ask for a toned down version. So don’t forget to look at the shop owner in the eyes when you say, with very assertive voice, ‘Mai phed’, unless of course you want to find yourself 15 minutes later gasping and asking for water.

10. Tsai/Kwa (ซ้าย/ขวา) | Left/Right

This is pretty much self-explanatory. It would also be helpful to know that the word ‘liaw’ means turn. So ‘Turn Right’ would be ‘liaw Kwa’ etc.

11. Kmoay (ขโมย) | Thief

This is also one of those rare cases where the ‘always smile’ rule does not apply. When you go up to the police station and try to tell them all your clothes, phone, wallet and passport has been stolen, DO NOT SMILE.

Also, the word Kmoay can be used in many ways. It actually translates to not only ‘thief’ but also ‘stealing’, or ‘stolen’ as well. Just remember that nothing good comes with the word ‘kmoay’.

12. Pood Thai Mai dai (พูดไทยไม่ได้) | Can’t speak Thai

Chances are after the words came out of your mouth, whichever Thai person you are talking to would be able to tell that you do not have a very good command of Thai language. It is fine and is often better to tell them straight up that you can’t speak Thai (hopefully, with the exceptions of these 12 words). They would try to be more understanding with you, so go ahead and tell them that you do in fact need help (Chuay Duay!).

So these are basic Thai language that would make your life easier when you are in Bangkok. Let us know what other Thai languages that are crucial to basic survival in Bangkok and leave your thoughts below!

Have a great day!

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