Get a More Authentic Thai Experience by Learning Basic Thai Phrases
Taking the time to learn a few basic Thai phrases will not only help you along the way, you’ll gain local friends and find yourself looked upon far more favorably than those who are shouting loudly in their native languages. Pick up some beginner’s level Thai and you’ll thank us later.
Half the fun of traveling is picking up as many new languages as you can. “Please” and “Thank You” should be considered the bare minimum. You owe it to yourself to be fully immersed in local culture! And while Thai may sound complicated to learn, we promise it doesn’t have to be. With a little practice, you’ll impress locals in no time.
Aside from challenging yourself, learning basic phrases in Thai shows respect. It tells the locals that you’re more than a drunk, trashy backpacker. When you ask a question in Thai, you’re sure to get a smile. And if you’re lucky, you may get a better deal!
Rule of Thumb
Before we get into the details, there are two words that show up in nearly every Thai sentence. Sadly, those words don’t have English translations.
If you’re a boy, you’ll end sentences in “Khrup”(pronounced krahp). Girls end their sentences in “Ka” (pronounced kah).
Essentially, these words make sentences more polite, friendly, and respectful. You can think of it as a more general version of adding “Ma’am” or “Sir” to a sentence.
Keeping Things Simple
When visiting a new country, there’s nothing more important than learning the absolute basics of their language. Aside from making you look like a seasoned backpacker, it can make a world of difference when English isn’t an option. Even better, it’s an easy way to impress the boy(s) or girl(s) you’re hitting on! And while we encourage you to learn as much Thai as possible, we understand the draw of committing to the bare minimum…
If you’re only going to learn a handful of Thai words, these are the ones to go for:
Yes — Chai (khrup/ka)
No — Mai (khrup/ka)
I Don’t Want That — Mai Ao (khrup/ka)
Hello — Sawadee (khrup/ka)
Thank You — Khop Khun (khrup/ka)
Sorry — Khor Thoad (khrup/ka)
No Worries — Man Pen Rai
Mai Pen Rai is one of our favorite words in Thai. It’s a lot like Hakuna Matata from the Lion King. When something goes wrong, saying “Mai Pen Rai” means you’re choosing not to be upset. Similarly, if a waiter messes up your order, this phrase tells him not to feel bad. All in all, it’s the perfect example of the “happy go lucky” attitude Thais are known for!
Getting More Complicated
Once you’ve mastered the basic phrases, you may want to move on to something a bit more complicated. Having some more sentences in your back pocket means that you’re more likely to get good deals and will build rapport with everyone you meet.
If you’re going to spend time shopping, these Thai words could make all the difference:
First things first, shopping in Thailand requires bargaining. Unlike home, it’s not rude to ask for a lower price. In fact, it’s almost expected. While at a market, only the newest backpackers will take a price at face value. Just remember this only applies at markets and street vendors—bartering in H&M won’t get you anywhere! Have fun, and don’t take it too seriously.
How much does this cost? — Tao Rai (khrup/ka)
Can I have a discount? — Lot Dai Mai (khrup/ka)
If you’re lucky, they’ll show you prices on a calculator. However, when you approach vendors in Thai, expect them to respond in it! That’s why it’s so important to learn your Thai numbers. Luckily, Thai is one of the easiest languages to count in.
Zero — Soon
One — Neung
Two — Soeng
Three — Saam
Four — See
Five — Haa
Six — Hok
Seven — Jet
Eight — Bpaed
Nine — Gao
Ten — Sip
After you’ve mastered one through ten, the rest are a breeze! Thai numbers are similar to other languages like German and Spanish because they repeat themselves. For example, thirty-four is simply “three-ten-four”. This is a great resource for all your counting needs.
If you’re a total foodie, our Thai tips can make ordering a breeze:
Almost nothing feels worse than ordering a meal only to realize you can’t eat it. Maybe it’s too spicy, you’re allergic to one of the ingredients, or you’re vegetarian/vegan. Regardless of the reason, a language barrier can make eating out a nightmare. And that’s horrible when you consider how important local food is to traveling! It’s the cheaper, tastier, and more cultural option. Luckily, a few simply Thai phrases can turn an ordeal into a pleasure.
Pork — Moo
Chicken — Gai
Beef — Neau
Seafood — Talay
I can’t eat seafood — Kin a harn talay mai dai (khrup/ka)
I can’t eat nuts — Kin tua mai dai (khrup/ka)
Not spicy — Mai pet (khrup/ka)
Little spicy — Pet nit noi (khrup/ka)
Very spicy — Pet mak mak (khrup/ka)
Aside from the food itself, it can help to know other restaurant-related phrases. While most servers will speak English, the smaller (aka better) restaurants will cater to local crowds.
Can I have the bill? — Chick bin (khrup/ka)
I don’t want a bag — Mai sai tung (khrup/ka)
Where are the toilets? — Hong nam yootinai (khrup/ka)
May I have a menu? — Kor Maynoo noi (khrup/ka)
And last, but certainly not least, be sure to compliment your cook when the food is delicious! “Arroy” directly translates into “delicious” and is a major compliment. It’s sure to bring a smile to their face!
Practical Thai Phrases for Dating
If you’re hoping to flirt with the locals, here’s how to work your magic in Thai:
Looking to flirt with a local girl or guy? Or just want to make someone laugh on a night out? Thankfully, Thai is one of the easiest languages to flirt in. It seems like they have a word for everything imaginable! Read on to find out.
You’re cute — Khun naa rak (khrup/ka)
You’re beautiful — Khun suuway jang loei (khrup/ka)
You’re handsome — Khun la (khrup/ka)
Your smile is beautiful — Khum yim suuway (khrup/ka)
Your eyes are beautiful — Dtar khun suuway mak (khrup/ka)
Can I buy you a drink? — Pom kaw liang dum khun dai-mai
If you’re truly serious about learning the language then you’ll need to invest time, effort, and probably some money. The best advice we could give would be to sign onto a Thai language course.
This is especially popular with those looking to stay for a longer time in Thailand as you can use the course to support a yearlong visa application. The teachers on these courses are fully qualified and often you’ll only have a few hours lessons a day. You’ll have conversation, grammar and be able to ask all of the questions you could want to.
If you’re looking for a more informal way of bolstering your skills then begin to make friends. The more you can practice with local, native speakers the better. You’ll be able to pick up colloquialisms that you wouldn’t through book learning and therefore will sound far more natural when you’re speaking.
Insider Tips for Memorizing Basic Thai Phrases
Practice, practice and practice. Don’t be scared to have a go. Everyone you meet will be really pleased and impressed that you’re even giving it a try. You’ll be met warmly and feel great for it. Most importantly, just enjoy using it!