A couple rushed into the restaurant we were seated in, frantically searching for a toilet. The man was desperate – maybe a minute from disaster. Speaking at the same time, they said, ‘restroom, urgent… please… help’.
It was a small eating-place in a remote part of Krabi. The restaurant owner didn’t understand English. They tried again, speaking slowly, using strange sign language. It didn’t work.
Fortunately for them the third Thai word we learnt was ‘hong nam’ (toilet in Thai). Sensing the urgency of the situation, Mona shouted ‘hong nam’ from our table. As soon as the owner pointed to the toilet, the man made a dash for the hong nam. He made it in time.
11 Basic Thai Greetings, Words & Phrases
In addition to saving the day, being able to speak a few common Thai greetings and words can also be a great ice-breaker when dealing with locals. Thai people become friendlier when they realise that you are making an effort to learn their language.
Saying thank you in Thai (Khop Khun), and hello in Thai (Sawasdee) always helps.
Like us you’ll probably get some pronunciations wrong in the beginning, but it’s worth keeping at it.
First the basics: ‘kha’ vs ‘khap’
Women say ‘kha’ and men say ‘khap’ at the end of greetings, phrases, and sentences. You can think of them as polite words, used to show respect.
Since there is no English equivalent to kha and khap, it took us a while to understand their usage. In the beginning, both Mona and I only used kha. I used to wonder why people seem amused at my ‘kha’, and impressed with Mona’s ‘kha’.
(Not only is it wrong for men to use kha, it is also a Thai way of implying that a man is gay.)
(If you google Thailand greetings and phrases, you might see ‘khrap’ instead of ‘khap’, and ‘Ka’ in place of ‘kha’. They mean the same thing. We feel that khap and kha sound more accurate).
Video of Common Thailand Greetings & Words
Thank you to all the people who volunteered in our video so that we hear the correct pronunciation of the respective Thai greeting and word.
The Thai greeting called Wai includes a slight bow, with arms pressed together as done while praying. This traditional Thai greeting looks the same as an Indian ‘Namaste’.
Thais mostly perform a Wai when they say khop khun (thank you), or Sawasdee (hello).
As a non-Thai, you won’t be expected to return a Wai with a Wai. You can simply acknowledge a Wai with a khop khun kha/khap or Sawasdee kha/khap (as appropriate).
1 – Sawasdee kha/khap: Hello in Thai
Sawasdee or hello in Thai is the most common and useful Thai greeting to learn. You’ll hear a lot of Sawasdee kha/khap in Thailand. Sawasdee can also be used to say good morning, good afternoon, good evening, good day, and even good bye.
Women say ‘Sawasdee kha’, and men say ‘Sawasdee khap’.
(Sawasdee sounds more like Swadee (without the ‘a’ and ‘s’) – and that’s why you will often see it spelt as ‘Swadee’.)
2 – Sabai Dee: How are you/Are you well?
Sabai dee is another popular Thai greeting.
When asked ‘Sabai dee mai’? (How are you/are you well?), you can reply, ‘Sabai dee, khop khun khap/kha’ (I am well, thank you). If you are having a bad day, you can say ‘mai sabai’ (I’m not doing well).
(Mai means no/bad).
Important Thai Words
3 – Thank You in Thai: Khop Khun kha/khap
The Thai word for thank you is khop khun. It is perhaps the most important Thai word to learn. Thais are polite and khop khun is a response that is always appreciated.
Women say ‘khop khun kha’, men say ‘khop khun khap’.
4 – Khun: Mr, Mrs, Miss
Khun is a respectful way of addressing married as well as single women and men. It is used in the same way as a Mr, Mrs, or Miss, and is not gender specific.
In general, Thai people do not address people by their surname/last name, Khun precedes given names. If a Thai person were to address Paul Frey (in a polite and respectful way), they would say ‘Khun Paul’.
5 – Yes: Chai / No: Mai
Yes in Thai is ‘Chai’, No is ‘Mai’. Remember to add kha/khap after chai and mai.
Chai mai means isn’t it?
Mai chai means no, it isn’t.
6 – Phet: Spicy
If like us, you love Thai cuisine, keep in mind that Thai dishes in Thailand are more ‘phet’ or spicy than in other countries. Say ‘mai phet’ when asking for non-spicy food, or ‘phet nit nawy’ for a slightly hot meal.
If you reply ‘chai’ (yes) when asked if you want your food ‘phet mak-mak’ (very-very spicy), remember toilet is called ‘hong nam’. 🙂
(Mak means very).
7 – Aroy: Delicious food
Thai people love their food and take pride in how good it tastes. If, while eating, you are asked ‘aroy mai’ (tasty – yes?), you can reply, ‘aroy’ and nod. You can even take it a step further by saying ‘aroy dee’ (yummy), or ‘aroy mak’ (very tasty).
‘Aroy dee’ is also the best way to express your appreciation for the mouth-watering fruits of Thailand.
If, like us, every time you eat Thai food, you end up saying Aroy Mak Mak (very very tasty) and want to learn how to prepare Thai food, the ‘Hot Thai Kitchen’ is a really good cookbook. (View the Thai cookbook on Amazon).
8 – Nam: Water
‘Nam’ and ‘hong nam’ rhyme so they are easy to remember. Water in toilet (nam in hong nam).
Remember: it is not safe to drink ‘tap water’ (nam prapa) in Thailand. Please try to reduce your plastic footprint – consider investing in a LifeStraw bottle. (View LifeStraw on Amazon).
9 – Hong nam: Toilet
Now that you’ve heard the toilet story, you’ll know why ‘hong nam’ can be a really useful Thai word to learn.
Occasionally, the Thai word for female and male is added to toilet signs – ‘hong nam ying’ means female toilet, ‘hong nam chai’ is male toilet.
10 – Ratriswat & Fun Dee: Good night
Ratriswat kha/khap is a direct translation of ‘good night’. You can also use the simpler version – fun dee (sweet dreams or sleep tight).
Chok Dee (good luck) can also be used as a good bye, and even to say cheers in Thailand.
11 – Sanuk: Fun
The special word for having a great time in Thai is called ‘sanuk’. Actually, sanuk means more than having fun; Sanuk is about excelling and achieving satisfaction in what you do.
So here’s wishing you a sanuk holiday in Thailand.
Good luck (Chok Dee) and Cheers (Chon)!
Consider learning some more Thai words and phrases if you are spending a month or longer in Thailand.
Not only will it be easier to find your way around, but being able to speak some Thai will also give the impression that you’ve spent time in the country and know your way around, which is a red light for scammers.
Resources to Learn Thai:
- If you’d like to learn more, Lonely Planet’s pocket Thai phrasebook and dictionary is useful. (View the phrasebook on Amazon).
- This Thai language website comes recommended for further study.
More on preparing for Thailand.